Coping with Loss and Experiencing Growth the Mindful Way
I’ve been through a lot of loss and heartache lately. I don’t like to share too much personal information on these posts but for the sake of clarity, I will dip my toe into the vulnerable space of exposure. I’ll start when I lost my mom nearly four years ago. I witnessed her take her last breath. I wasn’t able to ever say goodbye to her or even hello. She was in a coma before I made the long horrible plane ride from Germany. Having to convince her then-husband to turn off the machines because the doctors said she was never coming back—ever—was the hardest, wildest thing I think I’ve had to do (or my sister has had to do). Imagine trying to convince someone to do something that your entire soul absolutely does NOT want. But you know you have to. So we had to carefully encourage him to allow the doctors to let her go.
Then we had to deal with the fact that said husband (of only 6 years) refused to give her a funeral.
Loss with no closure at all.
To make matters worse, I held her sweaty hand until she stopped breathing on Tuesday, and on Sunday I was back on a plane to far-away Germany where I barely had a picture, let alone anything personal from my family.
Loss with no closure at all.
Three months later my mom’s mother died. I flew back over. This time it was a little bit more "ok" because she was very old and ready to go. We had a proper funeral for her and I tried to mentally bury my mom in my grandmother’s casket.
Loss with a little bit of closure.
I, again, flew back a couple of days later to Germany. Then, about 6 months later, I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child. Unplanned. Not really wanted but after a few weeks of major nausea and dizziness, I started to bond with my children’s future sibling. Miscarriage at 10 weeks. Without delving too deep in detail, I got no support whatsoever with this.
Loss with no closure.
Then, I applied to grad school for psychology and got into my choice school in NYC. Oh how I was thrilled beyond belief!! I think it was the first time I’ve ever cried tears of joy (except for when my kids were born, although some of those tears were just relief.). My dreams of moving back to the USA, my dreams of pursuing a career in the thing I absolutely love were coming true!! Then as some months passed, I realized it wasn’t going to work to move there with the entire family, find a job, and afford it all. I had to give up my spot and start all over with the application process in Germany. In a foreign language. More transcripts, more personal essays, more resumé translating. More interviews.
Loss: still processing.
On an even more personal note, I have experienced major heartbreak of late. I’m not going to go into that. But let me tell you, my heart is empty now, when it was once filled up with joy. Where it was once wide-open, it is now closed. Now, the pain is so bad I think it’s going to be out-of-business indefinitely.
Loss on so many levels.
Ok, I'm done whining. You might be wondering by now what the hell my point is. People often like to take medication for all this despair. I respect that, and in fact, when my mom died I needed some of that too. It helped tremendously. But I would like to get through this stuff without it. I want to feel it all. Do you know why? No, not because I'm a sucker for pain. But because there’s this little thing called “growth”. Growth can come when you get through really crappy times. Growth can happen when people have hurt you so deeply you can no longer associate with them or even look at a picture of them. Growth can happen when your trust in others has been crushed. I need to see my losses as a pattern in my life. It is a pattern that keeps following me and until I grow from it, it’s going to stick to me like vinyl seats on a hot day. I don’t want to feel the pain. But I am going to have to. We all have to. It is part of life. But, I have to find help for myself somehow otherwise I will just stay in bed.
So my point to this post finally here: I want to share with you the things that help me get through tough times.
Time: Time really does heal all wounds. Time healed my sadness over my mom’s death. Time has healed all of that. I still miss my mom but it’s not as painful. Time healed my pain of losing a baby. I still think about it, but I’m ok now. I got through it. The things I am currently going through are still fresh. Time will make it better eventually. When you are experiencing something terrible or painful, keep reminding yourself that “this too shall pass”. It is so true.
Lean on friends and family: We all know this one but it is so important to emphasize. Friends—true friends—hang with you through a tough time, even when you’re being a downer, a pain in the ass, or just plain complicated and whiney (I know I have been lately!). Real friends are patient while you are going crazy. Real friends don’t wait for you to call them. They take initiative to call or write “How are you doing?” every so often. I have so many of these wonderful friends—old friends, new friends, my sister, and even people I barely know. I am so grateful for all of them. When I feel like the world is caving in on me I lean on them. And if they’re not available at that moment, I remind myself that they are indeed there. They are thinking about me. I am not alone.
Kids: Sometimes I have one of those days where I feel like I just don’t have the strength, you know, those days where you just want to stay in bed. When I have one of those days I look forward to my kids coming home. I embrace their stories about their day. I embrace all the loudness and chaos. I embrace them. I put my own crap aside to just “be”. Kids just “are”. I jump on their train and try to get lost on their sweet ride.
Meditate: I often mention this, because it is simply wonderful. I meditate when I feel like I can’t handle my shit. Meditation calms the thoughts. Slows your heart rate down. Enough said.
I get proactive: When I’ve done some of the above to regain focus and emotional clarity, I get proactive. I decide to work on something that will make me feel like I am moving my life forward. It could be updating a resume, working on (yet) another grad school application, it could be writing an article. Whatever makes me feel productive. Feeling productive is quite the anti-depressant. What things make you feel productive?
Fill your brain with junk: When I am simply too tired to be proactive, or perhaps nothing is really working like it normally does, I put the kids to bed and watch the silliest TV show I can find. I get out some snacks. I sit. Since I rarely watch TV, this works pretty damn well.
Go for a walk outside: Sound weird? Whatever. It helps. Go take a walk in nature. It will connect you with your true identity, your “soul self”. You know, the part of you who knows everything will be ok in the end. The other part of you is your ego. It is the one who is suffering so inexplicably that everything seems out of reach. Your "soul self" is your wise self. It is the part of you who will grow as a result of this pain. Get outside and connect with the earth, nature, God, the universe. Listen to the birds chirping. Feel the breeze. Hear the sounds of nature.
If you've made it this far, I thank you! I don’t want to bring you all down with this post! But I’m sure I am not the only one who has suffered, who is suffering. And I have to say: I'm not always mindful. I cry a lot lately. I mean, a LOT. But that’s ok. Do I feel like giving up sometimes? Absolutely. Do I sometimes feel like I’m not strong enough? Certainly. Do I sometimes feel like everyone and everything sucks? Yep. But I remind myself that if I can get through the pain, one step at a time, I will come out the other end eventually. Pain is happening because growth is happening. You might not be able to recognize it or appreciate it, but it is happening. That person who tore your heart apart? Mechanism for growth. That job you lost? Mechanism for growth. Death of a loved one? Monumental and permanent loss, but, also an opportunity for growth. If you or a friend is going through a rough spot, I hope this little post will inspire you to try some of these things, come up with your own, and--at the very least--just help you know that you are not alone.
You are NOT alone.
Time WILL change things. It ALWAYS does.
And, YOU CAN DO THIS!
What helps YOU deal with pain and loss? I would be thrilled to read your comments and have a lively discussion on my blog: www.moderndaymindful.com
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