After someone we love dies, it can feel like we are just wandering aimlessly for a bit, a ship without a rudder. The everyday things that we are used to doing might feel like they are too much or returning to normal is just not an option anymore. We have entered a “new normal”.
A way to integrate your grief into your new normal is to find purpose and meaning. It might feel hard after someone we love dies but it can be so helpful in creating this new normal. Finding purpose and meaning has been linked to overall better well-being. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl states that we “find purpose in work, in love and in courage during difficult times.” If you think about your own life, what areas (work, love or in courage) could you deepen or find meaning in?
This could mean that we rediscover an old hobby we loved doing with our person, or we begin volunteering with a group that is connected to our person in some way. Or it could be strengthening our spiritual connections and beliefs and finding a community of support. This could also mean drawing on our own courage to take it day by day.
Although we cannot change the fact that our person has died, we can choose to move forward by creating new purpose and meaning and still allow ourselves to grieve.
Back to the Basics
Sometimes finding purpose can be as simple as making a daily to-do list to help you through the day. This could mean getting out of bed, making the bed, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, having breakfast, etc. Sometimes when we are lost in our grief, these daily tasks can seem overwhelming but it is important to remember that each item on your to-do list that you cross off is a win. Maybe the purpose of the day is to take the dog for a walk or to organize the linen closet. Whatever it is, finding meaning in the basics of your daily life will help you kick start your new normal.
Purpose through Connection
Did your loved one really like a sports team? Or did your loved one die from an illness or an experience that other people have died from? Or did your loved one really like to cook or work in the yard? Things that your loved one is connected to can also be a great way to stay connected to your person and also give back to the community or continue on traditions in your loved one’s honor. Sometimes that means volunteering with an organization that somehow connects to your person or it could mean learning how to cook your person’s favorite foods and trying new recipes every week.
How are you making sense of your loved one’s death? How we understand and make sense of our experiences is called meaning making. Meaning making has been shown to help people have more gratitude, feel like they have more wisdom, and also move forward with their new normal. A way to make meaning of your experiences is to begin journaling about it, talking with friends and family who you feel are understanding and loving, seeking therapy from a professional, engaging with a spiritual community you connect with. We can find purpose after the death of a loved one through allowing ourselves to process and make sense of what happened. Some key questions to ask are: what is this teaching me? What can I learn from this situation? How can I honor my grief feelings? What do I want the rest of my life to look like?
Making Space for the New
Allowing for new interests and activities, new work endeavors, new relationships, new experiences is so important in finding purpose after loss. We have to find ways to make room for these new things in our lives because they can bring new meaning, new purpose and new positive experiences. If we get stuck in how things “were” then we are not integrating our grief into our new normal. Finding ways to be open to the future will help you feel more like yourself. Making space for the new while also honoring our feelings of loss and grief and being able to feel both is a sign of processing the grief and finding purpose.
Molly Giorgio received her PsyD from William James College in Boston, where she was a clinical psychologist. She taught previously at the University of Hartford, now leads her own practice in Windsor, and serves as a clinical director at Experience Camps.