The art of living after loss – visioning your “new normal”
In my earlier series of blog posts I touched on the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) as I have seen them impact on the resolution (or otherwise) of the legal fallout that follows after the loss of a loved one.
In this next series I will outline some strategies to help you find your new centre of gravity and encourage you to pause and reflect on your values – which ought to be what drive your next steps.
Lifting your eyes to the horizon
The first thing I encourage you to do, is to start trying to imagine how your life might look like without your loved one in it.
I know this can be a difficult thing to do, and you might find it hard not to focus on the negative aspects at first. But there is sound psychological evidence that shows that people who can envision their future in a positive light are far more likely to actually live out that positive life.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” – Aristotle
If you can train your mind to look for the silver lining in the clouds that might cover your days – and look to the future rather than focus on the past – you will travel through grief and step into your new normal more easily.
Vision your near perfect new normal
To help you lift your eyes to your new horizon, I encourage you to do this simple but powerful exercise. In fact, this exercise really is something any one of us can do at any time when we feel a bit lost, whether due to an unexpected event in our life, or not.
This will cost you nothing but it will need you to commit to taking uninterrupted time out for yourself – for an hour or two (or longer if you can!). So that means your phone and other devices are well out of sight, on silent or better still turned off, the TV is off and landline (if you still have one!) is off the hook. If you prefer, take yourself out of the house and sit in the fresh air in a quiet spot.
You will need to grab a pen and at least three sheets of paper or a journal. Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself in a few years’ time living in your “near perfect” new normal. The intense anguish of the grief you feel now has passed, the estate administration has been finalised and the estates battle is over. What does your life look like? Where do you live? Who are your nearest and dearest? What are you doing? Where are you working or volunteering? What are your new interests or hobbies? Dream a little. Then write your thoughts down on your first page.
Map out the path
Now take your second sheet of paper, and thinking about your near perfect new normal, write down what changes you could make to your life now, to take your life a step closer to that ideal. These will then become some goals to aim for.
These can be big picture goals or they can be small changes that might make a big difference.
What things can you do now, that you didn’t have time for before? Are there new interests that you have been meaning to try, or old hobbies that you could return to? Is it time to take a little holiday to reconnect with family or friends? What can you do to take care of yourself? Do you take comfort in living in the same home and having items around you that remind you or your loved one, or would you find it easier to cope moving house and having a clean slate?
Once you have written down your goals, have a look down your list and prioritise them. Realise that there is no need to achieve one, or more, or all of the goals in any set time. In fact, it might be better for you not to think about making major changes in your life too soon – since big changes like moving house or changing jobs, while grieving, can add to (rather than alleviate) stress. So, for some of the “big ticket” goals, you might simply set yourself a “bring up” date in say a few months’ time, to revisit those goals when you are in a better head and heart space. So, review and prioritise your goal list with these things in mind.
Grab another piece of paper and now write your first goal at the top of that page and then write down a series of smaller tasks that will help you achieve that goal.
So, as an example, if one of your goals is to stay living in your home if possible, or at least stay living locally close to your social and community network, some of the steps might be:
- Find out what your current home would rent for;
- Look into what rental income you might be able to earn by renting out an unused room, a floor or a wing in your home to students, or other housemates or as a B&B;
- Look into the cost of other properties (perhaps smaller homes or units) in your area, or in suburbs close by;
- Find out from a few local agents what your current home is worth;
- Speak to a financial planner about the financial impacts of the above options and whether you will need to consider bank finance (and if so find out how much you might be able to borrow)
- Then make an informed (not emotional) decision on which way you will go (and write down another set of mini tasks to get that goal done and dusted)
At the bottom of that page – now write down what rewards you will you allow yourself once you have done your homework, once you have made a decision and then once the goal is achieved. This is the fun part of goal setting! One of my clients decided her rewards would be a massage after she finished her homework, a day spa day to celebrate making her decision and then a hair and make up makeover when she moved in to her new unit.
Do this exercise for each of your goals (or at least for your top three goals) and then put them somewhere you will see them. You might put them on your fridge, or on your bedroom wall, in your planner or in your phone. Some people get creative and decorate their goal pages or do up vision boards to make referring back to those goal sheets more appealing and inspiring. Here are a few ideas on how others have set up their vision boards.
You need to be able to remind yourself of these goals and steps daily, because some days you will have down days, some times you will feel like you are going backwards and it will be during these moments that you will need to remind yourself of your bigger picture.
Keep a gratitude journal
Keeping a gratitude journal can also help to stay focussed on the positives and can be a wonderful record of how far you have come, if ever you need a reminder for yourself. Studies have shown that the simple act of writing down the things for which we are grateful can bring us better sleep, better health and more happiness. This doesn’t have to be a daily practice, but has best effect done at least once a week. Some days you might feel you can’t think of anything, but there is always something to give thanks for – being alive, having a roof over your head, enjoying a meal, having friends and family to reach out to, simply surviving a difficult day. For some great tips on keeping a gratitude journal, click here.
If you keep your focus on the positives rather than the negatives, your mindset will be better placed to make decisions.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates
Start building your new life today. What are some things you are grateful for?