Losing your job or professional status? The death of a loved one? Maybe a difficult life decision?
A loss of somebody or something is an inherent part of life. Thinking about loss we most often connect it with a death of a loved person, but also it can be losing one’s job, position, or a house; or even losing a friend who has betrayed our trust. What is common about all these losses? Painful emotions, for sure, but also you need to say goodbye to somebody or something. How to do it, what are the stages of this difficult road that needs to be taken, so as not to get stuck in grief and repining?
Acknowledging the Loss
When we first hear the news about somebody’s death or some other painful loss or disappointment, our first reaction is shock and disbelief. We do not want to admit what has happened, we hope it is a mistake and that very soon there will come some different, good news. When a loss is such a huge blow we are not able to understand and accept it, so we negate it, we defend ourselves. But still we need to acknowledge what has happened in order to come to the next stage of this process – to mourn the loss and say goodbye to who or what has been lost.
Mourning the Loss
When we acknowledge what has happened both on the level of facts and also we let in the feelings, we will start to experience many, sometimes contradictory, emotions. Nobody teaches us how to handle emotions, quite often we fear both to experience and to express what we feel, whereas emotions are neither good nor bad. All you can do is to be, feel them, name them and try to understand. One thing is sure – these emotions will soon change; let them flow, this is actually the process of healing. Probably, there will be sadness and grief, and maybe rebellion and anger – why did it happen? Why did it happen to me? Why did you leave me? Maybe we experience anger towards the boss who fired us, somebody else may feel guilt about the deceased one. Let the words and emotions flow, let us not block them because cutting off from emotions is a very expensive strategy of coping with pain. First of all, these emotions do not disappear – we carry them around, unaware how much energy it takes us to control them. Secondly, these blocked emotions can give rise to some physical ailments, or later come back to us with even greater force at another difficult moment. Stay for a moment with yourself, with what you are experiencing – give it space, let it reverberate, so you can free yourself from this burden and go on with your life, open to whatever there is in store for you.
A New Stage
Slowly, we are beginning to notice that somehow – despite the loss – we live. We get up in the morning and we cope – for better or worse – with everyday duties. Somehow we are beginning to adapt to the new reality. Occasionally there may be fear how to manage this or that thing, who we can ask for help, and what we can learn to do by ourselves – and these thoughts are good because they signify we have come to a new stage. Despite low energy and the sadness we feel, taking small steps, we are going forward; we are learning a new way of functioning, taking up new tasks, asking for help and accepting it – let’s not forget to smile now and again, or at least let’s think about something good and pleasant we have experienced today.
Completing the Grieving
So life is possible after all. We are coping. The person or some other thing we have lost is no longer in the centre of our attention. We still remember how it used to be, but the emotions subside, we have space for other things and other people. We are beginning to get involved in other things, feel little joys, smile. Here, we can experience fear that if we again start to care about something we can again lose it. This fear is dangerous because it stops us from a complete return to a satisfying life.
A Broader Perspective
It is difficult to determine the time that has to pass before the mourning process can be completed. It very much depends both on the individual personality as well as on the loss the person is facing. It is not so much about the length of this process as about passing and completing its successive steps. The last of them is looking at the loss from a broader perspective and noticing the fragility and finiteness of human life, as well as what really matters in life. Life after loss is not the same as before, but – paradoxically – because of the loss one can find a deeper meaning in it. We can also reclaim joy – but it will be different now, deeper and more mature.
If you have experienced any loss that is too difficult for you to bear on your own, I do invite you to come and share it with me. Let us go through the healing process together.