There are three reactions that you will need to go through when someone or something very important has been taken from you. I call them the three R’s.
The first R is Realize. Realize that the loss has really happened. Actually take in the reality of the event.
From there (last week) I began to look at what I call the second R or Recognize. Recognize what this loss means for you.
When you are grieving, Recognizing is where you will spend most of your time. This is where the reality of the loss begins to sink in and this is where you will be touched and inevitably affected by the pain of your sadness.
As you survey your life and take stock of what you have and where you are, you can’t help but begin to notice what’s changed, what’s gone and what you are left with.
Once you “collect” yourself and actually get through realizing that the person that you love is gone, you can begin to focus on how important this loss is for you.
There is one “advantage” to grieving a loss through death. Others will know the source of your pain and as a result you will receive some support and kindness.
There are a number of other places in life where you will feel the sting of loss, places where it can be much more difficult to gain support. Places where you may have trouble explaining your hurt and your loss and therefore places that according to many don’t qualify or even matter.
These losses that do not deal with death are critical and very difficult to deal with and these are places that may cause you long-term damage over the years. Here there is little sympathy or understanding and yet we hurt and suffer often as much as with the pain of an important death.
These losses may never get acknowledged or receive the attention that they require for us to grasp them and mourn over them. As a result, these losses can in time, return to control our lives.
I have lost something very important to me. It is gone or has been taken and I am in agony. I don’t know who to tell, how to express my hurt or share my need, but I am in trouble never the less, and I need to find a way to heal.
This is Recognize. Recognize what this loss means for you and your life. This is what we must do whether we are speaking of the death of a loved one or the loss of a neighborhood, a job, or a friend.
I have mentioned a number of these places that may cause you sadness. Here are just are a few by way of example.
The end of a love relationship through separation or divorce.
Losing a job.
Moving and leaving your safe, familiar home.
Children leaving home or beginning school.
The end of a friendship.
The realization that you are ageing and no longer able to do as you once did.
The death of a beloved family pet.
All of these events can cause you to feel sadness through the loss of something that was very important to you and yet few if any of these will gain you much support.
I have come to believe that anytime there is a cause for sadness because something has been taken from us, we need to grieve and we therefore need to recognize what this loss means for our daily lives.
Let me tell you about a woman I know who is faced with grief. She is not suffering from traditional grief caused by the death of someone she loved. Nevertheless, she is very sad, and is trying hard to manage her feelings. Mostly she is trying to recognize what her loss means for her and her daily life.
Victoria is a woman who recently went through a very difficult illness. She awoke one morning to find that her body had betrayed her. She was paralyzed on one side. She was unable to move her left arm, left leg, left anything, including the left side of her face. She could not get out of bed. She could not call for help and she could not even recognize her own body. It was numb, contorted and unresponsive. When she went to bed she was fine and familiar, when she awoke the person who she had known for years was gone, only to be replaced by a sick stranger.
In many ways it doesn’t matter how old Victoria is because what she experienced would have been traumatic for anyone of any age. For Victoria, though, the pain and shock of the event may have been greater because she is only 40.
Victoria’s stroke took place many months ago and fortunately, now she is pretty much recovered. In fact, she has even been able to resume her old position of employment. Nevertheless, she grieves and she is frightened. Every day she must live with what she has seen her body is capable of, and every single day she wonders what else might be in store for her. The certainty of her good health is gone and now she grieves that.
Sadly, what Victoria gets from others is “ aren’t you lucky” and “isn’t it great that you’re better and back at work”. As much as these things are true, she also needs to be able to feel sad at her loss and to recognize what her illness means for her for the rest of her life.
Will it return again?
Will I get better if I have this experience again?
Who will care for me?
Can I live a full life?
What of the things that I am now too frightened to do?
How far can I be away from a hospital?
What about my married life?
What about my relationship to my child?
Who will understand what I fear and how I hurt?
Until these issues are expressed and Victoria grasps what she has lost, she will never be able to fully live again.
Victoria may need to say,
My illness has me frightened to live the way I used to.
My illness makes me lose sleep.
My illness has me saying no to things with friends and family I never hesitated doing before.
My illness has changed me. I now feel a different kind of paralysis inside.
Only when Victoria can acknowledge what her illness has done to her and her life can she begin to move away from it’s power and begin to heal from the pain of the grief she feels about parts of her life that are now gone.
It’s very difficult to get help or feel settled with this kind of loss. While Victoria tries to figure out who she is and what she is left with, others slap her on the back celebrating her wellness. But poor Victoria doesn’t only feel relief, she also feels all of the worry of the unbelievable and all of the disorientation of a life needing to be viewed and lived with an entirely new perspective.
Who am I now?
What am I left with?
How is my life different?
How do I go on from here?
This is what it means to Recognize what the loss that you have experienced means to you. And this is necessary whether we are speaking of the sadness that you feel after someone you love dies, or something that you love has been taken from you.
For Victoria that something was the certainty that she felt about her good health, well-being and future.
Victoria must learn to say “my world has changed and I must take it all in, with all it’s pain, before I can move forward and before I can heal”.
Only then, after taking the time to digest fully what has been taken away, does Victoria stand a chance of beginning to mend.
Unfortunately, that process of actually recognizing what happened and figuring out how it will affect you takes a long time and a great deal of painful work.
Victoria is grieving and will be lost, confused, disorientated and very sad for sometime to come. She is recognizing what has been lost.
Don’t ignore your sadness. Don’t push your feelings away.
The second R is Recognize. Recognize what this loss means for your life.