We all experience life events that shatter our sense of reality and force us to redefine our lives. Some of us are impacted by widespread tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina or the September 11 terrorist attacks, and nearly all will face heartbreak as the result of a broken relationship or death of a loved one. Whenever tragedy of any magnitude occurs, we must let go of our current, comfortable lives and learn to face an uncertain future.
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the Five Stages of Grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While these phases are common to most everyone, grief itself is unique to each of us. There are no rules about the order in which you will encounter the stages or the amount of time it will take to move through them. You may revisit anger a few times, and depression may last five times as long as bargaining. But in order to one day arrive at acceptance, you must allow your psyche to go through the healing process without rushing.
As you experience all the normal stages of grief, you may wonder whether your feelings are healthy or if you need to seek professional help. Take stock of yourself. You know how you feel during lifes typical ups and downs, as do your friends and family. If you, or those who love you, notice behaviors that seem compulsive, are extreme from your norm or interfere with your ability to function on a daily basis, consult a doctor.
While coping with tragedy, finding ways to express yourself is imperative. Release emotions by journaling, writing music or creating art to gain a rational perspective on your grief. Furthermore, you will discover that youre not alone when you share your feelings with others. Confide in friends and family, find a support group or talk to a therapist. The Internet also offers a wealth of discussion boards and support resources for virtually any type of tragic situation.
Furthermore, maintaining your physical health during the grieving process is important to surviving a tragedy. You wont want to, but forcing yourself to eat well, sleep properly and exercise will help make you strong when you feel very weak. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can release enough endorphins to trigger feelings of happiness and confidence, and even that temporary burst of energy can be a welcome reprieve from constant feelings of despair.
As you begin to move beyond the numbing pain of a recent tragedy, begin to devote a small focus to positive things. While going through a divorce and experiencing a series of unfortunate (and costly) events with my car and house, I tried to gain perspective by reminding myself that things could be worse. After all, I wasnt facing a terrible illness; I had a safe place to live and a family I loved dearly. I also began volunteering my time with several local groups. By finding a cause that needed me, I was able to turn my focus outwards beyond myself. Many survivors of tragedy find that religious faith and spiritual practice also help them to consider a larger purpose for their suffering.
Finally, celebrate small victories as you continue to recover from tragedy. Set goals, even if they seem as mundane as forcing yourself to get out of bed and do the dishes. When you succeed, congratulate yourself for being stronger than your pain. Splurge on a new pair of shoes as a reward, and take your special confidant to a movie to thank her for being a good listener. These little hugs for your soul will help ease your suffering and allow you to focus on rebuilding a life in your new reality.
Life is never the same after a tragedy, but the lessons you gain while going through one are invaluable. You learn just how strong you really are, and you realize just how deeply you are capable of feeling.
Writer and director Nora Ephron said, Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. You may discover that you are one of those exceptional women who uses her tragedy to help others, and in return find peace and meaning beyond any known before.