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Before anything new can be created, something must be left behind. But many unexpected endings aren’t the ones we wanted or expected. Many of us are still left holding an empty bag of dreams; body compromised, ‘forever’ relationships abandoned, or loved ones who have passed on. Losses can range from mild to debilitating, but as harsh at it sounds, they’re as much a natural part of life as your breath or the sunset. Somewhere, we got the idea that loss should be avoided at all costs: we must always win, love never dies, never say never. The result: no one’s taught us to effectively mourn when the endings come.
This is a double whammy. There is the loss itself, but also when you don’t deal with important endings effectively, your ability to feel open, safe, and vulnerable vanishes. You carry around your emotional wounds like 100-pound weights strapped to your back. Confidence to climb out of the abyss shrinks. “You’re forever shattered,” your mind says. “The world is big and bad and unfair.”
Life’s colors fade into monochrome as you lose interest in everything. No motivation, meaning, or sense of belonging. Only numbing out with sleep, television, or a soothing addiction buffers you from the pain. Handling losses can feel like an impossible assignment.
And sadness won’t be your only companion. Fear edges you out of meaningful interactions, keeping you to itself, for worry you’ll get your tender heart broken again. Anger equally vies for occupation, turning you against everyone– yourself, others, and the universe.
These dark visitors make sorrow and grief feel bottomless with no end in sight. But mourning constructively and effectively will push them out of your body and out of your space. Whether you’ve been laid off from the job you’ve had for the last 20 years or your spouse unexpectedly died in a car accident, you can begin the process here:
1. Salvation comes from facing your loss and crying. Tears are nectar. Crying is healing. It’s the body’s natural reaction to hurts and losses. Acknowledging your loss and crying it out will get you moving again. Find a safe place and voice what you miss and what you appreciated most about the person or thing. You can be alone, in therapy or with a friend. If it’s an ending of a relationship for example, relive the wonderful memories. Talk about all the qualities you loved, what you won’t experience any more, and all the adventures you had together. Sunday mornings reading the paper; walking the dog. Over and over, say “Thank you.”
2. You also must say the “dreaded” G word — good-bye — to fully acknowledge the ending. Saying “good-bye” can be incredibly hard and usually brings up more sadness. It’s painful but necessary in order to heal. Say, “I miss you. I love you. Good-bye. Good-bye.”
3. Express any fear or anger that surfaces physically and constructively. If you’re feeling anxious, shake and shiver that fear out of your body while reminding yourself, “Something greater than me is in charge. This is not in my control.” Anger will also rear its ugly head, reminding of you how unfair this tragedy is, so find a way to pound, push, shout, or stomp where no one or nothing of value is destroyed. While emoting remember that, “It is the way it is. It’s not the way I think it should be.”
4. Attending to your emotions and thoughts frees up some energy to start to say “hello” to life again. Take tiny steps to reach out and reconnect with others. Get together with a friend and do something easy-breezy like shopping, sharing a meal, or seeing a movie. Even if you feel like a robot going through the motions, do it anyway. It will get easier.
5. If you feel yourself sinking, take a few minutes to cry and say good-bye again. Like the proverbial onion, you’ll have to peel away the layers of missing, bit by bit, to thoroughly process your loss.
It takes time to move through that helpless-hopeless feeling that descends when you lose something or someone dear. But have faith. Gradually, you’ll find your enthusiasm, confidence, and energy returning. And little by little, the light will begin to return.
Jude Bijou, the daughter of pioneer child behavioral psychologist Sidney W. Bijou, earned a BA from Reed College in Portland, Oregon and an MA in psychology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She has worked as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Barbara for 30 years, and is a longtime student of meditation and Vedic philosophy. Jude is a sought after workshop leader who also teaches adult education classes on communication through Santa Barbara City College. She speaks frequently to community groups on how to rewire thought patterns, understand feelings and emotions, and change lives for the better.