“Everyone at some point will suffer a loss – the loss of loved ones, good health, a job. It’s your desert experience – a time of feeling barren of options, even hope. The important thing is not to allow yourself to be stranded in the desert.” ~ Patrick Del Zoppo
Loss is a defining characteristic of life and will touch all living things on this earth. Yet, we will never get used to it. As hard as it is to go through and much as we don’t like it, it is woven into the very fabric of who we are as human beings and what it means to live the human experience. It ranges from relatively uncomplicated and straightforward to complex and mysterious. It is common to us all but each person’s journey with it will never be duplicated. It happens in the broad context of a life with all its history, relationships, present circumstances, and future plans. It takes on meaning in accordance with each life story. The more meaning it has, the more powerful the impact.
It’s common for people to feel alone with a loss, even when they have others close by supporting them. Because each experience is so unique it’s impossible for any of us to truly know what someone else is going through. In this sense we are enclosed in our experience and separated from others. At some level we know that we are walking a strangely solitary path that is taken by everyone. It’s another of life’s many paradoxes.
There are other reasons that contribute to this sense of being alone. Some of them are:
- Loss is painful and we instinctively recoil. We withdraw into ourselves and a wall of silence is our protective shell.
- Some losses are so profound that they seem to defy expression. We have no language for them. When they are beyond words we become mute.
- We hold a deeply negative attitude about loss in our society. In our competitive world it is a feared, humiliating, shameful enemy capable of destroying us. “Loser” is a term of derision. Media bombards us with this perception and it easily generalizes to become how all loss is perceived, no matter what it is. To steer clear of the painful emotions associated with it, the easiest thing to do is not talk about it. Society encourages us to keep quiet and rewards us when we do.
- Death is the loss most openly acknowledged by society. Many others go unrecognized. Examples are miscarriage, dementia and amputation. These are known as disenfranchised losses because they fall outside society’s narrow view and do not register much beyond the surface of social consciousness. Losses that have a social stigma attached to them such as the ending of a career due to misconduct are even more invisible. Disenfranchised losses are significant and entirely legitimate. Like all meaningful losses, they need to be acknowledged, grieved and healed.
- Loss comes in multiples. It’s talked about it in the singular – “I’m going through a loss” – but it’s never just one. An event causes a primary loss but there are always secondary ones that come along with it. Awareness of the broad scope of “a loss” does not run deep in our social consciousness. It typically goes unseen by everyone except those closest to the one going through it.
Overwhelming ranks high on the top ten list of words people use to describe loss, and understandably so! We struggle with this aspect of the human experience more than any other. Coming to terms with it is a critical aspect of transitioning through major life change. It makes no difference whether a transition was set in motion by an unexpected adversity or whether it was thoughtfully planned, loss will always be there. It brings an ending and automatically something new begins. The most important thing to know is that your loss, whatever it may be, is valid and needs to be acknowledged. Then the grieving process can begin and you can start to find your way to the brighter days of renewal.