Grief is defined as an Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.
I definitely felt this was an understatement when I read the definition. The synonyms get a little closer to how I personally felt, including: distress, misery, anguish, pain, woe, sadness, suffering, torment, unhappiness, agony, heartache, affliction and despair.
At one point or another, losing your loved one likely sparked many and multiple of these. But we aren’t here just to lament, we are here to grow, and begin implementing a growth mindset. A way to grow through grief.
As you traverse day-to-day through the loss and pain, how do we begin to turn our grief and these feelings into something positive, not to forget, but to find purpose, peace and maybe even joy again?
As I puzzled over the path I was taking myself to grow from the loss of my Judy, and meeting with the widower brotherhood to discuss their own challenges and growth, a potential pattern revealed for growth in the word GRIEF itself. And because I have a hard time remembering anything that’s not an acronym, likely because of my engineering background, I couldn’t have been happier!
Examining the word, GRIEF reveals a potential path for restoration and growth, progressively from each letter:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Time after time in discussing loss with my brothers, guilt was expressed. Guilt about not being able to do enough to stop the pain, heal the disease and stop the loss. Guilt about being a poor substitute for Mom, and not being good enough for their sons and daughters. Guilt about considering another relationship and the timing. Guilt about not healing according to their own and everyone else’s schedule. Even guilt about going out and having a good time, or traveling without. And I’m just getting started, this list is long and could take a while.
The world is tough enough without us torturing ourselves: pondering the past, present and future, and our relentless regrets, perceived shortcomings and anxious fears. The first thing to do – Stop beating yourself up.
Grace is defined as giving favor; goodwill and kindness, without regard to whether these were deserved or not. This means unconditional self- favor, goodwill and kindness.
So why not start the growth process with giving yourself some Grace?
Could you have done some things differently, made different decisions – of course. This is a difficult journey you are on, and it’s hard.
You can’t go back in time and undo or redo actions or inactions that you regret . You are trying your darndest today to make things better (or perhaps walled off, just resting and giving yourself time), and who but the divine knows what the future holds.
As well, you may be perceiving others as critical of you, as they have their own expectations and grief time frame they are imparting on you. Perhaps they are selling you short and overstepping boundaries.
The bottom-line is to stop beating yourself up over would-a, could-a, should-a, as this is not productive and keeps you in a self destructive loop of negative thoughts. It is time to break the loop.
The regret loop can be difficult if you are caught in a constant emotional battle, so you may want to check out the advice here on how to stop the immediate madness and triggers, so you have some space to operate. https://growththroughgrief.org/amygdala-hijack/
When we look to the biblical definition for Grace, we can expand the definition further, learning that Grace is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense”. Grace is a spontaneous gift from God, generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God (Wikipedia).
So first, work to remove the burden of debt you feel from the past, doubt about the present and anxiety from the future by providing self-Grace, and more, know you have God’s grace as well. I found the best way for me to achieve Grace is by writing down each of the areas I am beating myself up over, and seeking His help in overcoming each.
I start with the regrets and guilt from the past. For me, this list was quite long the first time through, so don’t be frightened, and really give it some thought. Dig and try to get each out. For each item on the list, I say out loud – “Lord please forgive me for …”
Next, I think about areas of self-torture about the present, and the apprehensions about the future, and ask God for guidance on my best next step in the present and surrender my anxiety about the future to his will.
Checkout some insights on Grace from one of our brotherhood meetings – https://growththroughgrief.org/grace-for-grace/
Now that we have created some “space” with Grace, it is time for you to think a little bit about what you have been through, and meditate on what it all means. And please, don’t hang up on the word meditate, as we are not about to require you to go all new age, yoga on us (although that’s fine too)..
Reflection is defined as” a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration and a thought occurring in consideration or meditation.”
Going to a quiet place without the kids or friends, without the TV and social media – hence the meditation reference – it’s time for you to use the space we made for yourself with Grace to now think about what the heck we have gone through prior, and where this has taken us up to now.
For me, I am lucky to have a dog Ruby, a shitzu-poodle designer mutt, who requires several walks a day, and I often use this time for reflection, especially our morning walks after devotional time.
I think first about the past, the things that I am still sad or angry about, and the potential shortfalls in my prior actions or in myself that I am fretting over.
We do this, not to stir up and relive the negative, but to examine them. The key here is to try and remove yourself from the emotion of the feelings and situations, and observe the pain, sorrow and anger you are still holding onto like a third party observer: From the outside, like a loving friend looking in and trying to describe and explain where you’ve been and where you are..
I begin my own process by listing out the challenges I am still addressing. For me, right after Judy passed, the first morning after I took that first walk with Ruby I reflected into what seemed like an abyss. She was gone, and it felt like someone put me on a tightrope, above an endless black hole, removing all sense of balance along with any safety net. Other than work, where she was still involved in the company we co-founded, my bride Judy did everything around the house with the kids, home and social life.
So I started to reflect, observe and take inventory, starting really small so as not to get overwhelmed and shut down, and then working my way up from there:
- I woke up and the bed wasn’t made. Of course not, Judy did this diligently for us every day. Worst, an unmade bed is very comfortable to just crawl back into and hide.
- I had a bad hangover, with my friend Gerald coming by to help me drink away the sorrow the afternoon of Judy’s passing. Several bottles of wine between us were the exclamation point on my daily medication ritual of several margarita or amaretto slushies every day.
- I was at least sixty pounds north of healthy, and with my family’s cardiac issues and drinking over the past three months, not sure I’d be around much longer, and my daughters needed me.
- I had to get back to work immediately, to keep the wheels on the company’s bus and be sure I could make payroll for our twenty team members and families. The thought of getting back on the road for customer visits and sales calls, and leaving my grieving daughters behind weighing on me.
- I kept replaying the sadness of Judy’s passing – her last struggled breaths and nightmare images helping the hospice nurse change her and prepare her body for transport.
- I had regret over how much resentment had built up between Judy and I over the past several years since the sickness, her resenting the fact that she was sick and couldn’t do all she wanted to, and me resenting that she was unable to do the things we loved to do
- I was feeling like a complete failure, having not been able to fix everything, clearly losing what amounted to a ten year battle with the disease.
- I had to face my daughters without any idea how to answer the question of “why” and make their world right again
- I had lost faith through this last battle, having asked God for answers and healing for Judy, as with my Dad just a few short months before, and having not gotten the answers and outcome I wanted.
And this was just the first day’s reflection, but what an important first step it was.
To make the reflection more impactful, thinking about the challenges helps, but writing about what you’ve been through and how that makes you feel (anger, sorrow, regret, fear), what you are worried about and how you see yourself, is a powerful tool. Leveraging what we discussed in the Amygdala Hijack section, we discussed the Think stage of the four T’s.
As our brain stores and we recall the pain, sorrow, regrets, fears and anger as stories, we should document these issues not generally, but in words that reflect the stories we tell ourselves. If you were a writer, writing about yourself as a character, what would the story be about where you have been and what worries you about where you are today? I suggest an evolving list of the challenges you still face from the past and inventory of what ails you today.
Just a short time ago I ran into one of Judy’s radiologists at the gym, and he has a lot of experience with those going through grief, and the aftermath of loss. He succinctly provided the motivation as to why Reflection is so important: “There are those that take a loss and they have two decisions to make. One, they can ignore what they went through – indulge in drinking, eating, cavorting their way through and burying the pain, not unexpectedly entering a downward spiral that doesn’t end well… And there are those that reflect on what they have been through, making a conscious decision to become better from the horrible experience and leveraging the loss and become a better person.”
I pray that if you haven’t done so already, that you take the second path, Reflecting and moving next to Intention.
We cannot do the things we long to do, so our tendency is to think of our dreams and aspirations as dead. But God comes and says to us, “Arise from the dead.” When God sends His inspiration, it comes to us with such miraculous power that we are able to “arise from the dead” and do the impossible. – My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
Now that you have looked back, it’s time to glance forward, to clarify the direction and set some goals as to where you would like to be.
All of us come to this next stage of the growth process with issues, in fact you took the time to reflect and document these, but now it is time to pivot. If all we do is try to figure out what is wrong with us, and come to the table with a negative diagnosis and labels, like “You are broken”, we’ll never be able to progress.
It is time to take responsibility for your own healing. This means not defining ourselves alone in the loss and the past, setting an Intention for change, improvement and healing. This often means dropping the labels, like: “I’m a victim”, “I’m depressed”, “I’m lonely”.
So what is Intention? According to the formal definition, an Intention is something one intends to do, or to bring about. It is a determination to act a certain way, and is often the object of a prayer. We also find that in medicine, Intention means a process or manner of healing incised wounds.
From this, a definition of Intention for us to leverage: With determination and prayers, you now need to set your mind and actions on healing your wounds and growing from the experience.
To do this I recommend first picturing a better future. You can’t achieve what isn’t imagined, and that’s what I recommend doing first: Even though you are still grieving, imagining a better future for yourself.
The vision of this imagined future can be one where you have not forgotten about our lost loved one, but don’t hurt so much anymore, and are leveraging the loss for purpose. One where you can see yourself as happier, loving and whole again. One where you embrace your breaks and pieces, and have joined them with gold – stronger and ever more beautiful like Kintsugi golden-repaired pottery.
Picturing a better future is easier said than done, because our brains are preprogrammed against change, even if the new state has substantial improvements and benefits. This is called the Status Quo Bias, one of over 180 different biases where our brain might not act the way we expect it to, mostly from the strong influence of our subconscious, reptilian brain over our more logical, conscious thinking.
With the Status Quo Bias, we perceive any change from the current baseline, even if our current state is sad and heartbreaking, to have a loss associated with it. This means that for every change we form an outsized perception as to the costs and risks of change, compared to the potential benefits. Darn our primitive brains and the biases imparted! We’ll revisit this bias again, but for now, let’s look to see how to traverse beyond.
One of the ways to help address the bias is to “Journal from the future”. Putting yourself into the future, some three to five years from now, what would you be writing in your journal about? What would you be doing, seeing and feeling? Where would you be living? What would your relationships look like, with your sons and daughters? Do you have a partner and extended family? The key to vision journaling, and the ability to have it help overcome the Status Quo Bias, is to impart a degree of specificity to your future.
With a solid vision for the future now journaled, I next advise adopting the right mindset, a growth mindset, so that as you think about the future and progressive journey to realize these thoughts over the next few days, weeks, months and even years, you have a method to adjust your goals, and even advance them as you progress.
A growth mindset means continually assessing, adjusting and building the vision as we progress. And in this article, we explored what a growth mindset was all about, especially the use of the word GROWTH itself in defining what living this mindset means:
- G – Gravitate to the challenges placed before them (as opposed to avoiding the issues)
- R – Retain a positive outlook, despite struggles and challenges in the near term (instead of focusing on the negative)
- O – Operate in a space just outside their comfort zone (rather than avoiding discomfort)
- W – Work diligently, taking self-disciplined steps towards improving mind, body and spirit and enjoying the process and journey and not the end goal (versus avoiding the effort and focusing just on the outcome).
- T – Take lessons from setbacks mistakes and criticism (as opposed to striving for perfection and not accepting feedback or acting on negative experiences)
- H – Help others to succeed, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others (as opposed to feeling threatened by others’ success), especially following the mantra whereby you should: “plant trees under whose shade you may never sit”.
And in growth as we imagine our future we will continually face our grief and shortcomings, but know that our work, lessons learned and assisting others will provide us the momentum and fuel to achieve Elevation, which is the next stage in our process.
God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome. – My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers
Following the prior steps, you have a vision for the future and the right mindset to help us continually improve. With a clear goal and the right attitude to propel you, now it’s time for action.
Elevation is defined as the raising and lifting to a higher position, and this is the action we want to pursue.It is time to raise ourselves up to a higher level, above where we have been before: Step by step progressing to the new life you have envisioned.
And to do this, you need to make progress in furthering your
- Physical health – our body and fitness
- Mental health – our mind and thoughts
- Emotional health – our heart and spirit.
When a bodybuilder wants to get stronger, they have to stress their muscles, breaking them down to rebuild stronger. And you want to do this, not just with your Body, but with your Mind and Spirit. Constructive stress needs to be applied consistently in order to achieve the Elevation we seek.
And in order for these changes to stick, you need to advance the exercise of your body, mind and spirit from being a painful task that takes much effort to initiate and accomplish, into a habit, so it is with you every day and the effort to stop the habit is more than the effort to proceed positively.
Despite popular books on habits indicating that it takes 21 days to form a habit, a more detailed research study says it can take an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit. For some study participants, habits were formed much more quickly, in as little as 18 days, while others took far longer, over 250 days. So it will take work to get your Body, Mind and Spirit habits in place.
For me, I started working on my Body first, and it really needed help. Honestly, maintaining the current pace, I wouldn’t be far behind my Judy, and the thought of leaving my daughters without a Dad too was heartbreaking .
The toll of the emotions, time and more devoted to Judy’s care was obvious. I was at least sixty pounds overweight and obese. I wasn’t on any regular exercise program, and worst, I was medicating every day with way too much alcohol to escape the pain.
The day after Judy passed I woke up with a hangover, having drowned the pain with a friend the day prior, and vowed to never drink again. Having such a hard, concrete line was really important for me, and became my story: I don’t drink anymore. This was the exact first step I needed, and the hard line to make it a habit. Cold turkey hard line worked for me, but if you need a program or just want to moderate, that works too.
With clarity and detoxification, improving my gut health, removing the sugar from the alcohol, I began walking each morning, advancing to running and eventually working out at the gym or in spin class every day. My first relationship post Judy was too soon after, but really helped me in this regard, as she was a yoga instructor, spin leader and trainer, who could see I wasn’t going to be around much longer unless I got the message and took training action immediately.
The son of an Italian-American Mom who stuffed me lovingly from when I was young, my diet needed to come next. My daughters really worked hard to get me to understand how my diet needed to be adjusted and changed to support my better habits, and I am blessed to have them both supporting me on my food journey through today (which they are not shy commenting about)..
I was able to drop some 60 pounds and keep it off, achieving a body and physical capability that I hadn’t had since maybe my early twenties, if ever. Abs at 57, absolutely.
But it’s not about the weight-loss or physique, both great byproducts. It’s about improving, slowly as you see fit, and not about becoming a perfect yogi, vegan, bicyclist, runner or bodybuilder. It’s about continually refining what you put in your body, what you DON’T put in your body, and how you strengthen your body. Not as a punishment, but to help you on your journey to peace and joy. All to be there for your children and have the vessel needed to accomplish this, and His new Purpose for you.
Progressing the mind means fueling and reinforcing your growth mindset, taking advantage of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.
It is time to tune the experiences, for you to unlearn the bad habits and get rid of the autonomous negative thoughts (ANTs): thoughts that are negative and random in nature in reference to one’s self. The unlearning replaces these with a mind that is continually growing, following our GROWTH mantra of Gravitate, Retain, Operate, Work, Take Lessons and Help Others.
For me, saying I had adopted and merely thinking about the elements of a growth mindset was a good first step, but I needed to do something about it. I needed to learn from experts, and get reinforced on what it takes to really implement. For this, I turned to growth mindset podcasts, during my dog Ruby walkabouts, consuming a variety of podcasts on improved attitude, exercise, diet, gut health, relationships, leadership and more. I especially enjoyed hearing stories about super performers, like the Iron Cowboy who completed 100 iron-men competitions in 100 days (after successfully doing 50 in 50 days in 50 states), or retired Navy SEAL Chief David Goggins, commonly known as “the toughest man alive”, consuming these most often through Impact Theory.
My advice is to start a Mind habit, like an exercise routine, so that every day you are listening to a diversity of mind, body and spirit self-improvement podcasts, videos and books.
Spirit is defined as the nonphysical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.
From a biblical perspective, the Spirit refers to the part of man that connects and communicates with God. Our Spirit points toward God, and is how we experience the joy, comfort and peace of God’s presence.
For me, working on my Spirit was definitely a part of my healing and growth journey, with daily prayers, but when you look at the minimal amount of time I was dedicating to this, clearly I was out of balance. I worked on my Body first, and advanced to two a day workouts most days. Then my Mind, consuming growth podcasts and reading a similar two to three hours a day. When it came to Spirit, a couple of prayers a day and an occasional spiritual book read wasn’t enough.
I was lucky to have a friend, a Christian preacher’s daughter, who called me out on this fact. “You workout so hard and study so hard, but you hardly work on your faith.”
Sometimes you need an outside perspective, a new point of view to shake up my world view. I thought I was making such great progress, and I was, but I was like a three legged stool, where one leg was so short, it threw everything off.
“You really should swap your priorities, with Spirit actually being first and where you spend the most time, versus like it is now, a token and an afterthought”. Noted, and having a growth mindset, I didn’t take this input negatively, instead I loved and embraced the challenge.
And in God’s perfect timing, another long time Christian friend gifted me a beautiful Bible for my birthday, while another got me the daily practice book “Utmost to His Highest” by Oswald. Thankfully, I had these amazing Faith practitioners in my life and I got the message.
Leveraging the feedback and tools, I advanced, from a couple of thankful prayers each day to more consistently asking questions and having conversations with God, the Father, daily.
I migrated from looking at email and social media to start every day, having someone else set my agenda in the shallows, to instead downloading and leveraging the YouVersion Bible App to start my day according to His agenda and from the deep.
I started attending church again, first at a Christian church with great music, lights and dynamic preacher, but eventually switching it up for the baptist Waterstone Church in Longwood – which still had great soulful worship music, and a preacher who was more intellectual and inspiring. I found a home.
Reading scripture and Faith based books became as important as consuming my growth guides. And mentorship was accomplished by joining a bible study, which one of my brothers was already attending. I had only attended youth-groups in my teens, so bible study was quite new for me. I can tell you that the two a week morning Zoom calls we have, to dive into scripture, learn theology and insights from the several preachers who are part of the group, and to share our personal struggles and stories, was a key to reinforce my progress.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding – Proverbs 3-5 NIV
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble – Psalm 46:1, NIV
There was a time where I believed I could do it all myself. I’m a successful, strong man, system thinker and problem solver: the penultimate “control enthusiast” In business, and in life. I lived using the line from Matt Snell’s song, “If I needed a mountain moved, I’d move it myself”.
That is until the passing of my beautiful bride put the ultimate exclamation point on the recent loss of the two father figures in my life, the passing of my mentor Dan and my Dad just a few months prior. All pride, little faith and taking it all on my shoulders, I was almost crushed under the weight of the three most important people in my life no longer being there.
Diving into improving my body – gaining sobriety and dropping 60 pounds – and then my mind – adopting an intense growth mindset – I made some significant improvements and achieved some solace. But this wasn’t enough. I still felt the gravity of my losses.
After I spent three years ignoring what I was being shown, one morning as I took my morning walk in the park with my pup Ruby, a faith song randomly came over my Spotify (divine as I was listening to a non-faith based playlist) – Jonny Lang’s Only a Man.
And He said, What will it be now?
Will you choose me or keep swimming upstream now?
I’ve been inside your head hearing you scream out.
Well here I am, just take my hand and I’ll take out
All of the pain and all of the fear
This song was the trigger and the words finally reached me, that mind and body weren’t enough. That you don’t need to be in control, and be able to solve everything and answer every question on your own. Give it all up to the higher power, surrender, and He will take all your burdens. You will be redeemed by His grace, and all you need to do is follow Him.
Faith is defined as a convicted belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof, wrapped in complete trust, confidence, reliance, or devotion.
The bible defines Faith with Hebrews 11:1: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
I view Faith as the ability for you to lift up your heart to God, in complete submission, trust and belief.
In a recent Easter service, my pastor Ron Smith said these words on Faith, which really resonated with me: “You can’t carry the weight of a tomb for your entire life. Give it to Him so he can carry that weight.”
In the healing hindsight of the past four and a half years since Judy’s passing, my Faith should have been in place already, but wasn’t a part of our marriage or dealing with the sickness and passing. At the very least, I should have first worked on Faith to support my Spirit, before tackling Body and Mind.
Maybe I was staying true to my namesake, and being a doubting Thomas. The apostle Thomas, traveled with Jesus Christ for three years, hearing the wisdom preaching daily, following his actions and seeing him perform many miracles including raising people from the dead. But Christ’s resurrection was another story, where apostle Thomas needed tangible proof. This was delivered and recounted: Then (Jesus) said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)
Perhaps instead it was my catholic upbringing, where I thought Faith was how you conducted yourself – how you walked the walk – to earn your space in heaven, not really understanding that it wasn’t how hard you worked but how much you trusted and believed. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Faith, a relinquishing of my sins, anguish and control, was that final superpower in my recovery, the final and most important piece of the puzzle for me to accelerate to true peace and joy.
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