By Dave Roberts, LMSW
I heard a line approximately 2 years ago in an episode of Cold Case, which is as follows:
“I am my own evidence”
If we need validation or proof of our own transformation after a loss or other life-altering events, we need look no further than ourselves. We must understand that it is only through our own eyes that progress made in our journeys following a catastrophic loss can be determined.
The validation from others regarding our progress is important but in reality, gains made are the byproduct of the work we do from the inside out to change our perspectives after-loss. This process of introspection, like grief, is not linear. Following the death of my daughter Jeannine in March of 2003, this process involved examining my perceived shortcomings as a father, during her illness. There were days where my reluctance to confront my shortcomings, outweighed my desire to work through my grief. When I was finally able to reconcile this, I was able to embrace a perspective that allowed me to find my peace in the aftermath of life-altering loss.
The work that I did and that many of us do after a loss is an authentic representation of what we believe and where we are in our journey. We are a product of our beliefs, which we adopted because of the influence of, among others, our parents, teachers, and peers. It is easy to judge someone else’s experience as invalid or as not applicable to our experience. It is a way for us to stay safe, to dare not risk venturing into unknown territory and to keep people of different beliefs and ideologies at bay.
I have also learned that the outward emotions or states of mind that drive our interactions with others may be an expression of more comprehensive patterns of behaviors and/or life themes that unconsciously prevent us from transforming our worldview. If for example, I constantly generalize a setback in one area of my life to all areas of my life, it may be because of a general lack of safety that I experience regarding the world, poor self-efficacy, or lack of faith that the universe will fulfill my needs. Consistently subscribing to these beliefs may result in my choosing a life of isolation from others, or not risk vulnerability in my interactions with others.
Determining Your Reality After Loss
Discovering your individualized reality after a catastrophic loss can be a challenging and sometimes daunting task. What makes it so is balancing our own perceptions of reality with the perceptions of those who either take a sincere interest in our well-being or may simply be uncomfortable with our own grief. With that being said, I will share what worked for me:
∙ Embrace an affirming mantra that will promote your right to self-determine your reality after loss. Your mantra should not be a “canned” affirmation, but one that reflects your unique vocabulary. The more that mantra is a reflection of your true self, the more empowered you will feel to embrace your own unique path after-loss.
∙ Realizing that progress does not necessarily need to occur in big chunks; it can be incremental. In fact, I believe that if we take two steps forward and one step backward, that we have still made progress.
∙ Understand the power of projection: I have been witness to the grief of many individuals in the almost fourteen years since my daughter Jeannine’s death. Many times, I will listen to comments that bereaved individuals hear, that undermine their pain of loss. One of the ones that I have heard is:
“It has been a year since Bob’s death, don’t you think you should be over it by now.”
It is important to understand that individuals who are uncomfortable with their own grief, project that onto the griever. Projection allows them to not acknowledge that the griever’s reality, particularly as it relates to catastrophic loss, could be their own.
∙ In order to assert our right to self-determine, we must bear witness to and respect the rights of others to do the same after-loss. In this context, our interactions with others become both enriched and nonjudgmental. In the process, we create an environment of compassion and understanding, which is so crucial to helping individuals work through their grief after-loss.
Remember that how we experience the world is unique to us. The interpretation of beliefs or events that shape our experience is ours and ours alone. We know better than anyone, the unique impact of our experience and how we can use that knowledge to better understand ourselves and our relationship to the world in general.
Dave Roberts, LMSW is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College. He is a HuffPost contributor and a speaker on grief and loss locally and nationally. Dave is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. Dave may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org