A Perspective on Loss

“We don’t let go of anything important until we have exhausted all the possible ways that we might keep holding on to it.” ~ William Bridges

It is fair to say each of us has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting is on which we choose to focus. You can readily identify your most robust strength and your biggest weakness (acknowledging a weakness can be a strength and vice versa). And for all of my actual and perceived strengths, I know that handling loss is what I am least equipped to deal with — my weakness, if you will.

In two blog posts today, I read and was reminded of how common loss is. We simply don’t confront it until, somehow, it ‘hits home.’ And ‘home’ is a different place within each of us.

Losing someone or something you care deeply about is very painful. The range of emotions we experience, may never let up. There are many reactions to significant loss. And while there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew and permit one to move on.

Part of loss deals with searching for answers and meaning; trying to make sense of it all. While some may never fully recover, allowing grief to run its course is part of a time-undefined progression. In this vein, I recall reading a Robert Hall, Jr. perspective which he describes as the “fertile void,” a time of not knowing what is arising, what to do, or how to feel. And in this void people find themselves making changes to fill the void, sometimes even returning to something familiar — the way things were.

I know it’s cliché yet, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is something that can give one hope for the future after a long and difficult period.

We have countless ways to cope with loss. These four make sense to me. If you have others that you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share them in comments.

  1. Surrender. We cannot bring back what we have lost. We cannot undo a war or a natural disaster. Experiencing our loss and our feelings is a natural process, but it can lead us into deeper suffering, too. Surrendering to the situation as something we cannot change, and accepting that, can help us to release and honor grief in a healthy way.
  2. Write a brief letter to yourself or loved one of what you wanted to say before the loss. Putting your words on paper or expressing things you wish you could have said before the event or loss might help you work through feelings and emotions that you need to let out or put behind you.
  3. Connect meaningfully with others. Finding the right approach to deal with tragedy is a very personal thing. Pain in the short run in unavoidable, and that’s okay. The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run. Consider being in “flow,” having an intense focus on the present day and attempting to connect with others.
  4. Believe that someone else is in control. Just as contentment and happiness come into our lives unexpectedly, so too does loss. Perhaps important, is to believe that another is in control, no matter what.

77 thoughts on “A Perspective on Loss

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. The loss I am holding right now is complicated … but what grief isn’t? For whom am I crying? And this is not the first time I’ve had to ask that question when multiple family members die within days of each other. I came to the conclusion – it doesn’t matter for whom… it’s the why that matters. I care – therefore I cry. I love – therefore I cry. Or I don’t cry and I ponder the emptiness… the human shaped void that is now our reality.

    Witnessing a death is a whole other ball game – and three years later I still fight the visualization of the end and replace it with memories of them laughing.

    I have learned grief is not an emotion – it’s a way of life. Yes, time heals. But grief is like a strange friend that never leaves you. I say friend because I don’t think grief is an enemy – grief is a sign of love lost here on earth. Whether you believe in an afterlife – a heaven – that’s up to you… I do and it helps.

    One thing I did very young, 12 years of age, is I took the thing my aunt loved the most and I made it something I would continue loving and cherishing. My aunt who died suddenly, mid-sentence, of a brain aneurysm when I was twelve, loved Anne of Green Gables – the films, the stories, the books, and the summer before she unknowingly died – she and her best friend went to the place of her dreams – Prince Edward Island and marked it off her bucket list. She came back with so much crap, it annoyed my uncle and we thought it was hilarious. And then she died… suddenly. And so at twelve, I picked up the broken pieces – the love of Anne Shirley and her antics, and I studied them and I learned a lot about who my aunt was just from a fictional story. I already knew her well enough, her mannerisms, that she would cave and put food coloring in pancakes if you asked …she used to take care of me every day while my folks worked… from the time I was a little thing until I was school-aged. Then I spent a week or two visiting her in the summers.

    Not forgetting… not pretending they didn’t exist… that helps. Explore the things they loved and if you love them too – then keep loving that. Experience what they experienced if it helps you heal.

    But if you’ve experienced traumatic loss… like I also have… loss that is filled with chaos – I think it’s okay to observe a waiting time… a time to rest… a time to put things on hold and catch your breath, to walk slowly, to watch the sunset and the clouds float by, in order for your body and your soul to catch up to one another – so that when you’re ready you can begin to figure out how to live with that grief. Because traumatic loss is so overwhelming – I have learned it’s best not to fight the current but to float – let the waves crash over… and relax – and float – and float until you have the strength to swim. Or in my case – to kayak.

    I’ve lost friends and family, young and old, to cancer, stroke, old age, heart disease, suicide, car accidents, alcoholism, aneurysms… every death is different – every grief is different – every response is different. Right now, I wait. I wait until I can feel again… soon – it will be soon. I know. I’ve traveled this road before.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and considered sharing. I am sorry for all of the loss that you have experienced. Your visual of relaxing and floating until you have the strength to swim (or kayak) again sounds like a comforting way in which to deal with loss. And how fortunate you are to be able to kayak and simply be in flow with the currents and life.

      How blessed, too, you are that you cry, freely. So many cannot or will not and the suppression just festers. To the extent that you, we, can feel and embrace our emotions is so important. Yes, each of us processes loss and grief differently yet those who allow their emotions to guide and soothe, are the ones who find way to move forward… in due time.

      Please be at peace and with your unique inner strength. That road you have traveled before with welcome you forward.

  2. Another gem Eric. I too am experiencing a sudden loss. I am being kind to myself and sharing my news selectively and participating in pleasant activities.

    Explain about someone being in control,don’t understand.

    peace,
    Linda

    • A gem. Your word choice is kind, Linda. While it may seem cliche to some people, being kind to oneself while dealing with loss is critical to healing and grieving. And it’s commendable that you are choosing to participate in pleasant activities.

      What I meant by someone else being in control was simply an unstated reference to a Higher Power, Creator, God, or Source.

  3. Well done, Eric.

    Loss is a part of life. Something we all will and must experience.

    Instead of focusing on someone’s passing, I now focus on their life and what they brought to the world, what they brought to me. That without their death, there would not have been a life. It may not remove the pain, but it sure floods the heart with gratitude for their life…and their role in mine.

    • You and increasingly more, Michael, are focusing on “life.” It is good to see Life Celebrations on the rise in lieu of more traditional memorial services. Some that I have recently attended have been beautiful over-flowing expressions and demonstrations of individual lives, their love and the gifts they gave to others. Indeed, big-time gratitude events.

      Thank you for your kind and heartfelt share.

  4. Eric, your words resonate with me, again and again and again. Thank you for your authentic, heartfelt, optimistic, helpful words about how to cope with loss. I’ve learned that, in time, happy memories sustain us.

    • Vivian, your words are warming and appreciated. It is encouraging to read a variety of comments here that confirm each of us have different ways in which we cope with loss. Yours brings a smile to my face. Thank you.

  5. A timely post for me too Eric. I share in your challenge with loss. I’m understanding how many of my core feelings and patterns connect back to a feeling of abandonment from childhood. For me, I’m finding that being willing to sit with the feelings, embrace, love and accept them helps me immensely. Then doing some inner child / parenting work to shift the experience. And learning to trust myself and that all is happening as it needs to. blessings, Brad

  6. I’ve experience the loss of my parents and their extended family as well as a few friends. The first death, my fathers, was a shock and I could find no solace in religion, which I expected I would. You asked about other coping methods, for me the deep recognition that things change allows me to say goodbye and move on.

    I think the default position for many is that things should stay the same or improve — we mustn’t age, we must get the next highest position/thing. By noticing the changes taking place around us without prejudice we might be better prepared when that ultimate change happens to people near. It works for me.

    • I am sorry for your many losses, Steven. I sense they have, somehow, strengthened you.

      I applaud your recognition that things change — and how it uniquely allows you to say goodbye and move on. There are many people who cannot or will not be open to this. And they wonder why they’re unable to cope and progress forward. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and perspectives here. That fact that they work for you may inspire others to think and act similarly.

  7. Reblogged this on View Pacific and commented:
    I’m reminded of a talk by Alan Watts I heard recently about the apparent paradox between letting go and living in each moment, versus enjoying our lives so richly that they’re burned into our memories and part of us. He added that it’s like riding a bicycle-to tip fully either way ends the ride! So, on we pedal feeling any loss of the past while still savoring each new moment.
    I sometimes find myself bouncing between joy and sadness when I see glorious sunsets or sunrises. They’re so thrillingly beautiful! Yay! I’ll never see another one like that. Wah!
    Still, I look forward to the next beautiful one.

  8. Hi Eric,

    I experienced my first loss when I was twelve, when my father who doted on me met with an accident. The memories are quite hazy but that made me numb to any other kind of loss. When somebody grieves at the death of a near one or a loved one, I wonder why they are grieving, my loss looms before me and seems to mammoth! The tears refuse to stand by.

    The life that I had to lead after this loss made me a mountain but all those emotions that I kept under warps, during my impressionable years, do flow now into my poetry…still time has not healed that loss. Time can never heal, it only makes us understand how to deal with our emotions, it only fills the chasms with some momentary joys, which remind us all the more how unfair life can be, it only makes us more resilient.

    • Loss can be so devastating, Balroop, as was yours. When we are younger and (to your word) impressionable, we don’t have the life skills and experience to deal with something so significant. And as adults we know how damaging holding back our tears, fears and emotions can be.

      I like your word choice “resilient.” Some of us are more so than others, yet many choose to be with their loss, to process it, and to eventually move on. As unfair as life can be, I actually know people who have given loss all the time they felt it needed and moved on. In this respect I believe time can heal. The degree to which it heals is a variable.

      Thank you for your always thoughtful contributions to these threads.

    • Agreed, Colleen, loss is always present. As long as we don’t allow it break us in the long run, I believe we have a good chance to not only cope with it but to perhaps, be better prepared for when it next presents. Awareness can yield some neat ‘stuff.’

    • Indeed, we ought to be moving ahead. In due course. And this timeline varies widely for people. Your words are accurate: “what is gone is gone.” Though we can certainly carry cherished memories forward. Appreciate your adding to this conversation.

  9. Loss is personal and dealt with in such a way. I’ve found dwelling on the loss makes it much more difficult. If one is able to find comfort in memory (when the loss is a person) without dwelling it is helpful. As you put it surrendering to the situation works.

    • True, Suzi. Dwelling, wallowing, being endlessly mired in a loss, is not a state in which one ought to spend more than personally needed time. Thank you for raising this because I believe there are some who think or feel they must relegate themselves to an indefinite place of dwelling. Your experience, wisely, suggests otherwise.

  10. Great encouragement and I love #4! Also I think even those of us who do believe that someone else is in control are sometimes ‘taught’ that we should just be ok right away. I would just say that the grieving process takes as long as it takes, no one-size-fits-all timeline for people. But at the same time, having that faith that there is a bigger plan and then truly trusting it will lead to healthier, happier days sooner than later. Always enjoy your posts, Eric. Have a good day!

    • No way, “just be okay right away.” Good point, Brian. Your “one-size-fits-all” timeline doesn’t fit everyone, is spot on. I concur, for those who have faith and trust, they are big support elements. Lots of good ‘stuff’ to chew on here, Mr. Williamsen. Thanks for adding to the exchange and a good day returned!

  11. At times, I feel as if I have lost too many loved ones, and I don’t think I can handle one more loss. But, I have found that while the grief becomes a part of life, I have chosen to focus on what they brought to my life. I am better because they were in my life. While I struggle from time to time, I can usually bring myself back to the gift they gave me while with me.

    • I am sorry for the losses you have experienced, April. In the significance of each, I’m unsure if there is too few or too many. Each is immeasurable. As other readers have shared, celebrating a loss and remembering it/them, seems a much healthier focus than choosing to not move on. Bringing yourself “back” by focusing on the gifts they gave you, is beautiful.

    • Kind comments, Amanda. You are the first to actually acknowledge that loss is “inevitable.” You gently highlight that we choose to honor, grieve and grow from it; each being a positive focused view. Thanks for a thoughtful read and your touching words.

    • I recall your losses, Cat and I am aware how deeply they affected you. It is encouraging to read that you chose to embrace grief, allowing you to make peace and slowly move forward. Onward, friend!

  12. I think you make an excellent point- that we tend to ignore loss until it hits home. I think this makes the loss even more painful, as we scramble because we are poorly prepared. I really liked this posting.

    • Thinking about loss rationally, which is not necessarily the state in which we actually deal with it, makes sense, Kim. Preparing for emotional loss and deep connection seems akin to planning for our own passing. We rarely invest time and thought into either. This (yours) is a grounded view. Thank you.

  13. Number 3 is the key! “The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run.”
    The other tips are very important but I think number 3 is crucial to coming out the other side with sanity intact.
    Just like wounds to the skin, they have to be ‘allowed’ to heal or they never will, if the scab is continuously scraped off for another peek.
    Sensible post, as always, Eric. Maestro!

    • I agree with you, Frankie, #3 is very important, as challenging as it may be for some people. Your skin wounds analogy is spot on. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the word “sensible” to describe the post. I like that.

      Wishing you clarity and divine wisdom as you take time to sort through your priorities.

    • That light at the end of the tunnel… the fact that you know it is there seems healing on its own. I trust the light will become visible and reachable for you, when you are ready. In the meantime, please be at peace with your loss. Comfort yourself!

  14. Nice writing, thank you. I think it is important that we mourn, which is somewhat different than grief. We in our western world don’t exercise the act of mourning and it can be so helpful to our soul. Thank you for shedding some light on this very important topic, for it touches us all.

    • Thank you, WW, for citing the distinction between mourning and grieving. They are different. As we work through our emotions, feelings and the (il)logic of loss, grief is a natural response. When we grieve the bereaved becomes prepared for the longer act/process of mourning. Each stage serves an interwoven purpose. Again, to each their own. There is no one right or wrong way to deal with loss.

  15. Your approach/practice works for people, as well. Thank you for adding it to this exchange, totsymae. Yet, even if/when we choose to distance ourselves from people for fear of having to eventually deal with loss, does that truly diminish the significance of the loss? (Wondering rhetorically, here).

    • Knowing that you and your wife experienced both devastating loss and the “fertile void,” I am warmed that you have moved forward and share with others, the depth of your loss and how you, somehow, managed to fill the void. Thanks for commenting, Geo.

  16. Thanks for the follow and the wisdom shared in your post. Loss is universal and you are so sensitive to the profound impact it can have and how different it is even in its universality. An excellent written piece of compassion and wisdom.

  17. Hi Eric,

    My way to deal with loss is to prepare myself for it. Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to recite the following: “I am of the nature to grow old. I am of the nature to be sick. I am of the nature to die. I am of the nature to lose my loved ones.” This constant awareness of our and others’ impermanence, helps me to appreciate those I care about in this moment. Fully celebrating connections and love while I have them. Then, as I lose someone I care about, I have no regret and I can enjoy how they are still a part of me, how they are still present and available in this moment. That is Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on interbeing.

    Thanks for the follow of my blog! I hope you find posts inspiring and encouraging on your path of mindfulness and compassion.

    • The man’s teachings are profound and beautiful. And you have succinctly summarized and shared them here. Thank you, Elly. When considered, preparation — in many areas — is so often useful. Unfortunately, people don’t always see both its necessity and value. Preparation helps to alleviate pain and loss just as it can serve to heighten anticipation and favorable outcomes.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am looking forward to reading your insights and reflections. Namaste.

    • The odd thing is, many of the matters on which I write, aren’t overwhelming. It’s just that people often tend to make things more complex than they are or they need to be. With this post and subject, I do acknowledge loss as overwhelming and lingering, sometimes indefinitely. Yet I feel in most situations, one can find a positive or constructive perspective. We simply need to want to and see it through that lens. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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