Why the Loss of a Loved One is Not the End of the World: How to Start Living Again
Exactly 10 years ago in December 2007, I suddenly lost my father in the middle of the night. And it took me a long time to get over my grief. This is the story of my journey of pain and recovery.
My phone rang in the middle of a cold December night.
I woke up with a jerk. Annoyed that I had forgotten to switch off my phone.
But as soon as I looked at the phone and saw that it was my mother calling, I knew it was tragic news.
My mother was hysterical. My father had just died. He was no longer with us.
My life was never the same again.
What’s the most excruciating pain you have ever felt in your life?
I don’t mean physical pain, but the pain of the loss of a loved one. And how did you even get through?
It is now almost 10 years since I got through the most excruciatingly painful time of my life when my father suddenly passed away in the middle of that fateful December night.
He had a massive heart attack and passed away in the presence of my mother — they had been together for 54 years.
It was a crushingly traumatic period in my life.
Only 6 months before my father died, my best friend had passed away through suicide.
It felt that the whole world was against me — and that I would never get through this torture and pain.
I kept thinking — why me?
Is Death and Grief All Around Us?
As we get older it’s inevitable that we will experience more and more deaths in our immediate family, amongst our friends and in the wider community.
We now also have the experience of our Social Media “virtual friends” either dying or losing their loved ones.
Last month a couple of Facebook friends lost their father too — I could fully empathise with what they were going through. It even felt that I was grieving with them all over again for my own father.
Suddenly it seems that death is all around us — so many people have lost someone recently.
Then last week, a new friend I had only recently connected with through my coaching community tragically passed away at the tender young age of 28. He was an incredible man and on a powerful mission to end war in the world.
Such a tragic loss not just for his family and friends, but for the whole world.
So where do you even begin to comprehend and get through such life-changing losses in your world?
Yes, you can weep and cry your heart out. You can wail and scream. You can despair and give up. You can rage against the unfairness of it all.
And you can fear that it is the end of the world for you.
But then how do you start to live again?
They say that only if you have lost someone can you really understand and feel what those who have just lost someone is going through.
Has Your World Ever Changed Forever in Just a Few Seconds?
So there I was having just been told by my mother that my father was no longer with us.
And in those few seconds, my world changed forever.
I suddenly felt all alone in the world and that my own life had come to an end.
The following few hours and days after that fateful phone call are a haze — I blanked out most of that time as some kind of protective shield.
I remember very little of the following three months as I got into a hazy, stupor.
I got into auto-pilot mode, manically focussed on the practical things — organising the funeral, sorting out the estate and anything to avoid truly feeling my pain.
I was the rock for my mother, siblings and nephews.
Funerals are poignant, moving and timely reminders of the sanctity, sacredness and ultimate fragility of our lives. And my father’s funeral was all of these things and much more.
My brief eulogy at the funeral, carrying the coffin and meeting hundreds of relatives and friends at the funeral — all that was just a blurry haze amidst the driving rain that cold and dark wintry morning.
This eulogy was one of the hardest and most nerve-raking things I have ever done. I think I managed to say that my father’s greatest gift was his compassion and love for people.
Somehow I got through those initial few months but even now the sense of loss and sadness is acute.
Does One Ever Get Over The Loss of a Loved One?
Looking back, I just don’t know how I have got through that first year. And now incredibly it’s almost 10 years.
The years since have seemed so empty without my father. I terribly miss talking to him on the phone, visiting him and watching cricket together.
The loss felt most gut wrenching and painful — at the special occasions during the first year after his passing such as his birthday, my birthday, my parents wedding anniversary and Diwali and Christmas — it was then that his absence was the most painful.
Have You Ever Lost Someone in Tragic Circumstances?
Just a few months before I lost my father, my best friend Rodney committed suicide in the USA, just a week after he had spent a few days with me here in London.
Only a year before his death, I had been the best man at his wedding — and he took his own life just a few days before his first wedding anniversary.
When Rodney left the UK for the final time, little did I know that that was the last time I would see him.
He sent me a really touching and heartfelt text message from the airport, thanking me for all my friendship over the years and saying what a kind friend I had been to him.
It was only afterwards that I realised Rodney was saying goodbye — that was his last ever message to me.
The tragic loss of my dear friend left a huge void in my life — we had been through many good and bad times and challenges — and shared many an adventure together.
It breaks me now to know what he went through in his final days and to know how desperate and anxious he must have been.
I could not talk about Rodney’s passing for a long time, and even now I well up as I write these words.
So how does one ever get over the loss of a loved one?
Here is what helped me get through the darkest time of my life.
1. Grieve As Much As You Need to and Know That It’s Okay to Cry
The best thing you can do is to really, really, really feel your pain — and cry.
There is no need to “man up” — and pretend to be strong.
The “silent types” like me probably suffer more and for a longer time — so many times during my father’s funeral and during the 12 days of the traditional Indian grieving period, I wished I could just bawl my head off like almost everyone else around me. But I just could not.
I once cried for all of 2 minutes privately in the bathroom — and that was just about it. And I have been crying silently in my heart ever since.
As I said, over the following weeks I went into auto mode and just got on with doing things — there were no tears but a terrible numbness which no sleep nor rest could break through.
There was a lot of grieving still to be done for me and I just had to allow it to occur naturally in its own good time.
So be open and vulnerable. Cry as much as you want to. Cry in front of others. Cry on your own. But do cry.
It is remarkable just how strong the human spirit can be in such trying circumstances.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Your Grief with Family, Friends and Community
Be open and talk about your grief and feelings with the people close to you.
Families can be a wonderful thing yet quite a challenge — sometimes we just can’t live with each other for long and yet when it comes to our true hour of need, everyone rallies around.
When I lost my father, I was simply overwhelmed with the compassion shown to us by our many friends and family members during the ensuing weeks. And I was contacted by numerous people from my distant past and many friends sent the most moving messages and cards.
Amidst the sadness and grief, there was a feeling of tenderness and closeness amongst my siblings and other family members I had never experienced ever before — — we all felt incredibly close to each other as we grieved our loss and perhaps also appreciated for the first time our own mortality.
It was heart wrenching to know that it took my father’s passing for all this latent love to surface.
Such closeness, such caring, and though seemingly and perversely short lived, it was and will always be there. I felt closer to my uncles, aunts and other extended family and realised that they too had lost a loved one in my father.
If more people could witness at first hand the grief of a bereaved family, I am sure there would be a lot less violence and warfare in the world.
When I spoke at my friend Rodney’s memorial service, I started reading from my prepared speech but the raw emotion got to me and I could not continue beyond the first few seconds.
I looked up at the audience through misty eyes — and I felt such love and warmth from the 60 people there. And I said the rest of my speech straight from my heart without referring to my written notes.
Remember that people are incredibly kind — they share your grief and are there for you.
People have an amazing capacity to be compassionate — allow them to show you their compassion and kindness during your time of need.
“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike — each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.” — Buddha
Also by talking to a close family member, you’ll both be helping each other’s healing. Seek out and talk to whoever you feel comfortable with — and know that it’s perfectly okay to talk about it.
Maybe you just need a good friend who would be willing to simply listen and be there for you.
Reach out to your community and actively seek out support if that feels right for you — even consider reaching out to your friends on Facebook or any of the online communities you are part of.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Time on Your Own, Remembering Your Loved One
As well as spending time with family and friends, do not be afraid to also spend time on your own.
Do what you need to do as each person’s journey will be different and you will deal with your loss in your own way.
Ask people for space if that’s what you feel you need — they will understand.
The best thing a friend did for me when I lost my father was to invite me to spend the day at her home. She prepared loads of comfort food all day and left me alone in front of her TV all day.
I watched all sorts of mindless soaps and action movies, anything to take my mind off things — and it was just what I needed as I cried most of the day on her couch, knowing that I would not be judged or seen as a wimp.
Do go for long walks in nature, either on your own or with friends. Being in fresh air and exercising will take your mind of things — and also make you present to the majesty of the universe and how we all fit in.
Perhaps you will get a sense of the eternalness of our lives. Or perhaps you’ll grasp just how miniscule we are in the great scheme of things.
Maybe amidst all the gloom, you’ll get to see your life and future direction in a new light.
During this time of solitude, reflect on what has happened — and remember the many special times you had with your loved one.
Giggle at the silly fun you used to have and smile at their nuances and peculiarities — all those quirks which made your loved one so unique and adorable.
Look back on the happy times. Look back on the sad times. Look back on the fun times. Look back on the challenging times. Look back and remember.
And as you remember, cry as much as you want to.
4. Remember That Seeking Special Help and Support For Your Grief is Not Failure
Having many supportive friends around you is wonderful, but professional support may help too.
Grief counselling can offer you a platform to express your grief and sadness.
Though I never had grief counselling, looking back I do wonder if it would have helped me.
As a man, it does not seem manly to need counselling. Men tend to feel they should be able to handle their emotions and may wrongly view counselling as an admission of weakness.
Every one deals with grief in their own way — and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
There is no magical formula for “getting over it”, only the passing of time, patience and compassion with oneself.
Time may not necessarily heal but it makes the burden of grief become manageable whereby you can live, function and become happy once more, experiencing joy again, while never forgetting your loved one.
Also seek out medical support if you feel yourself at a physical and emotional low. Just talking to a doctor will reassure that you are only experiencing the normal phases of grieving.
Your faith can also really support you at this time — depending on your faith and beliefs, seek out support from your priest, rabbi, pastor or spiritual teacher.
Whatever you do, do not lock yourself away in isolation — know that everyone is rooting for you and supporting you in the best way they can. Allow them a chance to do so.
At the same time, during the grieving period, try and keep your cool as emotions can run high and even amongst loved ones misunderstandings can happen.
5. Give Your Grieving Process as Much Time as You Need
It is said to be a cliche about time being the great healer.
But who cares about cliches!?
You take as much time as you need to for your grieving process. Do not listen to others who tell you that you should have “got over” the loss by now.
Every one deals with grief in their own way — and there is no right or wrong and nor is there a magic formula for “getting over it”.
Recently a friend mentioned how he felt something was wrong with him since he still felt so down after the loss of his own father two years ago. Some friends had told him that this was not normal and he should have “got over” it by now.
I reassured him that it was perfectly okay for him to grieve as was appropriate for him and for as long as needed — everyone has a different journey and their own way of dealing with loss.
I did suggest though that he could look into some grief counselling if it was impacting his life so much.
6. Appreciate Your Loved Ones and Honour Them by Living a Life Worthy of Them
In the year after my father passed away, I went through his printed papers and books — and I was astounded by the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and his compassion and love of people.
I never truly appreciated what he stood for nor what he had done for me. Learning how he had worked so hard so that we could all have a better life than his generation was quite a humbling realisation.
I now lament that I didn’t show him my full appreciation in his lifetime — he did his best for me and everything he could for me, with the knowledge, resources and understanding he had at the time.
I will also always recall his kind and sometimes eccentric nature and what made him my father — such as cantankerously checking that all the doors and windows were locked last thing at night and always wanting to know if I had eaten properly no matter what time I called him, day or night.
What you experience as quirky about your loved ones today will become treasured memories one day.
During my deepest grieving for my father, I watched yet again my all-time favourite movies — “It’s a Wonderful Life!” — about a man who feels like a total failure.
Just when his spirit is about to be broken, his guardian angel, Clarence, falls to Earth, and shows him how his town, family, and friends would have turned out if he had never been born.
This heart-warming movie made me appreciate just how many lives my own father had touched in his lifetime through his life of service to others.
Everyone’s life has a meaning — and in the same way, your departed loved one’s life served a bigger purpose and the world would not have been the same if they had not lived.
So as you grieve, remember and honour them for the impact they made on so many people.
The biggest gift my father gave me was my life and I can never thank him (and my mother) enough. All I can do is to endeavour to live a life worthy of both my parents.
7. Express Your Love to Your Loved Ones Whilst You Can
Recently I attended the funeral of an elderly relative where I cried copious tears as I remembered once again the loss of my father.
My tears were for not only for my father but also for all my past losses — forgotten dreams, lost hopes, squandered time, estranged friends, broken relationships, people let down, hurts still festering — indeed a huge cocktail of feelings of grief.
And most of all, I cried tears for love not shared, expressed, recognised or reciprocated.
So do not wait any longer — go and spend some valuable time with your loved ones — and get in touch with those family and friends who mean so much to you.
Visit them. Call them. Email them. Text them. Whatever works for you. Contact them somehow. And tell them just how much they mean to you.
“The love you fail to share today is the only pain you live with right now in your life” — Shore Slocum
8. Create a Legacy Worthy of Your Loved One
Though I cannot claim to fully understand the pain that you are going through nor underestimate your anguish, I do know that you are gifted with such resolute strength that you can get through it all — and begin to live once again.
It is remarkable just how strong the human spirit can be in such trying circumstances.
Losing a loved one is the deepest pain you’ll go through in life — but let that also instil in you an urgency to experience life as fully as you can — whilst you can.
Let the loss of a loved one ultimately be a wake-up call for you to make the most of your life — and create your legacy and do what you can for the world — whilst you can.
Let this be a clarion call for getting out of the trap of wanting to be the best, acquiring more stuff and spending time in frivolous activities — and truly going for what you want in your life.
Make a promise to yourself to live the best life you can from hereon.
My father left behind quite a legacy. He lives on in his books — and in me.
What will be your legacy?
What will your loved ones remember you by?
9. Remember That The Love of Your Departed Loved One Will Never Leave You
Remember that the happy memories of your departed loved one will always stay with you.
Perhaps ultimately that is what counts more than anything else — and the awareness that their great love for you will always be with us.
That awareness really frees us up on our quest for completeness and happiness — which after all is what our departed loved ones want for us anyway.
Earlier this summer, a friend lost her mother after a long term illness and brave fight — and just a couple of weeks later, my friend gave birth to a baby girl.
She shared something incredibly poignant — knowing just how much she loved her newly born daughter had made her realise just how deeply and unconditionally she had been loved by her own mother all her life.
Amidst the despair of losing her mother and the joy of giving birth to her baby daughter, my friend had a great awareness of just how much her own mother had loved her, and how this deep and profound love was still there and will always be there.
In that moment, when my friend shared about her mother’s love, I too felt just how great my father’s love had been for me and how it too will always be there.
I am only now able to grasp the depth of my father’s love for me — and knowing that this love will always be there even in his physical absence is incredibly heartening and consoling.
I get so emotional even thinking about this — and I write this through teary eyes.
Somehow, when we remember our loved ones we think about all the things we didn’t do or say, or regret some of the things we did say which we wish we hadn’t.
In that moment of feeling my father’s love, it suddenly became clear to me that in the great scheme of things, these regrets did not matter. Somehow that realisation gave me a sense of completion with my father.
So know that during this period of your grieving, in time you’ll get over your regrets and bask in their love that will always be there.
“To live in hearts we leave behind, is not to die” — Thomas Campbell
Your departed loved one will also always be with you too, no matter what — and they will always continue to live in your heart.
Remember to not only mourn the passing of your dear one, but also to celebrate their life.
Remember them and pledge to yourself to make the most of each day and the most of this fleeting life that we are all so lucky to have.
Yes, we do live in a beautiful world and there is so much goodness in us and around us. But it is also the nature of life that we are meant to experience the excruciating pain of a loss of a loved one.
Yet, life can also give us such heart rending, excruciatingly painful experiences that it takes all we have and much more to even get through each day.
Maybe we never ever truly get over the loss of a loved one.
Maybe we never completely heal, but just cover it up.
Maybe with time the pain just diminishes but never totally goes away.
But our love lives on forever.
Remember that Everything Changes — and This Too Will Pass
As you grieve the loss of your loved one, remember that everything changes.
Buddhist and Yogic traditions teach us about the futility of fighting to hold on to what we have — everything changes and ultimately we all go back to where we came from.
What helped get me through my darkest days of grief was this little mantra I adopted and kept repeating to myself — this too will pass.
Incredibly 10 years have now passed — and here I am wondering where that time has gone.
My excruciating pain and despair did pass — and though the void and sadness will always be there, I am left with treasured and beautiful memories of my father.
No matter what your beliefs about spirituality, the afterlife and reincarnation, take comfort that your departed loved one is at peace — and they are at peace with you.
And their deep love will always be with you.
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