Accepting Loss

It will be, that by the time of this column’s publication, someone will have lost an election.  That loss will be devastating to a lot of people who’s hopes will have been dashed and expectations thwarted.  Loss is not easy to get over and it’s complicated with a capital C.

To date, I’ve never failed the visual field test from my semi-annual eye exam.  I sometimes fret a little bit about attention deficit during the test – thinking I might get bored for a second while waiting at the ready for any flash of light, however vague, to appear to the right, the left, above or beneath the center yellow dot, the sharp focal point of the test.

If attention deficit is your thing, and you’d prefer cliff-notes, then this is the paragraph for you. The whole point of acceptance of loss is to acknowledge it, even focus on the loss (the yellow dot in the visual field test), while not losing sight of the periphery of life (your entire scope of vision – all of the lights appearing to the left, right, above and beneath the yellow dot), everything else outside of the loss.

The stages of grief have been identified, quantified and are well-documented as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  However, the manifestations of grief are more likely individually experienced and somewhat chaotic rather than the supposedly orderly, sequential, progressive, or easily-defined stages that are stipulated in the scientific, and popular literature.

Awareness of grief and where we might stand in its possible stages might, however, assuage our getting stuck somewhere indefinitely, unresolved.  But grief is an emotion not easily dealt with.

We mourn, not just at the death of a loved one or pet, but at the death of a relationship, the loss of a job or the demise of an expectation, dream or hope for something imagined – or like a cable bundle, a combination of these losses.  Grief also arrives at the doorstep of the loss of the healthy functioning of one’s mind or body or the decline of an ability that everyone aging (i.e., everyone) must either grow aware of or live with its painful, unacknowledged effects.

“Accepting the things, I cannot change,” control, or fix, is the hard part of the Serenity Prayer.  If I can’t change or fix something that bothers me, or control the changes that inevitably come my way, don’t you know those things move from the periphery, right into the focal point of my thoughts.  Everyone who has dieted can relate to the simple fact that when you determine not to eat something you’ve deemed against your diet (e.g., chocolate, snacks, bread, pasta, red meat/deli meat, potatoes), that food is all you can think about.

The grieving process is not an easy one, but it is an important one.  My observation and educated guess about mourning is, we are better served if we invite it not to pull up a chair and stay, at length.  Yes, we should welcome grief as a guest; even immerse ourselves in its embrace with no time-frame surrounding it, and fully feel it.  Then, at some point, bid it adieu.

I’m certain that those who mourn have to just hurt for a while, swim around in its pool and be saturated by it.  No words, no scripture, no gesture will stifle the indescribable pain of loss until that mystical moment when the veil is lifted enough to actually exhale.  We must take advantage of that moment to step out from under the bulk of grief, move away from it and free our soul from its lingering effects.

Loss is universal, experienced by everyone, everywhere throughout time.  Some have had more than their share of loss of loved ones.  Others have had to suffer the loss of dignity or self-esteem, maybe many times over.  Most of us have had to grieve the loss of dreams or expectations, only to develop new ones, over time.  Not many have escaped the devastating loss of a pet.

Everybody’s got their griefs to bear.  I along with millions of other church goers, have sung the hymn, “What a Friend we have in Jesus,’ …All our sins and griefs to bear! What peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear…”

This hymn lauds Jesus as the perfect friend to share our sorrows, discouragements, burdens, weaknesses and I would add – complaints, if we avail ourselves of his friendship.  If not, just knowing that we have friends on the planet who have felt the same sorrow as us, is a comfort and goes a long way in assuaging our pain of loss.  Specialized groups for various types of loss, filled with like-minded folks, have sprung up all over the country, providing support for those grieving the death of a loved one, a divorce, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, or suicide.

Plutarch, a first century Greek philosopher, as well as our friend, Jesus, mentioned above, suggest that we can diminish the size and intensity of our grief by tweaking what we pay attention to.  After entertaining it for a time – we might recognize lingering grief as the inkling to feel sorry for ourselves or have an extended pity party for one.

We might consider un-inviting the guests to our pity party.  We could switch up the party’s theme, converting the pity party to a psychologically and spiritually useful celebration of what remains intact in our lives.  We may transform what was good in what’s gone, into a present that we can live with.

In memorials, wakes, or divorce parties, we can focus our attention on:  1. recalling the pleasure, delight, or happiness the thing or person, presently lost, brought to our lives; 2. transposing and reshaping our reflectionsfocusing on what the relationship or memory brought to our lives; rather than on what its loss took away from us;  and 3. recollecting the essence of the lost person, expectation, job, or feeling, and treasuring that essence in absentia of the concrete or physical person, relationship or thing.

And, finally, acceptance of loss is an invitation to the rest of our lives, played out on a stage with past memories, present acceptance, and a future hope.  There will be another presidential election in four years.  Make the best of this four years, through acceptance of what is.

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