We live in a culture that avoids emotional discomfort. In fact, our society makes it easy to look for distractions and diversions from all things painful. If we can drink, eat, shop, play or Facebook grief away, we will.
But here's the truth -- losing a loved one is excruciatingly painful. And it doesn't just hurt for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years. The impact of a major loss is lifelong. Emotional "closure" is a cultural myth.
Why? Because no matter how many years go by -- 10, 20, 30 -- you will be changed irrevocably. You may think of your dear one almost daily and you will have days out of the blue that knock the wind right out of you. Certainly, the pain softens and eases over time. However, normal grief will always have moments of reoccurring sharpness, pain as raw as the very first day.
But, consider this. If I suggested that I could wave a magic wand and make all of your enduring pain disappear instantly -- with only one catch, that you would never have known your dear one... ever, they never would have been born -- would you take that bargain?
No, you wouldn't. And you wouldn't because that relationship, that love, touched and enriched your life immeasurably. Your life without their physical presence is painful but your life having never known them at all is unthinkable. Their love was, and continues to be, a great gift.
Living with loss has no closure on pain but, thankfully, it also has no closure on love. Transcending loss is the process of learning to live with love and loss side by side in a way that brings greater meaning and purpose into our lives. Develop a practice of reflecting on the following three points and you will find that pain and love will become easier lifelong companions.
Loss is lifelong -- Loss is our most universal experience. We carry the remnants of loss with us every day. Let yourself grieve and feel your pain, riding the waves of feeling. While other people may tell you to "get over it," understand that "normal" grief never quite goes away. While it changes over time, its impact endures. Gentle acceptance of this fact allows you to begin to integrate loss into your life.
Love is eternal -- You are still in a relationship with your dear one. This love is an integral part of who you are. Let yourself talk about your loved one, reminisce, look at photographs, and stay connected to this person who made such an enduring impact on you. Consider lighting candles in their honor on special days and/or giving gifts in their honor. They will always be a part of your life.
You are changed -- Don't expect to return to your "old self." You are living into a new self. This self has new attitudes toward life, toward death, toward spirituality and toward your own life's meaning and purpose. Other people may have trouble with your changes, but let them know that change is a natural part of living. Be open to new aspects of yourself coming alive. As you let yourself be changed, you will find that growth is possible.
Cultivating a more open position toward your grief will enable you to live with it more peacefully. Remember that after a death, love and loss go hand-in-hand. Closure on one would mean closure on the other. Fortunately, love is a benevolent force in our world that we simply cannot live without.
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