Grief Is About Living, Not Just Losing

Everyone lives life with expectations about what life will be.

Eventually there is disappointment when life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. The way you believe it should be.

In life there are two ways to deal with disappointment.

The first is to protest: I didn’t sign up for this!!!

Life has not turned out as you wanted it to. The trouble is you can get stuck in that protest place and feel miserable and never free yourself to grieve.

Or you can choose to grieve and transform the disappointment.

Some people have learned to transform. They take life as it comes and roll with the punches. They can manage with uncertainty. But for most of us, we have yet to learn this lesson and disappointment, coupled with surprise or shock, leads to grief at the loss of our expected life.

Learning to accept the uncertainty of life allows you to:

• See things as they really are. This allows you to understand life better.

• See opportunities you didn’t realise were there.

• Feel more at peace and comfortable as you switch your attention to what you have instead of what you want and don’t have.

Grief Is About Every Loss In Life

Grief is not just about losing someone you love. Anything in life that is lost, be it a limb, friendship, home, job, life expectation and so on is a loss that you grieve.

The fact that these losses are not recognised as things that are grieved for, makes it harder to grieve.

Examples of big losses in life that need to be grieved for are:

• Having a child born with severe disabilities that changes the expectations you had for the life of that child. You may love that child and determine to always support them, but you still grieve for the lost expectation.

• Future plans to retire and enjoy life changes when your partner becomes very ill and you have to be their full time carer.

• Losing a much loved and valued job.

Grieving Is A Skill

Grieving is a skill that you can learn. People who experience a lot of grief often learn the skills to allow them to process their grief faster.

Whatever the cause of your grief, remember that it is normal. The normal trajectory of grief is that over time the grief diminishes and becomes less. You also start to discover meaning in your life again.

How Long Does Grief Last And Is It Always This Intense?

To answer this question, I am going to ask some questions of you first.

What Was Your Relationship To What Or Who You Have Lost?

If your emotional needs were primarily met by the one you have lost then you are going to need to find someone to meet those needs.

Initially a counsellor can help with that. You can also join a grief support group. In the long term you need to find ways to get those emotional needs met.

How Supportive Is Your Social Network?

The strong supportive social network helps you meet your emotional needs and is there to support you when you need help.

Do You Have Meaningful Activities In Your Life That Are Not Affected By Your Loss?

Having activities in place that are meaningful for you will help you continue with your life.

Part of grieving involves finding new meaning in your life. Having some meaning already can help shorten that process. For some people, their loss changes their life priorities. If that is you, then you may find you need to seek new ways of finding meaning in life.

How Counsellors Help

The biggest way I help people is to allow them to talk to me without any judgement or “fixing” from me. Being able to express your feelings in a safe place allows you to process them better. You can contextualise your grief better with counselling. You can also organise your grief better so that it is more manageable.

So What Does This Have To Do With The Grief Of Lost Expectations?

One thing to consider when you grieve lost expectations is to identify where they came from.

Society is great at teaching you what you should expect from life.

From birth you are introduced to concepts of the ideal life. From the story books you have read to you, to the children’s television programs. These all teach you expectations of what life will be.

As you grow up you observe what people around you are doing. You learn to expect your life to be like that of others. Older people in your life teach you this too. Maybe they talk about what you will grow up to be. There are expectations that you will have a job when you grow up. Expectations that you will find a life partner. Expectations that you will have children. Expectations that you will live in some sort of home.

Advertisements, movies, television series, the conversations of those around us. All these give you a picture of the life you should expect to live.

So where in this perfect picture does a disabled child fit? Or a partner requiring your care? Or you becoming disabled and needing to be cared for? Or losing that wonderful job that means so much to you?

All these things are contrary to what you learned to expect in life. All lead to grief. All need to be grieved.

Life Wasn’t Meant To Be Easy

That may be some put down by a politician, or a platitude thrown at you by someone uncomfortable with your struggles. But the reality is that all life contains suffering. Some people may get a lot more than others, but all will experience some.

If you allow it to, suffering can teach you things.

You may find good people who help you when you didn’t expect that to happen.

You may discover strengths you didn’t realise you had.

You may learn to appreciate life more.

You may find a different way of living that suits you better.

Expectations Around Your Latter Years

For many people I see whose long-term relationships break down once they are over the age of 50 there is often a lot of grief around the future. When you have been in a relationship with someone long term there is that expectation of a future together.

As the Beatles suggested in “When I’m 64” there is the expectation of being in the relationship forever and growing old together. What happens to that? Will you grow old alone? What does that mean for your quality of life? Will you have no one to care for you? No one to notice if you fall? No one to be there should you die at home? What about money? How will you survive? Will you actually have a home to live in? Or will you end up homeless?
These are very real concerns. So Grief is complicated by fears for safety and companionship in the future.

The Value Of Problem Solving

A lot of these lost expectations revolve around what you imagine will give you happiness.

But what if happiness, true happiness, is found elsewhere?

Researchers have found that people who solve problems in their lives report greater happiness and sense of agency than those who don’t solve problems.

That may sound strange but it makes sense.

If you encounter a problem in life it can feel very disempowering. But if you work out how to resolve that problem then you feel good.

Working through your grief and learning how to solve the problems that grief has caused is empowering and builds happiness.

How To Engage Problem Solving

So you had a picture of what your future would be like.

What was that picture?

How has it changed?

What is missing from that picture now?

You have identified what is missing. Now you know what you have lost.

Was what you thought the future would be like realistic? After all, we all imagine amazing things, but they rarely happen. And we are usually fine with that because on some level we know they were unrealistic. Also that realisation usually unfolds slowly, not abruptly when something major happens.

Identifying the unrealistic expectations can help with being able to let go of them.

What you are left with are the expectations that were more realistic. Maybe they were long cherished dreams that are now shattered. These are the ones you need to grieve. Because you put in the work to identify these deep losses, it is actually more manageable to work through them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it is now a more manageable size.

You may be able to work through these losses on your own or you may need help.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grieving your losses in life, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Finding Meaning in Grief

I often write about the importance of finding meaning in your grief.

You may well wonder how you do that, or even if it is necessary.

The first thing to note is that finding meaning is necessary and most people intuitively seek out that meaning. Sometimes finding that meaning is not easy or your intuition has not kicked in to prompt and guide you into this important step.

As to how you do it, the aim of this blog is to try to guide you into a place where you can seek meaning.

The Vital First Steps

A vital part of finding meaning in your grief is to acknowledge that your grief will never end. Yes it will most likely lessen in intensity over the years, but it will never end.

Another aspect of finding meaning is allowing yourself to be in this place where you have understood your grief will never end but you allow yourself to be fully open to the emotions you are experiencing. It is only then that you can start the exploration to find meaning in your grief.

Why Meaning?

Finding meaning in your grief will allow you to take your grief and transform it into something deeper, richer and more fulfilling. It will allow you to find more to this experience than just pain.

The loss of losing something is a terrible wound that often paralyses you. The way forward out of that place of paralysis is through finding meaning. Meaning gives you the power to find that path forward.

Finding meaning in your grief is also a way to make sense of what has happened.

People who can find meaning in their grief tend to have an easier time grieving than those who are unable to find meaning.

Those who cannot find meaning often find themselves stuck in their grief. They can turn to addictions to cope. They may become an angry person. They may isolate themselves from others because they fear losing others. They may become obsessed with what they have lost and lose their purpose and direction in life. They may become depressed. They may become bitter.

Meaning Empowers You After the Disempowerment of Loss

When something important is lost and you are grappling with grief the initial search for meaning can be sidetracked into finding someone responsible for what has happened. You can see this after a natural disaster when people try to blame some level of government for what has happened, when in reality the disaster is what happened and governments were as powerless as the victims to prevent what happened.

Assigning blame for a loss can make people feel some sense of power in a situation of total powerlessness. But this is counterproductive. In most cases there is no one to blame. And even if there is, focusing on blame blocks finding meaning in your grief.

So what is meaning?

People who have experienced loss and report finding meaning in the grief have reported their meaning as:

•    Feeling grateful for the time they had with their loved one,

•    Finding a way to commemorate and honour their loved one,

•    Realising how brief life is and how valuable it is – this has led to them making a major change in life

•    Realising they can’t help their own situation but can help others. For example, establishing a foundation to support those in similar situations.

•    Finding a way to sustain their love for what was lost while moving forward with a life you now realise is precious.

•    Learning new ways of living.

Where Do I find Meaning?

Meaning can be found in many aspects of your loss.

•    You may find it in the death of your loved one. You may find it in the loss you experience. You may find it in the event that led to your loss. You may find it in the life of the person you loved. Or you may find it in your own life. 

•    You may find it in an exploration of what life means to you.

•    You may find it in the rituals you observe around your loss.

•    You may find it in the connections you form after your loss. 

•    You may find it in gratitude for the gift of life and relationships.

•    You may find it in the realisation that life matters and so do relationships and that making being with those you love is your highest priority.

Finding Meaning is Not Easy

One grief expert, David Kessler, wrote about losing his 21 year old son to a drug overdose. He struggled with his grief. A friend and colleague Diane Gray told him “I know you’re drowning. You’ll keep sinking for a while, but there will come a point when you’ll hit bottom. Then you’ll have a decision to make. Do you stay there or push off and start to rise again?”

This is the important thing to remember. Meaning is not something you acquire within moments of your loss. It is not something that comes to you a day or so later. It is something you develop after a long time of acute grief at what you have lost.

Many people who come to see me have been in acute grief for a while and find themselves wanting to lift their heads out of the mire of grief just for a few moments. This is when they often decide that they don’t want what they lost to be meaningless. They don’t want their life or that of the person they lost to be meaningless. They want to live. They want to remember the good that they had before their loss. They want to move forward in life and learn how to live life, remember and feel the pain of loss.

A Guide to Your Search for Meaning

Here are some thoughts that may guide you in understanding meaning:

•    Meaning is both relative and personal. There is no such thing as one size fits all. The meaning others find will not necessarily be the meaning you find.

•    Meaning takes time. A lot of time. You may not find it until months or even years after your loss.

•    Meaning doesn’t require understanding. You don’t have to understand why your loss happened in order to find meaning.

•    Meaning is never greater than what you lost. What you gain in finding meaning will never be better than what you lost.

•    Despite what you may be told, loss is not some sort of test. It is also not a gift or blessing. It is not a punishment either. Loss just is what happens in your life. You have no control over it. Meaning, however, you make happen. Meaning you have control over. 

•    Only you can find your own meaning.

•    Meaningful connections will heal painful memories.

•    Meaning will mature and develop as time goes by.

Can I Help?

Sometimes moving forward in grief and finding meaning is hard to do. There are times when you may need help with finding meaning. This is where seeing a grief counsellor can help.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief and finding meaning, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz