You’ve just lost a loved one – a spouse, a child, a parent, or someone else dear to you. Loss may have come through death or divorce; through moving away or miscarriage. It may have come through normal life developments, such as a child growing up and leaving home. Perhaps, your loved one did something awful, leaving you feeling you don’t know them anymore – that you have lost the person you loved. What ever form it takes, it can be one of life’s most painful and challenging experiences. Yet, it happens to all of us.
When significant loss occurs in our lives and families, we can survive the experience and come out stronger, wiser, and even more loving than before. After a heartbreaking grief experience, many have observed that these challenges provided some of the most important lessons and growth opportunities of their lives.
How can we get through grief, yet learn and grow from the experience, in positive ways that make our lives better than before? Four time-tested steps can help guide you through the grief process. They are easy to remember: The “4 F’s”: FACE – FEEL – FREE – FIND.
1. FACE the reality of the loss – and of its consequences
When great pain occurs, it is human nature to avoid it, to deny it, and seek to escape it. We might do so through simply turning our attention away, refusing to think about the loss, and its effects in our lives. We might do so through drowning our sorrows in television, or social media. We might even turn to addictive substances like alcohol, sugar, or pornography to dull the pain of our loss. Denying or avoiding pain only prolongs it – and makes it worse in the long run.
So the first step to healing from a loss is – to FACE it directly – to recognize that our lives are forever changed by the loss of this person we loved. Some parts of that change are painfully negative. Some may be positive and growth-producing. We FACE our loss when we acknowledge that it is real, that things will never be the same again, that the loss will affect various aspects of our lives from this point forward. That awareness can be deeply painful – but also deeply liberating, freeing us to move forward into the next step of the healing process:
2. FEEL your feelings – all of them
Loss hurts – a lot. That pain may be felt emotionally, spiritually, even physically. We may feel an ache or emptiness inside our chests . We may feel anger at our loved one for leaving us. We may feel despair, wondering how we will ever pick up the pieces and continue onward in our lives. We may feel afraid of a future without our loved one beside us. We may feel confused, bewildered, shattered, abandoned. Above all – we may feel terribly alone. These intense, overwhelming feelings are part of the normal grief process. We need not run from them. We need to feel them and work through them, if we are to move past them. Otherwise, we simply stuff them underground – in the way of future loving and future living.
We can deal with these feelings by expressing them – in a private journal; to a friend, counselor, or religious advisor. We can express them in creative work – writing, drawing, music, or dancing. We can take long walks or drives, allowing ourselves to weep, rage, even scream out the pain. We engage in intense physical activity to release the physical stress of our grief.
Above all, we can open our hearts and minds to feeling what we feel, when we feel it. As we do so, something marvelous occurs. Allowing our open hearts to feel our painful feelings also opens the gates of new positive feelings – of increased love for our loved ones, including those still with us; of increased understanding and compassion for others who have hurt as we have hurt; of faith and hope that things will get better; of peaceful assurance that we are strong enough to weather this.
3. FREE yourself of thoughts and behaviors that make it worse
When grief strikes, we may be tempted to make matters worse. Thoughts such as, “It’s my fault he’s gone;” “People I love always leave me;”or “It’s not worth loving – it just hurts too much” expand our current pain, and set us up for future pain. Behaviors such as withdrawing from others, or drowning our sorrows in addictive substances, can only make a hard situation harder for us – and for others who may also be grieving the loss of our loved one.
We must free ourselves of such negative thoughts and behaviors, replacing them with thoughts and behaviors that mobilize our strength, faith, and optimism. This is a process, over time. But it lays the foundation for the last of the healing steps:
4. FIND yourself
Grief can acquaint us with new, deeper, stronger parts of ourselves. If we will let it, grief can be one of our greatest teachers. It can bring us new wisdom, power, and strength to reach out to others who hurt, as one who truly “has been there."
These four steps can guide our healing journey through grief, helping us experience powerful benefit and growth – even from the most painful of life experiences.