Making strong connections to people, places, your spirituality, new learning, as well as your purpose and mission in life is a critical coping strategy. It makes the difference between living with life’s ups and downs or being inundated emotionally and physically when big changes occur. Significantly, there are numerous studies that prove the efficacy of connection, yet many mourners overlook the obvious.
Acting on the concept of connecting is an extremely powerful determinant in how one grieves any death and adapts to life without the physical presence of the loved one. Connecting is not limited to interpersonal relationships. Nature, storytelling, beauty, art, music, even specific objects owned by the deceased, or previously given to the mourner by the beloved, can serve as effective transitional bridges to strength and comfort. They can also play a key role in the opportunity for personal transformation that is always present when experiencing loss and change.
On the other hand, disconnection is the root cause of all unnecessary suffering. It leads, among other things, to isolation, boredom, increased loneliness, lowered self-esteem, and ultimately an increase in reactive depression. Neglect connecting on a variety of levels and you invite illness and more stress, not to mention emotional turmoil.
Most important, you lose the positive feelings toward the self (an essential force in meeting the new conditions of life) generated by continually choosing connections. This is not to deny the need to unplug from others periodically in solitude, in order to think through big questions and potential problems.
Here are some of the disconnections to avoid that block progress in doing one’s grief work.
1. Extended periods of being alone. As mentioned above we all need time alone. However, the tendency to stay isolated and allow the feeling of victimization to pervade our thinking is a dangerous practice. Yes, thoughts of self-pity are normal and you can give them short attention. Then it is critical to make a move. Do something to reorder your train of thought by focusing attention elsewhere. Planning specific connections for each day is the way through self-imposed isolation. This means we must reach out and not wait for others to reach out to us.
2. Refusing to try new behaviors and establish new routines. No one likes to accept the fact that without the presence of our loved one life becomes a new and different existence. We want our old life back. Without planning new activities, accepting some changes in old routines while building new ones, and reaching out to reestablish our feelings of worth, we inadvertently are building fences to keep the world out. Somehow it becomes necessary for us to find the space within to love the self and not only our beloved.
3. Turning down invitations by neighbors, co-workers, friends, or family. If you believe that socializing when mourning is disrespectful to the memory of the deceased, remember what your loved one would want you to do in this regard. Certainly not to have time in the safe and secure surrounding of people who care about and love you. Become aware that openness to being helped is one of the most positive coping responses to adopt. We need each other.
4. Hiding your feelings from others. It is normal to feel sad, exhausted, lose meaning about life, feel guilty, angry or depressed even though those feelings may seem utterly abnormal. When you find someone you trust let those feelings come to the surface. Share them. Perhaps one of the connections to consider is a mentor. Hiding feelings clearly results in more stress. Strong feelings that remain unexpressed leads to increased physical complaints since for every thought and emotion there is a corresponding cellular response within the body.
5. Not providing enough caring attention to your health. Eating well, trying to rest and sleep, taking a daily stress break, and doing some daily exercise are essential connections to work on. I see numerous mourners who are dehydrated, which culminates in more pain and interferes with sound thinking. Find the best foods to eat and examine the myths to debunk (like you have to drink eight glasses of water each day) as part of establishing a strong connection to maintaining good health.
6. Omitting nurturing connections to deceased loved ones. You will always have a connection to the loved one you are mourning and all loved ones who have passed. Never buy into the false advice that you have to let him/her go in order to get on with your life. That is untrue.
I tell every mourner I work with that it’s okay to talk to your deceased loved one. In fact, it is healthy to have conversations and to learn to love in separation. Ask a question and see what pops into your mind. Or imagine what your loved one would say to you. My mother died 30 years ago and I still talk to her. Make every effort to keep the memories alive as they will support and provide opportunities to talk about the loved one at appropriate times.
Finally, create the mindset that reprogramming is an ongoing part of life. We only intensify and prolong the pain of great loss by not committing to reinvesting in life through making the changes that our new circumstances demand. We have no control over the past but we can influence the way we deal with forming the present. Use the inevitable lifelong need to deal with change and the new circumstances presented as tools for personal growth. Make a commitment to increase patience, humility, and gentleness because these three are indispensible to making connections and avoiding disconnections in the process.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com
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