Navigating the Grieving Process: How to Find Strength When the Death of a Loved One is Inevitable
My husband, Scott, was an expert storyteller. His stories were legendary. As a family, we had created a Celtic music CD recording in a studio, but in all of the time we spent in the studio, we never thought to have him record his stories. It wasn’t until five months after his death, when I was outside raking, and I thought, I will never hear his stories again.
It was devastating. It was final. It was unfathomable.
The word “never” is the thing that will make you lose all hope. It was a big thing for me in my grieving process to not let myself say the word “never.” “Never” is a truly detrimental word.
But then I realized, Yes, I will hear them again. Just not for a while. I will because he's going to be resurrected, and so will I. I will see him again, and when I do, his stories will be even better than when he left.
Having the belief in a life after death, in the idea that our souls are eternal, separate from our bodies, and that our love for another transcends the physical body brought me the strength and courage to move on when I lost my other half.
Death Does Not Have to be Desolate
How one experiences grief revolves around the Savior, Jesus Christ. If you believe that once a person dies, their whole essence is gone, that they exist nowhere and you’ll never see them again, that will cause you to feel utter and complete despair. But if you have a belief that the spirit lives on, you will not be so desolate. If you have a belief in the resurrection and that a person's spirit can be joined with yours at a future time, it takes away the sting of death.
My neighbor was in her fifties when her twenty-something year old daughter died. She was so despondent because, as far as she knew, her daughter was wiped out, like she had never existed. The woman was so distraught that she pulled the blinds down and she wouldn't answer the door. I just wanted to grieve with her. I wanted to hold her hand and hug her, but she wouldn't let anyone in because her belief system left her desolate.
When it comes down to death, the rubber meets the road. It isn't Buddha who died for us, and it isn't Hinduism that will save us. There was only one person who made resurrection possible. So when you talk about death and how to process grief, we have to talk about the Savior.
Stop Blaming Yourself
Another part of the grieving process is asking yourself, Why did he die? Did he want to get away from this life? Is there something I did that made him give up on living? Every single person I've talked to who has lost a loved one and has asked themself these questions.
I may not be the easiest person to live with. I feel the need to be in charge, and I used to get mad pretty easily (I would at times use my loud, soprano singing voice for yelling). I considered these foibles of mine and thought, Did he die because he wanted to get away from me?
You think through all of those horrible, self-deprecating questions, blaming yourself for why they seemingly “gave up on life.” You're trying to figure out what you did, what you could have done, or if you could have done more. But what I finally came to realize is:
Their choice has nothing to do with you. People die the way they live, from their choices and their beliefs, and you play no role in either.
You’ll Make it Through the Loneliness
The most difficult part of the grieving I found is the feeling of loneliness. My husband has been gone for 18 years, and I still miss him every night. But when he first passed, a neighbor of mine (whose husband had also died) said it helps to have a stuffed animal in bed with you, something to, even minutely, fill the empty space next to you.
So when I was grieving, I found this puppet. He was a bear whom I named Abraham. I would keep Abraham by me and he made me really happy. Then after about five months, I didn't need him anymore. I was finally able to accept that this was my new life.
Another way to move beyond loneliness and embrace joy is to let other people share their stories about your loved one with you. It's comforting to most people when others remember their loved ones. I love it when people say nice things about my husband, and they still do 19 years later. I still have the sympathy cards I received, and almost every card said at least two nice things about him. “Oh, he was so energetic and I loved his stories.”
So after I read all of these sympathy cards, it gives me a real feeling for how they saw this lovely man and the impact he made on others, not just me.
You Just Can’t See Them
If you read books on near-death experiences, you’ll learn that souls don't like being called “dead” because to them, they're not dead. They're very much alive. They just exist in a different space. A friend’s mother believed that death was the end. Kaput. Done. Gone. But after she died, the mother’s spirit appeared to her granddaughter and said, “Oh, sh…! I was wrong!”
I look at death the way it felt when my husband would have a work trip to Japan. He would be gone for a week or two, halfway across the world. In those days we didn't have cell phones, and he would only call me maybe once or twice during that time. But I assumed that he was well and busy and doing things where he was, just as I was well and busy and doing things here at home.
I feel that now he is simply in another sphere, busy and doing things that make him happy, while I am here at home busy and doing things that help me grow. And just like I waited for the plane to bring him back to me, I now wait patiently for the Resurrection, which will bring his body back to his spirit.
Life isn't designed for us to be sad. Life isn't designed for us to be heavy when it gets too much. We've got to let go of grief and let life move on. Enjoy the new grandbaby. Enjoy the new flowers that are coming. Everyone comes to terms with death on their own time schedule, but we need to keep enjoying the things life brings us.
Your life doesn’t end because your loved one’s did. You have so much to look forward to, and your loved one wants you to enjoy every moment until you are both in the same space again.
For more advice on how to keep your strength after the death of your loved one, you can find Scott’s Choice: Letting Go, Letting God on Amazon.
Elaine Brewster is a personal health and wellness advocate in the truest form: after walking by her husband's side during cancer, she saw that physical aspects were just one small part of our whole well-being as humans. Her best selling book shares raw, real, and relatable conversations about chronic illness, self-care for caretakers, grieving, spiritual and emotional well-being, and the need for a more proactive + holistic approach to health.