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February 26, 2024

5 Lessons Grief Taught Me.

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Both my parents died unexpectedly (Mom in her 60s and dad in his 70s), but when my mother died, I was a different person compared to when we lost Dad.

There was a nine-year gap between their demise. In that time, I grew older by 40 years and started to see the world for what it really was and not how we think it should be.

Both my parents were the kind of people who did a lot for the others. My father could be seen at marches for social causes along with meetings in boardrooms. They were active Rotarians who believed in social impact. The helpers at home—my parents paid for their kids’ education.

They were close to both sides of the family, so we constantly had feasts and people in and out of our home. They were social beings, and Mom was an extraordinary cook and host, so lavish gatherings were routine for us. Family squabbles—my parents were the negotiators. Friends dealing with issues—my parents were the neutral voice who reminded people to focus on the good in relationships.

Here are five lessons grief taught me:

1. Death defies logic:

Growing up in a Hindu home, the concept of “karma” was deeply ingrained in me. You do good, and good doesn’t forget you. You hurt others, and you can’t escape the wrath of bad karma. Life isn’t fair, we know it. But death and grief have taught me that “fair” is subjective.

My parents didn’t deserve to die so young. My brother and I shouldn’t have become orphans at a young age. There are so many awful people on this planet who have only hurt others. So many people who eat, drink, and live recklessly, but they are still fully functioning. I was angry at first—an understandable stage of grief. But I realized that some questions have no answers. Move on. Move on. Move on. For your healing and health.

2. No one is coming to save you:

I was raised to believe that when we take care of each other as human beings, society heals and progresses. But life and loss, along with becoming an orphan in my 40s, has taught me that nothing in this world is permanent. Relationships, emotions, success, sadness, failure, good times, bad times…they are all transient and fleeting.

People are so caught up in what serves them best and their own struggles that no one has the capacity to care after a certain point. Yes, I experienced much kindness from strangers and loved ones. After my dad’s passing, friends and family surrounded us with food, hugs, cards, flowers, visits, messages, love, and much more for over three months. But I also felt abandoned and “orphaned” by many others. I have learned that unless you take care of yourself and lean into self-reliance, it’s impossible to heal and move on.

3. Your expectations only hurt you:

I thought the people who had lost a parent would be able to relate to my heartache when Dad died. But I forgot that everyone’s grieving journey is unique and people have their own complex relationship with grief.

Know that right or wrong can be subjective. What is the appropriate time frame for someone to continue checking in on those grieving? At what point do you start to feel ghosted and alone? Do you end a relationship with a friend who has been incredible throughout your friendship but didn’t show up the way you wanted them to after you lost a parent? Or do you focus on all the good they have done, forgive, and move on?

We have all been wronged by people we didn’t expect; we have wronged those close to us. I don’t know if I really understood the pain of being an orphan (some of my friends lost their parents when they were in high school or a young adult) until I became one. Your own pain helps you relate to others who are suffering. Don’t make impulsive decisions when the grief is fresh and new.

4. Focus on kindness for your own healing:

You will be surprised how different people react to loss. I saw a few of the extended family members pretend my brother and I didn’t exist. These are people who were in and out of my parents’ lives. Nine months later, we still haven’t received a single phone call or message from them or any wishes on our birthdays and anniversaries.

I also have aunts and uncles who continue to show up in such beautiful and unassuming ways in our lives that it doesn’t feel lonely in a parentless world. I choose to focus on the love and kindness in our lives. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the ones who abandoned us or am not bothered by their callousness. What I am doing is choosing me and my sanity by acknowledging those who have stood by us and not losing sweat over certain people’s bad behavior.

5. Joy and sadness can coexist:

The other day, my publisher sent me printed paperbacks (advance review copies) of my upcoming book The Loss that Binds Us: 108 Tips on Coping with Grief and Loss. I felt such immense joy because my father’s wish had come true. He wanted me to write a book about normalizing grief, and on April 2nd, this book will be released by Loving Healing Press into the world.

But in the same moment, my eyes welled up. My father was the first person who would pre-order my books and comment on my Facebook post about the new book alert. With that level of unconditional support no longer available, suddenly, I was hit with overwhelming solitude.

I understood pain and loss even before, but Dad’s death has intrinsically transformed me. Days pass no matter what happens. You can treat life as a gift or drag it like it’s a curse. Grief has taught me to find joy, cherish good memories, build strong social connections, not hold grudges, make time for my healing, be fully present, surround myself with nourishing company, prioritize my own needs, lean onto people I trust, hold space for the dichotomy of grief, and practice gratitude for the big and small things we take for granted.

“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” ~ Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

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