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We are built to grieve and survive, and even thrive, after loss

There are three things that we don’t learn until life delivers a blow:

1. Loss of the ones we love is inevitable, a sure thing, gonna happen sooner or later. Not having been reminded that nothing lasts forever, we are gob-smacked when our loved one dies.

2. Grief can be deeply painful, for a long time, but will help you find your way. Grief is not fatal and eases over time. Its job is to help you form your new relationship with the person who has died, and to lead you toward the moment when hope arrives.

3. We are built to survive loss. We come with the necessary equipment: emotion to confirm which losses are the ones big enough to destabilize us; and a prefrontal cortex to reason out how on earth we are to move from the pain of it toward a new and different life that we don’t even want. It isn’t easy, but we persist.

We can think about it evolutionarily. Rough estimate, globally, about 100 billion people (according to the United Nations Population Reference Bureau) have come and gone since 1800. Each one, another estimate suggests, leaves six people each to grieve for them. If we were built to collapse after a loss, wouldn’t that have become clear by now? We can take heart. Different cultures have different customs and traditions about how to manage such a loss, but we get it done.

We can think about it personally, too. Out of all the people you have known, how many have buckled entirely under a loss? We are too stubborn for that – we soldier on, doing what needs to be done, buoyed by support people who mean well even if they don’t know just what to say or do. We gradually move into a changed life and make the best of it.

Sometimes we end up finding surprises that we would never have come across without the loss – a new love, a new place, a new mission in life. We have been doing this for a very long time. We’ve proven that we can survive and eventually even thrive. The fact that we may doubt it at first doesn’t change the outcome.

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