We all encounter many losses throughout our lives, both big and small. We can lose anything, really: a job, a home, an animal, a relationship, a dream, a hope, a stage of life. And the thought of encountering those losses can feel terrifying, and, many times, is terrifying, because not only is a loss, any loss, painful, it also requires that we change in order to heal. And change can be scary, especially when you are operating without the thing, person, thought, or concept that you have lost.
Recently I lost my brother, and his loss has been immensely painful for me. In the midst of that pain, I also recognize that moving forward can be powerful and transformative. Throughout my own healing process, I have begun to contemplate what it is to heal well. When we experience a loss, what is it that helps us to move forward? What is it that increases our resilience? How do we come to not only heal, but to heal well?
And so, I have begun to put together a list. This is a list of things that are true for me, and have proven to be true for many others that I have encountered. However, healing well is far from a one-size-fits-all process. Take what is true for you, and let the other stuff go, because we are all different. We all can, though, experience losses, both big and small, and choose step forward and be transformed in the process.
1. Feel your grief
Whatever the loss, feel your grief. If you ignore it or push it away, it will likely come back stronger and in a different manner. Emotional pain is hard to feel, and it is a choice we have to make to let ourselves experience and truly feel it. That is a brave choice. Choose to experience it, choose to grieve. It is in allowing yourself to experience your emotions that you begin the healing process.
2. Surround yourself with support
One of the most healing things is to simply be with others. Talk to them about your loss, or don't. Tell stories about what used to be, or don't. Talk about what may be to come, or don't. But, whatever you do, be with others. They will be a reminder of all that you have not lost, of all that is constant, of the strength of the human spirit, and of your own strength. In the midst of a loss, being with others helps to remind us that moving forward, that life, will still be good, despite the grief.
3. Integrate the loss into who you are
We may or may not be able to find meaning in the loss. But, we can integrate the loss into who we are and who we will become.
Was it a person you lost? Ask yourself: What were the qualities of that person that you want to carry on? How has this loss impacted who you are as a person? Who will you be now because of it?
Was it a job you lost? Ask yourself: What did I learn of myself at that job? What will I miss from it? How did it cause me to be different? And how can I bring those good qualities into my new job? How can it inform my decisions about future jobs and about my career?
Is it a life stage (think 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, etc) that you are mourning? Ask yourself: What were the great things about that life stage? How can I celebrate them? What will be the great things of my new life stage? What may some of the struggles be? How does experiencing the first life phase inform how I will live in the next stage of my life?
Ask yourself questions, and derive meaning from what you have learned from your experience. And, then, choose to have those answers help you develop into a better version of yourself. We choose to either integrate our losses into who we are and become better for it, or we choose to do nothing with our pain. Choose to become better. Choose to grow.
4. Do something positive with it
Losses are hard and they are very, very personal. Use your experience, your healing process, your loss, to do something positive. There will likely be someone (okay, many people) in your shoes, experiencing this same loss in the future. Maybe that "something positive" looks like creating a support group for people (and, hey, for yourself!) that have gone through or are going through a similar thing. Maybe it looks like simply being open and honest about your experience and your own pain so that others can be open and honest about theirs. Maybe it looks like starting a campaign, or raising awareness, or giving to a cause. Whatever it is, turn your pain into something that will lessen the pain of others and this will also, in turn, lessen your own pain.
5. Own the fact that it is a process
Grieving a loss is a process, even if it is a small loss, and it will ebb and flow. And you will be reminded of it 1 or 5 or 10 or 15 years down the road. Or tomorrow. And each time you are reminded of it, you will feel it again. Allow yourself to do so. It is part of the process. The grief will change, but just as the person, thing, or concept that you lost is integrated into who you are, the grief is too, to some extent. Own that fact and don't fight it. It is part of our humanness and we will ever be healing, both ourselves and each other.
If you are a person of faith, pray. Pray by yourself, with others, through writing, through drawing, through painting, through hiking, through running. Faith, prayer, and a community of faith can help us process our losses in ways that we would not have been able to otherwise. It helps us to see a bigger picture and to accept when the answers are mysterious. It helps us to connect with that with which we have lost, to be rooted in a higher power, and feel comfort and peace in the fact that we are not in control. So, if you are a person of faith, pray, pray, pray.