After four loved ones died in the span of nine months I surveyed some friends. I asked them what they did to recover from grief. Their first answer was "You have to keep going." I knew that, but was in such shock I did not know how to go about it. Today is the first anniversary of my son-in-law's death. February will be the second anniversary of my daughter's death and father-in-law's death.
Looking back, I now see how I have managed to keep going.
Courage was the first thing I needed. Deep inside me, I knew I had the courage to face multiple losses. Still, I had to muster that courage. Judy Tatelbaum writes about this in her book, "The Courage to Grieve." "It takes courage to believe we can survive, that we will grow," she writes. "It takes courage, too, to live now and not postpone living until some vague tomorrow."
Though it took weeks, I found the courage I needed. Frankly, I was surprised I had any courage left. But it was still part of my spirit, right next to hope.
Self-awareness was the second thing that kept me going. Daniel Goleman discusses self-awareness in "Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ." When we are self-aware, Goleman says, we see our strengths and weaknesses in a "positive but realistic light." I knew I had good coping skills, but wished I did not have to use them. Anyway, I got out my rusty coping skills and put them to work.
Continuing to learn about loss and grief also kept me going. This learning was, and continues to be, time-consuming and painful. That is okay with me. Learning about grief has helped me understand the grief process and cope with multiple losses. The resilience of the human spirit is also a source of comfort and strength.
Finally, I had to answer a key question in order to keep going. The question: Am I going to sit on the sidelines and be a spectator or am I going to join the game? I told myself, again and again, that death was not going to be the winner, life was going to be the winner. I would make it so.
This led me to Helen Keller, surely one of the most amazing people who ever lived. Deafness and blindness did not keep Helen Keller from having a clear view of life. Her vision was laser sharp and I made it my own. "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing," she said. I decided to be part of the adventure.
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling.
Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from amazon.com Please visit Harriet's website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.