Every person’s journey through grief is so unique, yet so similar. When we lose a remarkable person or pet in our life, it can feel like everything is flipped upside down and we’re left navigating this new world in a haze.
It’s like we enter a grief-loaded time warp. Time slows down and getting through a day of what used to feel normal can feel like a drawn out eternity. And then there are other instances where time feels like it’s speeding by, sometimes “waking up” just to realize months have passed in a blur.
Life After Someone We Love Passes
Even now, eight months after I lost my “soul” cat, Chewbacca, I’m seeing some progress into my “new normal”. Do I still miss Chewy? More than anything. Do I still cry for her? Yes, and sometimes it’s exactly what I need to feel close to her.
As I’ve traversed every stage of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and finding meaning — I’ve learned there’s no rule book for grief. Some days I’m able to accept and find meaning in her life and our lives together. Other days I find myself in denial that she’s not going to be behind the door when I open it.
“If you can appreciate the love, then you have to appreciate the grief because that is what grief is, the loss of the love that you had.”
When I read this quote from an Eterneva customer, I sobbed. The pain I was feeling after losing Chewy felt validated. The pain was a direct reflection of the love I had for my sweet girl. It is an honor to feel the way I do, to have experienced the love Chewy and I had for each other.
Chewy entered my life for a short time, but left a huge impact. An impact that’s hard for others to really grasp. She came into my life when I needed her most and she taught me how to let someone into my life and ultimately how to heal.
If I had a long day on the computer, she’d come over and try to shut the laptop just as a headache would start. When I was in pain, she’d lay on me exactly where it hurt. She taught me how to play again and probe me to chase her around the house until she was ready for her cuddles. When it was time for me to wake up and get after the day, she’d scratch and meow at the door until I picked her up.
When all of that went away, I felt a giant void. What was I going to do without the love she gave me? What would I do with the love I still had to give her? How would I move on without her?
What is Normal?
By definition, normal is conforming to a standard, usual, typical or expected. However, when we lose someone we love dearly, “normal” can feel foreign and outdated.
How can we expect to go on with “normal” if our anchor in life is no longer with us?
When our normal routine is abruptly disrupted we’re left with a choice. Either we try to hold on to the old normal or we create a new normal, as weird and different as it may be to start.
Maybe a better name for a “new normal” is really a “new weird” because it will feel like the furthest thing from normal. However, over time as we learn to live with the grief and slowly invite joy and meaning back into our lives, we can use our “new normal” to honor and celebrate our loved one’s life.
While I believe there’s a place for every stage of grief for anyone going through it, as a writer I pay particular attention to how myself and others choose to honor their loved ones through finding meaning.
We can’t rewind time to go back to a life before or with them, but we can learn from what they taught us and celebrate their life and legacy every day moving forward.
“I’m creating a new normal because there’s no going back to what used to be and feel normal.”
Maria Andrea Encalada
Slowly, we can find rituals and routines that help us carry on their legacy and honor the impact they had on our lives. And we can use every step forward as a way to celebrate their remarkable life.
After all, your loved one doesn’t have a choice in the matter, but you do. You have the choice to turn towards the pain, feel all of the feelings, find peace in letting go, prioritize your self-care as you navigate this difficult chapter, and ultimately be intentional about honoring their remarkable life through the actions you take moving forward.
Turn Towards the Pain & Feel All of The Feelings
For a majority of my life, I was convinced that showing emotions was a sign of weakness. I kept my sensitivity to myself and rarely shed a tear. It wasn’t until I began practicing yoga and learning about the benefits of expressing emotions that I began a shift in this mindset.
My first real test with this new mindset followed the passing of my grandmother, someone I had looked up to my entire life. I learned that by expressing all of my emotions, including crying my face off in-between work calls (and sometimes on them), I was able to feel ALL emotions vibrantly.
I remember the profound peace I felt when I saw white birds, a symbol I associated with my grandmother. And for the first time I was crying tears of joy as I hugged new friends who saw and heard me for the new person I was becoming, a person unafraid to be myself and express the emotions that had been bottled up for way too long.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”Brené Brown
Being honest with myself and giving myself permission to feel whatever I needed to feel allowed me to connect deeply with myself and those around me. Crying became my pressure release. When I’d feel the anxiety coming on, I knew a good cry was around the corner.
I began to feel comfortable with vulnerability and made deep connections with people who met me where I was in my grief. And for those who didn’t understand, I felt compassion. After all, I was in a similar boat a few years ago… finding it difficult to talk about or express difficult emotions.
Allow yourself to feel. As you begin thinking about a new normal to honor and celebrate your loved one, keep in mind that a new normal may include taking time to feel all of the feels. Be gentle with yourself as you express your emotions, no matter what they may be, and be sure to go at your own pace.
If you need some assistance in expressing your emotions, consider watching a sad movie or listen to Eterneva’s Feel Your Feels playlist to encourage the feelings to pour out.
And if you need an additional reason to feel it all, consider what researchers at Harvard have found.
“Researchers have established that crying releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These feel-good chemicals help ease both physical and emotional pain.”Leo Newhouse, Harvard Health
Find Peace in Letting Go
When someone we love dearly passes, it’s common to want to hold on as tightly as we can. We want to hold on to the love we shared with them, the memories, their touch. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.
I remember when I first found out Chewy was sick. I cried with her, almost every day, leading up to her gaining her angel wings. I was fortunate to spend her final months by her side making her as comfortable as I could.
When the day came to let her go physically I was a mess. I cried as I held her and asked her for a sign that she was okay.
Minutes after she passed, I walked outside to catch my breath. How was I going to live on without her? I looked up into the clear sky at the full moon and there was a small patch of clouds next to the moon that spelled out “hi”. She was okay. I could let go.
I was fortunate to have such a clear sign that allowed me to find peace in letting go. I gave myself permission in that moment to move on with everything she had taught me, and continues to teach me through the grief I have for her. I still miss her, but I know our time together was exactly what we both needed.
Give yourself permission to honor their life. Finding peace in letting go of what “normal” once was so that you can find unique ways to carry on their legacy will open up possibilities that you may not yet know exist. They’re gone, but you’re not. So give yourself the permission to carry on their legacy in new ways. Consider asking yourself, “how would they want me to live on without them?”
Prioritize Self Care
Grief does a number on us. When we have a loved one that takes up a big part of our heart, losing them can feel like we lose a piece of ourselves. Sometimes loss can even feel like a heart attack or broken heart.
Feeling it all can be exhausting. If possible, we may need to take some time away from the deadlines and work to turn inward and focus on healing our broken hearts.
After losing Chewy I felt the most intense anxiety of my life. It lasted months. My body was riddled with it and it was almost impossible to get out of bed (after all, my girl wasn’t there to pick up at the door).
There were so many plans that I canceled while I was caring for her leading up to her passing. Between not seeing my friends and family and not doing enough of what I loved, when Chewy passed I felt so low.
Then I remembered how strong Chewy was and how much time she spent grooming and sleeping. She would be my role model as I navigated this chapter. I turned every action of self care into a ritual to honor her. My best friend and I both deemed baths as our way to honor Chewy. Some weeks I took a bath every day.
When I thought about self care as a way to honor my loved one, I suddenly didn’t feel selfish. Instead, I realized that I could redirect the love that I once gave to her onto myself.
This mindset encouraged me to seek more self care and self love, whether that’s shutting the laptop and giving myself a break when I feel the stress rising, or simply doing something for myself, like making plans with a supportive friend, that I couldn’t do while I was taking care of Chewy.
Prioritize self care more than ever before. The effects of grief can be overwhelming. Schedule self care on your calendar as a way to honor their life and the love they shared with you.
Moving Forward with Intention
When we’re left reflecting on the life of someone remarkable who played a big role in our life, it can be difficult to think about a future without them. But what if we don’t have to leave them behind and include them in how we decide to move forward?
What if you think about their little things and their amazing qualities and choose to honor them moving forward with an intention?
As I mentioned, Chewy had a very strong personality. She was also full of tenacity. Up until her last day on earth she was smacking any dog that came too close, even if they were double her size. She was fearless.
When she passed I set an intention to be strong and full of tenacity, both qualities I felt very disconnected from while traversing grief.
Two days after Chewy’s passing, I went on a solo trip to California to witness my best friend get married and got on stage to give a toast, all while on the verge of a panic attack. It was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever taken, but I knew I had to do it to celebrate Chewy’s life. It took strength, it took tenacity.
I also began teaching yoga again as a way to honor Chewy’s strength and tenacity, which scared me to pieces in the beginning. I started standing up for myself when boundaries were crossed. I slowly began filling my schedule with things that made me feel alive. And I sought the help of a coach to get back in the gym and do a pull up, a goal of mine I had put off for years.
Now looking back to where I was eight months ago, I’m in awe that I was able to crawl, one breath at a time, through one of the hardest chapters of my life. I know that if it wasn’t for Chewy’s strength and tenacity, I wouldn’t be where I am today, teaching yoga on the farms of my dreams and doing five pull-ups in a single gym session.
Set an intention. Write down your favorite qualities your loved one embodied. Then, choose one or two of these qualities to focus on as an intention for moving forward. Write it down and remind yourself of it daily.
Test Into A New Normal
The crazy thing about loss and grief is that it pulls the rug out from under us and there’s no one singular way to put it all back together. We all go at our own pace and we all will have special ways to honor and celebrate our loved ones.
While teaching yoga was something that helped me honor Chewy, I would never expect that to be something that helps you. So much advice we hear from others is what worked for them, which is great for inspiration, but likely awful to actually implement.
Test into a new normal. Nothing needs to be permanent right now. Pay attention to when you find pockets of joy and connection in your days. Over time, find what works for you and make it part of a new routine.
Tactics to Test For Your “New Normal”
Instead of taking any singular piece of advice here or anywhere else, consider everything moving forward a test. Try something new, see how it works for you, and learn as you go.
Did it help? Did it make things worse? What will honor your loved one? How will you celebrate their life?
Remember, many small steps can add up to big leaps in the right direction. So what feels impossible today, may very much be possible in a few months’ time with some dedication to putting one foot in front of the other. As you move forward, start small and recalibrate as much as you need to.
And if you’re having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, that’s okay too. I believe you can still make progress in your journey from bed. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Now, let’s get into some ideas for how you can test into your “new normal.”
Replace “Why” with Hmm
When we’re struggling with anxiety, our minds often search for reasoning, which often looks like asking “Why?”… “Why did this happen?”… “Why am I alone?”… “Why?”
Unfortunately, this quest for reasoning often leaves us with negative stories in our head that can do more harm than good. So, next time you find yourself going down the “Why?” rabbit hole to understand your loved one’s passing, consider replacing this question with a deep inhale and exhaling “Hmm” to evoke your curiosity.
This way, you turn your quest for meaning into a feeling in your body. “Allow yourself to stay unbiased and curious about what your body is experiencing before you make up any stories or meaning. A simple “Hmmmm” is a great place to start.” says Ingridy Helander, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Tune Into Your Intuition
Whether you’re new to meditation or you’ve been meditating for years, setting aside some time daily to tune into your intuition, even if it’s just five minutes, can help ground you in the present moment and open you up to all of the beautiful opportunities life has to offer.
The more in touch we are with ourselves, the easier it is to connect with those around us from an authentic place. Luckily, these authentic connections can help inspire us to live fully, even when our grief is present.
Consider some guided meditations on a free app like InsightTimer to help encourage more time spent feeling your body and tuning into what your body, mind, and soul need in the present moment. And if you’re not quite ready to listen to words from someone else in a guided meditation, consider this sound therapy playlist.
Seek Positive Support
While your grief is extremely personal, remember that you do not have to go through this journey alone.
Do you have support from close family or friends where you feel you can be heard? Or maybe you attend a local community yoga class or grief share group? Support will look different for everyone, but it is important to seek connection where you feel comfortable expressing yourself.
Keep in mind that seeking positive support can also include reducing or eliminating relationships in your life that are not positive and supportive. Going back to our earlier point about self care, it is important to surround yourself with those who can hold space, be gentle, and respect where you are in your journey.
Positive support can look like a lot of different things in practice, but the feeling you get from the support is what matters most. Are you around people that make you feel heard, less alone, or comforted? Great! If not, consider something different by going on a grief retreat or finding a grief therapist to help support you along your journey.
At first positive support may be hard to accept. Give yourself some grace and start slowly. Maybe one phone call to a dear friend to start. Or a text to a supportive family member letting them in on your journey. As you begin to open up, you can expand your circle.
Spend Time Connected
A lot of times when we experience loss, we have the urge to disconnect and hide in our metaphorical (or sometimes physical) caves. While spending time alone and reflecting is good, too much of anything can be harmful. So the next time you feel yourself disconnected, add something to your schedule that helps you feel connected.
Remember that connection can come in many forms. Maybe it’s with people, music, animals, plants, nature, or spirit. If you’re having a hard time thinking about what connection looks like to you, take some time to answer the following questions:
- What did my loved one and I enjoy doing together?
- Is there a way I can still do this in their honor?
- What makes me feel alive?
- What makes me feel in flow with the world around me?
- What did I enjoy doing as a child?
- Who/what do I enjoy spending my time with?
Keep a list of ideas to stay connected and the next time you’re looking for a way to honor your loved one, or if you’re having a low day, turn to this list to find something that will help you feel connected.
Initiate New Rituals
We all have the old rituals with our loved ones that we’ll always miss having them around for. While it’s great if you want to continue these rituals, it’s also totally appropriate to initiate new rituals for your day that help you heal AND honor your loved one.
One thing I did was set time on my calendar to go to the gym two days a week. When I started going I could barely do any exercises. I was so weak. But I still went, assuming that with time, I would be able to honor Chewy by being the strongest version of myself. Now, I can’t imagine my life without this time and space for myself. On the way to the gym I think about the things I’m grateful for to help me get into a good mindset.
New rituals may not always feel easy at first, so remember to be gentle with yourself. If you choose to start a daily walk to honor your loved one, don’t be surprised if there are days you spend the walk crying your eyes out. It’s okay. Just remember to breathe through the discomfort of a new healthy ritual, and know that doing something for yourself is a way of celebrating their remarkable life.
If you want some ideas to try, consider these:
- Walk daily to connect with and maybe even talk to your loved one
- Cook a home cooked meal once a week
- Go to their favorite park when you miss them
- Get outside at sunrise and/or sunset
- Cheers to their life as you drink a glass of water every morning
- Stop to smell the flowers on their behalf
- Set aside time to write down what you learn every week
- Write three things you’re grateful for every day
- Meditate every day
- Volunteer every week
- Grow and nurture a garden
- Commit to and spend time every week on a new hobby
- Write to your loved one on their birthday
- Buy yourself flowers or a special gift on your birthday
- Journal your progress every day, week, month or year
As you try these new rituals, consider how they make you feel and keep the ones that work for you. Spend more time doing the things that feel right and honor your loved one, and less of the things that bring you down and make you feel isolated.
Remember, you’re not alone.
Sometimes one step forward in our journeys can feel like two steps back, and sometimes we need to lean on others for support.
For example, while I feel I have healed a lot and spent a lot of time honoring Chewy, I still think about her every day. While writing this blog post, I found myself sobbing by how much I’ve grown since she passed. While I’m proud of myself and happy to honor her life, I still feel sadness and emptiness that she’s not here to experience it with me.
So what did I do? Halfway through writing this post I gave myself a break and headed to the local farm I volunteer at every week. I planted two rows of swiss chard and decided to do it in Chewy’s honor. I leaned on my farm friends for a safe space to just be. They treated me with nothing but kindness and love in return. The energy I needed to come back and finish this post.
So remember that while your “new normal” is shaping up and you slowly find some perfect ways to honor and celebrate your loved one, you’re not alone. And I for one, am so proud of you for your curiosity and dedication to get to the bottom of this post. If you’re reading this, my heart goes out to you. We will get through this season of life and find beauty on the other side. 💞