Employing the Art of the Possible When Mourning the Death of a Loved One

Have you been thinking, “Why am I feeling so empty and without purpose in my life?” Or, “How can I begin to reduce the pain and suffering that has turned my life upside down? Where can I go? What can I do?” These are questions we all face at some time in life, and they do have answers.

The effectiveness of the answers depends on your willingness to extricate yourself from your deep emotional turmoil and the bondage to the deceased. This does not imply in any way that you forget your loved one, because you have to establish a new relationship with him/her. By intensely focusing on the tasks of grief, not on the outcome, you naturally establish the needed relationship.

It is doing the hard work of grieving, and committing to the unpredictable path to adjustment, that ultimately leads to an outcome you can live with. At the start, you don’t know what those results will be like. As you adapt to your great loss, the outcome begins to shape and later become acceptable. Here is how the art of the possible fits into and leads the process of adapting.

1. Start with the following restorative orientation. In all new experiences you confront–the new skills, routines, responsibilities, roles, needed assertiveness, expectations, and changes imposed by your great loss–be open to and look for the largest number of possible ways to gain from the challenge. Eliminate the narrow one dimensional, either/or approach.

The art of the possible always includes your choice of ringing everything out of each new experience, examining all viewpoints and ways to use the new. Always say to yourself, “What are all of the possibilities here?” As part of your committed openness, utilize the following methods.

2. Model the behavior of those who have been in situations like yours and been successful. Do what works. Decide what you can add or change to what you learn from the behavior of those who have coped well with their loss and adapted to their new world. Modeling the behavior of others is used in many areas of human endeavor with great success. Be willing to try what you learn and hone it to your style and taste. Never forget: behavior changes attitude. Persist in your trial period.

3. Be realistic. Assess what you know and think you can do and what you are sure you are unable to accomplish. Take on the most important challenges in your new life first. And, refuse to be responsible for everything and everyone. Drop that old belief you learned as a child. The art of the possible implies a consistent sustained effort, not a quick fix; quick fixes do not exist in adapting to loss and change.

4. Be Proactive. Look ahead. Cultivate a social support (a friendship) network. Every widow or widower I have ever talked to all have one thing in common: in one voice they agree about the vast importance of interpersonal relationships as an essential ingredient in adapting to their loss. Look around you at the many possibilities you have to strengthen existing friendships or initiate new ones. Reach out. Say hello first. Or, you may have to go well out of your way to develop your social support network. But go for it.

5. Do something. Don’t just stand there. Taking action when you would rather not is a key factor in using or trying out possibilities. Turning new routines and behaviors into habits takes time and determination. Make doing the distasteful your new motto until the new behaviors become manageable and finally turned into habits. Doing is the real secret to happiness.

6. Change the oil. Give yourself daily treats. Go to places and engage in activities you have always enjoyed. Start up an old hobby you had as a child. Window shop. Find a friend and walk through the local Mall two or three times a week. Read inspirational poetry or stories of others who have coped well with their losses. Think of the possibilities you have for building up your various skill levels in order to help those who are not as well off as you.

7. Confide. No secrets. Find a confidant. This will open up many opportunities to express feelings and choices. We all need somebody to tell how we are really feeling at any given time. This can be a week after the funeral or ten weeks later. Look for someone who will be there with you indefinitely. And you may have to cultivate this kind of a relationship and make it clear how important this person is to you.

In summary, using the art of the possible to cope with your great loss means using your creativity. Everyone has creative ability because creativity is all about using the gift of imagination. Allow your imagination to provide new ideas in each new situation you find yourself in. Try out various approaches to using the new. Discard what doesn’t seem to work and build on what you keep. Moving forward is always your choice as you adjust to the absence of your loved one.