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Picking Up the Pieces

by Elizabeth Harper Neeld

When we are at this place in our grief journey, the emphasis of our grief work shifts from internal to external. We start to take action that allows us to check out what is and what isn’t going to work for us as we design a new shape for our lives. We begin grappling with the work of making long-term changes. We begin to do what is necessary to resolve the conflict between the pull of the past and our desire to be happy. This is a difficult time. We feel like an immigrant who must carve out a new life in an unfamiliar land. And, regardless of this difficulty, we step out and begin the tasks of longer-term change that are now required. We are brave for the same reasons that immigrants work so hard to make a good life for themselves in a new country. We want a life that both honors the past and has new meaning.

Reconstruction: Picking Up the Pieces

What is Normal?

  • Beginning to make changes that are hard but beneficial
  • Making commitments to new projects
  • Developing new skills
  • Setting new priorities

A wife says:

I had been married to George for almost fifty years. We had that kind of old-fashioned, traditional marriage where he handled all the finances and outside things, and I handled the family and ran the house. With him gone, I have to learn all kinds of things – like how to reconcile a bank statement and balance a checkbook. I have to learn who fixes lawn mowers. Who can put up part of a fence when it blows down. Where the safety lane place is to get the car inspected. I could complain about this forever. But the way I see it, you can complain or you can do it. And your life is a heck of a lot happier if you decide just to do it.

A widower says:

I work as a historian at a research center where we write many grant proposals. When one proposal isn’t funded, we sit down and write another one. I’ve started thinking about my life as a widower as something I have to write a new proposal for. But, in a case like this, I don’t know yet what kind of proposal to write. I have to do a lot of searching, and I’ve begun to do some of that. I wish I knew. It’s a most uncomfortable place to be in, not knowing what direction your life is going to go in. But, from all I can see, being uncomfortable while you think about the future just comes with the territory.

The Choice for Reconstruction:

To take specific actions

This choice allows us to try out alternatives. Some will work and some won’t. But in spite of the back and forth and up and down, we find ourselves moving forward. By taking action –which inevitably involves taking risks –we are finding out what it will take for our lives to feel satisfying. All the old responses are completely inadequate now. The choice to take specific actions lets us try out some new ways of shaping our lives.

What helps during Reconstruction

  • Taking specific steps to learn new skills that you recognize you now need
  • Working with a career counselor, a life coach, or a group of individuals who are committed to making life-enhancing changes
  • Stopping doing things that only remind you painfully of the past
  • Experimenting with things you might like to do

© Elizabeth Harper Neeld, PhD