A dear friend whose young adult son, Mike, completed suicide over two and a half years ago recently confided that as the third anniversary of his death approaches she feels more bereft now than she remembers being in the early months following his tragic death.
“I know we talked about how the second year is harder than the first because the numbness has worn off and you’re fully aware of the death, but I’ve got to say that the third year has been worse for me,” Sandy said, adding, “When will life happen again?”
For those of us who are dealing with the loss of someone dear that is the million-dollar question. Losing a loved one changes us and our lives forever in ways we can only discover as we do the hard work of mourning.
As the months and subsequent years unfold after the death of our loved one, we create a new normal out of the pain of loss that must be tweaked as we slowly reenter life again — without our dear one. And that can be a daunting task.
Losing a loved one can cause us to question our worldviews and even our very existence.
The concern for most is that our lives don’t seem to hold the same meaning after a loss — the life we lived before just don’t fit anymore. We ask, among the many questions that loss brings, “How can we go on without our loved one?” and “What is our purpose?” We may even wonder why events and activities that meant so much to us before the death loss hold little interest for us now.
For Sandy and her family, whose grief is complicated by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their son’s death, life seems fragile and unrecognizable without their son in it. Routine activities such as household chores, grocery shopping and social outings seem overwhelming or uncomfortable to those whose energy is depleted by the exertion of grief.
Life is not the same after a loss. It simply can’t be. But it does go on. As our grief carries us through its peaks and valleys, roller coaster-style, we find ourselves in the wilderness trying to find our way back. The catch is we can’t go back. We can only go forward.
The unfortunate reality of living in this era when life expectancy is much longer than in previous generations is that many of us don’t experience a death loss until much later in life. And with the traditional funeral ceremony that supports public mourning going swiftly and surely out of style many of us don’t fully embrace the notion that grief and loss are part of life until we are thrust into it kicking and screaming only to discover what our ancestors knew well — that grief is part of our human experience and that new life can grow out of it.
My response to my friend Sandy’s question, “When will life happen again?” is to remind her that as she continues to work through her grief, her task is to remember that life is happening right now — in the midst of her grief.
It may take time to engage fully in this new life after loss, especially after a tragic death, when our grief takes up such a large space in it. But there is no time frame for any one of us. We simply follow our hearts.
The hope for all of us is that as we take time to discover how the death has changed us, with its ebbs and tides of emotion, we also discover that life holds great promise for those who grieve. Out of the pain and struggle is born a new life where we can not only recognize the deeper meaning and new joy in life, but also find that the grief over the loss of our loved one, along with their sweet memory, has found its rightful place. And that truly is life.
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