If you have been close to someone who has died, you are in pain. At times, it seems almost unbearable. You may also feel despair and hopelessness. Guilt, anger, and depression are normal emotions that may rear their ugly heads.
How can you deal with the pain of loss? What have others done to assuage their grief? Some strengthen their support network by joining a support group while others lean on good friends who will share their pain and not try to fix it. Very few are aware that their most powerful coping response is to strengthen their ability to love. Yes, to love. Don’t stop reading. It works again and again, because it takes you outside of yourself, as you will see.
Few counselors or therapists recommend the focus on love because it seems a rather Pollyanna approach to facing a major change in life. Yet, in my experience it is the most productive inner choice you can make. Here are three ways you can use this approach to reduce and eventually eliminate your pain.
1. Work at increasing your ability to love in separation. Start with the intent that although your loved one has died, your relationship never will. It changes to a relationship based on memories, new traditions, and celebrations in which the loved one is symbolically remembered. This is extremely important–you can love in separation even as you reinvest in your new life, as you must. It will get you through your great loss.
This means there is nothing wrong with talking to your loved one each day. Consider what psychotherapist Thomas Moore, in Dark Nights of the Soul, says about talking to deceased loved ones:
“The dead have lived in our space, in our homes, and on our land. They are part of our world…I pray for and to my mother, and I trust that she still prays for me…I converse with her now more than ever before… Maybe if we honored the dead more, we would know better what it means to have reverence for life…”
Light a symbolic candle at holidays and family reunions as a new tradition, start a memorial trust or scholarship fund, plant a memorial tree in his/her honor, listen to the deceased’s favorite music, or eat his/her favorite meal or dessert. Find ways to love. Print out the Moore quote to use as a reminder to become an expert at loving in separation.
2. Start each day with the intent of being a more loving person to all you meet. At the same time, make a commitment to be more loving and caring to family and friends. For those you have had conflict with in the past, look for the good and their strong points first.
Zero in on specific forms of kindness–sincere compliments, giving your time to one of their causes or interests, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, making prayer shawls or quilts for the newly bereaved, or join a group with an environmental purpose. The interaction will help you immensely. Find ways to sincerely love.
3. Use this daily check of your progress. We all have to start new routines after the death of our loved one. So add this new routine to your schedule. Each evening, at the end of the day, go to your favorite quiet place in your home. Sit quietly for a few moments. Listen to your breathing. Relax and light a candle, if you wish or play soft music.
Then ask yourself this question: “What moment during the day did I cherish most, where I freely gave or received love? Immerse yourself in it and take note of all of the details surrounding the experience. Give thanks for the experience. After a few minutes, ask yourself this question: “What moment during the day did I least cherish, where I did not choose to give love or receive it.” Consider the circumstances and then decide what you could have done to influence a different outcome. Each day, seek to become more aware of the needs of self and others, and how your efforts will make a huge difference in the quality of life.
What happens as you give and receive love is that you will find many opportunities to strengthen your social network which is more important to healing than any medication or vitamin. Once more, through loving, you will reduce your risk of becoming depressed and literally strengthen your immune system.
Loving is a choice and quite reasonable; it will bring many new ideas to consider, people to meet, and places to go. It’s inevitable, as it puts you on a high road away from the pain of loss and on a new focus on gratitude for life. It gradually leads to the biggest prize of all: inner peace.