by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Grief is everything we think and feel inside after someone or something we care about is taken away from us. Grief can be sadness. Grief can be anger. Grief can be shock and regret and confusion. Grief can be these and many other possible emotions and thoughts. When we are grieving, precisely which mixture of emotions and thoughts we have inside of us changes from moment to moment and day to day.
In general, though, the stronger our attachment to the someone or something that was taken away from us, the stronger our grief. Obviously, we grieve more deeply when a loved one dies than an acquaintance, for example. Because the soulmate relationship is by definition built upon a particularly strong attachment, the grief that follows the tearing-apart of that relationship is also particularly strong.
You have no doubt experienced a number of losses in your life, big and small. How has your grief in the aftermath of the death of your soulmate compared to the grief you felt after other losses? For many people, the grief they experience in the aftermath of the death of their soulmates is more much more devastating than other griefs they encounter in their lives.
We heal grief through mourning, which is the active, outward, intentional expression of our inner grief. For grieving soulmates, healing often takes what I call “heroic mourning.” What does that mean? If soulmate relationships are based on an epic love, then I humbly suggest that soulmate mourning needs to be equally epic. To effectively reconcile your outsized grief, your mourning must be Heroic with a capital H. I have come to believe that it takes medieval-style bravery. It may also require larger-than-life levels of faith, sacrifice, loyalty, commitment, adventure, and honor.
Grief as a quest
I often talk about grief as a journey through the wilderness. It is dangerous and lonely. It can be cold and dark. Grievers often feel lost there for a long, long time. You probably recognize this metaphor of the wilderness of grief. Since your soulmate died, I imagine you, too, have often felt afraid, cold, lonely, and lost in the dark.
From here on out, I am challenging you, as a heroic mourner, to consider your grief journey as a quest. You are still in the wilderness of your grief, and you may well still be lost. But because you are now taking on the responsibility of a quest, you will begin to think of your journey as a long, arduous search for something. You have a goal. And like the knights of old, you have a noble reason for achieving your goal—a reason that is bigger than you or any other individual person.
Your goal on this quest is no less than to reconcile your epic grief and find meaning again in your continued living. It will not be easy. Your grief is profoundly wide and deep. You already know that it is complicated. It is probably much more challenging than most if not all other griefs you have experienced in your life thus far. But I believe you are capable of encountering and moving through all the dangers along the way. I have faith that you have within you the strength to achieve your goal.
I don’t know you. So how can I have such blind faith in someone I’ve never met? And why am I so sure that you, too, should be certain in your capacity to mourn well and go on to live well again?
Here’s how I know: I’ve been privileged to bear witness to the healing of many grieving soulmates in my decades as a grief counselor and educator, but more important, I am giving you soulmate credit. You weren’t just half of a soulmate relationship. You were and are a soulmate.
Because you are a soulmate, you get which values really matter in life. You know how to cultivate friendship. You excel at companionship. You are well acquainted with the power of physical connection. You appreciate the joy of laughter. You know how to be vulnerable and have witnessed the transformative things that can happen when you open yourself to vulnerability. You’re good at kindness. You know how to see things through over the long haul. You persevere like nobody’s business. You’re a master at selflessness and sacrifice. You think of life as an adventure. You have borne witness to the power of rituals. And despite your loss, you understand what a privilege and honor it was to have experienced a soulmate relationship. You appreciate the gift of gratitude.
I am so sure that you have the capacity to succeed at your grief quest because the skills it will take are the same skills you mastered as a soulmate.
About the Author Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School's Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning, from which this article was excerpted. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.