Rebuilding life after loss with your personal Venn diagram


By Jan McDanielLast
If someone you love very much has died, you may think your life is over. The psychological impact of loss is overwhelming, especially if the timing or surrounding circumstances were unexpected or traumatic. The mind reacts in astonishing ways while grieving. At some point, however, the realization comes: how can I go on?
Simple photographs that brought so much joy before everything changed might be painful reminders that force you to put them away for a while. The aftermath of death impacts everyone around the person who died. Family members, friends, colleagues, even casual acquaintances may have differing grief experiences and coping skills.
That’s okay. But we are talking about you right now. How will you go on? Does time seem to stretch in unbelievable ways? Do you feel disconnected from what is happening around you?
Maybe the weeks and months necessitated new living arrangements. Perhaps your two-income family became a one- or a no-income family. Swamped with responsibilities and bills at a time when you don’t even feel like getting out of bed, you search for a lifeline. Jobs and rent are two things that usually won’t wait very long. You need a new plan, one that will meet your immediate and future needs.
Whether you move in with family or stay in the old place, painful memories often hobble good intentions. Put the pictures away. Will that help? Possibly. Maybe you do that and then, as confusion floods in again, you unpack some of the framed photographs you used to have hanging on your walls. Put them up and take them down again. These are the kinds of actions that indicate grieving (and healing) are going on.
It hurts too much to look at reminders of happier times, but seeing them again can be comforting. So, you go to bed thinking of your loved one and wake up thinking of that same person. You see the old world you used to have every time you look at the photos and most other things around you at home and anywhere else you go. It’s all surreal.
Memories are stored within many inanimate objects. Pausing to stare at a can of creamed corn on a grocery shelf may make you wonder how in the world all this could have happened. How could your life have changed so much, how could you have changed, what happened to your real life? How did you get here from there? Though you know people die, personal and significant loss often makes no sense.
What do you do with the past life now that you’re trying to make a new one? In this loop of thinking the same things over and over, remember you are not alone. Your reactions are normal. Of course, you don’t want to give up the old life.
You are processing unfathomable grief.
“I want him. He’s not here, and he’s not coming back. I don’t think I can take that.” That’s the loop, filled in with all the what-ifs and why-don’t-I-feel-him-with-me questions.
Realize healing happens in moments. Life’s most challenging moments require simple tools. Understanding, support, self-care, a journal and pen, and a willingness to face difficult changes. These are the same tools that can help you rebuild a new life.
Sounds simple. It’s not. Take out your journal and pen. The first clean page is a good place to start. Draw two large circles, side by side, that overlap in the center. This is your personal Venn diagram (a diagram that reveals all possible, logical relationships between two different sets). Leave the overlapping part empty until you fill the left and right circles. In the left circle, write words that represent your old life with your loved one. In the right circle, write what you would like to see in your new life.
Take your time. This is a work in progress. When you are ready, add words that describe what you are feeling and facing in the center “transition zone,” the current time in which you are grieving.
Don’t worry about what is possible or when things will feel better. Just write. As the days go by, return to your diagram and begin to figure out the best way to move through the transition zone and into a life that will contain more steadiness, more joy and less pain. Set small goals and write in your journal about ways to reach them.
Use this technique over time to sculpt the kind of existence you want. It can help you address smaller problems, too. The process itself is healing. The life you shared is important. You are important. What you are doing now is bringing resolution to the “before” and “after.”
You are healing … one step at a time.