Loss is in the eye of the beholder. Some losses are considered gigantic. Others are expected changes to the status quo. More important, the same loss can be viewed quite differently by two people. Yet, all of us suffer what we consider to be great losses.
Regardless of the way we consider a specific loss in our lives, it can provide the setting for learning more about ourselves and the world in which we live. We seldom openly recognize that big losses, like the death of a loved one, change us. Nevertheless, loss causes us to see the world in a more realistic way, to know that sorrow and sadness is a reality, and come to realize that that change is continuous.
But do we really take advantage of the lessons that loss teaches, the spiritual and psychological development that is always available in transformation? As the pain of your grief begins to recede be open to possible benefits. Here is what many have learned that might help us better accept what we cannot control, and reduce self-imposed suffering.
1. The importance of interpersonal relationships. It is so easy to overlook how important our interpersonal relationships are until we are down, and friends and neighbors step up to help in a time of need. We are often reminded that relationships with others are critical to health and well-being; they are at the core of what makes life joyful. The message is: nurture your relationships and give and accept support.
2. The importance of spiritual life. Death and other great losses always cause us to think big questions like Why am I here? and Why did this happen? and How does this fit into any plan? The search for meaning in loss lays bare our spiritual side. We realize that it is our deep inner life that is so important in managing the difficult turns in life. Many become aware of the strength, through faith, that can be found in a power greater than the self.
3. The importance of the little things taken for granted. The short walks by the seashore, the smell of coffee, the sounds of nature, the sun and the stars often seem more enjoyable and sometimes needed after great losses. We often are reminded of how inspiring and enjoyable the simple things in life can be. The message: focus on what you still possess to balance your sorrow.
4. The search for meaning. Why do we have to suffer? How can we fit our loss into some frame of understanding? Why did this loss occur at this time? Answering these questions is not easy, and sometimes answers cannot be found. More often meaning is found, and a new version of life is formed. Often old beliefs are changed and new beliefs adopted about what is really important.
5. The need for silence and solitude. Being surrounded by many support persons for long hours makes precious silence and solitude a welcome gift for many at the end of the day. It often becomes a time for replenishing energy, and thinking about new priorities and directions that can be followed in relearning a world that has dramatically changed because of our loss. We can especially think about the fact that life is so much more than the culture conditions us to believe it is.
6. The assessment of our dependence on the person or object of loss. Not infrequently, loss has us realize that we had lost our identity as a person by depending too much on the loved one or object of loss. Now we have to reclaim what we gave away at a difficult time. Rebuilding identity and taking on new responsibilities and roles is a major challenge that has to be met.
In summary, perhaps one reason we face constant change is to learn from and grow through our losses, to find out who we really are, and not live on the surface but at a deeper level. Could it be that through suffering we learn how great and resilient the inner self is, that we have been living a less than full life, and that we are more than we realize?
Suffering through loss often raises our level of consciousness to heights we never new existed. It can lead us to developing our ultimate potential as an individual, and in our ability to help others. The challenge is to be open to learning from all of the experiences life offers, even the ones we would rather pass us by. The choice is clear: learn or suffer without growing.