Loss – in life we will all experience loss. This year, personally I have experienced loss in many forms,the loss of loved ones has been a defining feature of 2016 – my Great Grandmother and my Aunt, both people who are very dear to me passed away. There have been other deaths in my family of relatives I didn’t know so well, but whom I am sad are no longer around. Death is the most finite and wrenching form of loss, losing a person is a physical and tangible thing, they go from being a part of your world that you can directly interact with, to being a precious memory. The person is present within those who knew them, but gone at the same time – the love lives on, but the opportunity to create more memories has gone. This kind of loss it turns our world upside down and inside out, regardless of whether or not we have a belief about what happens when someone dies or not – we all experience grief.
Just this weekend I attended an informal family memorial for my Aunt and on the same day was a bystander watching a person I love dearly going through the loss of the person who raised them. It’s utterly heartbreaking to know someone I love has to go through that kind of pain – even though I can’t completely understand how that pain affects them as it is such as personal thing I can still see the pain and feel deep empathy.
Now, what about the losses that are not the death of a loved one? There are other kinds of loss in life that we need to be respectful of and allow ourselves to grieve over. The loss of a relationship would be a common example. But looking closer to home, let’s talk about personal loss.
As a person with a collection of chronic illness that has turned my life upside down, the mental toll of not being able to be the version of me that I was and want to be is hard, it’s one of the things that contributed to going through depression. When you lose the version of you that you think you are, you feel like you have been robbed. It’s easy and almost instinctive to fight back and to fight back really hard to get back to being yourself again – to getting your life back. To be the bright young 26 year old with the world at your feet willing to work hard, a career girl, full of fun with the naive belief that you get to determine your own life, even if you have a couple of bumps along the way – you can make your 5 year or 10 year plan happen as long as you stick to the script. Problem is that real life doesn’t read from your script. Real life will throw you curve balls from all angles and you can end up getting lost trying to avoid them or getting angry you didn’t see them rather than adapting to the new unwelcome reality.
If I could go back and talk to 26 year old me now, I would probably say, be more flexible with yourself, don’t see the bad things that happen as your own personal failure. Accept that you have lost things and take time to acknowledge the loss, don’t fight it, own it and allow yourself to adapt. You will still be you at your core, you might have some battle wounds, it will be painful and it will not be easy, but you will see the light of day, you won’t stay lost in the dark if you patiently look for the tiny glimmers of light. Most importantly, when dealing with loss, be kind to yourself – look out for the negative inner narrative and address it face on. I spent a long time feeling like I must have done something wrong for things to have gone so wrong and I castigated myself daily on all the things I needed to do better so I could get back to the me I recognised. Now, I’m learning to allow for the journey of grieving in my own life, acknowledging the loss, the pain and the disconnect, but knowing that I still have a future that is unwritten and it can be wonderful.
Coming back to the wider issue of loss, I think as fellow human beings, it’s important to acknowledge that anyone going through loss (whatever kind of loss that is) will experience great pain, as friends all we can do is be there, be supportive but also to allow those who are grieving to do so in their own way.
We all experience loss, we just have to remember in the midst of the pain we can and will be OK.