Everything comes to an end.
Sometimes it’s the death of a loved one, a breakup, or the actualization that a dream will never come true. I’ve had to learn and relearn what it means to mourn well. An Achiever’s M.O. is to constantly stay busy so feelings can stay repressed. It’s often times much easier to operate without them, but numbing emotions can be just as unhealthy as letting them run rampant.
Whatever your situation may be, and whether you’re an Achiever or not, loss and heartache are very real feelings that can provide valuable lessons and insights. I’m currently in a season where I recently resigned from my job and am forced to grapple with what could have been versus what’s really happening. Whether I’ve really accepted it just yet, my mind and body are going through a mourning process, and they’re struggling to understand the finality, and death, of an ideal perceived future. That’s taking some getting used to.
“Naming your fears, being aware of them—even moving into them—brings you into a relationship with your heart, which is why it takes courage to do it. It brings you to an awareness of your limitations and your neediness. You can know yourself and then have yourself to give to others. If you are not in possession of yourself, you have nothing to give.” — Finding Heart in Art, Dr. Shawn Jones
I am by no means a grief expert and I am highly unqualified to be considered anything of the sort, but what I write below are the things that have helped me in processing my situation as they continue to develop.
1) Slow down and ask Why?
It seems silly, but I’m often times so disconnected from my feelings that I have to purposely stop from doing things to dive deeper into a place of introspection.
When my company restructured earlier this year and I found out I would be on my own instead of on a team, I realized I was really upset because I had enjoyed working with my colleagues. Internally, I felt we were finally hitting our stride and we had a lot of rapport built with each other. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t see them as often.
But as I dove deeper, I realized this was only the surface reasoning. In truth, I was much more upset at the unpredictability of the future. I thought us working together would lead to easier work and more opportunity. I had a dream portrayed that would no longer come to fruition and that’s what scared me. What I wanted most was the ability to know the future and to be able to have a certain level of control over it. What I was given instead was the exact opposite.
It was the realization of this disappointment that taught me intentions around my own heart and what I was reluctant to hand over.
The next step is learning to give thanks. There is no better prescription for heartache than gratitude. Whether it’s losing a loved one or the death of a dream, taking time to think back and appreciate the good moments and times shared is a healthy part of the mourning process.
As I’m going through my current season, what has helped is for me to verbalize and write out a list of things I’ve appreciated:
- What did the person or season mean to me?
- How did they/it help me become who I am today?
- Would I be who I am without it?
There’s a quote in Marie Kondo’s book, The Magical Art of Tidying Up:
“The place we live should be for the person we are becoming now – not for the person we have been in the past.”
The message of the book is more catered around organization and decluttering, but I found this section applicable to mourning and practicing gratitude in all aspects of life.
When Marie cleans out her wardrobe and decides what articles of clothing she’ll keep or remove, she goes through a practice of thanking each physical piece of clothing for its purpose and role its played in her life.
Similarly, there will always be bits and pieces of people and memories we carry with us forever. But more so than trying to live in the past, be thankful for the role that person and season has played to make you who you are today, in the present.
This is a hard phase. This does not mean “get over it,” but this is learning to accept the reality that what was will not be returning. Similarly to closing a book after the final chapter, there’s nothing left to read. The story has arrived at its end.
Death does not mean something no longer exists, it means it now takes a different shape. Playwright, Robert Woodruff Anderson, captures it perfectly in his statement, “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.”
We will always be with our loved ones, there will always be remnants of a dream, but the shape and form of it now manifests itself differently.
Sometimes it helps to vocalize, “It’s over.”
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, ends each day by closing his laptop and going through a “shut down” routine to signal to his mind and body that work time is over.
Similarly, I have found it beneficial for me to create a physical practice that signifies to me that my ideal dream, relationship, or whatever it may be, is not returning.
It may seem ridiculous, but it’s helped me to physically say these words out loud.
4) Look forward
The last phase is to now look forward.
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said that, “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.”
Here is the beauty of looking forward after something or someone dies: with every death, loss, or setback, comes an understanding that a foundation for something even bigger and better is being laid.
Trees have to die for new plants to sprout. Rebirth and resurrection do not take place without death.
And with that, rebirth brings about new opportunities and a better (although different) way of living.
For the Christian, there is no salvation without Christ’s resurrection; there is no resurrection if Christ had not first and foremost, died.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook & Author of Option B
Death is a natural part of the beauty in the world we live. With every change, there will be loss. And with loss, life.
I say all this fully understanding that this is not a simple 4-step process one follows to overcome grief. Emotions are messy, and it takes time for things to heal. I’m still trying to sort this out as I walk through it to the best of my ability.
And even then, there will likely remain scars that will travel with me for the remainder of my life. But I use loss and heartache as a representation of the beauty of life and as a teacher to help mold me as an individual.
The greatest comfort I can provide myself, and hopefully others, is that loss and heartache are temporary. They don’t follow you for eternity.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. — Luke 6:21
Keep fighting the good fight.