Taming the Black Dog: Wiping Away the Tears of Grief and Moving Toward Joy

Loss and grief can hit us unexpectedly. A loved one gets sick and dies.  We lose our job, love, or health. Grief can be overpowering and lead to feelings of sadness, despair, and hopelessness. Fortunately, there is a light that can shine on your grief and bring you to a state of healing and wholeness. In my interview with esteemed grief expert and pastor, Steve Sewell, we learned the hidden answers to moving from Grief to Gratitude:

*Carefully Pivot From Grief:  Some people try to get back into their lives quickly after a loss (serious illness, death of loved one, financial setback, or relationship breakup). They want to get back to work or business, start another relationship, make a financial move. However, moving too quickly while experiencing grief can be a mistake—leading to poor decision-making. The better approach is to take your time—don’t make decisions quickly when you’re under the influence of grief. Don’t sell a house, buy a car, take a vacation, or start a new romance or relationship, until you feel you’re ready. Another mistake occurs when people try to run away from grief by distracting themselves with everyday pleasures: food and drink, relationships, travel, entertainment. Although these things can provide some comfort, in the end grief will return—perhaps even stronger. Your best approach is to experience your grief head-on and take the time you need to heal from your emotional wounds.

Do Prayer Walking;  You don’t have to have a specific religion or even be overly spiritual to pray. Prayer is simply a calling to the higher; an expression of love and gratitude to a higher entity (God or nature) that brings good to you.  When you prayer walk, you walk around and notice the beauty and goodness of life, and you feel happy and curious about what you see—applying the lessons to your own life. If you see a tall tree, you pray, “Let me big and strong like that tree.” If you’re at a beach, river, or lake, you say, “I would like to flow and harmonize like the water I see.”  As you walk through the world, you observe the wonderfulness of nature and all living things, and you express gratitude and wonder for everything you experience.

Write Down Your Grief and Hope Points:  As you go through grief (perhaps a loved one died: parent, spouse, child, sibling, friend), write down in your pad or journal your “grief and hope points”—the things that make you sad about the loss and the things that bring you hope. Although you suffer pain from the death of your loved one, you will also write down how you have grown as a human being because of the experience. Perhaps, you are more compassionate and empathetic to the suffering of others. Maybe, you are more patient, and you live life more fully, because you realize how fragile and precious thing life is.

Ask the Right Questions to Impose Meaning:  Grief only has the meaning you put on it.  By itself, losing a loved one, or losing something dear to you (youth, looks, health, finances, love) is painful and doesn’t appear to have any redeeming qualities. It’s up to you to find the meaning in your loss by asking meaning-filled questions. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen to me?” ask, “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?” A mother lost her son to a violent crime and then decided to become a foster mother to give love to those children who didn’t have parents—helping in her own healing process.  Place the meaning on your grief, and you will have a reason to keep living and loving.

*Move to a Higher Plane of Hope and Gratitude:  It’s no easy task to fully experience grief—sadness, tears, depression, and sometimes even hopelessness and futility are common. Think of the noble man, Job, who lost his livelihood, family, and his health and wellbeing, yet still maintained his faith in a higher good. When you fully experience grief, there comes a time when the tears have started to dry and the meaning has kicked in—at this point you can have hope in a better future, and gratitude for having experienced what you had, but lost—the love of your life; your earlier successes in life; your contributions to the world. When you experience a deep loss or death, you become a “New Normal.” You won’t necessarily be the same person you were before, but you can grow into someone stronger, more compassionate, and more loving.

In the end, you realize that the only thing you can take with you in this world is the same thing you can give while you are here: Love.  When a loved one dies, the only thing that truly lasts is the love you experience for them in your heart and mind. As long as you are alive on this earth—living, breathing, working, enjoying, and loving—you have a special gift called Life. This is what you can share with others as you leave a legacy of goodness, joy, love, and peace.

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