I can say with almost certainty that most people have experienced a loss that has caused them to grieve. And loss can come in all shapes & sizes — the loss of a family member or pet, a poor health diagnosis, the ending of a relationship or even a career failure. All of these losses cause us to pause and often throw a wrench into our daily lives, leaving us scrambling for answers, replaying memories and conversations, filling us with grief and looking for a way to move forward. And it was unfortunately a loss in my own life that gave inspiration to this topic.
On July 5th of last year, exactly 2 weeks after moving to Nashville and starting at redpepper, my world went dark because I got the call that my 24-year-old cousin, Chris, took his life. And while this was by no means the first loss I’ve experienced, it somehow felt different. I was immediately reeling in grief and trying to figure out how to cope. This news left a permanent hole in my heart and was the beginning of my new normal. But I knew, for the sake of Chris, I would find a way to grow.
I’ve found that immense emotional pain and loss can lead to the most monumental growth in your life.
People often talk about the 5 stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And while they’re incredibly helpful tools to help identify why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, they leave much to be desired when it comes to learning how to move forward — they don’t always present themselves in such clear cut ways. There is no one standing on your shoulder telling you what phase you’re currently in and how to move forward to the next.
So, when trying to turn your emotional pain into growth, it’s important to look past the temporary moments of relief. To do so, you’ll need to work through these three phases: forgiveness, vulnerability and courage. While all are difficult and take varying amounts of time, they’re all crucial in growing through your grief.
During the initial phases of grief you might be hard on yourself, saying things like — I didn’t spend enough time with them, I should have reached out more, I didn’t try hard enough on that project at work. You’ll beat yourself up with a repetitive script of self-blame. But to move past this, it’s important to forgive yourself so you can be present with what’s happening, let go of the pain and exhibit some self-compassion.
Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you’ll find yourself in your most vulnerable state yet. Vulnerability requires you to be open, honest & still — things that can be difficult if you’re distracting yourself with social media, work or Netflix. The most important thing I’ve learned through the vulnerability phase is to feel your feelings as you feel them so you can let them go. That means crying when you need to cry, and talking when you need to talk, and saying no when you need to say no. You can not wait for a “convenient” time to let it all out. Through this vulnerability your grief will slowly transform into growth. Don’t fear the feel.
Once you’ve forgiven yourself and found yourself in your most vulnerable state, that’s when you’ll find yourself courageous. Courageous enough to take another step forward, to pivot, and to grow. Grief is painful and unwanted, but it’s also inevitable. And the best way to move forward is to dig deep, find the courage within and use it to fuel immense positive growth in your life.
Like growth, grief doesn’t have a final destination. You will never be done growing just as you’ll never be done healing. But day-by-day you’ll continue to grow and life will take on new meaning.
But I always tell myself, if it ever feels just a little bit too hard and I slide back a step, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And, when all else fails, do it for Chris.