The stages of grief can start to become a comfortable and familiar place. Searching for a new meaning or purpose after the loss of a loved one during the acute phase of grief can be intimidating and seem unrealistic.
There will always be fear of the unknown while grieving. And it often feels like “moving forward” means you’re leaving your loved one in the past. However, refocusing your mind on a “new normal” after a loss—instead of waiting for the grieving process to “end”—can help you continue on with life.
Below, we dive into finding your meaning after losing a loved one. It’s all about deciding you are ready, making a plan, understanding it will be difficult at times and finding ways to continue the bond with them in your new sense of purpose.
Deciding You Are Ready
The first and most important step to finding your purpose after losing a loved one is deciding you are ready. You may be tired of that constant feeling of sadness. Or perhaps you’re just ready for a change. Whatever the reason, remind yourself that grief is a lifelong journey and to forgive yourself often.
Think of it this way: If you’re committing to a new healthy lifestyle, you wouldn’t immediately go run a marathon. Instead, you would build up your stamina. You’d train daily and weekly, adding small increments until you have reached your goal.
Moving forward from grief is similar. It’s about focusing on the small changes and wins instead of taking on too much at once.
There’s no right or wrong answer for when you decide you are ready; it is going to be different for everyone. When you do feel ready, this could be your chance to do something you have always wanted to do, your chance to see what else is out in the world or your chance to work new positive activities into your life.
Making a Plan
You may have noticed after the passing of your loved one that you have cut out hobbies and activities that used to play a large role in your day-to-day life. When it’s time to slowly incorporate some sense of normalcy back into your day, consider making a plan that includes focusing on what once gave you joy.
Granted, some of the things you used to do may no longer give you satisfaction or they may remind you of your loved one, but consider incorporating them back. Why? Because once you get over that initial hill that is fear and anxiety, you may find joy in doing them again. And if that isn’t the case for you, that’s okay. Grief is different for everyone, so what worked for someone else may not work for you.
Making a plan is about choosing to participate in small, worthwhile activities and intentionally penciling them into our calendars to find joy.
Preparing for the Difficult Times
While venturing through the phases of grief, you’re bound to experience several highs and lows. After all, the five phases of grief we often read about aren’t necessarily the same path or timeline for everyone.
After losing a loved one, you may notice that experiences you had with that individual will flood you with painful emotions when brought up or when your mind least expects it. It’s important to recognize that pain and prepare for it to be difficult. Avoid putting pressure on yourself around how long ago a loss occurred, or if you’re feeling worse one day and better the next. Remember that finding your sense of purpose and happiness is worth it.
Something that may help get through the extra tough times is a basic coping strategy called behavioral activation. This short-term treatment can have an immense effect on your mood and is designed to increase your interactions with positively rewarding activities.
Continuing the Bond
We maintain bonds forever. While life will never go “back to normal” after the loss of a loved one, there are several opportunities to continue the bond you had with them in your new life purpose every day.
When we face a loss, grief isn’t about working through a linear process. It’s about finding ways to adjust and rethink your relationship with that person. Continuing bonds includes natural human attachment, even in death.
Looking for Additional Grief Support Resources?
Grief isn’t something that goes away— it becomes a part of you. You may find that over time as you work through the stages of grief and make it your mission to find new meaning and purpose, it becomes more peaceful. If you’re interested in more grief support resources, subscribe to our blog and receive helpful articles like this directly in your inbox.