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Coming back to life after loss: how it works

A loss pushes you back from the front lines of life, into a smaller place of emotion and turmoil where you try to figure out how to live each new day. The world you came from is suddenly not your own, and when you occasionally catch sight of it, it seems to be proceeding as usual, just without you. For a while, you don’t care; you can’t relate to it anyway.

But as you find your footing and make your peace with the fact that you and grief will live together for some time, you inch back toward regular life. It may not feel the same, but it beckons to you. By now, you are back at work, and running into friends and neighbors at the grocery store, deciding whether it is safe to go back to church where you will be faced with many kind questions about how you are doing. But you still don’t care in the way that you used to.

It soon dawns that you aren’t going to return to the same life you left. It no longer is where you belong. Instead, you are coming to recognize a new, changed life where you have new priorities and values – will it ever again seem to matter so much that the driver in front of you is so slow? Or that the neighbor’s dog dug up your tulip bulbs again? Or that the Springsteen concert you bought tickets for a year ago is only a month away? You seem to have lost interest.

Instead, you are busy wondering how you are ever going to fill the gaping hole in your life that used to be occupied by your loved one. At first, you have no idea. Until you start to get some hints – a friend drags you to a charity event and you can’t get the picture out of your head of the kids in the video who don’t have a book in the house or a meal on the table. Or you recall that your loved one had invited you to take a trip to Buenos Aires and you said you weren’t interested, now clearly a mistake. Or an invitation arrives to train for a 10K with some of his friends. This new world seems to have more to offer than the old which is laden with sadness.

Throwing the doors and windows open to let these new opportunities in inspires new interests. You make the Buenos Aires trip with a friend or two, with regret but also enjoyment. You train for the race and get to hear lots of stories about your loved one through his friends’ eyes. You sign up to help out with the charity’s latest project and meet some of those little kids. It is a new world, inhabited by a new, more awake you. And you probably go to that Springsteen concert too.

You gradually enter the front lines again, from a different vantage point this time with a different mission, not to keep life going as it had been, but to create a new one. It takes time, energy and action, and pretty soon you start to know how to live each day in a new way. The sadness and loss are still with you, but your energy is building too. This hard journey begins to show you some rewards. You know that you deserve them.

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