experiencing loss

Talking about experiencing loss, when I was 14, my family was in a car crash on the way home from vacation. My dad died instantly.

Everything I thought my life was… shattered.

After spending the last 20 years, grieving my dad, my best friend, my grandparents, and life long friends, I’ve started to explore what it takes to go from just trying to survive, to knowing how to thrive.

I interviewed and taught hundreds of students, and one thing became clear: when you lose someone you love (which is the source of grief) it shakes who you believe you are and what you are for yourself. Dreams you thought were nearly certain are gone overnight and the thing you ask yourself the most is what is the purpose of your life.

That’s when I started sharing three truths about finding what you want to work for after you’ve experienced loss, truths that are particularly hard to see through all the waves of grief. This is what I want to share with you today.

The Truth about Experiencing Loss

Talking about grief is hard because it’s something most people want to avoid. That makes these three truths particularly difficult to see because culture, people around you, and even you keep telling yourself what you should be doing, where you should be on your grief journey, and you know in your heart you just aren’t there. 

When you spend all day just trying to get by, swatting back the “how are yous” that you know people don’t really want to hear about or the “what have you been up tos” that you don’t really have an answer to, you spend your time on the defensive. 

It hurts to grieve. 

A lot. 

So you do things to protect yourself, and anything that less than what you thought was your life. 

And that’s natural. 

Unfortunately, for most people, this is where they get stuck. 

Experiencing Loss

Never feeling in control of yourself or being able to find home again because all your energy is focused on what is coming at you from outside yourself – your family that is wondering when dinner is going to be ready. Your mom calling to know what you did this week and having to figure out an answer, even though she always see right through it and makes you feel like you are not being productive. A colleague complaining about her parents when you just wish you had parents. 

All this leaves you waking up each morning feeling lost, like what do you really work for anymore? 

One client of mine approached a counselor with this question on her mind, and the response she got was that she needed to write down her goals. 

The best she could come up with was: I want to be a happy person. The response she got at the next counseling session was: that’s not measurable. 

You see, what she was really searching for is her inner compass.

How to know what she wants to work for – after the dream she had for retirement with her husband shattered after his death 4 years ago. Even though she did the practical things, like sell the cabin they were going to move to, she still didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her own retirement now. 

Most people would love an easy pill that would automatically make you feel better. But finding what you want to work for after you’ve felt deep loss doesn’t work that way. 

You actually have something even better: your grief. 

Excuse me? What? 

Maybe you are offended just by reading that last sentence. Maybe you are thinking, “Kirsten, my grief is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, how can you say that it’s a good thing for me.” 

Here’s the thing that most people don’t know about grief: Pain from grief is the footprint of your love. In other words, the roadmap of your love is the same roadmap to understanding your grief. 

Which means if you feel stuck in grief when you take the time to get a clear picture of your grief you actually show yourself the exact path you need to take to have a life filled with love again. 

Think about it like this, when your grief looks in a mirror, what is sees back is your love. 

So, if you feel stuck in grief and want to find what you want to work for now, i.e. something else that makes you feel good, i.e. a life you actually want to live and maybe even love living, there is no better place to start than working with your grief. 

Experiencing Loss and The 3 Truths to Help You Go from Grief to Love

Now that you know this. You are ready to know the three truths about finding what you love. 

1. It Doesn’t Happen Overnight.

It’s experimental. Just like it takes time to learn about someone you love, it takes time to learn about yourself and what you love.

2. It’s Going to Feel Uncomfortable

Yes, it’s going to feel uncomfortable because you have to be honest with what you don’t know in order to find out what you do know – and that can be hard.

You will also have to wade through things that didn’t work or haven’t gone the way you thought they would so you can learn from them. If you can’t look at your grief with compassion, you won’t be able to see what it’s really showing you: how to love again.

3. You’ve Been Here Before

Whatever the thing is that you are going to work for. It’s always been there. You’ve already found it once before. I can guarantee it. Maybe it didn’t look the same way, but because you are grieving it means you have loved. And if you have loved, well you know the result that you are looking for: something to work for, something you love to do.

Even if you’ve never felt that way about your job or your career, as long as you know something about what you love (which you do, because you are here), whatever you are looking for has already appeared in your life before.

In other words, all the clues and raw materials are just waiting for you to see them that way and start experimenting with them (which brings us back to truth number 1). 

Study what has given you grief, and you will see a path to a life full of love. 

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Kirsten Schowalter

Kirsten Schowalter is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of the book, In My Own Skin.

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