How to Philosophize Grief

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Our son, Landon, introduced us to a new game that is an app on his iPhone. It’s played against other people who have the app – it’s called Trivia Crack and it’s addictive! You get 20 seconds to give the correct multiple-choice answer. We played it all the way home from visiting our grandchildren this Easter. Even if we didn’t get every question, we learned new facts to the questions in each category – much like a game of Trivial Pursuit. It was fun!

Asking new questions – that’s one of the benefits of coming out of grief and mourning. It gives us the ability to ask questions that help us grow in a different direction than before. You don’t get answers if you’re not asking questions. Questions are the main ingredient in changing perception. And we need a different view of life following the death of a loved one or friend or any loss we may experiencing. Our power to change lies in the questions we ask.

In many ways we become philosophers because we seek answers. Sometimes we seek answers as to why the person died; if there is anything beyond this earth; or what might be next for our lives. “What is my purpose now that my loved one is gone?”

Sometimes the questions are unanswerable. But the questions can also help us to gain momentum and get back into life in order to discover our next steps.

Those who don’t ask questions get stuck! Those who ask questions get answers – maybe different ones than they expected, but ones that lead to growth and life.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions.

 

Who Am I Now?

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Personal identity is a big part of our grief work. When my first wife died, I really struggled with being single again: who was I now without her? I had to redefine and struggle with this new me. For 25 years, I was a husband. In conversations with strangers, the question would often come up, “So are you married?” I would have to tell the story. I was single and I was trying to understand what that meant. I didn’t like my new identity as a single person. I was missing my wife.

When I counsel seniors whose spouse has died after 40, 50 and sometimes 60 years of marriage, this new identity is even more difficult to sort out.

If you are one of them, know that you are special. By virtue of your long marriage you have been grafted together with your spouse in a wonderful and beautiful way that has made you who you are right now.

You life shared is still part of you. It always will be. Don’t forget that as you show the world who you are today.

 

Walk, Run or Pump

100-0039_IMG-1024x768An important approach to grief work is exercise. There are amazing by-products from exercise that support a healthy grief journey.

Our bodies are amazingly made and work together in ways that help healing take place, given the chance.

You will likely feel weak when you are grieving, especially in the days following the death of a loved one or friend. This is a normal reaction to missing someone important in your life. You are trying to figure out the emotional detachment toward a person who is no longer present. It’s not an easy journey and affects not just your spirit but your body as well.

With proper diet, adding the nutrition that you need, a disciplined exercise regime can help you in your grief journey as well.

Research shows that exercise helps you to sort out your emotions more effectively, to think more clearly, to improve your self-regard, and to help you mix back into society more quickly. If you form this good habit forever, you will of course become physically fit in addition to all the other benefits.

When I went through the loss of my first wife, my kinesiologist-daughter told me to get out and exercise. I was shocked at the difference it made in my attitude and ability to deal with the intense grief I was feeling.

What about you? When you are going through loss and see what happens – why not try to walk, run or pump? You may be surprised at the results. No better time to start than as the calendar turns to 2015.

 

Which Hat Will You Wear?

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When someone dies, you will have to put on a new hat. And that’s not easy.

Your identity changes when a significant person in your life dies. If it is a spouse, who are you now without your wife or husband? When a parent dies, who are you without your mom or dad?  How do you cope when your child dies – who are you now?

When my Dad died, I knew that I would never have another one, and I was heartbroken. When people ask me where my parents live, I need to tell them that my father died a number of years ago but my mom still lives. I put on a new hat as a son who has only a mother alive and no father.

But that doesn’t mean that I no longer have a relationship with my Dad. It’s just different now. I still love my Dad and I always will.

Discovering our new identity without that person in our lives is difficult but part of our transitional loss work. Why?  Because we miss who we were with that person. A chunk has been taken out of our lives and we have to redefine ourselves taking into consideration that scar.

While you will be different now, you are still who are because of your loved one. They have contributed to the person you have become.

So maybe, at some level you might be wearing two hats.  Both hats are necessary. Both are good. One hat looks back. One looks forward.

 

When I talk about my Dad, I share stories about how he has impacted my life. I tell people about how, in some ways, I am like him. I share important life lessons that he taught me. This is all good remembering and honours him.

 

Every person who has died and who is no longer part of your life has made you who you are in some identifiable ways. That’s the wonderful thing about having relationships. We impact each other.

 

I guess I will take off my hat to my Dad today and thank him for what he added into my life.

Home Alone

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I had to adjust to being home alone this past year. My wife, Erica, who is a teacher and choral conductor, went back to work and leads a very full life.

After 28 years of having my own heavy schedule, I am shifting directions in my work and find myself spending more time at home reading, writing and researching as I embark on a career change.

As a natural extrovert, a former pastor, and an individual who is used to being with people constantly, I now find myself adjusting to a new way of living life. It’s had its challenges for sure.

Following the death of a loved one, you will want to spend some time alone. Grieving starts in the heart as you begin to sort out all of the deep emotions and sense of loss that permeate your internal life. Your heart is your safe place where only you can be still and reflect.

But all of us will need to leave our home and begin to express what is going on in the inside and move outside the door of our heart to interact with the world and people once again.

It’s okay to be home alone for a while.  But you will need to invite others in for a visit.

Another Year

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Each birthday is yet another transition: a year older to think about where life was at this time last year and where it may take you next.

I like transitions. Not that I desire to go through them often, but they lead me to ask some deeper questions, to appreciate the blessings of life and to realize that you can make it through life and its challenges.

That pretty well sums up life, doesn’t it?

Life does bring its challenges, but that’s okay.  It’s what you do with them that is important.

Life also brings its blessings. It is knowing what they are and appreciating each one for its unique place in your life.

Life does present its opportunities.  What will you do with them as you step out in courage to explore what these might be each and every day?

Grief is a challenge, a blessing and an opportunity. Think about each one of them as you transition through loss, because life is still present for you. And you might be blessed to have another year to live in this wonderful world.

Believe It or Not

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The sign said that the boulder was 10,000 pounds. It was at the entrance to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in Baltimore. I gazed at the huge sphere for a few moments and pondered its immense weight: “Ten thousand pounds? How on earth did it get there in the first place?” I wondered.

When someone dies, our first reaction is disbelief. Often, our first words are, “I can’t believe they’re gone…” For some, we find ourselves saying those words for a number of days as we succumb to the shocking truth that we will never see that person in this life again. That’s hard.

It really is a time of “believe it or not” and one of the heaviest burdens that weighs us donw as we begin our grief work.

I never went into the museum nor did I find out how that boulder was placed there in the entrance. But it was, by someone somehow. I imagine that if a stone were brought there, it could also be removed.

Know that the weight of your grief will slowly roll away. It may not seem like it at the present moment. But, believe it or not, it will.

 

Naked at the Window

Out-the-window-764x1024They looked out the window together.  It was the first time she had ever seen snow.  Ella, our youngest grandchild, was mesmerized.  “She wanted to stay there and look”, her mom told me.  It was all so brand new.

Do we not stand naked at the window in our grief journey?  Or rather, should we stand naked at the window in our grief journey?

“Naked” really means being exposed. It’s laying ourselves out to what is unknown. It’s coming to a point of not covering up anything anymore.

We have a hard time recognizing ourselves following the death of a loved one.  We take on a new identity without that person.  We strip down and start looking out the window from a new perspective.

It’s not easy, but necessary if we want to see the first snow fall again.