Yesterday, I spoke with a 77-year-old man who lost his wife of 46 years just seven months ago. He said he was having trouble “getting over it.” September 21st was the 33rd anniversary of my younger brother’s death, and I have not gotten over it. Yes, it feels different 33 years later, and I am not “over it.” The conversation with this gentleman struggling to find a way to live in his new world reminded me of some tools for dealing with loss and how to take those tentative steps forward.
Don’t Expect to Get Over It.
Having the expectation that you will get over it will increase your suffering. You will never stop wishing that you could talk with them, see them, or spend one more day – or minute – with them. Life is different after loss. What may be the greatest challenges are the holidays without them, that first birthday without them, the anniversary of their passing, and simply waking up to a different world without them. It is painful.
Talk About Them.
Talk about what they enjoyed. Talk about how you met. Talk about how they made you laugh. Let others know what they were like, what movies they enjoyed, and their favorite foods. It is so good to talk about the person that you loved.
So, let me tell you about my little brother, Terry! He was way cute, and he so loved ping pong. One of our best Christmases was when he got a ping pong table. Our garage became such a fun place! In high school, we had a demonstration by a fantastic Chinese ping pong team. It wasn’t their Olympic team because table tennis had not yet become an Olympic sport, and none-the-less, this team was incredibly good. They asked for a volunteer from the audience, and who walks down from the bleachers but my brother! What courage! He did return a few serves and everyone cheered, and he was so good natured about not holding a candle to these gods of ping pong. I was very proud for him.
Find Ways to Honor Them in Your Life.
Embrace this – you can honor them in your life. Honoring them in your daily life or in the “ordinary” is a way of keeping your heart open to the love you feel. You can cook things in their honor, light a candle, choose to live from a value they exemplified, create music or art, or dedicate things to them. How you honor them is totally your choice.
I choreographed a dance about my brother and in his honor. It was my thesis, and I later set it on two different dance companies, dedicating it to him in the programs. On a more “daily scale,” I play ping pong with great joy!
Have Someone to Talk To.
Have one someone or several people to talk with. It could be friends, family, or a therapist who knows about grief. Find a supportive, comforting space where you can share with others how you feel. You are not in this by yourself.
Honor Where You Are.
Take care of your tender heart. Honor your feelings. Honor your energy or lack of energy. Honor that you may not want to make decisions or go out or eat much. Cry. Lean into that heart-wide-open vulnerability. Honor where you are.
When Great Trees Fall
When Great Souls Die
By Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
Rocks on distant hills shudder,
Lions hunker down in tall grasses,
And even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests,
Small things recoil into silence,
Their senses eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
The air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe briefly.
Our eyes briefly see with a hurtful clarity. Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken.
Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.
And when great souls die,
After a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us, They existed.
We can be. Be and be better.
For they existed.