How to Hold Onto Meaning Amid Complicated Grief

There is no shortcut, hack, or trick that can help expedite the intensity of complicated grief. The time after a loss can be tender, and it’s often full of unexpected thoughts and emotions. Grief doesn’t run on a specific timeline, and it’s sometimes normal to wonder if you’ll ever feel better again.

The truth is that grief often pulls everything we know into question. Complicated grief, in particular, can coincide with intense, competing feelings of regret, anger, shame, and sadness. Some people also feel completely numb, especially if the loss occurred recently or happened by surprise.

There’s never a right way to find or even hold onto meaning in grief. However, trying to intentionally hold onto purpose can offer you peace and grace during this challenging time. Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Does Finding Meaning in Grief Mean?

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

However, it’s important to note that these stages are not inherently evidence-based, and they were also never met to be seen as orderly. In addition, Kübler-Ross counseled terminally ill patients in her practice. Her grief stages were based on her observations of that population, although the model has since been often applied to people grieving losses).

Today, this book still stands as one of the most popular sources of grief literature. It may be helpful to conceptualize some of these stages as they apply to your own grieving process.

Author and grief expert, David Kessler, wrote two books with Kübler-Ross and then later wrote a book that introduced a critical sixth stage titled, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler underwent several significant losses, including a mass shooting, his mother’s death, and his own child’s death. Kessler’s insight focuses on the journey of finding meaning in grief.

7 Steps Toward Finding Meaning After a Tragic Loss

First and foremost, there is no easy way to cope with death. It is painful to experience such a tragic loss, and it is devastating to come to terms with realizing that you will never see certain people again. With that, it is still possible to feel your emotions fully and embrace a fulfilled life.

Intentionally and Freely Allow Yourself to Grieve

Not everyone experiences the classic five stages of grief. Instead, it’s important to note that the grief process is intensely personal, and it’s full of many ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and changing emotions.

Allowing yourself to feel your feelings simply starts with honestly identifying your own emotions. Where do you notice your inner pain? What feelings come up for you as you reflect on certain painful memories? Are you allowing yourself to cry when the sadness arises?

Of course, it may not always be feasible to feel your feelings at every moment in time. However, some people find it helpful to schedule time each day where they can reflect or journal about how they’re feeling. This can give you space to understand your own experience and process your emotions and thoughts.

Stay Connected to Support

Every devastating loss is inherently its own, and it’s impossible for anyone to truly understand your experience. That said, grief and grieving are universal.

Everyone witnesses pain and experiences various types of loss throughout this lifetime. With that, life’s tragedies can sometimes be the bonding glue that forms some of the most meaningful connections.

As much as you seek to isolate during this time, try to push past that urge. When you can surround yourself with loving, compassionate people who understand grief, you can feel connected to something greater than yourself. You can also feel validated in your own experiences, which can be a crucial part of the grief journey. If your own friends or family can’t understand what you’re going through, consider joining a bereavement or grief support group.

Don’t Pressure Yourself Into Finding Meaning In Grief

It’s okay if you feel overwhelmed with your grief.

Although it may seem paradoxical, sometimes the journey to finding a happy and fulfilled life comes down to simply trying to let go of expectations. In other words, if you’re overly focused on finding meaning, try to take a step back. You just might not be emotionally ready to put what has happened into any real sense of context yet.

Instead, simply focus on allowing your feelings to wash over you. You may need some time to heal painful memories or reconcile your emotions. You might also still feel jarred by your feelings about your loved one’s final moments.

Give Back to An Organization or Donate Your Time In Their Honor

One of the best ways to honor another person is to continue honoring their presence in your present actions. Consider getting involved in a charity that either was or would have been meaningful to your loved one’s life.

You can also think about how you choose to spend time dedicated to their values. If, for example, your loved one had a soft spot for animals, you might consider spending an afternoon each week volunteering at your local shelter. If they died of a specific condition, you might decide to get involved into advocacy campaigns on their behalf.

Write Down What Your Favorite Memories

After a tremendous loss, the idea of forgetting anything about your loved one may seem inconceivable. You remember everything from the way their hair smelled to their favorite color to how their voice sounds when they feel angry. Unfortunately, time has a way of distorting memories and making us forget some of the more special, sweet moments.

You may find it helpful to jot down some of your favorite memories about your loved one. Even if it feels painful, you might feel grateful to look back on some of these reminders later.

Ask for Practical Grief Support

Some people feel so flooded by their grief that there’s no capacity to reflect on their emotions or accrue any real life lessons. They are simply in survival mode, and each day seemingly represents another battle. This can be common in the first weeks and months after a significant death. However, if it persists for several months or years, it may be a sign that you need more support in your own life.

Consider any areas where you may be overextending yourself. Then, think about how you can seek guidance. Maybe it’s outsourcing a few household tasks each week. Perhaps it’s delegating some projects at work.

Channel Your Loved One’s Energy Into How You Live Your Own Life

One of the best ways to honor and possibly transform grief is to truly live your life in a way that honors the person you lost. Some people do this by doing something they always promised they’d do. Maybe you always told your friend you’d visit Paris, but they died before you could go. Now might be the time to book that flight).

Others do it by changing a habit they knew irritated or bothered their loved one. For example, you might now decide it’s time to quit smoking or leave your frustrating job.

If the death occurred due to a health condition, you might decide it’s time to be more proactive with your own health. Remember that creating meaning can take many forms, but it can feel more profound when your loved one feels connected with what you’re choosing to do.

Therapy for Complicated Grief in Austin, TX

The grieving process is not linear, and all the unfolding stages bring their own emotional pulls.

Whether you’re grieving a recent sudden death, or you’ve been mourning a significant loss for several years, grief therapy can offer you the solace, grace, and support you need. No matter when your grief began, we’ll talk about what’s hurting you most, but we’ll also take steps to cultivate your own meaning throughout this process.

As a grief specialist, I work with all kinds of grief, including complicated grief, ambiguous grief, abbreviated grief, and disenfranchised grief. I also understand the struggles associated with end-of-life issues, including caregiver burnout, dementia, hospice care, will and estate problems, cancer treatment, chronic pain, and more.

I am here to support you during this vulnerable and important time. Experiencing grief can feel lonely, but you are not alone. I welcome you to contact me today to learn more about my process and to schedule a consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.