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This Can’t Be Happening

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“This can’t be happening. There was so little warning. He had been so healthy. There was no time to prepare. I’m numb. What do I do now?”

This begins Chapter 1 in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.

Our first reaction of any kind to an unexpected tragedy, crisis, or loss is usually shock and disbelief. We are unprepared for the enormity of how our world has been turned upside down and inside out.

The world we knew has just ended and we struggle to accept what is happening. Denial storms into our existence as we try to wrap our brain around this loss.

Even when we are prepared for a loss that is the result of a long-term illness, it brings with it sadness and sorrow. The illness itself might have been premature and unexpected. They were too young to get sick; he was so healthy, etc. Whether we are prepared or not, grief demands its own time frame to work through the tangles of disbelief and unreality.

Losses can be messy, confusing and are rarely straightforward.

A major loss is like taking a journey into the wilderness.

You have never been there before. You search desperately for information from your past to apply to this situation. You remember going to funerals and offering condolences to friends, but this feels different.

There have been anxiety-producing unknowns and realities in the past that have taken you through hills and valleys. But these, too, don’t seem to apply in the same way with what you are currently experiencing.

We each process grief differently.

Although we learn valuable information about grief from others, each person’s journey will be unique based on their life experiences, their personalities and individual interpretation.

How one person processes their grief may be different than how you do. It is important not to compare what we are experiencing with how another is experiencing their loss.

Be compassionate with yourself; eliminate self-criticism and judgment.

Our intellect may want to make sense of what is happening, but our heart often says it makes no sense at all.

The grief journey

Grieving is an emotional and spiritual journey where we struggle to find out who we are based on what is happening. At times we may feel as though we are dying. We take in details but are indifferent to what is actually occurring around us.

Particular times of the day can trigger more or less intense pain and sorrow. As we work through our grief, we might experience hope and then hopelessness; pleasure and moments of contentment and then despair.

Intensity and duration of emotions will vary from time to time and with each person and situation.

It might seem at times as though you are on a roller-coaster ride – up one day and down the next.

As you go through this journey you may find yourself going up hills and through valleys, climbing mountain peaks and struggling through parched deserts.

As you go through this journey you may find yourself going up hills and through valleys, climbing mountain peaks and struggling through parched deserts. There may be mornings when you wake and experience the awesome wonder of God’s world and sing His praises.

But there will also be nights and mornings when you cry out, “God, where are you? I’ve reached my limit. I cannot endure anymore.”

And you struggle with thoughts of whether God real or if it is all an illusion. But then, as you read the Psalms and scriptures, you find yourself filled with peace and a knowing that God is indeed real, and He does care and is with you when you cry out to Him.

Honor your loss.

Honor your grief. Honor your journey. The process will teach you.

You have never been here before. Listen to your heart – accept your pain – reach out to others.

This is not a voyage of the head but of the heart and soul and spirit.

Any trip that takes you into the wilderness will test your perseverance, strength and courage. You haven’t chosen to go on this trek, but here you are. You may want to run away, but there is no place to run to.

The only way out is by moving through the unknown and the pain. And when you do, you begin to heal and discover an inner strength.

In that pain you will be able to reconcile and integrate your loss. In the process, you learn more about yourself. As you move forward, you will find new meaning for life. While you do not remain in the desert or the wilderness, the experience becomes an invaluable part of your life, your memories and your identity.

You are tougher and more resilient than you thought.

It’s impossible to escape pain.

Because pain is as much a part of life as joy or happiness, we cannot escape it any more than we can escape life. Pain becomes a part of the human experience and teaches us how to live life to the fullest.

Medicating your pain or denying and pushing it away will only create more pain in the long run.

As you go through this journey, you will need the help and support of others.

You may want to be alone, and at times need to be alone. Honor and respect that. But we also are social beings and we need one another. We run the risk of isolation if we shut others out.

I have been on that journey.

I have experienced the hills and valleys, the ups and downs. I have felt the pain that seemed unbearable. But the pain diminishes when we address it and walk through it.

As I walk with you on your journey through grief and loss through my blog, podcast and book, I would love to hear from you and what you are experiencing. As we share, we help one another. As our stories intertwine, we are given new coping skills and healing strategies.

Marlene Anderson

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