Losing someone we love either through suffering a bereavement or when a relationship ends is always difficult. We can by no means differentiate losses into less demanding ones and more demanding ones. That’s because they are all demanding and can leave an emptiness in our lives for a long time to come.
For the sake of this article, I will try to differentiate losses into the two processes by which they happen. This also speaks for the different care they might require as a result. These two kinds of losses are:
- a gradual loss when we are somehow expecting for that to happen, or
- an unexpected loss because of an unforeseen event.
People as a rule of thumb have greater difficulty to handle the unexpected losses. That’s when the shock of an unexpected loss creates trauma in someone’s psyche. This reminder of our own mortality, the unpredictability of life or of the greater powers which are at play can be overwhelming. When we are not expecting to lose someone we love, we have to handle the trauma of shock as well.
In those cases where we somehow expect for the loss (which is a monumental change) to happen, we do have some time to come to terms with a harsh reality. When we are suffering a bereavement we had been expecting to happen for quite some time, in some cases, we can also see the benefit of the relief of our beloved. The constant pain, support from others, mechanical means and medicine might have been too much to bear.
Emotions that are only natural to emerge are numbness or experiencing some kind of deadness in oneself – being frozen by the news and not knowing how to feel and how to respond. Pain and grief, of course, are also to be expected. Sadness too. We will need time to process those emotions and to mourn for our beloved ones before we can move on. Anxiety attacks can also pop in for no apparent reason.
Less obvious emotions that are connected to loss and need to be explored when in therapy are also anger, guilt and relief. Anger towards the world for being so harsh or to the other for leaving us behind. Or it can be targeted towards oneself for not being able to help the person or the relationship in a better way. That can also lead to a feeling of guilt or to the survivor’s guilt, where we have been spared our own lives by forces that are at play but our beloved one who can even be younger than ourselves has not. That can bring despair, isolation, loneliness and depression. This probably happens when unprocessed emotions take too much of a space in our lives. However, we should keep in mind that it is OK to feel all kind of emotions. We might need to allow this great space in our lives to be taken up by our grief or a mixture of difficult emotions for a period of time.
Relief, on the other hand, might have to do with the realisation that life goes on and it has to go on, no matter what. As an empathic consideration of the pain that our beloved or ourselves were experiencing comes into the bigger picture, it is only natural to feel our relief as well of what might be unbearable in their and our lives.
The thing with emotions is that we label them as good or bad. What we don’t realise is that they are all very much needed to experience wholeness in our life. By giving precedence to happiness over sadness or anger or grief, we become fragmented. We label certain experiences as OK and we can talk about them while others become taboo. With that in mind, we might find that we are not discussing our loss with friends or family because we don’t want to bring them down. Of course, if we can’t discuss anything else and this loss becomes an obsession, this also speaks of an imbalance that we will need to attend to.
To sum up, I think that we will need to attend to the following so that we can take care of ourselves when handling some kind of loss:
- Realise where we are in life and what our feelings are in regard to our loss
- Give space for expressing and exploring what dreams, expectations or wishes will never happen
- Allow room for all emotions that might be present without putting a label on them (“good” or “bad” emotions)
- Find a support network or some friends and family that could hear you without judging you or who are good listeners and are able to sit with you without trying to “fix” you in some way
- Investigate the possibility of visiting a professional (a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist) if you feel that you need support in handling this loss and help you process your emotions.