The nostalgia we feel when we walk through an autumn park brings mixed feelings with the end of summer and the onset of winter all wrapped up in the glorious colour display. Tennyson catches it beautifully in this verse:
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Loss is inevitable. No one passes this way without losing loved ones, friends, a job, or a relationship. Just as surely as the light of day follows the darkness of night, life follows death and the cycle reminds us that we are all vulnerable and part of something bigger than ourselves.
Much has been written about the stages of grief and the healing process. Even though we may feel very alone, whether our loss is a person or a home or a job, most of us pass through generally predictable stages. Comfort comes in knowing you are “normal” as you pass through the stages which Elizabeth Kubler-Ross immortalized in her book, On Death and Dying . Going through denial, you can’t believe this is happening to you. Anger takes over and every thread of your being shouts, “no, not me!!”, followed by your bargaining pleas to be delivered from your present fate. In time, after the hopelessness and despair of depression, acceptance and surrender move in with the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
The way we cope with loss is partially determined by how we cope with any emotional pain. A person who tends to react to life intensely will respond differently than the stoic person raised to ignore or deny feelings.
Other factors that determine how we cope, include total life stresses and our general circumstances at the time. In the middle of a house relocation, the loss of our job is more traumatic than if life were calm and stable.
The significance we attribute to the loss also determines our response. The man whose identity came from his job may feel disoriented and have a sense of having lost himself, while the man who hated his job and has been thinking of quitting may be relieved when he is downsized. The elderly woman who loses her last living companion, her cat, may no longer have a reason to get up in the morning, while the family with a house full of children and cats may breathe a sigh of relief when the old tomcat doesn‘t come home one night.
As waves of grief threaten to drown us, remember we have choices. We can choose to ride the wave of swelling pain, knowing it will pass, or we can fight it and go under. People handle grief best when they choose to take some control. If we are captain of our own ship during stormy seas, we will arrive at our destination battered but stronger, bruised but more compassionate.
How does one navigate through the stormy seas of loss?
Take charge. Make a plan. Think in terms of extreme self-care. Alcohol, drugs, sleeping pills, one-night stands are tempting to ease the pain. A good night’s sleep, a brisk walk in the cold air and healthy nutrition are more effective.
Talk. Cry. Remind supportive friends you are not looking for advice, but rather a shoulder to lean on and validation for your feelings. Be with people. Silent companionship can bring comfort.
See a counsellor. Counsellors are trained to work to help you make sense of your loss. Sometimes joining a group can reassure us that we are doing okay and assure us we are not alone. Your EAP counsellor is trained to deal with grief and transitions.
Educate yourself about grief. Strong feelings can be scary. Reading about loss can reassure you that this will pass and you are normal.
Think what strategies have worked in your past. Some people find their best writing, artwork, journaling, and creativity come from their darkest moments. Organizations such as Hospice, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Parents Without Partners and many others have come out of pain and adversity. Do what you need to do for yourself to find purpose in your loss.
Above all else, remember that no two people are identical. Two parents experience the same loss differently. There is no “one way”. There is light at the end of every tunnel. Perhaps there is some beauty and meaning to be found in our loss even as in the cool autumn evenings. When we respect our own feelings, we feel comforted. When we emerge from the darkness, we will be stronger. It is a tribute to the courage of the human spirit that we all rise above misfortune and continue to go on. Have faith in the natural healing powers of your own human spirit. But get help along the way.