What to Expect After Losing a Loved One

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It doesn’t matter how old you are, losing a loved one will without a doubt initiate a profound change in your life as you know it.

Every relationship is different; grandparent, parent, spouse, sibling, child, or friend, but you can expect any loss of a loved one through divorce or death to evoke a slew of unresolved thoughts and feelings about your loved one and your relationship with them.

If this has happened to you or is happening to you, there’s a good chance you are wondering if you will ever get through this experience. You are probably questioning how you will live without this person who has always been there for you. You will most definitely feel the profound void that has been created for you with their physical absence.  There will be days when you find yourself wishing you could reach out to touch them or call them up and hear their voice just one more time.

You will most definitely feel the profound void that has been created for you with their physical absence.  There will be days when you find yourself wishing you could reach out to touch them or call them up and hear their voice just one more time.

There is no way to predict exactly what your reaction to the loss will be. Yet there are a few common things that you can expect after losing a loved one.  Here’s what I know to be true…

You will wish for things to be different

It is completely normal to wish things could have been different in the immediate days and weeks after losing a loved one. A loss like this will naturally make you think about all the things you wish you had said, like “I love you”, or “I’m sorry”, or the things you wish you had done or not done with your loved one, like spend more time or not to have argued so much.

We all have moments where we’ve said something we wish we hadn’t. It’s normal to wish you could have had more time to make things right between you or truly express how much the person meant to you and how much you loved them.

It’s also common to review the relationship in your mind as you try to reconcile your loss. But be aware, it’s a slippery slope. By lingering too long in the memories, you’re at risk of getting stuck in your grief if all you do is wish for things to be different. To move on after losing a loved one, you need to cultivate support from the living. Without it, you won’t have the tools to move forward.

Your mind will play tricks on you

If your loved one was older, your rational mind will try to justify the loss by saying things like “they lived a long life” or “it was their time to go”. These thoughts will do nothing to help you feel better.  You will notice the truth of this when you hear family, friends or colleagues say these things too. It’s unlikely these statements will do anything but make you feel sad or even angry.

In the case of losing a loved one who has been ill, you might be thinking you should feel differently because you had time to prepare yourself.  Your rational mind will try to justify the loss by saying things like “they are in a better place” or “at least they are not suffering anymore”. I did this when my dad, who had Lewy Body Dementia passed away. I told myself I had grieved the loss of our relationship before he died.

Boy, was I wrong. There were still emotions to deal with once he was physically gone.

Your mind will try to tell your heart not to feel. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can say to intellectually convince yourself that the loss of a loved one doesn’t hurt. Of course it does.

You will wonder if the tears will ever stop

It should be no surprise that losing a loved one will evoke a wide range of emotions from sadness to fear and perhaps relief. I’m sure you’ve already experienced some degree of sadness or you’ve been beating yourself up for not feeling as sad as you think you “should”.

When someone you love leaves you will be flooded with emotions or feel numb.  You might feel the emotions roll through you like waves or you might feel them rise and get stuck. Sometimes the waves will be gentle, sometimes they will toss you around a bit and sometimes they will come crashing in and shake you at your core. Sometimes the wave may crest and freeze. What might surprise you is how long your feelings of sadness last or how much and how often your feelings of sadness leak out through your eyes.

I remember just a few days after my dad passed away, I had a scheduled hair appointment.  I thought I was fine and decided to keep the appointment.  As I sat in the chair tears streamed down my cheeks. My hairdresser didn’t know about my loss. She asked if I was okay. I told her what had happened.  Her first response was to ask if I wanted her to stop cutting my hair. Then she handed me a box of tissue and let me have my moment.

I didn’t know at the time just how important it was to let the waves of emotions roll through me. Since then I have learned how important it is not to stop the tears. They will stop when you are ready.  Tears are nature’s path to healing.

If you ignore your emotional pain it will affect your health and ability to live a happy life

You live in a society that is constantly chasing happiness.  You have been conditioned to believe that it’s not okay to be sad.  It breaks my heart to see so many people trying to numb their pain after the loss of a loved one. I wasn’t surprised when Prince Harry revealed how hard he had tried to avoid the deep pain he experienced after the loss of his mother. He is the voice of many. He is social proof of the consequences of unresolved emotional pain and the impact the loss of a loved one can have on your ability to live a happy life.

It’s common to believe that retail therapy, wine, recreational and prescription drugs, and comfort food are viable means to deal with emotional pain. Unfortunately, this belief has created “the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in history” ~Brene Brown.

There is little value in falling into the trap of waiting to feel better

When you lose a loved one it will naturally take some time to reconcile what has happened. There is a common belief that you just have to give it time and you will feel better.  The myth that grief just takes time is unhelpful, unhealthy and untrue.

It is absolutely true that it will take time to adjust to your new reality and to learn how to live without your loved one. It is absolutely untrue that time will heal your broken heart. At best, time will dull the pain.  I’ve worked with people who have carried the loss of a loved one the majority of their adult life.  They have waited 10, 20 and 30 years to feel better.  The work we have done together has been crucial to them feeling better. The comment I hear the most is “I wish I’d found you sooner”.

Your natural reaction when you experience the loss of a loved one will be to push the pain away.  The real goal is to accept and feel and move on.

If losing a loved one has left you feeling debilitated and struggling to make sense of how to go on, you’re not alone.  You’ll find more information about grief and loss coaching here. I look forward to speaking and discovering how we can best work together.

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