There are many kinds of loss I have experienced throughout my life, but death has been the hardest by far. The finality of it stops me in my tracks, makes me suck in my breath to see if I still can. The pain in my chest is visceral, like a stab wound that won’t heal. Yet it’s also the one thing we are all certain to experience—losing loved ones to other side and one day taking that leap ourselves. Lately death’s shadow has hung over me like a thunderstorm with an endless supply of rain and I have had to rely on my training in positive psychology to find hope. In the midst of my despair, I have fallen back on some things that I know to be true. I will share them with you in the hope that they might help you climb out of a similar hole or reach out to someone who needs a little nudge back toward joy.
- Savor every moment you can. We’ve all heard from our elders that we should take time to enjoy the little things, but how many of us actually do? Savoring is placing your attention on something that brings you joy and consciously keeping it there. A warm cup of coffee, a dance outside in the rain, a shared joke, a quiet moment with your pet, an extra few minutes snuggling with your significant other. These are the moments we remember most when we’ve run out of time to enjoy them again.
- We can’t control everything, so focus on the things you can control. Life happens and it’s not always rainbows and sunshine. Little inconveniences and big worries often are beyond our realm of influence, so take the negative things in stride. Don’t try to shoulder them alone; we are social creatures by nature and should rely on each other when things go wrong. Make sure you are building healthy relationships that will help to provide you with a safe place to fall. Work on your communication skills and share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. Recognize if your mind slips into victim mentality by having too many “woe is me” moments; work actively to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and look for opportunities to grow. Put your effort into something constructive, whether it’s working toward a goal, training your body physically, or helping someone else.
- Bring joy to others when you are feeling the loneliest. There is something healing about giving when you are down. It may seem like you have nothing to give, but my mom once said to me “we must give of the substance of ourselves if we are to make a difference in the world”, and those words have never failed me. My husband embodies this attitude every day and there is nothing like the smile on his face after he has helped another person. So next time you are feeling low, reach out and extend a hand to someone else. In helping them, you may just help yourself.
- Remember that grief is a process, so allow it to work for you—don’t fight it or you will only delay your own growth. No matter how hard we try, we can’t win the race against loss, but we can turn our grief into a journey of self-discovery. At the moments when I feel my heart breaking, I imagine it growing even bigger, allowing myself to become a legacy for all those I have lost. I want nothing more than to make them proud and I know they would want me to move through this pain to find out what’s on the other side.
- Find words that inspire you and repeat them to yourself. Repeated thoughts or mantras can impact our neuronal connections, so we want to make sure they’re positive ones! One phrase I have been reminded of is from the movie “Secondhand Lions” when one of the wacky uncles tells the nephew: “True love never dies.” It’s an age-old adage, but at the core of my being, I believe it to be true. I cannot tell you what the other side looks like, if there are pearly gates or a rainbow bridge, but I do know that matter is neither created nor destroyed completely. I do know that there is something else, even if I can’t explain what that is. When I sit in silence with my tears, wishing that I had just one more moment with my loved one, I suddenly feel that I am no longer alone. Love lives on, even if it feels further away for a little while.
As my loved ones watch over me, they will no doubt see me shed some tears, but they deserve to see me smile. They would want me to move forward with joy, celebrating this beautiful world we live in, sharing laughter and focusing on making a difference. Through helping others, I can honor their memories, spread kindness, and heal myself in the process. And though I know that grief is a process and will contain difficult moments, I am determined to allow it to change me. If I have to endure the pain of loss, I would rather do it as a springboard into joy, savoring every bit of life I can muster and using their love as a guide. In this way, I not only believe that “true love never dies”, but I become the message, so that when it is my time, I might inspire someone else to do the same in my memory.
Additional Resources for Positive Psychology:
University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/
Authentic Happiness Website: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/
Positive Psychology Program: What Is Positive Psychology & Why Is It Important? https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/what-is-positive-psychology-definition/