From a Lonely Lane of Loss to Your Garden of Gain
Of the many events which we experienced in life, loss and its accompanying grief is often the most difficult to process and resolve. Indeed, the loss of a loved one is permanent, yet so many individuals find themselves entrenched in their sorrow, so much so that daily living becomes a challenge they prefer not to face. The reminders of the absence of one so near and dear for so many years can be strong, stark, and even paralyzing, leaving one to wonder how to proceed in life, now in the apparent state of loneliness.
The Initial Impact of Loss
The dichotomy of individual beings seeking communion and connection with other humans can never be fully understood; each person enters and exits this world on their own timeline, as unique as our fingerprints and snowflakes. It is our good fortune to traverse the paths and lanes of life with other people living during our lifespan; some of them, such as family, are long term companions during our sojourn on Earth, while most others we meet during our travels.
While each relationship evolves its own depth and level of involvement, most people have one special person, their soulmate or true love or whatever we wish to label it, which is deemed the most precious of all relationships. When that relationship is lost, the equanimity of the survivor also seems to have departed upon that passing. The normalcy of everyday living has been disrupted, overturned, and a new normal must ultimately be built in the void.
In the meanwhile, confusion, grief, and shock rise to the forefront, often creating a period of inaction, that essential time to take it all in. Whether or not there was time to prepare for the loss, no matter how one plans and prepares for such an eventuality, its actuality is always more difficult to contend with than you can imagine until it happens.
Coping With Loss
Everyone must find which tools work best for them when coping with loss. Some of the more common methods to face loss include:
Acknowledge the Pain
Denying the emotional and even physical pain which accompanies loss does not make it goes away; in fact, attempting to bury your pain can lead to illness and stress
Expect the Unexpected
Unplanned and unwanted outbursts of tears, grief, or even other emotions like anger, can and will occur; being aware that such reactions will occur won't stop them but helps you understand it as a normal part of the grieving process
Focus on Self-Care
Holing up in the house, sleeping away the days and nights, or remaining generally listless, gives you too much time to dwell on your loss; don't quit your exercise and good eating routines and if you don't have them, consider improving your lifestyle to improve your mood
Seek External Support
Joining support groups with others experiencing similar difficulties and struggles is an important reminder that, though you are now "alone," you never really are alone as others can empathize with your situation and hurt
Grief is Unique
It is extremely important you do not beat up on yourself because you're "grieving in the wrong way"; each person, and each situation, is unique, and their process of grieving is equally different
Differentiating Grief and Depression
While sharing similar symptoms, depression tends to be more long term and more persistent, whereas grief will dissipate over time and may come and go in unexpected waves
Responses to Loss
In the late 1960's, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross formulated her now-popular "Five Stages of Grief" which was intended to help grieving individuals to understand and possibly overcome their reactions to loss. This was later refined to be considers "Five Responses to Grief," which do not occur in any necessary order nor does every person experience every response during their grieving process (reaffirming the "Grief is Unique" truism).
Listed below (alphabetically, to emphasize there is no specific response order) are classic responses to loss, as originally developed by Kübler-Ross:
- Acceptance - where everyone wants to be and knows they "should" be
- Anger - it is entirely reasonable to be angry at the unfairness of life and death
- Bargaining - unfortunately, it's not "Let's Make A Deal" and there is nothing but disappointment behind all the doors
- Denial - similar to bargaining, perhaps more futile, because pretending is leaving a state of reality for a desired dream
- Depression - as mentioned earlier, depression is actually a response and if it becomes the predominant response, treatment is recommended
Also keep in mind these varying responses will rise and fall randomly and sporadically during the grieving process. Just because you reach the stage of acceptance does not mean are through with the other responses. It is entirely reasonable for a grieving individual to honestly accept a loss and to immediately experience a surge of anger at the unfairness and pain of it all.
Traversing the Lane of Loss Into the Garden of Gain
There is no road map each person is given at birth. We wander, at times it appears aimlessly, in search of love, joy, meaning, connection. Finding such qualities within another person who is then your companion is perhaps the richest treasure one could desire in life. Certainly, life is not a random transaction derived from chaos, as is proven every moment, all over the world, because love, joy, meaning, and connections are endlessly made, kept, nurtured, and matured.
However, life is a never-ending cycle, through which all living beings, sentient or otherwise, journey. For us sentient creatures, our capacity to experience and recall emotions from the past, creates beautiful dreams and tragic remembrances. Recent losses of our beautiful dreams throb within our hearts and behind our eyes with an insistence, but perhaps a purpose also courses through our veins as we traverse the lane of loss.
That purpose is the permanence of the love, joy, meaning, and connection you developed and shared with loved ones. As you step back from your grief, step into the still beating and warm memory of those who have departed, look out at your life from their eyes. When the realization dawns that, just as you would appreciate the honor of grief upon departure, you also hope and pray that you also planted the seeds of your love and reliance so deeply within their heart that, though the journey forward may be somewhat quieter, it is neither lonely nor empty. The riches of memory, the treasures of moments lived together, the music of their laughter, the radiance of their smiles, and their tenderness of their gaze blossom within your personal garden of gain.
In this sense, loss is not permanent, but transient, as the ties and bonds strengthen and deepen over time. If loss is the hole one feels, it is also the base in which to plant the seeds of new gain, discover, love, and appreciation of those we will always love. From that empty hole may spring unknowable bounty and pleasure.
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one and are seeking bereavement counseling, at Mary Shull Counseling you have a friend and confidante ready to join you in your journey to new gardens of gain and delight. Your first step on your new path is to contact me today.