Loss is defined as the act of losing someone or something. In psychology loss refers to a state of being without, which is usually accompanied by grief. This is an emotional state of intense sadness and a reaction to the disruption of attachment.
We are all familiar with loss, it is part of life and takes on many forms but it is the way in which we approach loss that will impact our lives. We can choose to allow the loss to consume us and dominate our lives until we lose track of who we are and what we want, or
We can choose to see the loss as a part of our lives, as an obstacle to overcome, that will help us grow in many other areas of our life.
Easier said than done! Having lost both my parents to cancer within a little over a year of each other, it was very hard to not let the grief consume me. I learnt that in order to "survive", it’s about finding the silver lining, that little piece of hope. It is extremely difficult to get on with life when the person you hold dearest to your heart is suddenly no longer there. However, when you are left orphaned with no other family to reach out to, you are left with little choice but to just get on with it and hope that each day will be better than the last.
My father was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer at the age of 93; he was the one who raised me as my parents separated when wI was just a year old. While he was considered an old man , he was anything but. He was still in excellent physical condition, played golf, did his gymnastics every morning without fail, drove for hundreds of kilometers at a time and could still make it up the 226 steps of the Lion’s mound in Belgium. He did not look a day over 63 and had a sharper mind than most people half his age. Due to many years of eating an acidic diet his body suffered the consequences and against the advice of the doctors, he made the decision to have chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After 4 rounds of treatment his body became too weak to continue and the doctors said there was nothing further to do but to make him as comfortable as possible. My sister and I spent a full month in the hospital from 7am to 7pm making sure he was well taken care of as we watched him get weaker and weaker each day and waited for the inevitable.
There are simply no words to express the pain and emotions we experienced as a result of this loss. Imagine losing your only parent (our mother was not a part of our childhood and we only connected with her when we were 12 and 13), the only member of your family other than your sibling, the only person who truly cares about your life and wellbeing, suddenly no longer being there.
Eventually the heaviness felt in your heart begins to become a part of you and no longer feels foreign. The constant feeling that a part of you is missing begins to feel familiar and you think things are getting easier when suddenly one morning you wake up and remember that that person is never coming back. You begin to wonder what the point is, why bother getting out of bed, or going to work, or seeing friends? The depression starts to consume you and soon you feel numb, you stop feeling anything and continue to move through life like a robot. Making sure to smile when smiled at, to answer questions asked, just to get through the day appearing as normal as possible.
Loss turned my world upside down and impacted my sense of self along with my identity. I learnt that loss represents the change of one situation for another and that I had no other choice but to adapt to my new life situation. Change is the only constant there is, and yet as humans we fear change because we fear the unknown.
Overcoming loss is one of the greatest obstacles we are all faced with, however with every dark cloud comes a silver lining.
Loss in one area of our lives generally means expansion in another. Loss changes us, we are pushed to evolve into a new version of ourselves, developing new abilities in order to help us cope. When you lose a loved one, you find love from/in others around you. When you lose a job, you may find new sources of inspiration and completely change your career. When you become disabled, you learn new ways to get things done. Everything we lose, we gain in another area as we live in a world of duality where one cannot exist without the other. With darkness comes light, with movement comes stillness, with bad comes good as with loss comes gain.
Overcoming loss is about focusing on the things you still have and learning how to make these things a bigger part of your life. The death of my parents came at a time when the bond between my sister and I was fragile and not quite ready to take another blow. Unable to be there for each other as the grief engulfed us, we knew deep down that we were all we had and that we had to fight for that. This pushed us to use our pain and grief to empower ourselves and to keep moving forward.
Today, my definition of friendship has taken on a whole new meaning. My friends have become my family and community. For many years their love and compassion continued to give me the strength and comfort I needed to keep moving forward. It is only once I was able to see past the grief and notice the people trying to be present for me that I was able to open up and build much deeper connections. Taking everything into consideration, this experience made me into a stronger and more compassionate being.
It can be difficult to be around people after experiencing a loss, but it is through the vulnerabilities we share and the connections we open ourselves up to that we begin to rediscover who we are and to make sense of our new lives.