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Adapting to the Loss of a Loved One: Three Tips on how to Cope
Have you ever sat down and played a piano where one of the keys wasn't working? Or made cookies and left out an ingredient? Perhaps you've started listening to a favorite CD, and just when it gets to your favorite part of your favorite song, you realize that there is a scratch in it.
In some ways, losing a loved one is similar. Here you are going easily through life, and then, BAM, they are gone and life will never be the same. That piano piece sounds different because the middle C is broken, the cookies just aren't the same, and at times, we are frustrated like we are when our CD gets scratched. Unfortunately, with the loss of a loved one, it is more difficult to fix than the piano or the batch of cookies, and your loved one was irreplaceable, unlike the CD. Short and simple, this is what grieving is: learning to cope with the loss of someone who was apart of what made us what we are. So, what do we do? How do we go on after they are gone? I have a few suggestions that might help you through.
First of all, just as each of us has different personalities, each of us grieves in a different way. There is no right or wrong way to feel or act, as long as you are not endangering yourself or others. Some of us cry. Others of us bury ourselves in work or hobbies. If the person is still living and only the relationship has changed, it is very easy for us to do all we can to change things back to how they used to be. At times, it may take a while to truly even admit that they are gone. We just might feel numb. Some of us might even feel guilty if we don't feel sad enough! So, take your feelings and actions for what they are and be patient with yourself. After all, you have just lost a part of what makes you who you are.
Also, find a way to transition your loved one into your new life¹. My father in law lost his dad last year and he hung a picture of him up in the living room to remember him. Others write goodbye letters to their loved one, giving themselves a chance to tell them things that they never got to say. Some of us keep a little box full of pictures and memories only to be taken out when we want to remember them, because remembering them all the time would be too overwhelming. I had a friend who's little brother died. She got married on his birthday as a way to include him at her wedding. Once again, it depends on you and your relationship with the one you loved. For instance, burning every picture you had of an ex-boyfriend might be the perfect way to transition.
Another thing, you usually don't ever "get over it." Your loved one is gone. If you no longer have an ingredient to make cookies, it's easy to realize that replacing it with a different ingredient would not make the cookies start tasting like they used to. To expect that you will be able to replace your loved one is also unrealistic. This reality may sound even more depressing. Frankly, I love chocolate chip cookies, and the idea of not ever having one again is quite upsetting! But in time, if I had to, I could grow to love other sweets, like banana bread, sweet potato pie, or brownies. So, even if you aren't going to get over it, in time, you will adapt to the loss and find fulfillment through other experiences and relationships.
So, be patient with yourself. Losing someone isn't easy. It turns your life upside down. Naturally, it's going to take a while to pick up the pieces and transition to life without your loved one. Remember, Beethoven composed some beautiful music after losing his hearing, and you will find happiness and fulfillment again in your life after losing your loved one.
¹Wordern, J.W. (1991). Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy: A guidebook for the Mental Health Practitioner. Springer Publishing
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