If you live long enough, at some point we find ourselves coping with loss, of any kind. It might be loss of a marriage, a job, a love, our sense of stability. It might be the loss of life of someone dear or perhaps the loss of your own limb (I’m mindful so often recently of those Boston marathoners…). Each kind of loss has its unique path and yet loss is all the same too. It just hurts. You know, it’s that “can’t-eat-or-sleep-or-focus” kind of pain. It’s no wonder we call it “loss” because we just feel lost during those times. In the middle of it, it seems we will never recover; never feel joy again. Life as we know it is gone. The future we thought we were going to have- vanished. We hold onto some hope that “things will get better with time.” But sometimes being reminded of a future of “feeling better” only magnifies the current loss even more. We think, “I don’t want to feel better. I want him/her/it back!”
Having experienced loss recently, I’ve needed the following "coping with loss" strategies to feel a sense of equilibrium once again. In combination, over time, they really do ease the pain.
1. Reach out to your support network—your friends, family, coworkers, Facebook community, church community, therapist/mentor/clergy, a sacred place- whatever and wherever as long as it’s supportive. Ask them to pray for you or keep you in their thoughts. Ask them to do things with you. Show up on their doorstep. Cry on their shoulder. If it’s a sacred place, let the healing powers wrap around you. During the good times, cultivate your network of support. Show love and gratitude and create time for the people in your life. Sooner or later you’ll need them when coping with loss.
2. Let yourself ride the waves of all the feelings and just be in it, whatever “it” is. Anger. Despair. Confusion. Numbness. Terror. Aimlessness. Bitterness. Hopeful. Grateful. There’s no use resisting the feelings. And having said that, like I said, ride the wave—don’t let yourself drown in any one particular feeling. Feel the nuances of loss fully and then let yourself move on to whatever feeling or state of being comes next. Even it’s well…nothing. Emptiness is part of it too. We have to trust that something will come next and whatever comes is what’s supposed to be. If you feel joy for a while, let yourself be joyful. When you get dropped back into mind numbing grief, well, it’s time to grieve again. It just is. And, eventually, if you ride long enough, you start to feel a sense that you can cope with the next wave.
3. Practice gratitude often and with wild abandon. Feel it. Express it to everyone and everything. Pray to God. Thank your lucky stars. Notice the small and big ways human beings take care of each other. Focus on the good in life and all the ways your life could be so much worse. For most of us, it really could be so much worse. During the worst of my despair, gratitude was the only thing that helped get me moving again.
4. Cultivate an overarching philosophy about life that helps guide you and find your sense of purpose. It’s this philosophy that helps you move from being lost to found again. It is often your faith in God or something bigger than yourself. But it could also be guiding principle that helps you put things into context when you're coping with loss. For me, in addition to my faith in the awesome power of the Universe, I believe in embracing and loving my life exactly as it is. This doesn’t mean I don’t work to change the things I want to be different. But, for me, my suffering comes when I hate the circumstances of my life more than I love and accept all that is good and all that isn’t good about my life. When I can accept and love all that comes, I feel a deep sense of peace.
Also, for a beautiful and powerfully accurate explanation of grief, check out what this wise old guy had to say about it. It will move you and help you know that others really do understand.