When Grief Propels Change

Our grief changes who we are and what we do with our lives.

When someone we love dies, a part of us changes. We feel helpless when it’s someone who has been fighting a battle with cancer, or any disease that has caused pain, depression, anxiety, and frustration. We ache for the remaining loved ones who are having to learn how to move forward when it feels as if the world is stuck in neutral. There’s an overwhelming sense of urgency to fix what is forever broken. Sometimes, this urgency propels us to change circumstances. Many of those changes can be positive but there are some changes that can be negative as well.

A young woman I have written of several times before lost her battle last past week with cancer. My heart sank. The community of folks who have supported her and her entire family was filled with a sadness that words can’t seem to describe. Her children were her entire world. Her babies gave her a strength that helped her beat incredible odds. Eventually, the cancer won the war of the body but not her soul. Melissa is dancing with the angels now. She is cheering her children on with no pain, no lingering fear of death and a legacy that touched an entire community.

As I thought about her fight, I thought about the millions of people who succumb to their illnesses and wonder what they really want for their legacies to be. In the end, I realized that most people want to leave this world a better place than what it was when they were born. I think that’s human nature. I don’t believe in coincidences. Perhaps that’s the NCIS drama series I watch with Gibbs Rules affecting my judgment. Regardless, I believe that we all have a purpose in this world and we all have the ability to change lives. Those changes are up to us.

When someone we love dies, there is a period of being numb. You go through the motions, you try your best to exist and put on a brave face for the world to see. People will ask you how you are doing and most of the time people say they are fine when inside they are ready to scream that they aren’t okay. I know when I’ve dealt with grief in my life, I would just exist. I couldn’t really say or do anything because I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I knew my Dad was gone and I knew that I couldn’t see or hear him anymore and I held so much in for so long. I couldn’t really grasp how the one man in my life who was there when I was born, who named me, who defended me when I didn’t deserve it and loved me unconditionally was gone. My support system was minimized and I didn’t know how to handle it. I leaned on friends and they helped but it wasn’t the same. I had fallen in love with someone who was going through his own hell. I didn’t know how to change anything and yet everything around me was changed.

Sometimes it takes grief to create opportunities that we never would have experienced otherwise.

Eventually, I learned that it’s good to go through the stages of grief. It’s even good to get angry when cancer or other things take those we love from us. It’s through that anger that we can begin to focus our energies into creating changes for the better. Let me be clear. Your world will never be normal because normal worlds change every day. What’s normal one day can become foreign another.

Keep communication open. I guarantee you that you are not alone in your struggle. There are people around you that know and understand all the emotions that you are experiencing. I like to think that we are all connected. Those connections can often times make it difficult to speak.

Don’t be afraid to let others in. Your friends and family are one of your strongest advocates. My mom and I have really leaned on each other with my dad’s death and I have also leaned heavily on my closest friends. I like to think that when the day comes, I can return the favor to them.

Notice areas you can make a difference. Start volunteering. Quit saying you don’t have time. You may be one of the busiest people in the world but at the end of the day, how many of you can truly say that you did everything you could to make the world better? Are we so busy punching a time clock that we’ve forgotten the little things in this world can make all the difference? Some people can say they make a difference and they do. Many of us get so wrapped up going to work, getting the kids ready for school, and their after school activities that we forget about the small things. I know for me, I used to say I didn’t have time to volunteer in my church or my community. The truth was that I let fear keep me from doing things that I found I genuinely love. It’s not about how much money we make in this world. Change is about human kindness and generosity. It’s not about giving handouts but rather giving hands to be lifted up. Change is about growth. It’s about learning things that our skillsets often crave.

Be willing to listen to others grieving. When we listen, we gain knowledge. I know one of the hardest things I deal with today is the lack of change in churches. I am a Christian and proud of it. I am not a Christian who condones bullying, or forcing ones ideals onto others. I believe in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Those are my beliefs. I believe that all religions are interpreted differently and that we all have the right to believe in whatever we choose. I don’t believe that others should have the right to tell someone that their beliefs are better than others. So it really hurts when I go to church and I watch as other folks in the congregation fight change. I’ll give you a prime example. I’m seeing a lot of articles pop up on Facebook about the use of projectors in churches and why they should be abolished. It’s a change I’ll grant you. How many of you have gone to your church for years and know the service by heart? I’ll be willing to bet you that you’ve forgotten what it is to be a visitor and not know how to follow a service that can be confusing if you aren’t accustomed to the faith? For those who choose to continue to use the hymnal, that’s great but some folks can’t see the print easily. Some people don’t like looking down all the time. They prefer to look up. It’s amazing at what we miss if we are always looking down. I think that’s why I think it’s interesting at how when we are always looking down we don’t see how that translation overlaps into our personal lives. Look up. For not only will you see things in a different context and view but it can also impact your attitudes.

Some folks create change by raising awareness campaigns for illnesses. This is great because it allows folks to see the options available for those who are going through their own crisis. I learned more about brain tumors than I ever wanted to know but the information I learned has helped others going through similar journeys that Dad was on. It also helped to give other families information to know that not all journeys end up the same. There are always going to be survivors. Just as there will always be those who fight to the end.

Then you have folks who change their diets and their habits because of the way they have seen how poor diets affected those they loved. Grief doesn’t just apply to people. Many of us have pets that we consider to be family. Grief can be just as devastating for people who have lost a beloved pet or animal that they were close to.

The truth is that we are affected with grief differently. There are some people that you would never know are hurting because the mask they show is one that no one can tell what’s underneath their mask of emotions. Some people use grief to propel them into positive changes while others sink into such an array of despair that they may never recover from. This is why communication is so important. When someone is dealing with grief, there is the potential for them to feel alone and alienated. Perception is a strange thing. What we often perceive while dealing with our own grief may not be a true representation of what is happening with the world around us.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with grief. It’s different for everyone.

Be open to change. This is difficult for many of us. There’s a lot of folks who don’t like change at all and death, while a natural part of life, is a gigantic change for people. When someone dies, they are no longer able to answer questions, or go to them for instructions, there is a finality that nothing can ever truly prepare someone for. Provisions can be made through wills and instruction for property and possessions but they can’t leave a how to guide on handling grief. Only time and love can do this.

Last but not least, never take a day for granted. This is often easier said than done. Nothing in life ever stays the same. We don’t have a roadmap for our lives. Every day we will find twists and turns that we never saw coming. The point is to embrace life, embrace change, no matter how painful it may be, and always keep growing, mentally, psychologically and emotionally. Treat each other with love and respect. Give yourselves time to heal, to deal with all the emotions that can overtake you and allow yourself the joy that life has to offer. You never know what the future holds, but change is necessary.

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