By Tracey Cleantis, author of The Next Happy
I know that when you are grieving that you likely you aren’t wanting to see any value in the experience, and I am not a big fan of prematurely turning lemons into lemonade (I prefer turning the lemons into something more satisfying, like lemon cake or something that takes time, effort and a little more than just adding sugar, sunshine and premature positivity to the situation). That said, even though it doesn’t make the grief worth it( nothing does) grief teaches you some things that you might not learn otherwise. Before we review grief’s unintentional curriculum, let me remind you that not all of the lessons are easy to learn--- yet they are still valuable and worth learning, unlike maybe algebra or geometry. Okay, let’s review grief’s inadvertent lesson plan.
1. Small stuff matters
When you have lost a loved one, a relationship or a dream, it really makes the stuff that seems so important not seem as important; grief and loss teaches you perspective in a way that an art course never could. All of a sudden you really get that it is all about the small moments, the simple pleasures and that as much as we are all seeking the big-ticket moments of life, it is the small stuff that really matters. I miss, more than I can tell you, the joys of playing gin rummy with my grandmother. Remembering how much I treasure that time with her makes me more likely to treasure those kind of moments with people in my here and now.
2. You find out who your friends really are
When we are in grief it can make some people around us really uncomfortable. Grief is hard and it can be really hard for those around us to see us in it, they may want us to “turn our frown upside down” or “see the bright side” when there isn’t a bright side. You may, in your grief, be surprised to find out who really and truly shows up for you, and equally as surprised who isn’t there for you. Grief often separates the men from the boys and the fair weather ones from the pals who are willing to put on metaphorical galoshes and gloves to be there with you in the puddles. It is a good thing to know who your real friends really are and grief can really teach you that.
3. A greater awareness of how fleeting life is
We all know that we aren’t going to live forever, and that, in fact, nothing lasts forever. Right? Only, we can know it and we also don’t really know it. Loss can bring that reality home like nothing else can. It is an important lesson to get because life is precious and fragile and it doesn’t last forever. Really and truly getting this lesson can get us engaged with our life and inspire us to treat it like the time-limited treasure that it is and ultimately to live more fully.
4. Awareness of what really matters to you
A list of things we don’t grieve ending: tax days, root canals, colonoscopies, being stuck in an elevator, and lice. No, we grieve losses of things we like, love, brought us hope, happiness, or potential happiness( in the case of dreams). Grief means you cared and I am guessing if I could offer you the option of ending your grief at the small cost of no longer caring about or loving the beloved love, pet, job, or dream, it is my hunch you would prefer to hold onto the love and deal with the resulting grief than to no longer care. You may not need grief to teach you this lesson---you may have known this. But, no matter, grief is your psyches way of reminding you just how much and how deeply you cared and and that is an important truth.
5. Learning you are able to endure more than you imagined
If I told you a year ago that you were going to lose the job, this relationship, this person in your life, or whatever it is that you like, very likely you would have imagined that you would simply not have been able to handle it and might have gone as far as predicting that you would completely and totally fall apart, never laugh again and be totally unable to find anything good about life for now until eternity. However, I am guessing, you likely have laughed again, and you are still standing and working and doing stuff. Yes, of course, you are hurting, but you are, dear you, you are surviving.
6. Feelings change
I like to think of feelings as weather as opposed to geography. Weather, to state the obvious, is constantly changing and we are okay with that. We certainly don’t expect it to always be 70 degrees and sunny, that would be an absurd expectation. However, with feelings we may expect that we should always be the emotional equivalent of that kind of sunny---yet we don’t. And when we are in grief, very often, people predict that they will “always feel this way”. Alas, grief is an unpredictable rollercoaster of denial, sadness, despair, shame, anger, guilt, envy, and hopelessness. Your feelings will change and you won’t feel this way forever, you may not know that yet—but grief will teach you this lesson.
7. Hugs help
Cheery clichés and trite truths like “it’s darkest before dawn” do not help. When people drop the need to cheer and instead put their arms around us and say they are sorry that we are going through this---it helps. Well, of course, it doesn’t help in terms of bringing back what we have lost, but it is a comfort and a real comfort that is more healing than any well meaning advice.
About the Author
Tracey Cleantis, LMFT, is a speaker, writer and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the “Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams” and is a personal and professional authority on how to let go of what isn’t working and to grieve, move on, and get to the to the other side where happiness is waiting for you.
Her blog was named one of the top ten blogs for Francophiles by Blogs.com and is rated one of the top 10 psychology and memoir blogs. In addition, Tracey has written “Freudian Sip,” a column at Psychology Today, and contributes to the Huffington Post. She has been featured on Fox News and in Redbook, Yahoo News and Salon.com. Her writing on finding happiness after infertility was featured in Jamie Cat Callan’s Bonjour, Happiness! (Citadel Press, 2011).
Tracey is a passionate writer who combines wit, wisdom, humor, theory made accessible, and a whole lot of heart. She speaks on grief, infertility, letting go of dreams, finding unexpected happiness after loss.
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