I just spent the last few days with my sister wife. We are not Mormon. We were co-workers for four years where we shared a husband, hers by true love and marriage and mine by work. Notice the use of the word “shared”. We lost this incredible man not too long ago and way too soon.
Ironically, these same few days overlapped a funeral. Although the loss was family (by marriage), I was not sad or upset. I went to the service to give love and support to those who were related to him by blood and felt his loss deeply. My distance lessened when I recognized the profound sadness all around me. There was a daughter estranged from the family for so long she was unmentioned and unrecognized during the service and burial. There was a widow of more than four decades of marriage lost to dementia; I wasn’t sure if she understood what terrible occasion we were marking.
The grief and loss that comes with death always triggers discussions of the five stages made popular (to the tune of being available on WebMD and Wikipedia) by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let me join the professional bandwagon by saying…crap!
Picking Up the Pieces
The grieving process occurs all through your life. It is not just when there is a death. It is important to remember, and not belittle, that LOSS is an obstacle you have survived – from the moment you were not able to use your pacifier until the moment you were not able to remember your name. Keeping that in mind, here are some of the real struggles of grief and loss:
- Identity: With my full opinionated support, my friend has never referred to herself as a widow. (I am cringing right now.) As I mentioned in an earlier blog about identity, so much of growing older is adding relational titles. When those titles are lost, sister, daughter, wife, the process that originally took the first two decades of your life (at least) needs to re-start. Who wouldn’t be angry about a second puberty?
- Belonging: According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this motivation, to belong in a group, is a vital stepping stone to developing a healthy self-esteem. Consider the losses in your life that were unrelated to death, my earlier example of a child’s loss of a pacifier. The demarcation that parents celebrate as a sign of maturity is met with the loss of confidence about self-soothing. Down the pyramid you go! Now, you have to search your environment for survival and safety again. We all do it. We just forget that from the perspective of a toddler, and some professional counselors, that loss needs to be acknowledged as evidence that you are strong enough and resourceful enough to survive all kinds of losses. Even a small loss can be used as fuel to get a small gain for a bigger loss.
- Isolation: You lost your job. Becoming a parent wasn’t what you expected. Your child isn’t interested in playing Legos with you. All of these dashed dreams trigger the grief and loss stages. They also separate you from friends and family. You have become the embodiment of fear — the living and breathing “what-if” monster. You shy away from people who shy away from you. Until you reinvent yourself, and choose whether your old friends should be your new friends, a self-imposed, community approved, isolation is in effect.
Spark Note Summary
Death is not the only reason we suffer from grief and loss. Each time we don’t live the life we expected, we have to reinvent ourselves. Bringing the successes and lessons learned from a past life into the next life (cue Indigo Girls “Galileo“), makes you strong enough to start again. You just have to start by salvaging the right pieces…