Loss is an inevitable part of life. We experience loss in many ways, beyond the death of a loved one. For example, we can experience loss with our health, relationships that end, or with our career.
Impermanence is the nature of life. Our world is always changing; sometimes that means we permanently lose what has had a meaningful presence to us.
As is our nature, like almost every other mammal, we are built for attachments at the neurological level (oxytocin, vasopressin, etc). Although our primary attachments are likely to people, we can be attached to more than just people: ideas, activities, objects. Adjusting to a loss that has been a big part of our lives affects us at a core level. There is a piece of our world that is missing. Some of the thoughts that we habitually think are no longer relevant; what we normally expect every day will not happen; the behaviors we have routinely engaged in will not happen. All of these changes affect how we feel.
What can be even more startling, buried under the actual loss, is being faced with the reality that our worlds can change so quickly; what we depend and rely on can disappear. Although we might not be consciously aware of it, I think that “losing” in and of itself—separate from whatever the actual loss is—is unsettling and can threaten our safety and security. We have beliefs about who we are, how our world is, and what our future will be like. We function every day according to these beliefs. When a chunk of this falls out, especially when the loss is unexpected, it can really shake us. We have to get through the days, mourn the loss, and re-work our worlds.
When we re-work our worlds, it needs to be with awareness and intention. We need to reconstruct and put together a world that accommodates the loss, but also so the loss does not steal from our future. Every loss can be a learning and growing experience. Learning and growing from a loss does not take away the hurt and the pain. However, approaching the loss from a learning perspective helps us to recalibrate our world in a way that is healthier and better for us, as opposed to developing a world that is bitter, pessimistic, and cynical. Avoiding re-working our worlds isn’t helpful; this results in being stuck. We can also choose to look at the glass half full: we had something to lose. We will always have the memories. We got to experience *that* (whatever it was) in our life. It wasn’t forever, which would be divine, but we did have it—and it was good while it was. Appreciate it, savor the memories, feel the pain, and then focus on creating your new world.
We are behooved to engage life in a way that appreciates the present, expects impermanence, knows there will be pain, and knows it will lessen; we also need to know that we can adjust after a loss--our worlds are not over, but have shifted. Being mindful of these these things and practicing them can offer comfort and peace in a life that has changes and losses. Every loss provides a lesson, and an opportunity.
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Ashley Belsinger, M.S.