At a Loss

Grief.  Loss.  Sorrow.  Heartache.  A big gaping hole in your chest.  Call it what you wish, but we can all agree on one thing – it’s painful.  Note:  this is not one of those Cymbalta commercials.image

I live my life aware of the fact that every experience I have makes me who I am today. Whether in my own life or through the lives of those I cross paths with, I am constantly moved and affected by what I see, hear, feel, and experience, and often times, forever changed by it. In my work, I am surrounded by grief and loss on a regular basis, be it death, divorce, incarcerated parents, or children being neglected, abused, removed from their homes, placed in foster care…the list is endless.  Every so often, something even more devastating occurs: the death of a child. Despite having dealt with this type of crisis on numerous occasions, it is always one of my biggest struggles in my work.

We all have experienced loss, or will at some point in our lifetime. Whether it be a death of a loved one or a relationship, the accompanying pain is inevitable. No matter how much you try to run away from it, it will always catch up with you eventually. You can try to hide, but rest assured, it will find you. It’s true the only way past the pain is by going through it. Grief must be felt and dealt with before you can move on, and any attempts to squelch or shrug it off will undoubtedly cause it to hold on even tighter.

Being a distant relative of the brilliant Alfred Adler, I am always searching for the “why” in life experiences. The purpose behind everything that crosses my path.  I believe that everything happens for a reason. Whether it be as simple as a poor choice or as significant as a twist of fate, there is reason for it all. When it comes to dealing with loss, what I’ve found to help me cope with the pain is to find meaning. I once read of a man who was grieving the loss of his wife for several years, to the point where it was keeping him from functioning in his life. It wasn’t until he found meaning in her death that he was able to finally find peace with it. He came to realize that, by her passing first, she was spared the pain of losing him one day. Ever since reading that, it’s been a concept I not only use in my work, but in my own life.

A wise man once told me “It’s not the ones who move on from this world into the next that we have to worry about…it’s the ones they leave behind.” I have found truth in his words many times over since hearing them.

PoohThe truth is, we can never spend enough time together here on earth. All we can do is be grateful for and make the most of the time we are blessed with. Winnie the Pooh said it best: how lucky I am to have something that makes it so hard to say goodbye. Wise old bear.

I believe death is not an ending; it’s a change in how we experience someone. We may no longer see, hear, touch, or feel them in the same way, but they live on through us. In our hearts, of course, as our love for them always remains, and in our memories of time shared. When we love someone and experience life with them, that becomes a part of who we are. A part that doesn’t just disappear with death. While the physical connection may be lost, our spiritual connection remains forever. Glimpses of our loved ones can often be seen in our own mirror reflections, and heard in stories retold and words of wisdom passed on. Look for and listen for them, and believe that they are always near, walking quietly beside you. When you hear their favorite song on the radio, sing it/bust a move for them. If there is something you know they wanted to do but didn’t get the chance to do it, go do it for them. Cherish every moment you have on this earth: laugh, cry, dream, love without limits, and for God’s sake…LIVE.

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Some may say that believing in spiritual connections is merely a way to hold onto what is gone. My response? So what if it is? As long as you are moving forward and through your grief, and what you are doing isn’t hurting others, it doesn’t matter what means you use to cope with your loss. That said, the most common regret I’ve found with those who are grieving is the “I wish I would have told them…” At which point, I say, “tell them now.” I often use the “empty chair” and “letter writing” techniques in therapy both because they are healthy, effective outlets that allow a cathartic release and they create an awareness that our words don’t necessarily need to be “heard” by a particular person for us to heal…they just need to be released. It’s freeing…almost like one of those dreams you awaken from feeling relieved and equipped with the answer to a lingering question you’ve been pondering. Whether it be written in a letter or spoken through prayer, in your car, during a run, or simply sitting in front of an empty chair…say what you need to say. Cue John Mayer.

There are many thoughtful words people share when attempting to bring comfort to the mourning. Words fumbled for in an attempt to fill the uncomfortable silence that falls at a time when most people have no idea how to help the hurting. Words that, at the time, we may not hear or even register as making any sense. The truth is, there are no magic words that heal….that is something only time will do. Even then, the question still lies: do we really ever heal after losing someone? Or do we move on aimlessly, forever searching for a way to exist without them?

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Clearly this post stems from my own experience with loss, and while running always provides me with a clearing of the mind and cleansing of the soul, there are times when I must turn to my writing to find both clarity and peace. I’ve found that, through helping others, I often help myself, too. So if you find yourself reading this, I hope my words help you along to wherever it is you seek to go.

May you find comfort in the countless memories you have of your loved ones, and in knowing he or she is at peace.

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