Hard Lessons Learned about Grief: How Can You Turn Things Around after a Tragedy?

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You just received some stunning news, and your world has been turned inside out and upside down.  What will you do, and how can you turn things around after a tragedy or a deep heartache and keep going?  Your first thought is, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get through this.” Even though your world has stopped, everyone else’s world keeps going on as usual.  How will you get through this tragedy?  What will your life look like afterward?

Grief has the power to stop you in your tracks.  Everything within you and around you can be in such disarray that you have a hard time functioning at first.  The length of this first state varies among individuals and circumstances.  It’s a good thing at first – because it’s numbing – and it helps you to bear the unthinkable.  But beware:  this is not a place to settle into.

Some people have an especially tough time turning things around.  And some circumstances are more difficult to cope with.  My heart goes out to each and every one.  Profound loss is devastating.  It’s not unusual for grief to come as a complete shock.  You may not know anything about it when you first face grief.  That’s part of the problem.  But I want to try and help.

Grief Is Hard—but You Can Turn Things Around after a Tragedy

Several people have been in touch with me lately and each, in their own way, is struggling with how to go on after their loss.  I know it’s hard, really hard.  Like so many others, I had to learn the hard way.  But I did learn.  I refused to sacrifice the rest of my life because of the tragedy that had happened to me.  And at a certain point, I simply grew tired of where I was and how I was feeling, and I decided the time had come to do something about it.

Make no mistake:  the decision to turn things around has to come from you!  And, for a time, it will likely be a decision you have to make again every day, if not many times in a day.

Lessons from Grief and Loss

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, lost her husband suddenly last year.  In her commencement address at Berkeley she talked about what she had learned in death.  “I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again,” Sandberg said. “It is the hard days—the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

The Value of ‘Reframing’

Sometimes you have to consciously change the way you look at things.  Some call this ‘reframing.’  What I mean is this:  You can stay in the depths of grief by continuing to tell yourself that the loss shouldn’t have happened to you; you don’t deserve what happened; you’ll never get over your grief; your life will never be as good as it was before; no one cares; the pain is too deep to overcome; and on and on. 

Or, you can look at the most difficult circumstance you’ve ever faced and say, “I am determined to work through this grief and live again,” and “I will not let this tragedy defeat me.”  You can use the challenge you’re facing to build resilience, to grow stronger in your resolve to triumph over adversity.  Instead of seeing your situation as hopeless, reframe it as an opportunity to grow in ways that will help you throughout your life.  Just as you can choose to be a victim, you can also choose to be victorious; to find joy alongside your pain; to choose to bring meaning and purpose out of your loss.

You Get to Choose

Your overall life and your current  situation offer you similar opportunities.  You get to choose what you focus on and what your perspective is toward it. 

You don’t have to figure out everything at once.   Just decide to get started.   I had to return to work a week after my husband died.  At the time, I worked for a small company, and there was no one to step in and take over for me.  I knew we had deadlines – and I had responsibilities and people depending on me.  Just because my world had stopped didn’t mean that everything else stopped, too.  Looking back, I think that was a blessing.

I had no choice.   I had to get up and get ready every day.  I was responsible for work that had to be done.  I was forced to concentrate on things outside of my own feelings and situation.  For at least for 8-10 hours a day, I wasn’t thinking about myself all the time.  I was too busy for that.  Of course, when I came home to an empty house, my guard came down and my emotions overflowed.  I still grieved.  But I was growing stronger and becoming more independent, simply because I had to.

Your Choices Define Your Life

You have a choice to decide what will define your life.  Will your loss forever hold you down, hold you captive – or will you grow from your loss and use it as a steppingstone to personal growth and renewed joy in living?

Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re made of until you’re put to the test.  I’m willing to bet you’re stronger than you think.  You have reserves of power you’ve likely never had to call on.  I’ve seen this kind of strength demonstrated in men and women time and time again.  At first, they weren’t sure they could make it through.  They weren’t even sure they wanted to.  And they surely didn’t know what their life would look like in the future.  However, the key ingredient is the will to not only survive but thrive again.

The Power of the Will

Never underestimate the determined will of an individual! It can move mountains …

© 2016 Judy Brizendine

Photo credit:  unsplash.com

Related reading:

At the End of the Day What Are You Focusing on—and Will You Survive or Thrive? – by Judy Brizendine







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