The Hope and Transformation in Loss and Change
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
“There is no growth without change; no change without loss; and no loss without pain. And that’s grief.” – Pastor Rick Warren
We know that all life ends and that all things change. Pretty basic. But understanding an idea and actually living and wading through times of tough change or heartbreaking loss are two very different things. Not a one of us can escape it.
Designed into each of our lives are many losses, some more traumatic than others: a loss of job, of an identity, of relationships, loss of a home, of our beloved pets, of a life we thought was ours, and of course, the lives of those we love. All individual. All loss.
Grief is deep. And painful.
But grief also provides us each the opportunity to make something good out of a loss, maybe not immediately but eventually. We can use our loss to make the legacy of whatever ended or whoever left us, something positive and meaningful.
Regardless of what you want or whether or not you understand, life cannot stay the same. It will not.
“Grief is the proof of our love, a demonstration of how deeply
we have allowed another to touch us.” – Elizabeth Lesser
Before the grief of any loss goes underground to come up later in some unhealthy way, let the pain out. It’s not going anywhere. If denied or hidden, it just explodes sometimes years later somewhere else. Expressing ourselves is helpful and it doesn’t have to be on a platform with an audience.
Talk face-to-face with other humans, maybe even trained professionals. Write it out. Work it out. Emote. Cry, yell, start a small fire if you must*.
*Please don’t start a small fire.
Instead, keep it healthy. Go for a run instead of eating cakes. Journal rather than racking up credit card charges. Loss is hard enough without piling other issues upon your self. The cry is a powerful thing and nothing to be afraid of. Let it out.
Acceptance of what was not meant to go on
While it may be difficult to make sense of an ending in the midst of the trial, especially when unexpected or tragic, any attempt at acceptance that a journey, or part of a journey, is over is the first good place to start.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief in her classic book, On Death and Dying (1969). The first stage is denial: this cannot be happening. When something ends that we do not want to end, we can be frozen in shock or paralyzed. This may well be a necessary first stop in the aftermath but the less time we can spend at this stage, where nothing moves, is helpful. Acceptance is the first step in healing and moving forward.
Focusing on the end is missing the point
A life is way, way bigger than a manner of death. It is easy to get caught up and focus on the dramatic ending. That is natural.
While not easy, this is the time to think through the upside. How are you better today because of that person or adventure? However it ended, it's helpful to embrace the totality of an experience. Celebrate it all. Acknowledge the end but acknowledge all the good way more. You may be laying a frail old body to rest but do not forget about the many strong, effective, vibrant years that came before.
Instead look for and celebrate significance and meaning
Creating significance and celebrating the positive that came from someone’s life is an important strategy in recovering from loss.
June Tyson PhD, (2012) found that adult children of a deceased parent, by remembering, celebrating and sharing stories, created value and meaning for both themselves and the parent. This meaning allowed a “permanent link” between parent and child that was bigger and more expansive than the end of the person’s life, helping in the healing.
Take the time to remember and acknowledge all the positive and growth you gained, whether that’s from the life of someone you love or your own life that was disrupted and changed in some way. Just because it ended doesn’t negate all the awesome. Indeed, being grateful for whatever time was offered, is a valuable perspective.
Loss can lead to greater appreciation and gratitude for life and relationships
Nothing is promised. When you feel a loss and it feels like life can be taken so easily, you may look around at other people in your life and appreciate them a little more.
We’re so busy living our lives that we take this day for granted. None of us are guaranteed to wake up tomorrow morning or even make it home safely tonight. In our grief, we can have a heightened appreciation for the preciousness of life and of those around us.
“Love the people God gave you because he will need them back one day.”
If you have something to say, say it before you can’t. Free yourself by leaving nothing on the table. If you love someone, make sure they know it in their bones. For anyone’s bones to know something, they have to hear it. A lot. Leave nothing unsaid.
Our times of loss can serve to adjust our priorities and focus us on the most important
What do we prioritize in life? These days, these weeks, these months that are just flying by – what are we spending our life on? Staring at a screen? Are we prioritizing the important things?
“What makes anything precious except that it ends? …
Time is short so the decisions you make are of consequence.
Delaying things that you love or want or seek...you have no promise of tomorrow...” - Dr. BJ Miller
When you’re dealing with life and death, all the minutia on that over-crowded to-do list just evaporates. What mattered just moments before no longer does. It’s a reality check.
Our loss can serve as a reminder to live
The clock is ticking. If you died today, what would be left undone?
Palliative care physician and end-of-life expert Dr. BJ Miller suggests we ask ourselves: “Am I doing what I love? Have I told the people that I care about that I love them? These are fundamental things. If you check yourself on a daily basis, by the end of a life, you won’t have stockpiled all that many regrets.”
“Death is the best kick in the ass I know.” – Elizabeth Lesser
And how’s this by way of turning loss into motivation:
When Diana Nyad turned 60, she had just lost her mother and grappled with her own life goals. Four years later, then 64, she went on to achieve her 110-mile goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida.
You choose whether to use it or get stuck in it
Clearly, I’m no expert. I’m new to this grief experience. I just know what’s helping me. It’s been about three weeks since my mother passed away.
“No one goes through life without the experience of loss.
It’s how we go through it that determines how we grow from it.” – Michael Beckwith
It’s a seriously grown-up experience putting a loved one to rest. This sacred time of saying goodbye can be weighty. Sitting and being with someone as they are dying. Just sitting in it. Mitch Albom spent his Tuesdays with Morrie. My Tuesdays were with Mary. Caretaking is physically and emotionally exhausting. It helps if you can see it as grace and that maybe you were chosen to play this role.
“God has trusted you to put someone to bed.” – T.D. Jakes
The experience does promise something for later. It often changes us forever, a new level of courage and wisdom awaiting us on the other side.
Celebrating my mom's life, really considering this remarkable woman and all she gave to me, is how I choose to grieve. Focus on all the good. I got an entire 48 years with my mother. Nothing but grateful for that. Zero complaints. Rest in peace, Mary Verna Davis. You came. You loved. You kicked ass.
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