Coping with the loss of a loved one

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A client came in today with sad news. Her husband had passed suddenly from a heart attack. She delivered the news with a stoic expression, no tears. It had happened a week ago, and yet I wondered how she didn’t cry every time she brought it up. This made me begin to think about how to cope with the loss of someone you love.

I think first and foremost, we must remember that our lives are ours alone. People may come into it and bring us joy, but in the end, it is still ours. We are living our own stories. This means that your loved ones are never guaranteed to stay. We all expect the death of some of the characters in our stories, such as our parents or pets. But there is a different sort of attachment to spouses, partners, and even children. We expect them to stay in our lives for a long time, so when they leave, we are never ready for it.

One of Buddha’s four laws states that attachment leads to suffering. Is the pain we feel for the loss of our loved ones for them or for us? We cry because they are no longer with us. We cry because we miss them. We feel grief and distress because we have become attached to another person. But this is only natural. This is, in a word, human nature. There is no way to avoid attachment. But there are some things that we can do to cope when that attachment is broken.

And let me state also that no one is ever ready for a loss. You could spend your whole life preparing for the departure of a loved one, but you will never be ready. And it will always hurt.

So let’s look at some ways to cope with loss.


How Would They Want You To Feel?

Remember that they would want you to be happy, and to live your life fully. Do you feel that way about your loved ones? Do you want them to be happy and not linger on the loss of you when you go? Absolutely. I can’t imagine the type of psychopath that would want their loved ones to pine for their lost attachments and wallow in grief for the rest of their lives. We all want our loved ones to be happy. So just remember that even though they are gone, you can still smile, you can still find happiness again, even if it takes a while to return.

Cry

It helps. There is nothing shameful in crying for a loved one. Sometimes this can hit you at the least opportune moments. Anything can trigger a memory of them, even months or years down the line. While you’re driving; listening to a song; playing the piano; watching a father and daughter in the park. It can happen at any time, and when these feelings of grief come, it is important to feel them. Don’t push them down or try to pretend they don’t exist. If you feel sad, it is only because you truly cared about them. There is no shame in that.

Let Your Tribe Embrace You

You’ve spent your whole life building up a safety net of people around you; friends, family. These people are there not only to enjoy life with but also to catch you when you fall, to help you get back on your feet, and to encourage you to keep going. So reach out to your friends and family. Let them help carry the burden of the heavy loss. Talk with them about your pain and allow them to comfort you. Everyone experiences loss. Listen to their stories and know that this feeling will pass. Life is a tender balance of being supported and being supportive to your tribe.

Accept What Is

This is a difficult thing to do, but with time, you will come to accept that things are different. You will no longer live in the same routine as you did with your loved one. Things will change. Change is a difficult and scary thing. Most people don’t like it, and that’s ok. Like anything else in life, you will soon fall into a pattern of living that brings you comfort and joy. You will continue to live on, day after day, and slowly rebuild your life. It will take time, and that’s ok too. Be patient with yourself. Healing is not a linear process. It spirals and repeats and backtracks and loops. Some days will be easier than others. Just remember to breathe, remember who you are, and accept the changes that the universe has brought into your life.

Take comfort in the circle of life

We all know death happens just as surely as birth. We know pain will come as surely as happiness. You can’t have one without the other. So enjoy the time you have with your loved ones, and miss them when they are gone. This is the path that every human must walk in life. Take comfort in knowing that everyone feels this way at some point in their lives. In 100 years you will not be here either, and there is something comforting in that fact. You are given a finite amount of time to experience all there is to experience. So embrace it, the good and the bad. Take joy in the fact that they existed, and you got to know them and be a part of their lives. Tell stories of them when they are gone. Remember them fondly.


When my grandfather died, I didn’t cry at his funeral. The thought that he was gone hadn’t really set in yet. It hit me months later when my cousin was playing the piano. My grandfather always used to play ragtime. And as she played, I realized that he would never play the piano again. He would never smoke another cigarette or crack another old time joke like he always did. We would never again sit on his city porch on the big blue swing as the day turned into twilight, and twilight to night. That thought overwhelmed me, and I suddenly missed him all at once. Only then did I cry.

Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things we all must experience in life. I hope these tips make it a little more bearable, and if you have any other suggestions, please share your thoughts.

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Take care,
Kat

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