We think of losses as something we quickly address and then dismiss. But the more significant the loss, the more the impact it has on every area of our life: social, financial, personal, family, friendships, and our past as well as our future.
Loss asks the question, where do I go from here?
There are many books on the market that speak to that early universal pain. We can experience a multitude of emotions: shock, anger, fear, anxiety, relief, shame, guilt, etc. Our pain will gradually recede as life demands we engage again to pay the bills and feed our families. But little information is offered to help us create a new roadmap moving forward.
Christmas: a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules we find ourselves in. But Christmas is more than a nice diversion – a blip on the radar screen of our hectic lives.
For a moment in time, we escaped the drudgery, the pressures, anxiety, and uncertainties.
For a moment in time, we celebrated with one another and shared gifts.
For a moment in time, we humbly knelt before the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate.
For a moment in time, we laid down our heavy burdens of doubt and fear and unanswered questions.
And now Christmas is over for another year: the torn wrappings stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup, bows packed away to use again next year. Families have returned home, and we collapse in an easy chair, take a deep sigh and try to relax.
Earlier this month, the Skagit Valley Chorale gave two performances at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon, WA. Joining with our 100+ singing group was a band that complemented so many of the pieces we sang.
It isn’t just the audience who enjoys our performances, but those of us who are a part of this chorale and who love the opportunity to sing under the direction of our talented and gifted director, Dr. Adam Burdick.
It is the tradition that at the end of our Christmas concerts the members of the chorale go down into the aisles of the audience to sing our closing number, “Peace, Peace.” It is a moving experience for both singers and those in attendance.
A friend of mine who came for the first time to one of our concerts told me afterwards that when we sang “Peace, Peace” in the aisles surrounding them on all sides, it was like having an “invisible blanket of peace wrapped around me.”
No matter where we are in our grief journey, or how long ago our loved one died, when holidays come, we are reminded of how special they were in our lives.
How can we possibly celebrate the holidays without them?
To help understand what it means to celebrate our loved ones, let me share a personal story.
When my husband and I moved to Washington, it was because we wanted to spend our retirement years enjoying boating in the San Juan Islands. We moved into a community where others also loved cruising, joined their yacht club and spent many happy hours with people who became good friends.
When my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, without a moment’s hesitation, a friend started a list of people who would be willing to take him to his radiation treatments 5 days a week.
I was asked once if I thought the only way we would discover God was through pain or loss.
I’ve thought a lot about that. Surely it doesn’t take tragedies to experience God. And yet, I think it does. Maybe it’s only when we are overwhelmed, broken, and “poor in spirit” – when we cannot find the resources within ourselves – that we are ready to acknowledge our need for God.
We are physically born in pain. And perhaps that is the only way we can be born spiritually as well.
Pain wears many faces: the pain of sorrow and loss, emptiness, and disillusion; the pain of guilt and shame, rejection and abandonment. Within all forms of emotional pain, we find ourselves struggling to find the answers and resources we need to satisfy our yearning.
When we have lost something of great importance, our lives are forever changed.
With most unwanted changes, we make an adjustment and move on; life resumes and basically remains the same. It is when something of great significance and deep emotional attachment has been taken away, that our life becomes radically changed.
Losses are personal.
Nobody but you can determine how important a loss is. A child who has just lost a beloved pet or toy experiences sadness at a deeper level than we might think. Their attachment to that pet and toy was extremely important to them. It is essential that we respect a child’s grief and help them through it instead of dismissing it.
“This can’t be happening. There was so little warning. He had been so healthy. There was no time to prepare. I’m numb. What do I do now?”
This begins Chapter 1 in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.
Our first reaction of any kind to an unexpected tragedy, crisis, or loss is usually shock and disbelief. We are unprepared for the enormity of how our world has been turned upside down and inside out.
The world we knew has just ended and we struggle to accept what is happening. Denial storms into our existence as we try to wrap our brain around this loss.
Even when we are prepared for a loss that is the result of a long-term illness, it brings with it sadness and sorrow. The illness itself might have been premature and unexpected. They were too young to get sick; he was so healthy, etc. Whether we are prepared or not, grief demands its own time frame to work through the tangles of disbelief and unreality.
What situation do you find intolerable or unbearable – job, marriage, family concerns, health, etc.?
Perhaps you are trying to become more flexible as you age, adjusting to life as it is today instead of what used to be.
I listen to the poignant stories of people who are struggling to make ends meet, or overcome the loss of a loved one, or are re-fitting life to meet new health concerns. I include myself in many of these stories. And I tell myself as I tell others:
Nothing will change or get better until we first accept.
People’s first response when I say let go and accept is, “You must be kidding. Accept that my life is falling apart – accept that I have run into another setback?”
Life is going great when bam! The earth quakes and a landslide comes tumbling down, burying everything you had worked so hard on.
And without warning, as if on some internal cue, you are assaulted with doubts and misgivings. Buried under an avalanche, hidden from view, out of sight are all the things you have accomplished. You no longer consider and appreciate all the things you have done and are capable of doing. The rubble is not just life happening, it is a reminder of the bad choices you made and how inadequate you are.
In the blink of an eye, an old and unwanted visitor has just returned.
The voice is loud and clear. “You just won’t learn – you will never amount to anything, no matter how hard you try.”
What words do you use that lift another up or tear them down?
Words! They become the paint and paintbrushes to open the windows of our soul. They are the toolboxes of our brain used to convey our thoughts and innermost feelings.
We construct and sculpt conversations with creativity and imagination in order to share with another how we feel – to tell our stories. We want others to understand the difficulties we are going through and emphasize with our losses. We want them to be happy for us and rejoice with us our successes.
Words become the connecting tissue, linking old experiences with the new, melding together the past with what we are experiencing today.