Guest post by Jan McDaniel

This week I’ve been thinking about why loss is so painful … and why grieving is so different at some times than others.

Most of us have experienced grief or at least felt sympathy for the losses of others. And we do hate to hear about tragedy. Before my husband died, I thought of myself as a compassionate person. I thought I understood the process. I even felt the pain of strangers. After the greatest loss of my life, I realized I had not known what people around me were suffering. I simply followed custom, felt badly for their losses, and went back to my normal life.

When you lose someone who is central to your own life, it’s different. When that happened to me, I eventually had more insight and compassion for those who were experiencing great pain. I understood more because I remembered how my own heart hurt. I also learned each person is different in how grief is processed and when. Each lost relationship is also unique.

Yet, there is an instant bond between those who have experienced traumatic loss, the death of someone very precious. That bond is a gift. For healing to take place, though it may take a very long time, the first step is for a hurting heart to be heard. And to witness the pain of the human heart is one of the greatest blessings one can give or receive.

After great loss, no matter what the relationship was – parent, child, spouse or partner, other family member or friend – the mind cannot see ahead. There can be confusion and the feeling that healing is not possible.

Life will not be the same. When someone this important to us dies, his or her life on earth has ended. But our lives – in the way we knew them – ended, too. There is so much to grieve. No wonder the heart lags behind in accepting this new situation. We have lost the lives we knew, as well. I believe we follow these dear ones as long as we can, as far as we can, into death. When we cannot follow anymore, we are cast adrift and must somehow fight and claw our way back to life … because we are alive.

If we could have stopped them from leaving, we would have. If we could have followed, we would have done that, too.

Connecting with others is one way to hold onto faith when you feel that’s all you have left. Even when it seems faith has let us down. When there are questions, when there are no answers, when the worst thing has happened. In life, in this earthly life, we may think we have reached the end. We may feel sure we can bear no more.

But that’s where faith sustains us. The gift of healing is still ahead on the path that only God knows. But take heart, there is a path … and a way to rebuild a new life. Not one that is the same or even better, but one in which joy and sorrow co-exist in a duality that can only be described as the “mystery of life.”

Jan McDaniel is a writer from the southeastern United States. She creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss, including suicide loss, through her website and blog, A Way for Hope.

A partner of Serenity and frequent guest blogger. Jan’s words always ring with wisdom, compassion, and resilience.