How To Thrive After Death & Loss (According To A Psychologist Who's Been There)

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Charlie Brown, the famous Peanuts character, was oft exclaiming, “good grief!" In those moments, he, of course, was not really speaking about grief and loss; he was using a colloquial phrase, often expressed in moments of upset or disappointment.

As a former psychologist, I have counseled and coached others for years about the stages of grief after loss and taught them the various strategies for coping and moving on after a death.

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And now, I have the heart-wrenching experience of dealing with grief myself, after the sudden and unexpected loss of my wife, my best friend.

My wife and I had just relocated from Florida back to Colorado, where I have spent over half my life to be closer (geographically and emotionally) to our family located there — our son, daughter, their spouses, and four grandchildren. The move also brought me closer to my daughter who lives in Oregon, now only a 2-hour plane ride away, allowing more opportunities for visits.

We arrived in Colorado on January 5th, and awaited our furniture arrival on January 11th. We were excited about our new house. It has plenty of room — both inside and out — for our grandkids to play and for our family to enjoy.

In early January, my wife's medical reports were all good. Thinking all was well, she excitedly discussed plans for the house, for family visits and for our next phase of life together in Colorado.

However, on January 10th, my wife took ill. She was treated at the time and returned home. But then, on January 25th, her health took a sudden downturn, and she had to be transported by ambulance to the hospital. Just three days later, she died due to liver failure and other complications from cancer and hepatitis C.

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Just three weeks after we arrived in Colorado, I lost my best friend — and all her plans went unrealized.

Needless to say, there is a hole in my heart. I miss my wife terribly. And yet, thank goodness we made It to Colorado, where my family and friends are here to give me unconditional support and love. It greatly helps in my process of grief.

So, Charlie Brown’s expression, “good grief” has new meaning for me. Of course, I am experiencing tremendous grief at the loss of my beloved, but is this grief "good?"

Well, my belief is yes, it is good and necessary to grieve, even though it is not what I would have chosen to deal with. But life had other plans.

For years, I have written and taught that all experiences are good experiences... eventually.

They have to be. We have to learn, over time, what the human experience of loss means to us and how it helps our soul's development.

Bronnie Ware wrote The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, a blog which became a book with worldwide impact.

Those lessons that I have taught in the past are now paramount to me. My wife, Jill, would not want me to wallow in my grief, but rather to remember the life we had — and the life I still have. Of course, I wish she had lived longer, but none of us know the day or manner in which our time on earth will come to an end. 

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But her legacy is bigger than she knew. It now lives on inside of me — impacting how I live my life, for as long as I am here. 

Good grief, indeed!

For more information about coping with grief and finding peace after loss, see DrPatWilliams.com. Also read coach and former psychologist Dr. Pat Williams's book, Getting Naked: On Emotional Transparency at the Right Time, the Right Place, and with the Right Personon Amazon or Balboa Press and in Audible books.

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