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Life after loss: How to rediscover your happiness

When you lose someone close to you, the seemingly endless barrage of “it’ll get better” clichés begins to wear on you almost as much as the grief. Learn how to cope and gain comfort from the real stories of three women who experienced loss and came out on the other side.

There are a lot of things the “experts” can tell you about grieving.

  • We all have our own way of coping.
  • Getting back into the swing of real life is important.
  • Take care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep.
  • Accept that you’ll have good and bad days.

All of this is true, but there’s a difference between the hard facts scientists offer us and the comfort you get from hearing from those who’ve been through it and that it does get better.

Tune in

Sheryl Hill lost her son Tyler when he was only 16 to a complication with his diabetes. The most-heartbreaking part is that his death was preventable. Tyler was a vibrant teen who was granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study abroad. But the health care facilities overseas where he studied weren’t as good as they are here in the U.S., and doctors there were unable to save him. Sheryl is the author of Walking on Sunshine and founded the nonprofit ClearCause to help protect our students abroad by demanding the same duty of care overseas other countries’ students experience here.

Sheryl cautions against self-medication and encourages people to tune into themselves and their grief. She recommends a holistic care approach in which you heal by taking care of yourself. Try meditation, breathing, exercise, hot baths, good eating (avoid processed foods).

Don’t ignore the problem or try to dull it with alcohol or narcotics. Instead, focus on living a life that honors your loved one. Pay it forward by channeling the care you’d have given your departed into others who need your attention. Plant a tree or garden in his or her name, but don’t try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Talking is hard, but the process of recalling and repeating can dull the impact of your pain.

Sheryl dislikes the phrase “moving on” because she believes that implies you’re leaving your loved one behind. Instead, she encourages people to be open to the idea that they’re always with us and may even be able to actually communicate. “Grief hurts. It always does,” she says. “It can hurt less, like a salve on a wound. I do not believe we are ever healed or cured of the pain of that physical separation. We want those physical comforts, to be able to look into their eyes, touch their skin, hear their laughter. I have experienced all those comforts after the death of my son.”

Sheryl knows a lot of people may think she’s crazy, but she points out that even Einstein noted that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. She wrote her book about her comforting life-after-death communication with her son.

Heal by healing others

After her husband was killed in an auto accident at 39 years of age, Michele Neff Hernandez was left not only without the company of the man she cherished, but the future they’d planned together. Hernandez also struggled with being a widow. She wasn’t the elderly woman she’d planned to be if she was widowed and had trouble understanding her place in that world.

To deal with it, she decided to be the best widow she could possibly be. She’s now the executive director of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, where they create innovative peer-based support programs like Camp Widow®, to help those around the world who’ve faced this tragic loss. By finding and helping people like her, who were going through what she’d gone through, and watching others do the same, she and the people who turn to SSLF can see that recovery from such a tragic loss is possible — by listening to the stories of others who’ve survived the same thing. Says Hernandez, “I became determined to honor Phil’s [her husband’s] life by not wasting a moment of mine.”

Be good to yourself

When Lynn Newman lost her mother, it was the hardest year of her life, but getting through it helped put a smile on her face. “Grief is one of those emotions that have a life of their own. It carries every feeling within it and sometimes there’s no way to discern it,” Newman wrote. “I spent many weeks with the blinds closed. I cried my way through back-to-back TV episodes on Netflix… and sometimes it was hard to eat, but damn if I didn’t look good in those new retail-therapy skinny jeans.”

In writing about her loss, Newman talks about the Buddhist lesson of impermanence, which teaches that everything that comes into being will eventually go out of being. But we have to agree with her… that’s not really all that helpful when you’re dealing with loss and grief. But she has some practical advice of her own.

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Accept that sometimes we have no control.
  • Allow yourself the time and space to grieve.
  • Accept that you’ll have a bad day here and there — sometimes for no apparent reason.
  • Allow yourself to have good days without feeling guilty.
  • Know that eventually, this too shall pass.

More on coping with grief and loss

What to tell your kids when a grandparent dies
Talking to kids about tragedy
What to say to a friend who has lost a baby

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