Opening Our Hearts After Loss
By Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, and Neil Einbund, Ph.D.
No one gets through a full and productive life without loss. Yet losing someone to death is a subject we all shy away from until it hits us between the eyes. The pain we feel paralyzes us and we are often ill-equipped to know how to survive the emptiness.
We shield our hearts. Somewhere deep within us we promise that no one will ever touch our soul again. We live in the grandest state of denial. We have to insulate ourselves, especially when the wound is so fresh. No one can deny that our hearts deserve the best protection possible when we are raw and tender in our aching. But to lock it away for safe keeping forever will only lead us to live half a life, a life that is filled with disconnection from others and from those things that continue to matter most.
Grief intensifies by going over our pasts and staying obsessed about what should have been for our future. It’s important that we focus on the here and now, even though the here and now hurts. Working at keeping our minds on today helps our hearts stay present and centered on what we have in our lives right now. To help get us there we can zero in on our senses: sounds we hear around us, sights we see in front of us, and smells we take in all over.
There will be times that we feel we are moving away from our intense pain. We will feel relief, mixed with incredible guilt for having a day built on today, not on loss. And that’s just fine. When least expected, we will be hijacked by grief once again. Our breath will be taken away and we will feel like everything we did to move foreword was a sham. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Hang in there. The process of opening our heart keeps moving forward with bumpy stops along the way.
No one grieves the same way. Everyone has his own time schedule and course. We must be compassionate with ourselves and not be influenced by others who are uncomfortable with our grieving. We can’t be rushed through this mourning. And we must be allowed and let ourselves talk about our loss if we so desire. If we feel those around us are unable to listen, we need to find a grief group where others are going through their own loss.
Only when we’re able to feel the weight of all our emotions will we be able to find fulfillment in our lives.
To thrive —to get enjoyment from living —we must keep our hearts in touch with the world: giving and receiving love, reaching out to embrace the people, activities, and causes that create our full life. This can be our testament to those we have loved and gone before us. We are the keepers of life now and it is our duty to pay close attention to better our lives and those around us.
Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, and Neil Einbund, PhD, are co-authors of Defenders of the Heart: Blocking the Habits and Attitudes that Block You from a Richer, More Satisfying Life.
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