My Experience Of Loss
I miss your unique presence, I miss the way you touched my life every day, I miss your corporeal form being in the world. I don’t know if we’ll meet again, but one thing I do know is, that I knew you, and for that, I will always be grateful.
The above I wrote about the death of a beloved friend, in 2019. In recent times, he was quite present in my mind, prompting this article, which I dedicate to him. Hopefully it will help you if you’ve experienced loss and grief.
When my father died, I suffered my first major loss. I remember feeling completely consumed by it, and how it affected me and my family members in different ways. The death of a loved one brought into very keen focus, the finality of death. My father was no longer in this world; I could not call him, see him, or have a conversation with him. He no longer existed as I knew him to. My friend, the one I lost in 2019 was a beacon of light, he was one of the few who knew just what to say. And now he, too, is gone from this Earth.
What Loss Does
Grief and bereavement are sadly a part of life, and as long as we have friends and family who we are in relation with, none of us are exempt from this unfortunate reality. Of course I would undo my losses in an instant if I had the power to. But, it is because I have had the misfortune of loss that I feel less of an imposter when I am privileged to support my clients with their grief and loss. I have experienced and witnessed how losing one so close can impact daily life, evoking a torrent of emotions. It can feel overwhelming, we feel sadness, immense pain, anger, despair, confusion, and experience denial, shock, and disbelief. Death is one of those few things in life that affects everything and is affected by everything. And I have learned that how we process it is in ways universal, and yet, unique for each of us.
Grief As Waves
But some things helped me during this most trying of times. One of these was a beautiful piece of writing which normalised my experience and helped me realise my reaction was natural. I was able to relate to this piece of writing. And although it demonstrated that all people experience grief and loss, it also made me realise how lonely the island of grief is.
Below is a paraphrased excerpt (the link for the original piece is further down):
The process of grief is like being in a shipwreck; at first it feels as though you are drowning, with wreckage all around. All you can do is try to remain afloat as the waves, which can feel 100 feet tall, crash over you, relentlessly. They come only seconds apart; offering no time to catch your breath. All you can hope to do is keep your head above water. After some time passes, perhaps weeks, or maybe months, the waves though still 100 feet tall, come further apart. They continue to crash hard over you, they exhaust you but in between, there exists space to breathe, the ability to function returns. You can never be sure how close the grief is, what will trigger it….but in between the waves, there is life. As life goes on without the loved one, the waves gradually shrink, they are only 70 feet tall, or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. Sometimes you know when they will come; an anniversary or some other important date… you see the wave coming, and try to prepare for it, and even though it hits you, somehow you know you will come out the other side.
Stages of Grief Vs. The Dual Process Model
I later studied a psychological model of grief which appeared to encapsulate the above ‘grief as waves’ analogy and was very useful for my work with clients who were experiencing the lonely, and life altering void that comes when a loved one dies. Here I will briefly discuss the model, which is perhaps not as well known as the more popularised ‘stage theory’ of grief.
The dual process model describes the process of grief as being dynamic, with oscillation between loss and restoration. In practice this means that rather than a continuous state of ‘grief work’, it is healthier to experience grief in doses, with some avoidance of it. This may seem difficult for those who are in the early stages of grief, and even later on as individuals may feel guilty about ‘taking a break’ from grief, when they are permitted fleeting moments in which they forget, and perhaps even laugh. However, some avoidance of grief is favourable and necessary because constant confrontation of it can be harmful.
Certainly, carrying grief all the time becomes an overwhelming burden to bear and primes for the potential of grief becoming complicated, impacting mental health in the longer term. Indeed, like when individuals become ‘stuck’ in the more difficult stages of the process, which psychiatry calls Complicated or Prolonged Grief Disorder. But grief is the natural response to this type of loss but it’s only when one can oscillate, that healing can occur. Furthermore, this vacillation appears to hint at adaptability, a constructive function for confronting loss and this was demonstrated by some of those I worked with. I, too, found that moving between loss and restoration helped pull me through the ‘stages’ I was going through, these being shock, denial, anger, depression, bargaining, testing, and acceptance (note: stages are not necessarily chronological, and not everyone experiences them all).
Lost But Not Truly Gone
The swinging of the pendulum between moments of darkness and moments of respite offers a forgiving approach to loss, and a somewhat positive way of viewing the grieving process. It also illustrates that the complexity of human grief means we will each experience it in unique ways. The important thing to realise however, is that we are not alone, as much as we may feel that way. And time truly does heal as those waves becomes smaller and less frequent. We realise that the way we related to our lost loved one has changed, and yet we still relate to them, this forms a new kind of reality with them, they may be materially absent, but they are not truly gone from our world…because we remember.
So, for those who have left us, we grieve, but in honour of them, we live as well as we can.
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