Dear Barbara, The emptiness left behind after a loved one dies. What do I do with it?
Emptiness is one of the aspects of grieving, experiencing that hole in our life and heart left by the person who has died. We know that hole must be filled with living but early in our grief experience it seems an overwhelming task just to get out of bed let alone figure out how to move forward into building a new life, and most of all a new life without the person who filled the emptiness we are now feeling.
My answer is simple yet the hardest to understand. Time. Time will fill in the emptiness. No words, no pills, not even all the activities you can find to keep doing will fill the emptiness; only time.
At first the pain and emptiness of loss is with us every waking and even sleeping moment. Over a period of months we gradually begin to see life moving around us through less pain. Life becomes less clouded by our grieving. But know we do not recover or even heal from grief. We learn how to live with it. We learn how to go on living without the person who was once so much a part of our life. That doesn’t mean we forget about them or we care less for them, we just learn how to go on living without their physical presence.
On many levels, we recognize we must figure out how to go on living with the loss in our hearts. Some of us start running, keeping so busy we can’t think or feel our loss. Some of us fight depression and lethargy as our grief becomes a heavy weight that keeps us from moving. We can rationalize, we can cry, we can be angry, we can eat too much, we can eat too little. All of these actions become our way of filling the emptiness. None of it works--we are still empty.
What to do? Be gentle with yourself. Accept the down days, strive for the better days. Don’t run too fast or walk too slow. Allow yourself to experience the feelings but gently help yourself out of them. Reach out to others (easier said than done). Cry when you need to and allow yourself to laugh and enjoy the life you still have. In the months following the death of your special person begin to think about how your life can be a tribute to the one who is gone. It isn’t how many tears that are shed that says how much we love and miss a person. Let how well you go on living say how much you love.
Emptiness is a normal, natural part of the grieving process. I also acknowledge the hollowness of words from others to “make it better.”
Something More about... The Emptiness of Grief
You may want to read my booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience to help guide you through your bereavement.