“She might die from this surgery,” said the surgeon. “We need to open her heart.”
I stood still. We all did. The room was quiet. The only sound was the beeping of the heart monitor.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother trembling with fear.
I struggled to make sense of what was happening. Just a few days ago, my grandmother lost her balance and fell to the ground at the market. She broke her arm. Not a light scratch, but it was not “life and death”, either. She was very conscious at the hospital. She even joked around with us…
We didn’t know this would be the start of it all.
The next day, she couldn’t even stand up. I saw her face as she was lying on her bed, with her eyes closed. It was an emotionless, lifeless face – the face of the dead. I was horrified. I have never seen such a face before.
I couldn’t comprehend this. Wasn’t it just a bone fracture?
I took her to physical therapy the next morning. A few hours later, my phone rang.
“She had a heart attack,” It was my mother, her voice shaking, “they say she’s going to die.”
“Two of her arteries are clogged,” the surgeon let out a cough, bringing me back. “This is very common in old people.”
“What’s going to happen to her?” I looked at my grandmother, now lying unconscious on the hospital bed, and thought to myself.
I tried to suppress my thoughts and tell myself that it will be okay in the end. She will continue to live. But at the back of my mind…I knew.
She never regained consciousness.
And then, she was gone.
A Painful Story of Grief and Regret
I was born in Australia. As a child, my parents never had time to take care of me. I was raised by my grandmother. During those years, I saw her more than I saw my mom and dad. She was literally my third parent.
But since I left for England, I haven’t seen much of her in my adult life. In my mind, she remained the happy and cheerful old lady I have always known. I took her existence for granted.
Truth is, she was growing old and weak all that time.
All these years, I wasn’t by my grandmother’s side. I didn’t spend time with her when I still had the chance.
She was a kindhearted and selfless woman. She spent all her life taking care of everyone in the family. Her love lives on within our hearts. I can feel her alive in my body, my mind, and my soul.
The sad thing is, I can never repay her love.
I was young. I was too immature to think that one day everyone I love will be gone. I was too ignorant to realize that I should have cherished our moments together.
The idea of her being dead almost seem laughable to me. When I look at her photos, she was as lively as ever. I was confused. I was lost.
I was in denial. It happened all too quickly.
And then, it hit me. She was never going to come back again.
As a Buddhist, I have always thought that I am prepared to deal with anything life throws at me. I always thought that I could keep my emotions under control.
But I couldn’t.
Memories flood my mind when I saw the building she once lived, when I saw the bracelet she used to wear, when I saw the cups she used to drink tea with.
I think of times where she would sing to wake me up. I think of times where she would teach me how to make pastries. I think of times where she would make breakfast for me (still the best fried eggs I have ever had).
Perhaps the hardest part was handling her belongings. There were so much I needed to take care of – properties, possessions, papers, the empty house – and they continuously reminded me of my grandmother.
When the memories come, waves of sorrow will devour me, leaving me quivering like a lost child.
I still dream of her every now and then. In fact, I just dreamed of her a few days ago. In the dream, I cried in front of her spirit and confessed how little I have done for her when she was still alive.
And when day broke, I woke up with a face drenched with tears.
Here’s What Life After Loss Looks Like
Grief starts when you realize that your loved one is not in your life anymore.
Grief is not just something that passes. It is not just an emotion. It is a new condition to your life. It is a new part of you that you will have to learn to live with. After the loss, you won’t be the same person anymore.
Grief will stay with you much longer than you expect. It is not surprising if you feel like you have stayed the same as you were the day she passed away. Sometimes, the days after the loss is even harder to bear than the day it happened.
Losing a loved one is like having one of your organs ripped out. No matter what you do, it just won’t grow back. It is the same with grief. For some people, no amount of resistance, no amount of time will make it go away.
Grief is addictive. Because when you feel the pain, it is almost as if you are connected to her once again. It proves that she had been a part of your life, that she had existed.
Deep down, you don’t want the pain to go away. You don’t want it to end. You don’t want it to be something that just passes. You don’t want it to “not matter”.
No one can rescue you from the depths of sadness. With death and loss, no one is replaceable.
Nobody can really understand the hole in your soul. It is unique to you.
To fill that emptiness, you may develop attachments to objects your loved one has given meaning to before he was gone. You might even be tempted to wear his clothes, sleep on his pillow, drink with his cup, and read the books he read. It is as if you want to keep him alive.
The nights will become much darker, much lonelier. They will feel like as if they are never going to end. You will have a hard time falling asleep.
All these grief, sleep deprivation, crying, and headaches get worse and worse. It slowly becomes unbearable.
Maybe that’s why you come across this article. You go online, trying to find others who are also grieving as much as you do. You want to know that you are not alone.
The Two Stages of Grieving
Though everybody grieves differently, most people fall under one of these two categories. These two are complete opposites, yet there are people, myself included, who went through both stages.
Stage I: Dwelling on Grief
In the early days after the loss, I was completely sapped of my energy and motivation. I was on the edge of going into depression.
I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I was under the ocean of grief. Everywhere I looked was the same gloomy waters. I was trapped. I didn’t know how to get out.
I was disoriented. I didn’t know how to handle the emotions inside of me. While responsibilities and life keep throwing themselves at me, I didn’t want to do anything.
I believed that my life was incomplete from then on. No amount of work and effort will bring my grandmother back. There was no point in trying.
I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to cry and submerge in sadness forever, so that I can never forget my grandmother, and keep her alive in my memories.
Stage II: Suppressing Grief
After a while, I realized I was too weak. Losing a grandparent sounds so insignificant – and there I was, crying like a baby. I am an adult. I am a grown man.
After all, what will others think? Losing a grandparent? Move on already.
So I changed. From then on, I wore a stoic and cold mask, trying to convince myself and the world that I am strong and mature enough to deal with such a petty loss.
I also worked frantically. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t even have time to even think about the loss. I couldn’t bother with my feelings. It was too painful to live that way. I needed to bury my sadness, and never show any signs of weakness again.
The Paradox of Grieving
In a perfect world, you would be allowed to stay in a timeless realm and grief forever. But the world is not perfect. Life goes on.
As you already know, grief is addictive. You want to keep dwelling on your grief to keep your loved one alive in your head. As a result, grief takes over you, and you lose the motivation and drive to continue living your own life.
The pain and grief will stay with you for a very long time. If you keep dwelling on them, you can’t release the pain. In fact, the more you dwell on them, the longer they are going to stay with you.
Your stagnation will create a negative emotional momentum, and you will feel worse and worse over time.
But that doesn’t mean you should suppress your feelings through distraction either.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. If you try to suppress it like I did, you are resisting to what is normal. What you resist, persists.
Also, you risk bottling up your emotions. Like a time bomb, when the shadow of grief creeps up once again, it will hit you ten times harder than before.
“Then what am I supposed to do?” You may ask.
The answer is to bear your grief, embrace it, and live a new life at the same time.
This Is A New Chapter of Your Life
Grief is normal. You are entitled to grieve for as long as you want. No one has the right to tell you to stop.
Grieving is not about recovery. For many of us, grief will never go away. Your life has gone through an irreversible change. It is more about learning to live with this change, than to “get over it” altogether and pretend it didn’t exist.
You are going to have to live a completely different life. A new life.
Starting a new chapter of life doesn’t mean you have to stop grieving. It doesn’t mean you have to distract yourself to bury the pain. It doesn’t mean you have to banish your grief and “move on”.
Bearing, as opposed to “moving on”, means starting a new life after loss, despite the grief you carrying on your shoulders.
Grief is unique to everyone. Everyone mourns differently. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. That’s why no one is really qualified to dictate how someone should grief. I fully acknowledge that.
But I want to give you a sense of direction. I want to help you navigate out of the never-ending vortex of death and sorrow. I want you have the ability to live a normal life again, if you choose to.
How to Cope With Loss (Without Moving on From Grief)
I will explain how to slowly start a new life after loss in a minute. But I want you to know how to embrace the grief that comes with it first.
Re-engaging in life doesn’t mean fighting with grief.
When grief is triggered out of nowhere, you don’t banish it. Instead, you acknowledge it. You remind yourself that what you feel is completely normal, and then you embrace it without reservation. While embodying the grief, you take a step forward, and continue living.
For example, if you feel like crying when you are shopping, shop with tears dripping down your face. Sometimes, the grief will subside and become bearable, which is good. Sometimes, you might be completely paralyzed by it, and that’s okay, too.
Never judge yourself for whatever you do and feel. You don’t judge how bad you look. You don’t judge how well you are doing.
Don’t compare yourself to “normal” people. Don’t even think about what you used to be able to do. Because now, your life is different. You now live in a different world – a completely different standard applies to you.
Life after loss is not a straight line. People think grief will die down as time goes on, and you will be able to get over it somewhere down the line. But that’s not true.
Grief is unpredictable. On good days, you might be able to get something done and feel like a “normal” person. On bad days, do what you can. It is a huge victory even if you only managed get of bed in the morning.
Things that seem trivial to the normal person can be great challenges to you. So don’t judge yourself for anything.
You may not be able to do things normal people can do, but you can also do things that they cannot do. You can live with grief. You can live a life while bearing a deep wound on your soul. You are courageous. You are brave. You are strong, because you embrace your weakness. And that is a heroic, commendable deed in itself.
No matter what happens, as long as you make an effort to bear it and move forward, it is enough.
Gradually, grief will become familiar. You will begin make friends with sadness and sorrow. They will no longer incapacitate you. It will not get easier, but it will become bearable.
The Essential Components to Living a Life After Loss
After a devastating loss, it is important that you cultivate a healthy and active lifestyle, perhaps more so than before the loss.
Because when you are grieving, you are emotionally vulnerable. Your grief will be triggered very easily. Worse, you may even develop anxiety and depression.
When you start building a healthy and active lifestyle, you generate positive momentum in your emotions. This positive momentum will become an emotional shield, and it will buffer the impact of grief when it hits you out of the blue.
A healthy and active lifestyle is a combination of:
- Responsibility: Return to your duties and not avoiding them. This is the most important element to get your life moving forward again. Example: Career, housework, shopping.
- Healthy Diet: Eat natural foods. Eat plenty vegetables. Eat a moderate amount of meat. Regulate your sugar intake. Cut out processed food, alcohol and caffeine – they make you prone to stress and anxiety attacks.
- Exercise: According to Princeton University, exercising creates neurotransmitters called GABA in your brain. GABA lowers your brain activity level and calms you down. Also, pick a sport you like. If you like it, you will do more of it. Example: Jogging, swimming, dancing.
- Hobbies: Start a new hobby that you always wanted to try out. It is a healthy alternative to mindless escapisms like drinking, binge eating, web surfing, watching porn, watching TV and smoking. Example: Reading, chess, language learning.
- Supportive People: Explicitly ask your friends and family to support you. Share your feelings with them. Ask them to listen to you attentively, and not talk or act in a way that triggers your grief.
- Meditation and Spirituality: If you are into it. The right kind of meditation can calm you down and help releasing your pain. Studying spirituality gives you the mental fortitude to handle challenges life throws at you.
And so on.
How to Live Again (Even If You Are Crippled by Grief)
But how can you suddenly do so much?
At this point, probably all talks about happiness, positivity and action repulse you. They make you sick, and rightfully so.
Being in an emotional low, any type of change is probably too much for you.
Grief is draining you of your energy and motivation. You are in a downward cycle, where the negative momentum is sinking your emotions lower and lower. It becomes harder and harder to break free from it. Change is almost impossible.
The trick is to start extremely slow and be extraordinarily easy on yourself. Instead of doing an overhaul, break everything down. Start with only one task, and make it really easy.
For example, if you wish to start taking on responsibilities again, don’t try to go to work, cook, do laundry, shopping, taking care of kids all at once. It will overwhelm you.
Instead, start with one responsibility, and set very low standards for yourself. If you want to cook again, don’t try to prepare a full-blown-dinner-party-feast just yet. Rather, try making some eggs and bacon, sandwiches, or maybe even as simple as a cup of coffee for yourself first.
You need to trick yourself into going back to a normal life. By easing back into things very slowly, you begin to build up momentum to get out of your emotional downward spiral that you are in right now.
It will probably take you a very long time to integrate grief with life while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That’s okay – because you never judge yourself.
You now understand that grief, especially if you lost someone you love deeply, is an emotional wound that stays with you for the rest of your life. It takes time to get used to.
There Is Meaning in Your PainGrief is a painful, gruesome and bloody wound. But it is also the signature of love. Click To Tweet
The more painful it is, the more sorrowful you feel, the stronger your love is. The sorrow and pain it brings you are the evidence that the love and memories you shared are real.
Some say time heals. But as time flies by, you will realize that it does not really heal.
Your life has changed by what you have gone through. You will never be the same.
Grief is now a part of you. It is a burden you have to bear for life. True, the weight gets easier to bear over time, but you will never “get over it”. It will never heal.
No matter how long after the loss, you will always feel the pain. One day you might be able to keep it under control, and then the next day the tears gush out uncontrollably. It is all part of the dance.
The bottom line?
Keep moving forward. As long as you embrace grief as a new constant, and start living again without judging yourself, you will eventually get used to it.
At this moment, you may think you will never find happiness again. You may think you will live the rest of your days with pain, sadness, torture and loss.
But slowly, as you learn to live with grief, you will have glimpses of happiness. Yes, you will continue to feel excruciating pain, but there will also be moments of happiness and peace. Cherish these little moments, smile, and be happy.
Above all, have hope.
Embrace your new life. Take a step forward while letting your tears fall. It is okay even if the steps are heavy. It is okay even if the tears won’t stop.
For me, I am glad that grief never ends. Because it means my love for my grandmother does not end, too.
What to Do Next
To help you even further, I have put together a free graphic reminder called 7 Steps to Handle Grief in the Moment. These are actionable, exact steps you can take to relief your pain.
It is beautifully formatted and easy to read on all electronic devices, so you can always refer to it if you need guidance in the moment.
Download the reminder here for free.