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When my husband Peter died over four years ago, I was cloaked in a shroud of grief.  Grief surely defined me in every aspect of my life.  I was “the widow Grad.”  I submissively carried this heavy moniker wherever I went.  In the grocery store, I would start crying and blurt out “my husband died.”  When I was invited to dinners, I deferred because I couldn’t face the pain. Grief enveloped my life and turned me inward as I bathed in the sadness of my loss.

This is the progression of grief.  At first you have no choice but to allow grief to define you.  As you go through the process of finding your way forward, your feelings are shattered and you have no recourse but to wallow fully in your grief. Grief becomes all-consuming and swallows you totally. This is completely natural, and part of the journey that you must venture on, in order to find your way into a life that is acceptably different. 

But slowly, step-by-step, I began to find my way out of the bottomless cavern of my desolation.  My support group at OUR HOUSE GRIEF Support Center in Los Angeles was key. When I came to my group I would say “why me?”  But hearing the stories of other widows and widowers made me realize “why not me?”  Death and loss are an inevitable part of life. Knowing that others were on the same path was comforting and gave me a modicum of solace.  I began to accept that I could honestly believe that I would not always feel this wretched.  I slowly started to gain control of my judgment and managed to swivel my outlook to a more positive stance. 

Talking about my grief with others was the path through towards finding hope again.  If you can’t join a support group, find a friend who will listen.  The more you talk, the more you can lift the sadness and transform it into something manageable.  There is no clock on this transformation.  There is no quick fix.  But one day you will realize that viewing life through loss means you are experiencing what you have lost in the past.  You slowly discover that when you are ensconced in the present, you can experience tiny moments of joy and happiness.  We all will face a tragic loss in our lifetime.  It sucks big time, but it is inevitable.  Letting loss define who we are, is deleterious to finding our way forward. 

Those who are journeying through grief need to find a way to honor our loss.  We can’t replace grief.  The process of grief is meant to set us free.  We are not our grief.  We have a choice.  Loss should not define who we are.  We need to recognize our identities and applaud each part of our selves.  We can do this by telling warm and often funny stories of our loved ones.  We can forge through to a new chapter by showing photographs and remembering our loved one with fondness rather than sadness.  Focusing on what you have in the present, is your path to rebuild your life and start a new chapter.  No matter what your loss, don’t let it define you, consume you, or let is pull you into an abyss of complicated grief.  Plant a tree, write a poem, cook a dinner, make a toast, or find a new ritual to memorialize your loss. This process will allow you to move forward towards the light of hope at the end of the tunnel. 

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