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An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

An Open Letter To Every Person Who Has Lost A Loved One

What a life changing, terrible, excruciating experience it is to lose a loved one. It is a journey we all find ourselves on. One we would never choose.

I lost my father to cancer when he was 45 years old. I had just finished my freshman year of college. It has been almost 5 years since he passed. I cannot imagine how I have gone 5 years without talking to my father. I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life not talking to him. It has not been an easy road since losing him. I have grieved well and not so well. I have at times stuffed it down and tried to be strong. I have also cried and cried and cried. It was messy. It still is. I do not know how to grieve well, as I have made many mistakes, but I do know some important points to know about grief that help during the first few weeks, months and years.

Here are some ways to support yourself during those initial weeks, months and years.

1. Give Yourself Grace

“Grief is a process, not a state.” – Anne Grant

“The thing about grief is that it’s a roller coaster – it’s up, it’s down. The emotions sometimes take over.” – Brent Sexton

Grief is a maze and often it appears the lights are out. To find our way through is a miracle. When you find yourself pulled into this journey, let your first rule be to give yourself grace. Don’t check off the “steps of grief” list or compare your story to another’s. Don’t fret about the fickleness of your emotions. Allow yourself to be. Allow yourself to feel the way you feel. Grief has a mind of its own.

There will be days when you don’t want to do anything. Some days you can just allow yourself to do nothing. Some days you need to force yourself to get out of bed. There is no formula to grief. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to be on your own team. Support yourself by allowing grief to take the reigns and letting go of guilt that comes with not being “okay”.

2. Listen To Advice

“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

Some of the most wonderful support I had after losing my dad were friends who had also lost a young parent. I lost him during college years, a time when most of my peers were focused on lighter and more positive things. To have a few people who knew this experience, this foreign world I was thrown into, was the most comforting support I needed at that time. The wisdom they passed on to me and the way they knew to love me was just what I needed. When those people come your way, allow them to speak to your grief.

3. Don’t Listen To Advice

“But there is a discomfort that surrounds grief. It makes even the most well-intentioned people unsure of what to say. And so many of the freshly bereaved end up feeling even more alone.” – Meghan O’Rourke

Everyone told me that the holidays would be the hardest. The holidays came and went and I noticed that the pain of loss was no greater and no less than any other day. For many people the first holidays, birthdays and anniversaries without the loved one are incredibly painful, but for me I found other moments without my dad to be more painful than Christmas or my birthday.

Those of us who have lost loved ones will likely have hilarious stories about comments that were made to us during the first few weeks and months. We remind ourselves that the people who have said some shocking statements to us were “well meaning.” Maybe, but they still hurt and surprise. Though our grief may be different, letting some ignorant and ridiculous comments from onlookers roll off our shoulders is something we all have in common.

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We are all so uniquely different right? We will grieve that way. Let your grief be your own. Let it be your own story. The advice from others is incredibly helpful at times, but other times it can make you feel as if you are on their agenda. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.

4. Remember Your Person

“Grief and memory go together. After someone dies, that’s what you’re left with. And the memories are so slippery yet so rich.” – Mike Mills

Don’t be afraid to remember your loved one. Spend time talking about them with the people who will cherish those memories with you. The memories you have will be precious to you for the rest of your life. The beautiful thing about memory is that is sustains us. It is never as good as having our loved one right next to us, but it is much better than no trace of our loved one having ever existed. It is good to remember. One day those memories may bring smiles without tears.

5. Befriend Grief

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Grief is a response to the power of love. Grief is the price we pay for deep, wonderful love. And when grief arrives at our doorstep, we must let it in. Unaddressed pain will not heal. While grief can feel excruciating, unbearable, it is imperative that you one day show up and choose to feel it. The only way to the other side is through the pain. One day there will come release and peace. Let your tears and your emotions free. Part of giving ourselves permission and grace to grieve is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel without judging ourselves for the erraticism. It is good to cry.

6. Hold On To Hope

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The loss of the loved one will be like a tattoo on your heart. Permanent. Forever. Grief, however, is not forever. Through time and tears, your heart will mend and heal. Do not feel pressure to “move on”, but in time you can and will move forward, forever carrying their memories along with you.

Yes it gets better, and no it doesn’t. My grief is infinitely less painful, hopeless, devastating and breathtaking than at the beginning. It is better because now I have learned how to live without my dad. The pain of his absence is no longer surprising or shocking. When I think of him I smile and laugh. I can do so without crying, and when I do cry my soul is filled with love and joy at those memories. Peace has taken over my heart in the place where grief reigned upon his death. Peace is a fresh wave of relief in the sea of grief. In the same way that grief gets better, it also does not. I will never forget my dad. My heart will always and forever have a bruise, in the sense that if you press on it I will feel pain. I will carry my dad’s life and tragic death with me in my heart. I will forever mourn that my dad will not get to meet his grandchildren. He would have been such a wonderful grandfather. I am so sad for the things he won’t be able to teach them, things he taught me like singing the alphabet backwards or other silly dad things. I wish he could watch hockey with my husband, as both of them are Canadians and could have used a hockey buddy. I mourn his absence, but I would rather carry his memories with me forever no matter what they cost me.

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Allow your grief to flow through you. Choose to cry hard and laugh hard, remember hard and love hard. Grief will awaken every part of you, if you allow it. It will be painful, excruciating is the word I use. It will feel like you could die from the pain. Sometimes I was surprised that my ribs didn’t crack. Keep showing up. And eventually, healing will make its way into your heart. Grief is not without hope. Hold on to hope.

Featured photo credit: Thomas8047 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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