Growing up, the word "death" didn't hold nearly as much weight as it does now. I used to associate it mostly with older relatives, but it still wasn't something I entirely understood. This past year, however, after losing a close friend, I have come to truly feel the destruction that that one small word can bring. It has left me unexpectedly trying to wrap my head around the confusing concept of: how do we live and move forward without the ones we love? Or, how do we help the people close to us get through the horrible process of grief? Here a few things I've learned during this painful process, and I hope they can help you, too.
1. Change Is Expected . . . and It's OK
One of the first things I had to come to terms with while grieving was that with loss comes change. This might mean that either or both your big and small habits can flip, but all of that is totally normal and OK. For me, this came in the form of wanting to stay in a lot more than usual. Instead of wanting to go out with my friends, I craved drinking tea and watching movies at home. At first, I felt really guilty about this sudden shift in behavior. I kept reminding myself that I'm young, and aren't young people supposed to go out and be wild? But I was emotionally drained all the time, and a warm cup of tea was filling me up more than a beer and trivial conversation could.
I had to learn to be confident in my new choices and realize that they are just as worthy and fulfilling. I also had to learn to trust their timeline. I wasn't sure when I would feel ready to be social again, and that's OK. As scary as these changes might feel, try to embrace them. Find methods and take part in habits that make you feel comfortable and whole again. There's no shame in doing what feels right, especially during a time that can feel very off and wrong.
2. It's OK to Not Be OK
It's OK to ask for help and to not be OK, plain and simple! Struggle comes in many different forms and you don't have to handle it alone. Keep this in mind with your friends, too, because on the surface they may seem perfectly fine, but underneath they could be wrestling bigger demons. If they come to you, listen to them and be there. And always find ways to cope and help yourself as well.
3. Don't Judge
You never know what battles other people are fighting, so try not to be so quick to judge someone's behavior. Grief can take make forms, and that might include someone you know (or don't) acting out in frustrating ways. No, we can't all be best friends, but we certainly don't need to break each other down, either. There's always more than what meets the eye, so be sure to be gentle with others and their mistakes in the same way you would want someone to be gentle with you.
4. Don't Take Life For Granted
Death can make us reflect on our own lives and confront our own mortality in two ways. First, it can be a much-needed reminder that life is short and we should enjoy it as much as we can. But on the flip side, it can also remind us that bad things can happen and that we should always be aware of our surroundings. No, you shouldn't be paranoid of death lurking around every corner (that's no way to live!), but you should make your safety and happiness (physical, mental, emotional) a priority. Find out what truly makes you happy and run with it.
5. It's OK to Move On
This is one of the most important and difficult lessons that I still struggle with, but it's OK to move on and be happy again. When I lost my friend, I remember feeling guilty about continuing my life and moving forward. In the face of death and grief, your daily routine can feel mundane and pointless. However, your loved ones would want you to be happy. Sometimes being alive is the hardest thing to fathom and do, but you've got to keep on going. So, enjoy the blissful moments when they're around, because you have a right to feel happy again.
As time moves forward, I continue to reflect on how my life is changing in so many different ways because of my grief. These are just a few thoughts I have found peace in lately, most of them landing on the reassurance that it's good to welcome emotion into your heart. Feel what you're feeling and find a way to work through it and move on from it. Give yourself grace always and know that somehow, in your own ways, you'll find yourself again.