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To Exist or to Grow? Choosing to Live a Fruitful Life in the Face of Loss

By Teresa Beshwate September 02, 2022 Mindset

I’ve heard many times that aging is about loss, and I don’t disagree. But I would offer that it’s also about hard-earned gains – which are often the result of those losses.

It’s true that with time life throws us curveballs and we grieve many losses – a spouse, parents, children, a marriage, the reflection that was once in the mirror and the confidence we had in our youth; perhaps having influence and receiving recognition or maybe having a clear role and purpose in life.

It’s easy to look in the mirror and see a lesser version of our former selves, battered by the winds of change and loss, grieving what once was, in a state of survival, or maybe just existing.

Choose Your Version of Uncomfortable

Facing loss is, at the very least, an uncomfortable place to be. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable because we’ve outgrown the old version of ourselves. Our former selves no longer fit into our current life.

It’s time to grow – and that growth requires new skills. It is growth that no previous version of us could accomplish.

It’s true that growth is uncomfortable too. So, this is, in every way, a matter of choosing to stay in an uncomfortable (albeit familiar) place, or uncomfortably, but firmly, reach for the potential that only now opens before us.

It’s also a shift in identity. Do we choose to identify with a lesser version of our former self, as unpleasant as that might be? Perhaps the familiarity we’re used to keeps us stuck.

Maybe we don’t believe that we’re capable of more, or we don’t feel deserving of more. Maybe the people around us aren’t supportive because they benefit from who we are now. Or possibly the negativity committee chattering in our minds needs to be evicted immediately.

Losses Can Produce Gains

I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past. I naturally gravitate to people who have endured the worst of what life can deliver. They are the most interesting, deep, and positive people I know.

Life knocked them flat, and then they regained their footing, they willed their hearts to beat, and put one foot in front of the other. Initially, they chose to survive minute by minute; later they merely existed. But eventually they began to live again, even thrive.

In his book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. (…) The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Perhaps the more sorrow we carve into our being, the more we can become. The more we can live fully and love deeply, the more we can leave a mark on our world.

The depth of our being makes room for more kindness and wisdom and more courage to become a new version of ourselves – not in spite of our losses, but because of them.

Find Your Anchor and Thrive

When life knocks us down, it is our choice to survive, and later exist, and perhaps eventually thrive. Grief looks different for everyone; there are no time limits, no rules, no right or wrong way to do it. But ultimately, the world needs the person we were meant to become because of loss.

To choose to stay in a place of mere survival or existence is certainly an option, but one that falls short when it comes to reaching your potential. The next version of yourself is different, deeper and more resilient, it’s a beautiful product that didn’t exist before.

With each step, find your why and anchor yourself to it. Choose to live for two – yourself and the person you’ve lost – and aim to be the things you loved most about them. Make a bucket list of ways to honor the past while living fully in the present.  

Moment by moment, be courageous enough to draw the next breath and keep stepping through your life after loss. Eventually, in your own time and on your own terms, decide to thrive. The world is waiting for this new version of you.

What losses have you suffered lately? Have you grown stronger because of them? In what ways? Has there been a loss that brought you down in a way that you thought you would never get up again? How did you conquer it? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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Dealing with the loss of my spouse just over a year ago. I didn’t curl into a ball, I couldn’t so many things to get done and some unexpected curveballs thrown at me. I began to volunteer at a local thrift shop that benefits animals and that has been a great help. Because my husband’s cancer came during Covid, I’m pretty much starting from scratch as friends I thought were friends are no longer around. I know he would be proud of me for what I’ve accomplished, but I miss him so very much, what we were as a couple, I wonder how I can make a new meaningful life now.

Sue Tyler

I’ve had many losses, divorce, job, death of friends and family including parents but nothing as devastating as the death of my adult son. It’s an unnatural, out of order death, I don’t think I will ever feel whole again.

c c

Same here, Sue, as we just recently lost our beautiful adult son. It’s simply shitty and unfair and always will be so. PERIOD. I’m so sorry for your own devastating loss. :(


Absolutely excellent article! Like Robbin who commented earlier, I went through a devastating divorce at 72 after being married for 45 years. That was 2-1/2 years ago. I’m still stunned that I’ve made it, accepted it and moment by moment have turned my life into a better life. Yes, I am sad at times for the loss of a partner (who never was one), but I’ve learned that happiness and joyfulness still exists.

The Author

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, is an author and life coach who exclusively helps widows to move forward and learn to live and love their life again after the loss of their spouse. Her latest book, Life Reconstructed: A Widow’s Guide to Coping with Grief, is now available.

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