What You Can and Cannot Control When Grief and Loss Occur

No one is immune from the suffering and pain that accompanies the death of a loved one. The grief that ensues is fraught with many ups and downs which sow confusion and stirs deep emotional feelings.

Frequently, over time, many mourners experience normal reactive depression. This is a common response when someone we love is gone or something that is cherished is taken away. It often features sleeplessness, a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that nothing can be done to change the condition, and thoughts that life is not worth living.

Yet, much can be done if you change your focus away from hopelessness and helplessness to the power inherent in what you can influence and control. You cannot control the past. You can’t control relentless change. You can control how you respond to the present and plan for the future. What can you control to stop the downward spiral when it begins to grow? Here are seven things to consider, any one of which can break the back of sadness and reactive depression, and begin to ease the deep pain of loss.

1. You control the empowerment of choice. Adjusting to the death of a loved one or any other major loss is dependent on the choices you make. And there are always many choices that have to be made on a daily basis. No one can take away your choices. Will you be determined to make it through your loss and reinvest in life or live in the past? That is a major choice at the start. Will you choose to interact with others, perhaps in a support group or at least with loving friends, or isolate yourself? You need the ears of others to talk about your depression. Never forget the power you possess to decide what direction to take.

2. You control your commitment to self-care. Remember your old self is gone. You are not going to be your old self again. That’s what major loss does to us. It’s a new you with new routines and new ways of looking at the world and your place in it. You must feed that growth. With the absence of the companionship and emotional support of a loved one, it is essential to take special notice of how you meet the need to be nurtured. That is part of your new routine. Treat yourself with great respect and care. Eat healthy. Walk. Take a daily stress break. Give yourself a respite from sadness.

3. You control how you structure and organize your time. Having a plan for each day, especially the special days you know will be difficult, like birthdays and anniversaries, is essential to the task of preventing additional and unnecessary suffering and depression. Lee Iacocca, the American Industrialist said, “The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” You can eliminate unnecessary suffering by thinking ahead and seeking wise counsel. You alone control what you do with each hour of the day.

4. You control the depth and meaning of your spiritual life. The scientific evidence is increasing that having a strong spiritual life is associated with good health and longevity. It can especially help you cope with the loss of a loved one. You can control the way you build on your faith in a power greater than the self and seek the support that power provides. As part of your daily plan, include spiritual practices of prayer and meditation. Practice daily gratitude. Ask for a sign that your loved one is okay in the afterlife. Look for others who share similar spiritual beliefs as part of your support network. It will help as you adjust to a different environment and a new you.

5. You control how you use your money and schedule pleasant events. Learning how to cope by yourself also means controlling how to spend your money to include pleasant events. Again, giving yourself a treat without feeling guilty, is part of recovery and adjustment. Make a list of the things you like to do and turn to them as a way to balance your day or to focus attention away from dwelling only on sad events. Keep your list handy and add to it as you remember or discover new activities that allow you to reinvest in life. Use it as one of your lifelines.

6. You control who you will choose to strengthen old friendships with or start new ones. These are also some of the people who will be part of your support team as you do your grief work and make the changes demanded of your new life without your loved one. Always look for positive people to add to your social network. Reduce contact with those who are negative and toxic until you are stronger. Good solid friendships are as important as any medication or vitamin you can take. Take special care to build strong interpersonal relationships.

7. You control the attitude you will foster. Life is your attitude (think on that). Thoughts and beliefs-both of which are choices you make-are the underpinnings of attitude. You can reshape your attitude, thoughts and beliefs, to deal with any situation which brings inevitable grief into your life. Embrace the lifelong need to be committed to doing the things you dislike doing in order to grow through and adapt to change. Or as many life coaches put it, you have to leave your comfort zone. Attitude is everything in adapting to ongoing change.

All of the above takes time and a plan. Start with little tasks first and build on your successes. Do something first that has a high rate of completion like, I will speak first to the first three people I meet today. Start developing those positive routines that will become habits and realize you alone have control over how you will adjust to your great loss.