I wanted to take some time to write about loss because it is pervasive in our lives and yet many people do not stop to acknowledge it or even think about it. Here, I am not just talking about the big, obvious losses like when a loved one passes away. I am talking about the perhaps hundreds of small losses that we go through that alter our sense of identity and cause us grief, but that we too often do not take time out of our lives to acknowledge as losses.
Types of losses:
Some of you may be familiar with the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, which itemizes 43 life events which are known to cause stress. In case you do not know, here they are:
- Death of a spouse
- Marital separation
- Death of a close family member
- Personal injury or illness
- Dismissal from work
- Marital reconciliation
- Change in health of family member
- Sexual difficulties
- Gain a new family member
- Business readjustment
- Change in financial state
- Death of a close friend
- Change to different line of work
- Change in frequency of arguments
- Major mortgage
- Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
- Change in responsibilities at work
- Child leaving home
- Trouble with in-laws
- Outstanding personal achievement
- Spouse starts or stops work
- Begin or end school
- Change in living conditions
- Revision of personal habits
- Trouble with boss
- Change in working hours or conditions
- Change in residence
- Change in schools
- Change in recreation
- Change in church activities
- Change in social activities
- Minor mortgage or loan
- Change in sleeping habits
- Change in number of family reunions
- Change in eating habits
- Minor violation of the law
Each of these items is assigned a numerical value and, depending on your score, that tells you your chance of becoming ill or being negatively affected by stress. If you want to easily find out your score, check out the tool at the bottom of the page when you click here. You can just click on the buttons and find out your score.
Positive life events can be stressful too!
What you might notice is that some items on this scale are positive things such as vacation and Christmas. The key, however, is that these items are all about change and events that give us time to ruminate about change.
Change requires adjustment and an identity change…
Change can be a wonderful thing or it can be a terrible thing, but it requires an adjustment. And, more significantly, it requires that we alter our identity. For example, if you were to get pregnant, assuming you were hoping to have a child, this would be wonderful news. However, it would still be a loss in the sense that you would lose the identity of being a non-parent. You gain a new identity of being a parent, but that does not instantly soothe the loss.
Another type of loss might be when you realize your parents are aging and they now need your support and assistance. Maybe their personalities have changed too. Your relationship with them may be different. While you have not lost your parents yet, you have suffered a loss.
Why acknowledge loss?
Loss is a normal and natural part of life, but it is also a very stressful part of life. When we take time to acknowledge and process losses, we give ourselves room to grow and to mourn our old identities so that we can take on a new identity.
The alternative to this is just to sort of bounce from loss to loss to loss — many people do this and then wonder why they are suddenly burnt out or very ill or depressed.
Is it true that, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living? I would say that the unexamined life is very challenging to live. It leads us down some very dark alleys sometimes. The people I have met who have suffered the most loss have often turned to drugs, alcohol, overspending, gambling, overeating (guilty), and many other areas in order to avoid the pain that hounds them. And, more often than not, at the root of this pain is a complex series of losses.
So, that’s nice. How do we deal with all of this loss?
The first step is acknowledging the loss. Each loss. One at a time. You can start by making a list of your losses, but don’t try to actually deal with them all at once. Keep the list in a private notebook or journal. Then, the “heavy lifting” begins.
First choose the loss that you think has caused you (or is still causing you) the most pain and seek the help of a counsellor, psychologist, pastor, or trusted friend. Examine who you were before the loss and who you are now. Consider Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These are not stages to work through one at a time. One day you might feel angry and the next day, you might feel depressed as you gradually come to terms with your feelings of grief.
Let your subconscious help…
What is really amazing about the human mind is that once you bring the problem of loss to the forefront of your conscious mind, your unconscious mind will start to work on it as well. You might find you have vivid dreams as your brain works through issues during your sleep. This is a wonderful thing because it means you are processing your grief.
When you are going through hell, keep going. -unknown
There is a famous quote by an unknown author (some thought it was Churchill but this was disproved): “When you are going through hell, keep going.” I like the quote because I think that is what working through grief is like. You might wonder WHY you would ever want to dwell on depressing topics, but the only way to get through to the other side is to actually go through the experience fully, to be completely present and feel all of your emotions, good and bad.
Additional ways to process loss
There are more ways to process loss and I do not suggest these instead of the above, but AS WELL as the above. In fact there are probably ways I have not even thought of and I am open to suggestions in the comments below. However, what I was going to say was that finding a creative outlet can be a very peaceful and beautiful way to process grief.
Creativity can come in many forms. For some people, it might be drawing or sketching, doodling, cake decorating, writing stories, writing poems, writing in a journal. For others, it might be working on a car and rebuilding an engine from scratch.
One Continuous Mistake
Personally, I like to draw as a creative outlet. The reason I mention it is because I am really quite a terrible artist. I have no training. My hand is a bit shakey. And my “eye” is not very good. So my drawings are abstract and riddled with “mistakes”. However, whenever I hate what I am drawing (which happens regularly), I take a deep breath inwards and say to myself, “one continuous mistake”. This reminds me of the Buddhist teaching that life is one continuous mistake, a concept that I find enormously comforting. The Buddhist concept is explained very well on this website, so if you are interested in learning more about it, please click here.
The continuous mistake of my drawing efforts mirrors the continuous mistake of my life and it reminds me that life is not meant to be perfect. In the West, we grow up with images of “perfection”: television families that often have no significant issues, Disney fairy tales, etc.
However, the reality is that we are flawed people born to flawed families. The world is flawed and I think it is fairly safe to say that nobody’s life really goes as planned. One continuous mistake. If we fight it, it is horrifying. If we embrace it, we can find peace and beauty in it.
Loss is a natural part of life because we are constantly changing and the world and people around us are also in constant flux. However, we can learn to cope with loss and we can learn to be at peace with loss. We can build new identities and learn to be flexible and realize that we will have to keep building ourselves up again and again and again in this continuous mistake that is life.
I will leave you with a few book recommendations that can help you process grief and loss. I like to include a disclaimer that these are my affiliate links, so if you choose to purchase, I get a small commission, but there is no additional cost to you. I hope these are helpful to you. I am recommending a couple of workbooks as well as other books because I think it is important to actively engage in recovery work as opposed to simply passively reading a book.
Sometimes, with self-help books, I like to read them through once and then go through them a second time with a journal or notebook and do the exercises. Please do whatever works best for you!
- The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith
- Progressing Through Grief: Guided Exercises to Understand Your Emotions and Recover from Loss
- The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction: A Guide to Coping with the Grief, Stress and Anger that Trigger Addictive Behaviors
- On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
- Recovering from Losses in Life