We’ve all had difficult times in our lives when we experience something that changes our life irrevocably. I remember when my father died. It felt like there was a void in my life that would never be filled again. I was not in a good place; I felt lost, depressed and unmotivated to move forward.
Even though we know that life is full of ups and downs, dealing with a life-changing medical illness, a difficult job change, a divorce, or a major move is hard. Picking up the pieces after the loss of a loved one is even harder. We may wonder if our lives will ever be good again as we struggle to regain our footing.
Psychologist Paul Coleman helps us through these transitions with new insights in his book Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Other Side of Grief, Loss, and Pain. In it, Coleman talks about the heroic heart, which “embraces all that was good and loving about what once was and then opens up a space for us to receive more from life and to offer more to life.” I love this message of hope.
There are many books on how to deal with grief, which explain how to work through the five stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Coleman’s work is different. To get us to “the light at the end of our loss” he walks us along four healing paths as we restore inner peace and equanimity.
1. The path of acceptance. As much as we wish things were different, we must accept the situation for what it is. That doesn’t mean we have to like it or magically make ourselves believe that our loss is something we can be happy about. But when we can accept our new reality, it can empower us to take the next step.
A friend of mine was devastated when she learned her three-year-old son had diabetes. While it was difficult for her to accept that her child wasn’t as healthy as she thought he was, she felt better about the situation once she accepted it and learned how to best manage the disease.
Coleman says when we don’t accept our reality, our only choice is to continue suffering. He says, the path of acceptance “offers the energy of joyful humility” instead. (I say amen!)
2. The path of inspiration. People who believe everything happens for a reason and that God is at the helm are often consoled by these beliefs. The path of inspiration helps us get in touch with our spirituality regardless of our religious beliefs. When we do, we often find a deeper meaning in our life than we did before our loss.
After her divorce, a relative of mine sought the comfort of her church. Unfortunately the church didn’t provide the solace she had hoped for. She began searching for other ways to feel connected to something larger. She learned to meditate and took a comparative religion class, which she found suited her beliefs much better.
Coleman says the path of inspiration “offers us the energy of mystical wisdom.”
3. The path of release. One of the hardest things to do after loss is to imagine the future. Of course I knew that my work in real estate would never be the same after my dad died, but I wasn’t sure how I’d find my way back to being “happy” again while going about my day-to-day activities.
Coleman believes we can find peace of mind and peace in our hearts by releasing any fear or anxiety we have about the future. Without this step, we may stay stuck in a place of despair far longer than is healthy. This is why he says the path of release “offers us the energy of patient trust.”
4. The path of compassion. Compassion for others requires us to get out of our heads—to get out of the sad, stuck place we are in—and concern ourselves with the needs of others. This gets us in touch with our world and the deep, profound needs of others.
My friend was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and as much as it hurt her physically, it also hurt her self-esteem. One day she went to volunteer at the school her kids attended. There was a precious boy who had broken his leg and was on crutches. Although he needed help with just about everything, he didn’t have an ounce of self-pity, and it really lifted my friend’s spirits and attitude towards her own condition.
Being out and about, making a contribution in any way that you can, gives you perspective, which is something we all need. Coleman says this path “offers the energy of unifying love.”
If you have suffered a loss of any kind, I encourage you to read Coleman’s profound yet very practical and helpful suggestions on how to regain a peaceful heart. He says, “Suffering need not break your spirit, but your spirit can indeed break your suffering.” What a wonderful way to look at life when in the midst of a difficult time.