Of course, we have to take care of ourselves when we are grieving. Amen to that.
And what concerns me about the self-care approach to healing grief is that I fear some heartbroken people might stop there and fail to take other steps. We might fail to take our pain into our community. We might even become caught in habitual, self-limiting patterns. This complete focus on the self, while necessary, is a very Western thing: it’s all about the individual. Of course, self-care gets us functioning again — as does the care of others.
And our communities need our gifts. This blog and this book, for example, are a creative response to my questions: “How can I be of service as a gift to others — to inspire people?” and “How can my experience be a gift to inspire others?”
What could I do right now?
At some point, our focus on self-care may begin to fade, and a valuable question may arise: “What could I do now?” We might even be getting a little bored with our self-focus.
All grieving people hope that people will be present for us in our grieving. What is gratifying to discover is that we can be present for others, even if we struggle to be present for ourselves
And the time may come to gently move from predominantly “inner” (or self-focused) work to “outer” work. We may find ourselves drawn, as I am, to complement self-care with a broader ethic of caring, which may be reciprocal and bring us great joy. And we may discover that we can transform the meaning of our loss by making it the basis for social action — through helping others.
Meaning reconstruction may help us rebuild our shattered sense of self. Research consistently shows that higher levels of meaning-making consistently predict better outcomes for bereaved people (Kasper, J., Co-destiny, 2013: 43).
I am, therefore, not surprised to read that lack of sense-making is at the root of complicated grief.
So, when we choose to leave our home-based grieving self — even for a tentative excursion — and venture into a broader social realm, we may discover that we can still find restorative love in our world. That is what happened to me.
I realize after I move from Nimbin (six months after Karl died) that some aspects of my brokenness are healing, and I am becoming bored and irritated with my self-focus. I even complain to Karl:
“For me, self-care is a boring, repetitive, and persistent issue. I am not that good at it.” Then I start saying that to my friends, and they listened. Two in particular. Two who knew a lot about road safety.
And that’s the simple explanation of how my road safety campaign began.
What can happen at this time of grieving?
As our grieving process deepens and widens, we may begin to turn our thoughts towards others. Then we may find ourselves ruminating on a pet project of our loved one, as I did about Karl’s love of “skulduggery”. Research has found that it is not uncommon for trauma survivors to dedicate their lives to rectifying the hardships they have personally experienced. Often, we are called upon to engage in the wider world.
We may exhibit altruism born of suffering and discover sources of empathy and compassion that we did not know we had. In fact, for some, trauma may be a sort of “empathy training”. Some of us, like me, may discover a fount of perseverance and passion for long-term goals and a long-term drive to rectify the wrongs that we have experienced. Of course, not all suffering will be linked to heightened engagement and different forms of suffering will prove different responses in survivors.
What was his dream?
We may hear ourselves asking, as I did, “What was his dream? What has he taught me?” Or even: “How would he take this healing into the wider community?” Many agree that part of healthy human adaptation to loss is to construct a way to move forward. That’s what the evidence about continuing bonds in this book and this blog reveals.
Bereaved people who cope best find comfort in ongoing connections. So, we may see an opportunity to transform broken dreams, lost ambitions, or shattered opportunities or future life events that vanished with the death of our loved one.
WHAT WOULD KARL DO HERE?
One day, I sense my future calling out to me, as I find myself asking, “What would Karl do here?”
I continue to ask Karl questions like that directly in our daily conversations. Those questions invite an awareness beyond my loss and pain.