Any significant loss that is not acknowledged, and dealt with, will in time become an impediment to our health, growth and well-being. We allow those who have lost someone they care about through death, to take a little time to grieve. Most companies permit a few days bereavement leave. Hardly enough to even begin to grieve an important death, but at least a little time to do “the immediate, necessary things”.
If, however, you are sad or broken from a loss that is not a death, you will get no time to heal and very likely no acknowledgment from those around you. Death at least is easy to see. It’s very difficult to miss the fact that a friend or co-worker has had someone close to them die. That kind of thing becomes common knowledge and those who choose can take a moment to express their sympathies and respond to your hurt.
This recognition of your pain is important. It allows you a little time to miss work, show you are blue and even act out of sorts, for a while.
As the person who is hurt, you will likely find some sympathy and empathy from others and this will allow you a window to begin to grieve and a chance to see and feel that something important has happened.
From here you will need to take a long time to feel, sort and heal. And it is here, in the working out of where you are and what you are left with, we begin to mend our broken self.
I don’t for a minute want you to think this process allows the griever to “be fixed” or become transformed “back to normal.” Normal will never be back again. But it does at least offer an opportunity to understand what has been taken from you, how you might cope and in time and with work, move forward.
It is this process that we do not afford ourselves with other losses in our lives.
Death comes with recognition and some amount of permission, but the brokenness that we suffer from other life losses, is barely acknowledged, if noticed at all.
Losses that go unnoticed or uncared for are central causes of unhappiness, aimlessness and, possibly even physical or psychological illness.
A broken heart or a crushed spirit, regardless of the cause, must be seen as important, acknowledged and responded to.
I can still recall vividly my first love. I was 17 and I was crazy about this girl. We dated for several months and I was very happy. It was a joyful time and I had a view of my world and myself like I never had before. I’m not sure I was thinking long term. I’m not sure I was thinking much at all. I just knew this relationship was fresh and exciting and like nothing I had ever known.
As quickly as it came together, it was gone.
When she left I was devastated, crushed to the point of needing help to manage on even a basic level. I lost interest in school. I didn’t socialize with friends. I didn’t care much for anything. I cried a lot, withdrew, and even suffered physically.
There was a string of small illnesses, my shoulders became even more rounded and my energy was depleted. Worst of all, there was no one to talk to and no support or sympathy to help me with my mess. This was after all, only a lost girlfriend.
I tell you this story because even though there was no death involved, the loss here for me was huge and the need that I had to deal with it in a helpful way was enormous.
Our lives are full of these kinds of losses.
Each time we lose someone or something important we must find a way to express what that loss means to us. We must grieve.
Grief unexpressed and unresolved will in time damage us.
It doesn’t matter if our sadness is from a loved one dying or from a relationship ending, a job gone, children leaving home or moving and leaving friends behind.
It doesn’t matter if your heart is heavy from a storm that destroyed your home or from realizing you are growing old. It doesn’t matter if your beloved cat died or your best friend married and has no time for you anymore. We must grieve each time there has been a significant loss.
Sometimes the loss can be so heavy and so painful, its weight can damage us forever. And with losses that do not involve death we may never understand the need to grieve and we may never be given that chance.
Long-term gastro-intestinal ailments, blood pressure problems, headache issues, heart conditions, breathing problems and difficulty sleeping are a few physical places where unresolved grief may linger.
Depression, anger, anxiety, a history of nightmares, alcohol or drug dependency, just to name a few, may all have their roots in grief unrecognized and unresolved.
I am suggesting physical and emotional problems are linked to our inability to grieve our life’s losses.
When there are important events that cause us sadness that we do not acknowledge, we may be left with unresolved feelings that may haunt us for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, we may never make the connection between grief and our physical or emotional pain because the loss we suffered was swept under the carpet of our lives years ago and never looked at as something needing our attention.
When you hurt, whether from the death of a loved one or from any other place that causes you to feel the pain of someone or something taken from you, you need to grieve.