Without love there is no grief, but who wants to live without love?
When someone you love dies, you are never quite the same - you never "get over it", as such. You just learn slowly to go on without them physically in your life, "always keeping them tucked safely in your heart". As American author Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) writes, "Death ends a life, not a relationship".
As you learn to live with your grief, and the pain starts to ease, it doesn't mean that you love that person any less. It is simply part of your journey towards healing and allowing you to go on with your life.
World-renowned grief counsellor Dr. Alan Wolfelt urges us not to fall into the trap of thinking that enjoying ourselves, laughing, being with others and having fun are somehow betrayals of the person who has died, or mean we didn't truly love them.
He says the idea of "moving on" from grief implies that mourners will somehow, at some point, just leave their loss behind. But that's not how it works. "How it works is we take our loss by the hand and learn to walk forward with it into our continuing lives."
"Sometimes it helps to think about what the person who died would want for you. Wouldn't she or he want you to laugh and continue to find joy in life, even in the midst of your sorrow?" he asks.
Think about the fun times you shared with that person, including their sense of humour, smile and the sound of their laughter. "Often, remembering the person who died and smiling and laughing is an honest reflection of aspects of what she or he brought to the dance of your life together," Dr. Wolfelt says. It can also make you feel better, with studies showing that smiling, laughing and feeling good enhance your immune system and make you healthier.
Dr. Wolfelt believes that truly accepting that someone you love has died is "a process, not an event", and "embracing this painful reality is not quick, easy, or efficient". He acknowledges that even after 16 years, he still has moments when he remembers he will never see his father again in this world, "and I gasp aloud at the hurt of the realisation".
Grieving is far from a straight line, he says. "You may move back and forth between protesting and encountering the reality of the death. You may discover yourself replaying events surrounding the death and confronting memories, both good and bad."
So, grieving helps us to heal and move towards a different future, but it also has another effect. Dr. Wolfelt writes: "Grief and loss teach you to cherish your relationships - to never take them for granted. Grief teaches us we need others and to keep reaching out, to not exclude ourselves from the wonders of love and companionship…..
"There is no experience in life that can match the joy of giving and receiving love."
*Gratefully acknowledging the work and words of Dr. Alan Wolfelt, in Eight Critical Questions for Mourners …. and the Answers that will Help You Heal.