- Losing a loved one is dreadfully painful, but there is a flip side to every coin. In this case: there is much to learn from those tough losses.
- First, it can change the way you live your very life—it might dawn on you that you should live happier, or kinder, or more determined.
- It can also help you to realize that life is short and you must live each moment to its fullest potential.
- Additionally, grappling with the loss of a loved one can introduce you to new meaningful relationships with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
- Also, it can shine a light on your true strength, on all of your great qualities.
- And it can take you on a journey for tools that’ll prove to assist you in every single aspect of life.
I was working the register at the ice cream shop when I got the call. “That’s funny, why would my mom be calling? She knows I’m at work,” I remember thinking. But when I answered, I was met by a shaky, tearful voice. And I immediately knew why she was calling.
My grandpa and I just recently became close. He lived halfway across the country, so there weren’t ample opportunities to spend time with him. But we made the most of those three months—during the previous summer—that we had together. He took me driving on old dirt roads in his beat-up truck; we shared laughs about my mom’s uptightness; I introduced him to The Bachelor (a guilty pleasure of mine); and we simply enjoyed each other’s company as we sat silently, thoughtfully in his living room.
I knew my mom was calling to tell me that he had passed—we were waiting for it. His lungs were bad, could barely be sustained by a machine that did all of the breathing for him. In a way, I was prepared. But in another way, I wasn’t. Mulling over the idea of losing someone isn’t nearly the same as actually losing someone, grieving the loss, and mourning the relationship you had with them. It was admittedly a low point for me. But it ultimately led to my triumph—all that sadness, grief, grappling with life and death… it initially brought me down but in the end it raised me up. Ironically, it taught me how to live: to appreciate my time on Earth, to love ferociously, to smile in the darkness. Losing a loved one is a painful experience, but it’s also one to learn from. And learn I did, as have many others who were forced to grieve the loss of a loved one:
1) It can change your entire life perspective.
Ashley LaMar, a lifestyle blogger and mental health advocate, was inspired by her grandmother to serve others through care and compassion: “I lost my beloved grandmother in July, 2009. She was loved by family, friends, her community, and so many others. After we lost her, everyone shared their stories of her and I noticed a theme—acts of service. Everyone had stories about how selfless my grandmother was or the things she always did for others. She had made a quilt for a young mother. She hosted those without families in her home on holidays. She woke early to feed my grandfather’s coworkers when they arrived for the morning carpool on their way to a day of hard labor. She was always selflessly giving of herself to brighten the day of everyone she came into contact with and it changed the way I approach the people I meet in my life. It changed my perspective on life and how we are meant to impact others.”
2) It can teach you to live life wholeheartedly.
Kim Cook, RN, CHES, realized that life is short—and you can’t wait one moment longer to start living it: “In 2000, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within 10 months. He was relatively young—61. He had recently remarried and was blissfully enjoying his second chapter of life. He was vibrant, enjoyed traveling, and loved his family deeply. Just before he passed, he looked at each one of us (I have two siblings) and stated, ‘There was so much more I wanted to do.’ It stopped me in my tracks. I had been focusing on *my* loss, not the loss my dad would be experiencing. It has been 17 years since he died, but whenever I think to myself, ‘Oh, I should just stay home and get some work done,’ I pause and rethink my plan: ‘No, go out and play!’ We have no idea when our time will come to an end, and I want to make sure I experience and enjoy life to the fullest.”
3) It can help to cultivate meaningful relationships with others.
After losing her mother, husband, and grandson, all in the span of three years, Mary Potter Kenyon—certified grief counselor, program coordinator for Shalom Spirituality Center, and award-winning author—found a community of love and support. She learned she is never truly alone: “I am not alone, though it feels that way at times. None of my nine siblings have lost a spouse. I didn’t even know any widows when I became one at age 52. But through loss, through my involvement with forming and creating grief workshops and retreats, I’ve discovered a community of other people who have experienced similar losses. Many times, I’m the youngest widow in the group, but occasionally, I meet a widow in her 30s and my heart aches for her untimely loss. Also, I’ve developed a personal relationship with God through loss, growing in faith.”
4) It can shed light on your strength and your worth.
Susan Youngsteadt—Family Centered Treatment Therapist and Family Coach and Intake Supervisor—lost both of her parents by the age of 25. And while they were devastating losses, she has grown immensely from grieving those losses: “My grieving process has shown me how I want to present myself in this world. I was broken and down to nothing after losing my father and best friend, the one man who loved me unconditionally. But what a blessing that was! I have been able to build myself up from the bottom, truly embracing the traits I wanted and getting my life in the direction I wanted to go. I was finally pushed, or forced, to live my life instead of letting life happen to me. I became more choosey with my friends and who I spent my time with. I became more aware of my worth.”
5) It can lead you to discover life-changing tools.
Regina Leeds, professional organizer and author, learned that loss is a part of life and went on to discover tools that have proven to help her in all areas of life: “I lost my father when I was 24 and my mother died the following year. I was devastated, but I learned that people leave when it is their time. It isn’t personal. I also went on a quest for tools that would help me in years to come. Loss is, after all, a part of life in many forms, not just death. This led to my embracing a healthy lifestyle and getting on the spiritual path. There is a great story about two little boys who come home from school to find a huge mound of horse manure. One flies into a rage and exclaims: ‘Who is going to clean up all this horse shit?’ The other boy is delirious with joy and exclaims, ‘Where’s the pony?!’ In the worst challenges of my life, including a battle with cancer 16 years ago, I have learned to look for the pony.”