“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” ― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The blinding truth is everyone is touched by loss. There is no place one can hide to escape loss. Just the act of hiding would mean losing something else. No one is immune, there is no vaccine. Loss has been, is and will always be woven throughout the various stages we pass through as we age.
We know life transitions from season to season and we eagerly accept such transitions when we perceive a benefit, but when we perceive a loss – well that is a horse of another color. In that case, we fight against change. We have a negative visceral reaction to change when we did not champion it, did not request or want it to happen.
Life: a delicate dance between perceived gain and loss
Life is a delicate dance between perceived gain and loss. In fact, loss is as much part of nature as is the Sun and the Moon and the Stars. Still, we do everything to push down or ignore the one true certainty of life – that everything, including ourselves, is impermeant. Impermanence is a natural law we must live with.
Did you know, in ancient times the Japanese used a calendar of 72 micro seasons to draw awareness to the constant state of flux we live in? Despite being the only animal that is aware of its own death, human nature is to avoid that the end game is that we “lose” everything, which sets us up for tremendous suffering as we confront the changing seasons.
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Expected or unexpected losses
Losses can be categorized as either expected or unexpected and inherent in that assumption is that expected losses are easier to manage, prepare for and recover from. Is this really true to life?
Throughout my wife’s 11-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, I was told more than once that she was approaching her last months. Yet, when she signalled to me to remove life-sustaining care and quickly passed, I felt the gut-punch of loss that makes you lose your breath. Was I ready? No. This is not saying that one type of loss is any more or any less damaging than another, it is to say that loss is a sucker punch in the gut regardless. The gravity of loss felt is directly correlated with the importance placed on that which has been lost.
The many types of losses
There are many types of losses, not just death, that can cause the bubbling up of painful emotions. These painful emotions negatively impact how we function daily, how we show up in our lives and more importantly, impair our ability to move forward.
When we suffer a loss, we feel attacked. Mother nature installed within us this tricky little defence program called “fight-or-flight”. Once triggered, our emotional brain takes control and our rational, prefrontal cortex gets tuned out. We get brain fog.
The grief response
The thing is that any type of loss can trigger both the fight-or-flight as well as a grief response. What comes to mind when I use the word grief? Death, right?
In fact, grief is commonly defined as intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. Despite it stating “especially” we have come to think of grief as exclusive to death and therefore do not allow the healthy processing of many types of losses suffered throughout our lives. I dare say that the definition needs to be broadened to fully assimilate the depth and complexity of loss.
With that said, there is something I have come to realize, both through my personal journey as well as working with many clients battling to recover from loss, and that is that at its core L.O.S.S. is a sensation of:
Regardless of suffering the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a divorce, the loss of freedom, mobility, or your home, all loss ends with a damaging blow to one’s identity. Part of the loss story is the vanishing of your identity. This creates feelings of uncertainty and mistrust about life. Fears for the future begin to surface because your story needs to be rewritten.
Despite our mantras of move on, get over and let go, a loss leaves an everlasting impact. It is quickly woven into the fabric of who we are following as evidenced by how old losses continually magnify and complicate our ability to deal with future losses. In other words, we never move on from loss. Losses create a direct impact on our feelings, our thoughts, our body, our understanding, our beliefs, our direction, and our relationships.
Rebuilding from loss
The amazing thing about being human is we can choose what to do after loss. We can decide to examine the impact of the loss and consciously rebuild our lives. Life is meant to be lived moving forward, making plans, and focusing on new horizons but many times we find obstacles which are nothing more than the fallout from the last devastating blow from loss.
I want to bring your attention to something that I believe could drive the point of moving forward home. The English standard version of the beginning of Psalm 23:4 is “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. The International standard version is “Even though I walk through the darkest valley”. What is common in both versions? The main point and that is to walk through. No, you are not supposed to stop, pitch a tent, light a campfire, and look at the view in the “darkest valley” – you are supposed to walk through.
And to walk through this darkest valley constructively we need to:
grapple with Guilt,
let go of Expectations and
As someone that has made the walk more than once, I can tell you it is possible and extremely rewarding. I know it sounds contrary to how we are supposed to think. I am not saying that you get over the loss, I am not saying you forget that which was important to you. I am saying that you have the right to rebuild your life and be happy. I have also been privileged to see others walk through and find their way to new horizons. Again, it is possible. I believe it is our purpose to live life forward – despite the losses we carry with us.
“Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.” – Seneca
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