Learning About Ourselves From Grief

Someone asked me if we could learn more about ourselves from grief. The question  made me stop to think because whatever we might learn would in no way offset the loss of our loved one, would in no way offset the pain of grief.

But . . .

Like any traumatic experience that we’ve survived, grief teaches us that are all stronger than we believe we are, braver than we can imagine, more emotional than we ever expected, and have the ability to pick ourselves up and take another step when all we want to do is dive into oblivion.

Mostly, though, grief is a process of change, of becoming a person who can survive our loss and our grief. Often what we learn about ourselves is not something that was present before grief gripped us, but something that comes during the process. Values are turned upside down — what was once important is no longer important, and what was once unimportant becomes less so. For example: Not wasting time used to be something I valued, so waiting in line at a grocery store used to irritate me. It was such a huge waste of time. After my life mate/soul mate died, it no longer mattered if I was one place rather than another. It no longer mattered if time passed slowly or moved quickly. It no longer mattered if I wasted time or used my time effectively. So I stood patiently in line. It’s not that I learned I was patient, but that I become patient.

Sometimes people find they are more independent than they expected, but often they are forced to become independent rather than learning that they’d always been so. My mother had been a traditional wife, always catering to my father, cooking for him, cleaning, etc. After she died, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remarried right away so he’d have someone to look after him, but my brothers taught him to “cook.” And oh, how proud he was of his new-found ability to heat up a frozen dinner or fix instant coffee and toast! He’d always been rigid, and yet, he didn’t suddenly learn he was resilient. Her death had forced him to become resilient.

A friend whose daughter had been murdered set out to learn everything she could about the law and how to get boyfriend who’d murdered her daughter. Although already forceful, she became utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice.

So yes, we learn about ourselves from grief, but often that which we learn didn’t exist before our loss. We became that person we are learning about.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

6 Responses to “Learning About Ourselves From Grief”

  1. Jo Green Says:

    Boy this article is so true in do many ways. I really could associate with the standing in line at grocery store because there no need to hurry home for someone

  2. Charlotte M. Liebel Says:

    Pat ~ Most of us haven’t a clue about living through a loss of our soul mate. >>> So many people need to read your book that I have posted this blog with a message on Twitter. Also shared your Amazon post.
    Charlotte M. Liebel

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you for sharing the post! I do think this is an important book for many people, and I appreciate your help spreading the word. 

      (Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

  3. Judy Says:

    Good one! All so very true!

  4. Terry Jean Allard Says:

    My husband passed away almost four years ago. It is only fairly recently that I can acknowledge I may have gained some useful life lessons as a result of being widowed. Up until now, the idea of such gains made me rail ” No thanks life…you keep your lessons and I’ll keep my husband….the price of your university is just toooooo
    high!!” Of course, there was never a choice with his death however; what my soul did and does with it is a choice. Now that I can entertain some advances in the way I go through life, I muse over the fact I would have liked to have had these insights while he was living…they would have made our lives better.
    I got and paid for my degree and can’t get my most important job! UGH

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      People always make it sound like a trade off, or as if they were supposed to have died so we could learn these lessens. Um, no. We do learn, however, and we become people who can live despite the loss, But it’s never a trade off. Never a reason from him to have died.

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