Alex is in his late 40s. His partner of 16 years died suddenly one night four months ago and Alex is struggling to have a present that includes a future. He and his partner were an insular couple -- they focused on each other and were each other's best friends. This is a perfectly understandable choice for some couples, but when such a spouse dies (or leaves), it makes the adjustment particularly challenging. An alternative scenario from a dear friend whose husband died: " I have so many friends -- people to have dinner with, to call, to go to a movie with -- I can't imagine doing this without my support network!"
Rebuilding a life after loss requires effort and commitment -- faith that we will find our way without necessarily knowing how we will ultimately get there. It helps that most of us have already lived through several life-challenging events that seemed insolvable -- and we made it through!
Reinventing a future after widowhood, illness, forced retirement or divorce is both challenging and potentially invigorating. It helps to have techniques and principles to guide. One that can help is "Totally Committed/Completely Unattached." In a workshop I was leading over this past weekend, one of the participants asked how I had come to grasp this concept, a way of committing to a process or a goal while not focusing only on the realization of the end but on the journey and what shows up along the way. For me it was simple: When I went to graduate school in psychology, the program was longer than my life-expectancy. Therefore, the program and learning had to be more important than getting the degree. I have outlived that illness (and gotten the degree), but I retain the understanding that I only want to participate if I am enjoying myself along the way. I do not live my life in deferred gratification, although I still set out to accomplish longer term goals. I make sure the process is worth my while and if I get to the end, well that's a bonus.
To envision life after a devastating loss requires commitment: to possibility, to having more than one great love or passion in a lifetime. It also helps not to be attached to how it must be: I must have another spouse or I have to make a certain amount of money or I have to feel the way about the next thing I felt about something in the past. Focus on moving forward by committing to choices that look and feel good now and forge on without attachment to a particular result. Along the way, engagement, passion, even love, might show up. And whatever happens, we will be in the game of living as fully as possible, integrating our loss and seeing what might just come next!
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