When you’ve lost someone you love, it can be hard to know how to go on living your life. It seems as if the world itself is coming to an end, but then you realize that the world is continuing on without you and your loved one. You may feel as if no one understands what you are going through, and this can leave you feeling very isolated, which only increases the pain of your grief. No one seems to understand that your life will never be the same and that you are not only grieving for your lost loved one, you are also grieving the fact that the future you had planned is gone.
Healing your broken heart is a complex process that takes time. Even after your heart has healed, you will always mourn for your loved one, but you can get to a place where you are able to adapt to a new life where you are able to find some joy in life again.
My complicated grief stretched over a period of ten years, beginning after my husband and son died within two years of each other. I tried many different methods to heal my grief but one of the things that was most helpful to me was reaching out and helping others who were in the same pain that I was experiencing.
At the peak of my struggle, I came across the Chinese parable of The Mustard Seed. Parables are stories which contain words of wisdom that can offer guidance and help us navigate challenging times in life. This particular story had a significant impact on me.
In the parable, a woman’s young son, her only child, dies suddenly from an illness. She is despondent. Carrying her son’s dead body throughout her village, she begs her neighbors to help her bring him back to life. None of them can help her, but she continues to roam the village, cradling her son and sobbing, inconsolable. The neighbors fear she is losing her mind. Finally, the village apothecary sends her to a wise man at the temple, who may be able to help the woman deal with her grief.
The mother enters the temple and desperately throws herself and her son’s body at the feet of the wise man, begging for his help. She tells him he must bring her son back to her. The wise man tells her to go back to her village and gather mustard seeds from all of her neighbors who had not been touched by death. He said he would use those mustard seeds to make a medicine that would bring her son back to life. Full of hope, the woman sets off for the village, determined to find the mustard seeds that would save her son.
She went from door to door throughout the village. Her neighbors offered her mustard seeds, but she could not use them because every family had experienced some personal loss of their own. Through her conversations with her neighbors, she found that every home in her village had been touched by grief. Through this shared experience of loss, she came to realize that death is an unavoidable part of life, something we all have to go through.
The wise man had shown her that by sharing her pain and grief with others, who were experiencing their own, she not only helped her neighbors cope with their losses, but through the process, she also eventually healed her own broken heart.
I resonated strongly with this story and realized that I wanted to reach out to others who were also struggling. Hearing other’s stories that were so similar to my own, and sharing the pain helped me to let go of some of my pain.
Reaching out to help others doesn’t have to look a certain way. You don’t have to go out and find another griever and help them. Helping others can be done in many ways...rescuing or helping animals, volunteering at a local shelter, helping an elderly or handicapped neighbor; there are so many ways you can reach out and in the process help to heal some of your own pain. I believe part of the relief comes from the fact that when we help others who are struggling, we are reminded that we aren’t alone.
We are all in this human experience of life together, and that is how we best get through it, together.
You can find my book, The Other Side of Complicated Grief, here.