What is Loss?
Loss is the involuntary separation from something we have possessed and perhaps even treasured or someone we love and care about.
Everyone experiences a loss at some point in their lives - whether it is major or minor. Loss is universal.
Loss involves emotional pain. Significant losses produce emotional upheaval. Loss requires change and uncertainty and adjustments to situations that are new, unchosen, and uncertain.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you experience a loss. Minor losses, such as the loss of an opportunity, may bring feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger. Major losses can lead to similar feelings, overwhelming feelings, sadness, pain, or numbness.
You do not have to be "strong" after a loss to protect others around you. Expressing emotion is how the body and mind process and relieve the pressure of intense or overwhelming emotions. Crying or expressing other emotions does not make you less of a person. It is also not uncommon for people to feel numb. People who don't cry may still be feeling the effects of a loss. Everyone expresses their pain differently.
No one can tell you how you should feel about something. Anyone who tries to tell you that how you are feeling is wrong is wrong.
A loss can be a real or perceived event.
Types of Losses:
There are many ways and many reasons that a person may feel a loss. It could be due to a seemingly obvious cause such as:
- A good friendship breaking up
- Death of someone you love
- End of a romantic relationship
- Very serious illness of someone close to you
- Death of a pet
However, there are also seemingly less obvious reasons a person may feel a loss:
- Illness: Losing physical or mental functioning can be difficult to adjust to. Many people feel a loss of sense of self, a loss of their health or capabilities, and a loss in power.
- Moving away: Losing your sense of home is a powerful feeling.
- Graduation: This is often accompanied by a sense of loss of good times, being young, having fun, or the end of a phase in your life.
- Job loss: Losing a job can lead to feelings of loss of self, loss of power, loss of pride, and loss of security.
- Losing your home: Losing your home to fire, flood, natural disaster, or financial woes can be devastating.
Sudden Losses are losses that happen due to accidents, crimes, or suicides and that do not give us any time to prepare. These type of losses often shake us to the core, making us question the stability of life. The loss can feel immediate, severe, and agonizing. It can be difficult to sort through many emotions and feelings at the same time, and it may take time and space to adjust to the loss.
Predictable Losses, like those due to terminal illness, allow for us to prepare for the loss. This type of loss also creates two layers of grief: anticipatory grief (the grief related to the anticipation of the loss) and the grief related to the loss itself.
One reason loss is so difficult is that it can be permanent. As humans, our lives are so fluid that the idea of permanence can be difficult to grasp. Further, if your life is structured around the person, object, or concept lost, it can be difficult to adjust to new patterns and routines.
How to Cope with Loss:
Grief is one of the most common reactions to a loss. There are typically five stages of grief:
These stages may happen in any order, at any time, or not at all. Some people feel some but not all of the stages of grief. Because there is not a typical loss and each situation is different, it is hard to figure out what a "typical reaction" is. Some people feel:
- Shock and disbelief - difficulty accepting what happened, numbness.
- Sadness - one of the more common feelings experienced. This may also be emptiness, despair, loneliness, and crying.
- Guilt - things you said, shouldn't have said, or wanted to say, not preventing the death.
- Anger - feelings of anger and resentment.
- Physical symptoms - aches, pains, headaches, nausea, changes in sleep or weight.
However you are feeling, it can be overwhelming and out of control. One way to manage intense emotions is to observe them, describe them, and label them. Sometimes putting a name to your emotion can help you express it. Also remember that we experience emotions like a wave - the emotion will build, crest, and recede.
Talk to friends and family who love you and make you feel good about yourself. Lean on people who love you and care about you.
Don't expect that you're going to "get over it." The only way to "get over" a loss is to go through the stages of grieving. There's no reason to try to be the strong one - just let yourself feel however you feel.
Write about it. Sometimes the act of writing down how you're feeling can help solidify those feelings and help you to grieve your loss.
Let yourself feel the loss. The only way to get through a loss is to go through the stages of grief. You can't bypass it, no matter how much you'd like to. Sit with your feelings and acknowledge them.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor - someone who is trained to help you get through your grief.
Exercise - exercise releases endorphins, which are the "feel-good" hormones.
Don't minimize your own loss. If it was a loss, it was a loss. Losses are meant to be grieved.
Don't compare your loss to others' loss. It's apples and oranges. You feel a loss how you feel it, not how someone else feels it.
Be sure to take care of yourself. Go through your daily hygiene routines, get up, and do something.
IT'S OKAY TO BE SAD!
How to Support Those Who Have Gone Through a Loss:
Listen non-judgmentally. Even if you don't understand why the person feels a certain way, just listen.
Ask about the situation. Just because they're not talking about it, doesn't mean they don't want you to ask about it.
Be there for them. Even if it means taking care of small chores or calling a couple times a week, letting them know they have someone who cares around can do wonders.
Sit with them. Even if they don't want to talk about it, sometimes having someone nearby helps the person mourning the loss to know that they are not alone.
Ask how they are feeling. Acknowledging that they suffered a loss and allowing them to express their feelings can go a long way.
Remember their loss. Many people don't acknowledge a loss for fear that it might make the mourner feel badly, but remembering every year around the anniversary of the loss can make a huge difference.
Let them feel their feelings. It's in our nature to want to fix problems and tell people how they can fix their loss. But loss and feelings don't work that way.
Call them. Email them. Reach out to them. Keep reaching out, even if they don't respond.
Don't minimize their feelings.
Check in with the person on anniversaries, important dates, or around holidays. Often these are times when people reconnect with the pain of their loss.
Resources for Loss:
Grief: Coping with reminders after a loss - Mayo clinic article about dealing with the reminders of a loved one after a loss.
GriefNet: Where Grace Happens - group of over fifty email lists for people who have gone through specific types of loss. Excellent resource for those grieving a loss.
helpguide.org - website with comprehensive information about loss and grief.