Loss is embedded in the process of living. It happens to everyone and it is inevitable. There is no such thing as constant gain in our lives. Despite our wish to live in the security of abundance and perfect health, we necessarily must lose something, over and over again throughout our lives. Time itself eventually creates loss. We come into this world with everything to gain and leave it with everything to lose. And in between we go through a series of gains and losses, ups and downs. Learning to accept both is a sign of wellness, maturity and even wisdom.
Losses can be catastrophic, such as the death of a partner, parent, child or close friend, or they can be minimal, such as losing a favorite houseplant or finding the first dent in your new car. Obviously, we usually accept minor losses quite well, but major losses can rule our lives for years with feelings of helplessness, confusion and overwhelming sadness. If our losses are not handled adaptively, they can drain us of energy and interfere with our ability to live fully in the present. If we are not able to deal with our losses and then let them go, we can spend our lives under the spell of old issues and past relationships, living in the past and failing to connect with the experiences of the present.
There are many reasons why we may find it difficult to deal with losses. In the first place, contemporary society does not prepare us with adequate rituals and support to help us handle loss. We focus on gaining, acquisition and the promise of the future and there is little social support for grieving loss and letting go. Indeed, we often avoid those who suffer loss just at the time they need the most support. On a more personal level, we may have difficulty in coping with loss because we never gained the tools for accepting loss. If we have problems with self-esteem, unresolved anger, jealousy, depression, excessive dependency, or poor interpersonal boundaries, we may find it difficult to shoulder loss. When we experience a series of losses without resolving them as they come along, it may be difficult to handle yet another one.
The goal of the person dealing with loss is to move through the various stages of the loss process, to learn from and appreciate the impact of the loss, and to achieve closure so that life in the future can be experienced more fully with integrity, insight and wisdom. Here are a few suggestions that may prove helpful:
Don’t try to do it alone. Isolation is difficult for most people, but it is especially challenging for a person adjusting to loss. Seek out people who can be trusted and can listen well. During times of loss we need to talk and share the intense thoughts and feelings we experience when we are alone.
Submit to the loss in order to get through it. Some people try to ignore their losses and refuse to think about them. They may feel that time itself will heal things, but this is not necessarily true. Accept the loss as an important and necessary part of your life experience.
Realize that intense feelings are normal and expected. We may feel during times of loss that we are losing our minds and that we will never be the same again. Sometimes we have not achieved closure on past losses so that another loss may mean having to come to terms with both the present and previous losses. If you process the loss productively, these feelings will pass in time.
If possible, avoid making long-term decisions. Times of crisis decrease our ability to make rational decisions. We tend impulsively to come up with plans which we think will put an end to our pain – despite the ultimate consequences. Put important decisions off until you have achieved some closure on your loss and things have settled down to a more stable pattern.
Take care of your health. During our adjustment to loss we may be more prone to letting ourselves go and this opens the door to health problems and even accidents. Avoid alcohol and drugs during times of adjusting to loss. They may provide temporary relief, but you need to stay aware as you process loss, and abusing substances will forestall this goal.
We face numerous losses throughout the course of our lives. Some of our losses are built into the normal developmental milestones that are an expected part of the life process. Humans feel impelled to move on, to explore, and to grow. But each time we move on to a new phase of life, we must lose something of the old.