Finding purpose after the death of a loved one may seem impossible but lifting yourself up and taking baby steps towards a new beginning in your life is what is needed to cope with the loss
Dr. Aarti Kapur Singh
In his book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler, bereavement expert discusses finding meaning after the death of a loved one. A particularly poignant thought, and one that ought to be discussed, revolves around the relative nature of ‘meaning’. “Meaning is relative and personal, only you can find your own meaning. Meaning takes time. You may not find it until months or even years after a loss. The ‘why’ you must answer is not why your loved one died, but why you lived,” writes Kessler.
Coming to terms with loss
Losing a partner can leave you with a host of emotions. The initial shock might give way to you losing track of reality, a feeling of being disconnected and lack of surety about the future. It’s also not unusual to suffer from insomnia, worrying about what the future holds. These feelings are expected after your loved one, a partner or spouse dies, especially if they suffered a sudden and unanticipated death or died at a very young age.
Ask Mandira Bedi, who raised eyebrows, when even in her state of grief she performed the last rites of her husband, producer Raj Kaushal, who suddenly died of a cardiac arrest, at 49 in 2021. They’d been married for 22 years. Not only did Mandira lift the bier, but also lit the funeral pyre. “A lot of people consoled me saying I have to be strong for Vir and Tara. Only I had to prop myself up by telling me that I have to be strong for myself too!” remembers Mandira.
“It’s a long way to go to feel normal again. Emotionally, mentally and physically. But I wake up every morning with purpose and aim for as much positivity that I can muster.”
Chandigarh-based psychiatrist Dr Akhil Kaushal agrees with Mandira’s approach. “Grief does change a person’s thought process permanently – there is no denying that. But that could also mean that it makes a person realise their ability to cope. That realisation of mental strength and building it on a daily basis is what coming to terms is about. And sometimes, grief can last lifelong. Healing is never linear but what does get better is that we get stronger,” says Dr Kaushal.
In one of her Instagram posts, some months after her husband’s passing away, Mandira Bedi had written, “It’s a long way to go to feel normal again. Emotionally, mentally and physically. But I wake up every morning with purpose and aim for as much positivity that I can muster.”
It is okay to break down, it is okay to feel, but it is equally important to live!
Picking up the pieces
Grief is an expression of love that continues after death. In that sense, can grief ever end completely? “No!” says another actor, who wishes to remain unnamed as her ex partner died under mysterious circumstances. “Letting and expecting grief to go completely would perhaps be a disservice to the very important part of my life that this person lived in. He was a part of my life journey for a considerable chunk. I loved him, I learnt from him, I grew with him, but I also lost him. So whenever I do remember him now, I express gratitude to him and try to live my life and some of his too,” says the brave actor.
In the same vein, actor Shahnaz Gill, who was a broken image at beau Siddharth Shukla’s funeral says,“I often think how that soul gave me so much knowledge. I could not analyse people before. I was very trusting and I was really innocent at that time but that soul taught me a lot.”
“Siddharth, even after death, is still my reason for deciding to live a meaningful and fulfilling life!”
“It was very important for me to remember those things and live them. So, wo kehte the ‘hasti raha kar’, isliye jab bhi rona aata tha, rote rote zabardasti bhi hasi hu, kyunki unko hasti hui achi lagti thi…It was almost like I promised him that I will live my life like he wanted me to, like he inspired me to. Meri sabse badi respect hai unke liye,” she adds.
Dr Kaushal, while agreeing with this approach, says, “Yes, grief may not go away. But it can become more integrated; painful emotions occur less frequently and with less intensity, and no longer interfere significantly with work, other relationships, or with leading life with a positive approach.”
Finding purpose after the death of your loved one or spouse may seem like a lifetime away, especially if the loss was sudden and one didn’t have time for it to sink in. You may still be in the process of grieving and healing from this immense loss and trying to figure out where to go from here. It’s not uncommon to need or want help and direction in what to do next in your quest for meaning.
Dr Kaushal advises, “If your grief is seeming too overwhelming or unbearable, a professional therapist can work with you to help you remove obstacles in your path so you can balance the range of emotions that come with the struggle to accept your loved one’s death.”
The show must go on, indeed! For some, it may just be a rhetorical statement. But, if Mandira Bedi is to be believed (and emulated), anything is possible with effort.
“After the first few months following your loved one’s death, if you can spend a short period, on as many days as possible, focussed on redefining your goals and reimagining your life purpose, it can offer glimpses of joy. I did that with my children, my family and friends. I made it a point each day to get up, get dressed, and get out of the house, even if I had to drag myself out of bed and out the door. I just got busy living with them! Reconnecting with friends and family was a balm,” says Mandira.
The same sentiments are echoed by Shahnaz Gill when she says, “Siddharth, even after death, is still my reason for deciding to live a meaningful and fulfilling life!”
It has not been unusual to see Gill’s social media posts showing her walking amongst a forest, wading through a stream, calling out to hear her voice echo, a smile lighting up her face. She is clearly finding a new meaning to her life. Dr Kaushal underlines the role of friends and family in this process. “Look for activities that involve conversation or interaction with close ones. Grab those opportunities to do this every few days,” he suggests.
A new year is under way. It is a good time to accept the invitation to allow it to be the beginning of a new life for yourself. As Mandira Bedi advises, “Just keep swimming!”
COPING WITH LOSS
Here are some actionable tips to help cope with the loss of a loved one.
· Find gratitude for the time we had with our loved ones
· Find gratitude for the support others are giving you
· Realise the shortness of life, the value of our life – life doesn’t always last as long as we want
· Create a change in your life to honour your loved one, transformation of your life can bring meaning to theirs
· Honour and show love for those still in your life, making the most of relationships that are still in your life
· Do something that honours them, such as the way you live your life, treating others as they did, or being more present for others who are grieving
· Find ways to commemorate their life (small or big)–create a foundation, movement, or project in their honour