Sunday, March 29, 2015

6 Steps to Heal From a Loss

When we lose a loved one, we feel as if a part of us has been taken away, leaving a gaping hole in our heart. We wonder, “Will I ever feel whole again?”

Over time, our pain will lessen and the hole in our heart will begin to close. Here are six steps we can take to help us move through our grief.

1. Give yourself emotional first aid. When we experience a loss, we feel adrift in an ocean of pain. Reach out for support. Unburden yourself to God and ask Him to give you strength and comfort. Accept (or ask for) help and support from family and friends; that’s what they’re there for. Don't be ashamed to ask for hugs and cry on their shoulder. Lastly, give yourself self-compassion by talking to yourself with words of compassion, comfort and encouragement.

These three sources of support – God, other people and yourself – will help you get through your grief, and lessen the searing pain you feel. Eventually, you will be able to focus on accepting the loss. For more details on the topics of social support, self-compassion, and acceptance, see, “6 Tools to Enhance Your Mood.” This article also discusses the importance of having goals and projects. While you don’t want to suppress your grief, don’t wallow in it either. Find meaningful ways to keep busy, especially ones that involve being around other people.

2. Know for whom you are grieving. According to Jewish tradition, when we grieve over a loss, we are not mourning for the one who passed; they are in Heaven, basking in the warm glow of closeness to our loving Creator. We are mourning for ourselves, that we now have to continue our lives without them.

Even as we mourn, even as we know that no one can take their place, we find strength from the following realization: Just as God sent this loved one into our lives to be a source of love and support, so too will He send other people to love and support us. We have to be open to receiving this love, and not shut ourselves off from those who reach out to us. (Do not stand on ceremony, waiting for people to contact you. When you are ready, contact them and take advantage of the social support available to you, e.g., family members, friends, mentors, support groups, and local synagogues).

3. Remember that the loss is only temporary. What is so painful about death is that it seems so permanent, as if we will never see our loved one again. But we will. When we go to Heaven or after the Messiah comes, we will be reunited with them. Death of a loved one only means a short-term separation. Since the Messiah can come any day, any day we can be reunited with our loved one.

4. Find meaning in your loss. Erroneously thinking a loss could have been prevented, magnifies our pain. Part of finding meaning and accepting a loss is realizing that ultimately everything comes from God for our eternal benefit, in ways we do not understand.

This awareness is borne out in the blessing mourners recite, where they refer to God as, “The true Judge.” By referring to God in this way, we acknowledge that regardless of the superficial cause of death, ultimately, it was God who called this person back to Heaven. (For further discussion, see, “Who Caused This Crisis?”)

God’s essence is love and mercy. There are times though when this essence is clouded over and we perceive Him as a strict judge. But even then, even in the depths of our pain, we still acknowledge that God is a judge of truth; that there is a truthful and good reason for His actions, even though we do not understand His ways.

Many people feel regret over not having done enough for their loved one. While we could have always done more, given our other responsibilities it was likely not practical; we did the best we could under difficult circumstances.

If you feel regret, ask your loved one for forgiveness and say to them what you wish you had. Trust that they hear your heartfelt words and forgive you. In addition, look for ways to bring merit to their soul, by doing mitzvot, good deeds, learning Torah and living your life in ways that will make them proud. This will comfort and elevate their soul. Lastly, use any regret over missed opportunities to motivate you to deepen your relationships with your loved ones. Spend time with them, have meaningful conversations, and share your feelings for them which you carry in your heart.

5. Realize that nothing in this material world is permanent. Our unspoken expectation is that those close to us will live forever; when they die, we are filled with shock and grief. Nothing though in this material world lasts; everything – the money we accumulated, the houses we built, the health we preserved – will eventually fade away. We can be bitter about this reality, or realize that it is part of God’s wondrous plan in creating the world.

God created the world in a manner where, when we die, everything material is left behind. This teaches us that the purpose of life is not pursuing materialism. The reason we were created is to accomplish things of lasting value that we will take with us. These are our Torah learning, mitzvot and good deeds which will accompany our soul to Heaven, where we will reap eternal reward for performing them.

Death is the ultimate reminder that life in this world is transitory. We pass through with the aim of gathering what will provide us with eternal spiritual nourishment in the World to Come.

When we use the death of a loved one to remind us to focus on pursuits of lasting value and to live the lessons we learned from them, then our loved one has not died; they live on through us.

6. Know that you will be able to rebuild. When you lose a loved one, your world is shattered and you are left with the challenge of picking up the pieces and rebuilding it.

Just as you built your life until now with the pieces God gave you, so too will you be able to build a new life for yourself with the pieces He gives you now. It will take time and it will not be easy, but you can do it. Start small and just focus on putting the essentials in place. Then, piece by piece, with God helping you along the way, you will rebuild your life.

This new life may be very different from the one you lived until now, but you can find happiness again.

Over time, as you allow yourself to grieve, you will realize that your loved one has become part of you and is with you always. They have taken up residence in your heart, soothing the pain that was there and restoring, to some extent, a sense of wholeness.

We may always feel a tinge of grief when thinking about a loved one who has passed on; occasionally, intense feelings of grief may wash over us. This is normal and to be expected. To feel complete wholeness, we have to wait until the Messiah comes, when the world will be made whole again.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve; some people take more time than others. Regardless of how you grieve, know that you do not grieve alone; God says to you (Isaiah 66:13), “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you…”

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