Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Loss comes in many contexts and it can affect us in subtle and simultaneously, profound ways. This month, it's particularly hard to write about this as it comes on the heel of recent deaths that have affected so many of us. #RIPNipseyHussle
Death is an immense loss, whether expected or unexpected, it forces us to examine our own mortality and to acknowledge our powerlessness in the greater context of the universe. An ending... any ending... can elicit a response more amorphous, and abstract than can be put into words.
Endings can of course encompass more than just the loss of life. Endings include the loss of loving relationships, the end to an identity, or the transition from what was to what will now be.
So how do we deal with these literal endings, these figurative deaths, you might ask? We have to allow ourselves to grieve.
Grief is the ways in which we react to and process loss. It has multiple faces and stages and can look like confusion, denial, anger, disbelief, sadness and/or guilt. It can also look like nonchalance, apathy, indifference, or distancing. Check out the Grief Cycle diagram below. Keep in mind that you can start in any stage, repeat stages, and maybe even feel some of these things simultaneously. What I want to point out is that all of this is normal and when you allow yourself to feel (to feel whatever it is you feel inside) you eventually will end up in stages 5 & 6, which is acceptance of your new reality and a return to a meaningful life.
Grief gets complicated and can even destroy us when we don't allow ourselves to feel. Often folks become stuck in a space of avoidance or suppression. “Selected coping strategies can be the difference between successful or unsuccessful adaptation. Some coping strategies predict improved adjustment and adaptation whereas others (e.g., avoidance, withdrawal) lead to worse adjustment and maladaptation.” (Boxer, Sloan-Power, Mercado, & Schappell, 2012)
Suppression is the act of keeping in any outward expression of feeling and it will eventually lead to leakage (picture a leaky faucet). Emotional leakage can show up as angry outbursts, low moods, anxiety, even substance abuse. Even worse, we all know a leak doesn't stay a leak if you don't fix it... It's just the warning sign of what's coming. If you don't handle your emotional leak, trust it will turn into a flood!
If you have experienced a loss (any loss), the best way to deal is sometimes the hardest way:
Acknowledge what has been taken away
Express your thoughts / express your feelings
Be patient and compassionate with yourself
If you are trying to do these things but find yourself getting stuck in any of the grief stages for too long, or think you have a leaky faucet, connect with a therapist to help you get "unstuck" so you can continue to move through the stages of grief. That is an excellent goal for therapy and therapy is highly effective for processing loss. Lastly, trust that no matter how much pain you are in today, at the end of this process is acceptance and new meaning...