PV Mirror, May 1-7, 2010, issue #82, pg 17
Loss can be abrupt and unexpected or planned and anticipated. Loss can be from a relationship break-up, divorce, or from the death of a partner, family member or friend. I have personally experienced both; an unexpected divorce, my father’s anticipated death from Alzheimer’s, and most recently my boyfriend’s abrupt death.
Besides death, abrupt and unexpected loss can result from a partner suddenly announcing he/she is leaving you. Many times a break-up or divorce is not a mutually agreed upon decision. There is an immediate shock, anger, and a sense of powerlessness for the one being left. They feel blindsided and don’t even know how to respond at first. There is an incredible agonizing loneliness. Managing their new reality and accepting it is a long and very painful process.
A planned and anticipated loss can result from a terminal illness or a relationship break-up. With an anticipated relationship break-up there’s usually been a specific and very significant event which the couple decides has caused irreparable damage or the couple has been drifting apart and finally decide to go their separate ways. In such cases, everyone involved has had time to prepare and accept the inevitable. Their painful process began long before the actual loss. They already began adapting to life without their partner and have suffered the painful reality of the loss before it actually occurs. Most often, once the person has passed away or the divorce is final, there is a huge sense of relief.
The infamous 5 stages of grieving defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross include shock/denial, anger, bargaining, sadness/depression, and acceptance. Not everyone goes through every stage and you can go through them in any order and sometimes struggle with more than one at once. They are worth mentioning because I think it helps define the process we all go through in one way or another and knowing what to call ithelps validate our experience. It is also important to note that when Ms. Kubler-Ross created this list she was focusing on the person dying of the illness, not the ones left behind. Over time, it became very clear that everyone involved went through this process.
Allowing the grieving process is very important. It cannot be rushed and you cannot just decide one day when it should be over. You should not try to turn your tears off like a faucet. Let them flow. If you feel angry, say it, write it down. If you are scared, admit it. The usual time it takes to fully “recover”; to feel whole and complete again, to have a sense of self again, and have a renewed sense of enthusiasm about your life, is one and a half years. “In order to heal it, you must feel it” (John Bradshaw). Allow the process and respect its power to heal.
Regarding “loss”, Dawna Markova in her book, I Will Not Live An Unlived Life, 2000, Conari Press,) states that “loss strips away so much” (pg88). “Loss can help us loosen our grip on all understandings of ourselves and the world so they can be rearranged into a higher and wider order. Loss can help us find and know our strength… and help us find what we truly value.” (pg90). Yes, loss is a very necessary and inevitable part of life and it brings forth many lessons and insights if we remain open.
Still have to learn to live without that person
During the grieving process, you still have to learn to live without that person; you cannot wait until you are done grieving before you live again. No matter what happened and no matter if you were part of the decision or whether it was imposed on you, life goes on. You still have to adapt. Many years ago shortly after my abrupt separation and pending divorce, a colleague looked me right in the eyes and told me to “get a life”. Okay, get a life, I thought, what does that even look like, I wondered. I had to figure out what life feels like without him. Consider what is like to plan something without considering whether that person can or wants to do it? What is it like to go out without that person at your side enjoying the activity or complaining about it? Who will you travel, work-out, eat, talk, share, sleep, or cry with?
Either way, unexpected or anticipated, you have been set free, whether you wanted to be or not. Even though you may struggle with “why”, accepting that there is a reason and it is for your higher purpose, and it was for the higher purpose of the one you lost as well, will promote your healing.
Now that you are free
My saying that you are free, doesn’t mean that you felt trapped, it just means you are literally not attached to that person or that relationship anymore and so you are free. Free to go forward on your life path, to explore different options that the relationship may not have allowed or nurtured, free to choose differently. The energy space has opened for reasons we may not understand. It may be to allow opportunities and people into your life that could not have entered before. You may find your next relationship or your next life purpose.
Following a huge loss, Markova realizes that she is “Free to follow myself, free to find my own rhythm, my own routine, my own calendar” (pg117). “It’s time to discover what my own life’s orbit is like without (“x” person’s) gravitational field” (pg118).
Take every lesson and every memory and include them as you go forward; integrate all of it into your being. Discover who you’ve become because of the relationship and who you are without it and embrace it. What’s changed and what’s stayed the same? What do you want to do the same and differently? What dreams and goals are the same and what ones need to be reconsidered? Become who you were meant to be because this personcame into your life and because they now have left you!
Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW