How to Pick Up the Pieces and Move On After Loss

move on after loss

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

– Helen Keller

Twelve years ago I had a breakdown. My mother died, I lost eight friends/relatives in one year, my kids were struck by lightning in a parasailing accident, and my dad was dying of bone cancer.

Shattered dreams, unmet expectations, and loss can certainly cause us to lose heart. If you’ve ever been there, if your heart has ever been shattered and your recollection of the pain is still fresh, you know what I’m talking about.

The panic, depression, and confusion I felt about the direction of my life became paralyzing, and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to move forward in the face of so much loss.

Then one day, a crystalizing moment occurred for me and I realized that suffering could do one of two things in my life: it could propel me toward hope, or lead me to despair. Thankfully, I chose the former, not because I’m some superhero, but because I didn’t want to waste the pain.

I knew that the only road to healing was to stop asking the wrong questions, face my fears, and use my strengths as a springboard to do something meaningful.

Here’s how I began to heal after being shattered:

Stop asking why

“Why” questions keep you stuck. You may never get the answers, and even if you do, they may not help. Instead of asking “why” I decided to put my energy into accepting my circumstances and processing my pain. We can’t control adversity, but we can control our response to it.

Watch what you tell yourself

Negative self-talk kept me stuck for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s subtle so you have to notice it. Learn to refute the negative internal monologues that play in your head with positive life giving counterstatements. Start believing you can!

Enlarge the pie of your life

When I was caring for my dad while he was sick my world became very narrow and isolated. To move toward healing I had to intentionally enlarge what I call “the pie of my life.” You can do the same if you’re feeling stuck. Take out a piece of paper and make a circle. Now draw slices to represent each area of your life. If there aren’t many pieces, you need to start filling them in. Get out. Get involved. Set goals and dream again. The results are powerful.

Re-invest your heart in something meaningful

John Walsh created the television show America’s Most Wanted to assist law enforcement agencies to find criminals after his son was abducted. It’s helped catch over a thousand criminals in its twenty-five years. John is a great example of someone who took a tragic loss and turned it into something redemptive. Cindy Lightner did the same thing with Mother’s of Drunk Drivers.

I used my losses as a springboard to help others by becoming a therapist and writing a book on recovering from the losses of life. If you’ve facing loss or adversity, you need time to heal, don’t minimize that. But when the time is right, ask yourself what possibilities lay ahead? How can you re-invest in life and turn something bad into something with redemptive value? Remember, the story isn’t finished yet!

Back at you: what difficult circumstances have you faced and what has helped you to heal?

32 thoughts on “How to Pick Up the Pieces and Move On After Loss”

  1. Hi Rita,

    Milton H. Erickson, M.D. was a master at turning liabilities into assets. When he was 19 years old, he was struck with polio. He couldn’t move but his eyeballs. To entertain himself, he observed his family’s behaviors because he was very much interested in psychology and behavioral science. Through his observations, he discovered that there were three levels of communication. He noticed when his sister say “yes to something,” she really was saying “no” nonverbally and vice versa. So the first level was verbal, the second level was nonverbal. He later discovered that there was a third level where he can communicate suggestion to someone in an indirect way. He discovered that we all have a storehouse of resources that we’ve accumulated over the years that we’ve forgotten about. That we can use at our disposal if we tap into during difficult times. He believed that the past can bury its own past and to accept what’s it. Instead of laminating on the past, believed that we ought to tap into that vast storehouse of knowledge we have to get through what is called the roughages of life and to celebrate life in a meaningful way.


  2. “Instead of asking “why” I decided to put my energy into accepting my circumstances and processing my pain. We can’t control adversity, but we can control our response to it.”

    That is invaluable advice.

    Happiness is a choice. We can choose to let adversity become a stepping stone to emotional growth. It isn’t easy. Feeling and acknowledging the hurt is a painful process. But a necessary one, I think. Just as important as knowing when to straighten up, stand tall, wipe away one’s tears and move on.

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  3. Hi

    In Dec 2006 my mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I was completely devastated. In Jan 2008 my mum passed away. Around the same time my husband was having an affair…I knew but decided to deal with mum first. After laying my mum to rest I stayed in our family home trying to work through the grief, unsupported, with 4 grieving children. After 8 months I moved out. We divorced in 2009.
    In 2010 our business started to take a slippery slide for the worst. We went into liquidation and had to sell our home to pay for the debt.
    I know others have been through worse but I just want to let people know that with time, support and self love you can get through anything. It has been a tough road but a road that has taught me so much, about others and especially myself.
    I worked through my grief with prayer, counselling, meditation, and energy healing. I have changed my lifestyle…..everything down to our food choices, cutting cords with friends, and also the everyday products we use in our home on our bodies. I have learnt to forgive and to be grateful for the simple things in life and I think when I did this I was able to do these 2 things I released a lot of the pain I had been harboring.
    My motto now is “don’t sweat the small stuff”


    1. Wow Karina. You have been through so much loss. I am so very sorry. What courage it takes to do the hard work of grief. You are to be highly commended. Thanks for sharing your story so others can benefit.

  4. Hi Rita,

    The reasons you gave for becoming a therapist are so similar to mine! In the midst of depression, anxiety, and tragedy, I began to dream of helping others. It took a lot of twists and turns in the road, but now I’m there. God bless!

  5. Rita, your advice is so wise. You lived it. You tested it. That is the kind of counsel people need. That old saying is so true….”If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger!” As I walk farther down the path of my life with Christ, I am finding that as my faith grows, so do my challenges. Things I could not have handled 10 years ago, I am handling today. You have found a wise path to healing and it can be applied to anything in our lives. So, thankful God gave you the knowledge and the strength to courageously face your life challenges. I think the best counsel comes from someone who has walked your road and found their way home. Love you much! ~Karen

  6. This article could not have appeared at a better time, as they say you may not get what you want but you always get what you need. I too suffered a grave loss back in 2006 when my only brother was murdered at the young age of 32. Life has not been the same since and it’s worse around the holidays. I suffer from mild depression and had weened off until this tragedy and needed to go back on them. I also went to therapy for a year and a half which was very therapeutic. I will say my life’s pie needs filling for sure but I seem to have become complacent. My youngest daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 20 and she’s now 22. A stellar student throughout and her first year away at college is when her bottom fell out.

    I feel my life has been one of caretaker since I was a young teen facing several different family challenges. My survival skills seemed to have become push my feelings aside and take charge to care for others, not intentionally but it’s been a pattern I’ve attempted to break and seem to fail. Throughout it all I can say having a strong faith and spirituality I’m healing and work daily to move forward even when I don’t want to.

    Exellent article and reminder there is always hope.

    Thank you

    1. Oh my gosh Sharon, I am so sorry. The losses in our lives seem to take a piece of our hearts with them don’t they. What courage you have demonstrated to make it through so much. It’s not about perfection, it’s about fighting the battle for your heart. Sounds like your doing that day by day. Bless you dear one.

  7. Last year, the day before Christmas, my father was sent to the hospital because of his high blood pressure. He couldn’t seem to breathe. I thought that we would spend Christmas at the hospital, but we prayed altogether for his condition. Good thing that it wasn’t so bad.

  8. I also note that you remind us that we need time to heal. Just trying to think differently doesn’t work until we’ve passed through the grueling pain of loss. Somehow, after the confluence of passing time, encouragement and love, and yes, some effort however small on our part, one day we know we are better and that we may just get well.

    Thanks for your good work.

  9. Hi Rita, Thank you for sharing this article with me. What hits home for me is the “Enlarge the Pie” – in 2009, I experienced many losses myself – I was completely devastated. It was very difficult for me to get on my feet again… finally, after 3 years, I feel my life coming together – stronger, clearer and happier than I’ve ever been.

    But for me, it was very hard. At times, and at times now, I felt/feel completely lost. The hardest part for me was to re-focus – find things to be interested in again.

    Looking back… I can’t believe how hard this period of my life has been. Another big lesson – fear has dissipated – not all of it – but a lot of it. I am not afraid to be me.

    Thank you!


    1. Wow, Carol, thanks for giving me a window into your soul. There is no easy way around the losses of life. The key is to key fighting the battle to reclaim your heart. You’ll still have bad days, that’s normal, but keep pressing on and expand that pie! Merry Christmas

  10. Hi Rita and other friends !!!,

    ’11/12/12′ date was suddenly painful for me, in afternoon after my lunch I had received one ‘Good bye…’ mail from one of my colleague (she) in office. I was in shocked to understand and respond to that mail.

    She left the company bcoz her family emergency and now there is no chance to see her and meet her. We don’t know each other more than ‘our name’ and ‘place’ (where we belong), but I was having (one side) feeling for her. Whole night I was feeling that I have lost very important person in my life and there is no hope to recover from this situation and feeling mentally block to think differently.

    However, I am very thankful to ‘Change Blog’, Rita and other virtual friend’s responses, today morning after login in my computer, I have just received above mail from Change Blog, and got the some relief from sudden emotional pain.

    Now there are no words to express much more feelings, feeling just numb.


  11. Rita, what a great post! I have worked with so many people who live in fear of the circumstances of life because of a past loss, this attitude stops people living their own life.

    When my marriage ended, for many years I was consumed with negative self-talk and it is a downward spiral. The vibrations of the negative thoughts pervade our body and our mind and we can slowly start to see ourselves in a way that is far below the beautiful individuals with significant potential, that we are created to be.

    In order to move on after loss in my own life I had to get leverage – enough was enough. I was drinking too much, I was reclusive and I was unhappy. I visualised this lifestyle not simply remaining the same but getting worse and worse, which was the only path I was destined to take if I remained on that same track.

    When we fully recognise the way that our life is heading then we gain the leverage to change. This what I did and, like you, I now work helping others with their own life change.

    Thank you so much for sharing,


  12. Hi,
    I am realising that I need to get out of this spiral. I have allowed it to penetrate my soul. My fiance had an affair for a few months. I found out. He begged forgiveness. I had set my minimum needs, joint counselling and seeing his bills etc. I still have negative thoughts and find it hard to trust him. That all happened in Jan 2012. I am still in the past. I try so hard to move on. He tries so hard, he makes effort to make it all better. He really does. I was getting out of the negative thoughts but lately they have come back. GGGrrrr. Help me to get out of the negative feelings and mistrust and be the positive person I once was. We had a happy relationship before we got engaged and have both found where the relationship went wrong and led to him straying. We are no longer engaged and he moved out in June as it was too difficult to deal with for us both. We have started to talk about living together again. We both want to but know that if it doesn’t work then we will finish for good. He is my best friend and a good step dad figure to my 12 year old. I know I will cope without him but really don’t want to.
    Best kindest wishes to all. x

  13. Hi Rita,
    Its sad to know about your loss.
    Well I lost my only brother too, he was 27 it happened last April 2011.
    He was murdered and unfortunately there was no lead about it at all.
    My family and I are into a puzzle which “why” is always the question.
    We are not yet given justice since then
    still we are grieving that we can no longer feel complete and glad no matter what holidays come. Its really not the same and its hard to pretend that you’re okay even if you’re not.

    But maybe it’s true that “time heals everything”
    We are still recovering though.
    But we have to face it and move on and let time heal and pass it away.

    Thank you
    God bless you always.

    1. Hi Cecille. I was just thinking, before I got out of bed this morning, about the first Christmas after my father died (he committed suicide). He died right after Thanksgiving in 1978. I had just written about his death, so I’ve been thinking about it again. I can’t remember anything about that Christmas other than standing before the fireplace at my in-law’s home and thinking “I cannot make it through this.” It was so hard. I felt I had to pretend I was ok for the sake of my children and my husband’s family, but I just could not do it. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my brother (another suicide) but I cannot imagine my feelings had someone else taken his life. You are right…time does heal all wounds. God healed my heart and it has been many, many years since I have experienced grief because of their deaths. Christmas is a joyous time again. I pray that this will happen for you and your family as well. God bless, Cecille.

  14. I guess it makes sense to stop trying to give yourself an answer for why you had to lose something because finding a reason that you will accept can be difficult. Although it would certainly give you peace of mind if you know why. Perhaps instead of why, you could go for how it happened and then accept it for what it is.

  15. My fifteen-year-old daughter died as a result of negligence by a doctor. Our family has not been the same ever since. We had a very serious family, and it is hard to understand how it all of a sudden can end in one evening. it is hard to imagine never healing from this experience. Any suggestions and help would be appreciated. Janet

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