Paula Fendley, Ed.D.

As we move into yet another month of 2021, life is still far from normal. Feelings of loss are reverberating around the world, and our collective mental health continues to be threatened. Friends, family members, and traditions are all disappearing en masse, and the daily assault of contradicting information from various news sources is emotionally exhausting. I have experienced loss this devastating before, and it came dangerously close to stealing my joy. I hope my “journey back to joy” will inspire your own, so that you too can continue to grow and heal in the face of loss.

At some point in our lives, each of us has dealt with loss. Whether a move, divorce, or the death of a family member, loss can be devastating and confusing. Though the pain associated with loss is inevitable, choosing to make meaning from that pain, however difficult, can be life changing.

After my daughter died in a snow skiing accident, I plunged into a place of darkness and despair. I knew I needed help, so I began attending a grief support group for parents who had lost children. One day, I heard a father say that he would never be happy again but hoped to someday be at peace. The resignation in his words awoke something in me, and it was then that I made a conscious decision to take back control of my life. In that precise moment, I decided to actively confront my depression and hopelessness and begin a journey back to joy. While my daughter’s death was not my choice, I realized that my healing was, and I needed to decide whether to let my soul live or die. It was this recognition that allowed me to begin to create a life of purpose, love, and loads of fun!

Loss, again, is unavoidable. What you can avoid, however, is allowing it to consume your life. From my experience, some of the most important steps to take after experiencing loss are:

Be present and open to shifting perspectives

People often resort to mentally distancing themselves from the source of their loss. This provides a temporary fix but does not actually solve anything. To grow from and move past a loss, we must be present to it! Conquering loss without being present is like trying to paint a masterpiece blindly. In my own journey, I began a new adventure discovering practices and activities that brought me peace and happiness. Self-development workshops, guided visualization, art therapy and yoga all helped me transition to a new way of living with loss, one that gave me hope and inspired me to keep going. Karaoke totally saved my life! Music served to calm my mind, heal my soul and lift me up anytime I needed it.

Spend time talking with and helping other people

Indeed, there are numerous studies citing the benefits of embracing our social nature in times of turmoil. When grieving the loss of my daughter, maintaining relationships with the people I loved allowed me to recognize that I was never truly alone. My family and friends were patient and loving toward me, and my journey was further supported by therapists, life coaches, and spiritual guides. While my mother stood by me and gave me the strength to learn to live again, my children gave me purpose for living. And ultimately, it was by giving myself to those around me that I was able to find myself again. Being of service to others gave me a sense of purpose and added meaning to my life.

Utilize the resources available to you

We are fortunate to live in a time when the importance of mental health care is more and more ubiquitously understood. There is an abundance of amazing grief counselors, support groups, and literature that can help you on your journey. Allow yourself the courage to find a professional who specializes in grief. Had I never attended that support group, I would not be writing this today.

Stay committed

Grief is a never-ending process, but it gets better. With time and a commitment to hard work, the painful moments decrease in strength and proximity. As I worked to tackle limiting beliefs and heal old wounds, I became able to remove obstacles that stood in the way of my own growth and happiness. Today, I live a vibrant, fulfilling life with close family relationships, special friendships, two adorable fur babies that provide much needed pet therapy, and lots of music. I chose to do the work and to remain committed to my healing, and I am so grateful. Without such choice, I would not be living the joyful life I am today.

Losing my daughter was a painful reality. Making meaning of that pain, however, led to new and beautiful dreams. Though not immediately and certainly not without hard work, my daughter’s death woke me up to a new way of living, one in which every moment counted.

For me, the journey back to joy is about so much more than being “at peace.” It is about allowing yourself to grow and be happy not in spite of the pain—but inspired by it. Thankfully, I chose to live a life of purpose, love, and fun. I sincerely hope you’ll choose the same.