How to Handle a Loss

Loss is part of life. We all suffer from it at some point and in some way. Death and divorce are among the most obvious, but we also can experience loss of hope, approval, aspirations, friendship, social standing and trust, among many other examples.

Like the ensuing grief it brings, loss is unique to the person who is experiencing it, and is handled differently by everyone. There is no right or wrong to the method or timing involved. Since loss is inevitable and part of the fabric of life, the key is coping and eventual acceptance.

To accomplish that, first and foremost you must acknowledge and recognize that you have a true loss. Some losses are obvious and heartbreaking; others are not as clear. Glossing over a situation will eventually bring deeper pain than necessary. Avoidance is equally as destructive.

Be realistic about the significance of the loss and the subsequent impact on your life. Clearly the absence of a loved one, a major influence, your self-view, your way of life – these are intense and can’t be minimized. Their effect is life altering.

On the other hand, some losses that are painful and disappointing at the time may become nothing more than a bad memory, and you move on. You wanted so badly to win that game or to get first prize in the dance contest and it hurt to lose. Ten years later will it be important? Probably not. Try not to inflate the power of the loss.

You’ve undoubtedly heard people tell you to work through it. Wonderful words, but just how do you accomplish that, especially when the pain is raw and intense?

The first thing to do is talk about it; share your feelings. Talk to the people who love you, who care about you. You don’t need advice from them, even if they have the best of intentions. Tell them you just need to talk and let them listen. People generally find it awkward in that situation and want to be there for you.

Talking also can include specialized therapists, religious leaders, and groups. The avenues are out there for you. Just make certain to avoid toxic people and toxic situations.

Also, as well meaning as people are, words such as “you’ll get over it” or “just move on with your life” or “I understand how you feel” are empty. The pain is yours and it’s real. Grieve in whatever way you need.

Honor your emotions.  If you want to have a tear storm, do so. If you want to hit a pillow, it’s available. If you feel anger, you’re justified. If the ocean is calling you, take a walk on the beach. The caveat here, however, is unless your doctor prescribes medication for you, do not take drugs to numb yourself. Excessive alcohol won’t solve the problem either. You can’t prolong the process. In fact, grief is very patient. If you don’t address it now, head on, I assure you it will come back when you least expect it or want it.

All of the above is sound advice, but will be useless if you don’t first take care of yourself all along. Pain often breeds stress, wearing down your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to sickness, which in turn aggravates your sadness.

Practice simple daily habits. Exercise, even if it’s a 10-minute walk. Try to follow a healthy eating plan, but don’t deprive yourself in the process. Take time every day to remove yourself from stressful activities. Instead, read, take a bath, meditate, call a friend. Human contact is extremely important. Also, get outside every day.  Even going to the supermarket counts. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone you love.

When experiencing loss you can feel that there will never be life for you again, but just look around. The universe continues, and so will you, only differently.  As hard as it is to comprehend, you will survive and probably flourish. This is the time when you have to trust that you’ll be okay, but maybe not right now. Be patient, even though it sounds impossible.

When you’re ready you will move on. It’s important that you spend time with your loss and it’s equally important that you don’t reside there. Don’t settle for a life without joy. You deserve happiness again, and you have to take the initiative to make it happen.

Accept invitations from friends and family. At first it may be with people who are safe for you.  Later it will branch out to others. Invite others to your home, your world. See the outside world, too. Go to a movie (it’s okay to go alone), call others to participate in an activity, go to lectures, start or continue a hobby, take a class, get outdoors, check your bucket list. What you do is not so important; it’s that you do something.

Your attitude is the key here. It’s not possible to turn on the happiness button and instantly change, but at your own pace try to walk on the positive side.  When you wake up in the morning and before you got to bed at night, remind yourself of the good things in your life and expect a better day than yesterday.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you slide back into sadness or even depression. That’s natural.  Be patient, but get back on the right road.

A wonderful life is waiting for you now.

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