If you are struggling with a loss, here are some ways you can find peace and comfort.
In the days and months after my sister died suddenly in her sleep, I went through a difficult and complicated grieving process. There were hundreds of things not said, and questions not answered. I knew I wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel normal again. I wanted closure—if there is such a thing.
My sister was my first big loss, and in the next few years I experienced two more devastating deaths: my father in another country too ill to communicate and my nephew who was like both a brother and son to me.
Here are ten things that help me find comfort and peace as I navigate through grief. Some I borrowed from sources I’ve lost track of, others I invented out of desperation. I hope you’ll find them helpful. Use what works for you. Be brave. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Getting used to grieving is a process. Eventually it won’t feel so heavy. I promise.
Here is what helped me:
1. Read books about heaven. When my sister died I read many books from people who died and came back. I wanted to know where my loved one had gone. What were they doing in heaven? What did the Bible say about heaven?
2. Connect with others. Misery loves company as they say, so joining a support group and reading memoirs about other’s grief can help you recognize that even if you don’t feel normal, everything you are feeling and experiencing is completely normal.
3. Don’t think of it as a loss. I hated that word loss. It made me feel cheated as if someone had robbed me. So much so that when it came time to pick out my sister’s epitaph I suggested and we chose, Not lost, gone before. It helped me to see those words etched in marble. It helped me to believe what I knew in my heart, our loved ones aren’t lost. They are in heaven.
4. Keep a journal. I have a little book where I write letters to my loved ones in heaven. Things I want to say, memories, stories, you-name-it. Getting your feelings on paper helps release them and word by word you’ll feel lighter and more connected not only to yourself but to your loved one.
5. Research your roots. Crazy as is it may sound, researching your family history by joining something like Ancestry.com can help you feel more connected. When my dad was dying and I wasn’t able to communicate with him, I found myself researching his lineage. Even though we were half a world apart, I felt closer to him.
6. Find peace through prayer. You can’t change the past, but you can make peace with it. For a long time I prayed for God to tell me why my sister died—not only what went wrong with her physical body but why, philosophically, she had to die. Over time my prayer changed from why did this happen, to help me understand there are things I cannot know. If you find yourself struggling with why did this happen take the beautiful words of Rainer Maria Rilke to heart: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”
7. Do something physical. After my niece lost her mom she took up exercising. Pushing her body to its limits healed her spirit. Later she told me, “The one thing that saved me from getting lost in grief was exercising that feeling right out of me. Exerting myself and getting all the feelings of anger and injustice out.”
8. Take on a loved one’s favorite hobby. Did your loved one like to bake? Listen to jazz? The next time you feel overcome with missing them, engage in something they enjoyed. Just give it a try. You’ll see it helps.
9. Create a memorial spot or tradition. My mom lights candles for my sister every night. I created a special spot in my yard that I dedicated to my dad’s memory. Plant a tree, or build a memory book—all of these things can help bring healing.
10. Be patient with yourself. If you struggle with forgiving a loved one, pray, write them a letter. If you are overcome with missing them, allow yourself to grieve. Ask for signs from heaven or dreams that will bring healing. You’ll be amazed at the miracles that happen when you ask for reassurance that your loved one is okay.