Twenty years ago, I developed a program for “Living Losses” – a grief we feel where there is not a physical death, but a significant loss nonetheless. A living loss could be for missing or estranged children, family or friends lost to drug or alcohol addiction, a divorce, debilitating accident, illness or disability. It could also be for the loss of a home, a job, a passing season of life or a sense of normalcy – as we are all facing in the time of COVID-19.
These losses can be so paralyzing that they derail our lives. Or they can become a source of newfound strength, faith, courage and resilience. What can those of us who are suffering from living losses do to become the better version of ourselves? Help our loved ones? And discern what, if anything, we can do to salvage their future?
Here are some things we can do to take care of ourselves, “process” our grief, remove ourselves from the torture chamber of guilt and summon the strength we need to adjust to a completely unfamiliar new normal — or to fight our way back into our lives.
- Become Your Own Best Supporter
You are grieving! Having suffered a terrible loss, your world has been turned inside out and upside down. Standing in the ashes of your “old normal,” you’re likely feeling lost and scared. Worried about yourself and not sure how to go forward, your mind is in search mode as you’re trying to lessen the pain and anguish. This is a time when people can become their own worst critic, shaming and faulting themselves for being so “screwed up,” or their own best friend, patiently supporting, encouraging, assuring and bolstering themselves with kindness and understanding.
- Surround Yourself with Loving Support
Trusted confidants who can listen without judgement, provide actual support and stand by you patiently as you explore the “new normal” are an essential part of healing after loss. Avoid people who offer unsolicited advice, put a psychological or religious spin on everything and try to “figure out, fix and rescue you from your sorrow. The people with whom it is safe to vent your feelings are the best.
- Find Peer-Support and Education from Folks in Your New Tribe
Resources exist in most of our communities for peer support and education. These resources now exist online as well. Support groups directly address the inner and outer challenges of living losses described above offer resource and information-sharing, experiential learning and community advocacy.
You will quickly learn that you’re not alone! We all have much to learn about living with and promoting the kinds of things that reduce and/or prevent them. There are devoted, knowledgeable experts in almost every community whose support can be invaluable. But we also have one another. Peer support and education can make all the difference. Or, as I like to say, “Hope Loves Company.”
- Adopt Self-Help Practices
We also have the amazing ability to help ourselves. How we do this is the core of my book, The Real Rules of Life. By taking exceptionally good care of ourselves, getting the help and support we need, learning more about how to cope with the pain, sorrow, anger, fear and frustration that come with a living loss, we can fight our way back into life stronger and smarter than ever.
Becoming our own best friend and supporter also means freeing ourselves of the debilitating blame, guilt, judgment and punishment that many of us have unknowingly turned against ourselves. Learning to treat ourselves with kindness, patience, self-compassion, forgiveness, encouragement and understanding is the key. Each of us is human — and a work in progress. Helping ourselves changes everything.
- Get Professional Help if Needed
Getting professional help from a qualified therapist, counselor, coach or spiritual advisor/ clergy can make all the difference as a complement to the other options mentioned above.
We don’t get to play God in this life. No matter how healthy, wealthy or wise we become, there will always be things that are beyond our ability to control, understand and move through. We can, however, learn to live valiantly, humbly and honorably in the face of life’s most devastating living losses, setbacks and tragedies.
We can summon the strength to face each day as it comes, doing the best we can, working hard to help ourselves create the best of all possible futures. This takes time, patience, faith, humility and courage.
Rising out of the ashes of a living loss, mobilizing resources and fighting our way back into life is how we grow our souls. This triumph of the human spirit happens one breath at a time when we allow self-compassion and kindness to guide our path forward.