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A death brings an unmistakable and irreversible change into our life. When someone dies, it closes a door that can’t be opened again.

It can feel like the relationship has suddenly been frozen, right where it was on the day they died. There’s no chance to go back to them one more time and say, “I love you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you,” or “I’d like your approval to do something new.”

From this point on, your relationship with the person who died becomes internal. The memories, the love, the apologies, the forgiveness and support all reside within you, and must be resolved there as well.

Close Relationships

If the relationship was close, loving and mutually supportive, you may miss it immensely. It could feel like a part of your own body has been removed, a part you took for granted and expected to always be there. In fact, a vital part of your daily experience of life has been removed, and the challenge is to heal that place, and then move ahead in your life without it.

Time will help. Your support team can help. Maintaining a healthy routine of life, one day at a time, can help. Introducing a new enjoyable practice or interest into your lifestyle can give you something to look forward to and provide positive reinforcement for change in your life.

Strained Relationships

If the relationship was difficult, strained, or even completely estranged, there may be a sense of relief when the person dies. At least you don’t have to face them again, or listen to their criticism, or pretend to care, or be asked to fulfill needs that you could never really fulfill.

It’s a relief, but it’s not really over. If you were connected enough to them – whether by birth or marriage or circumstances – to feel discomfort, the relationship will most likely continue to live on inside of you. And that’s where the work will need to be done to bring a sense of understanding, compassion and closure to this relationship, to put their memory to rest.

Since you were unable to simply feel neutral towards them, it can be helpful to realize that your feelings in some way are also a reflection of what’s going on in your life. It’s not just “their problem.” Which means that, even though they are gone, your still have an opportunity for self-love, self-forgiveness and self-discovery, and to give yourself the approval to do something new.

To reach this point, you may need to talk it through with family, friends or an experienced counselor. It is an opportunity for growth, not just to resolve an uncomfortable relationship, but to move ahead in your life.

Living With Change

Change is a constant in our life, and change includes an element of the unknown. We’re usually more comfortable putting our attention on what we already know rather than on the unknown. We tend to focus our attention on the stable elements in our life, and even assume that those things will always stay the same. This point of view only makes change feel all the more disruptive when it does come.

Death is disruptive not only due to the major change it brings, but also due to its finality. There is no bringing the person who died back into our life, no matter how much we wish it were so. It forces us to begin to live in a new world, a world without the person we loved, or resented, felt guilty around, or who stirred up a complex mixture of emotions within us.

We can be hesitant to explore this new world. We can feel lacking in support. Maybe the person who always “had our back” isn’t there anymore. The person who cheered us up, or built us up, or sent us out the door to conquer the world. We may even doubt whether we can make it on our own.

New Opportunities

Living in a new world means that there are new opportunities to explore. Perhaps the freedom to travel again after caring for elderly parents year after year. Of the freedom to move closer to children and grandchildren, to a place with a climate you enjoy, or “back home” to be near friends.

If you receive an inheritance after a death, it could open new financial opportunities. Retiring comfortably instead of working past retirement age. Starting a new business you’ve always dreamed of. Volunteering your services at home or overseas.

Once you’ve come to peace with the loss of your spouse, it could mean finding a new partner who can bring out the qualities in you that are asking to be expressed now. Or helping others who are going through the same transition.

Acknowledging and even embracing the change, rather than trying to ignore it or hold on to the way things were before, can help you move through the new doors that open when someone significant in your life has died.

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