Throughout life, we will experience losses that drastically change our way of living. It isn’t the momentary losses of car keys or misplaced important papers; but life-altering events such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a childhood, our dreams, and expectations. An injury or chronic illness is losing life as we knew it. Life will not be the same.
Losses come in all sizes and packages; some with the normal progression of age – some with the unexpected telephone call in the middle of the night. Some began early in life when day after day we are yelled at or hit by an alcoholic parent leaving us feeling angry and worthless. Later in life, the depth of those early losses become more evident and we are required to process and grieve them.
How do we recognize them? How do we survive and move past them? How do we grieve them? How do we rise above them?
Here are some suggestions to work through losses, either current or from the past:
- Grieving losses requires honesty, courage and a willingness to work through the pain, uncertainty, and vulnerability. We will experience a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts. This is a time to reach out to others and accept the love and support of those who want to offer assistance. While we want and need time alone to process, we also need to know we are not alone.
- What unanswered questions, injustice or results of bad choices are you struggling with? At some point, we are required to come to terms with what has happened because there are no satisfactory answers. Coming to terms is an understanding that we might never have the answers to “why” or “what if.” It is an acceptance that lets us put to rest what has happened so we can move forward.
- Writing letters of goodbye can articulate what is in our heart and soul and help resolve and integrate our losses. Much like journaling but more direct, writing to our losses creates a way to speak to subjective things such as loss of dreams, lifestyle, and expectations we hold for life. Writing takes it out of the head, illuminating both thoughts and feelings. Write as you would any letter. Dear (dream, career, health, etc.) I remember what you meant to me, what I wanted, etc.
- Write a letter to your loved one who died. Tell them what they meant to you, the good times you spent together, how you are keeping your memories alive, what is the hardest part for you now, etc.
- Sometimes words cannot express what we are feeling. Art gives us the opportunity to say through fabric or clay or wood or paints what cannot be expressed adequately otherwise. Make a wall hanging or quilt or mold clay into a memorial of some kind. There are many art therapy classes available.
- It takes courage to survive a loss, to face our fears, pain, and anxieties about the future. Create a new narrative that focuses on possibilities. “I will be okay – I can make it. God will see me through this. I lost the love of my life, but I can move on and the memories will give me comfort and purpose moving forward. I’m okay; I am discovering more about myself and my abilities. When I reach out, my friends support me.”
- Focusing on what we can do instead of focusing on what we no longer have, allows us to explore and try new things. We no longer see ourselves as a victim, but a capable person able to create a new reality that holds both purpose and meaning. It is grabbing hold of hope and making it work for us, believing we can do this.
- Write a letter to yourself as if you were your best friend. In that letter put down all the things you are proud of, your accomplishments and strengths and why you believe you will not only survive but live again.
- We need other people. It is difficult to step out of our comfort zone. But by reaching out, we can join new social groups who share a commonality with us. Include times of laughter and fun together as you encourage and support each other’s company.
- Grieving major losses is a spiritual journey. As a Christian, God has been an integral part of my life who gave me the hope, strength, and comfort I needed in my darkest hours. When everything seemed at its worst, I found God’s outstretched hand reaching out to me, ready to embrace me with tenderness and understanding. We have a God, who not only understands and consoles but gives us the strength we need to move forward.
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