Let’s consider for a moment what happens when we experience loss. We have all experienced loss at some point in our lives and most of us have felt a sense of loss in some form during this pandemic. Perhaps you have lost some thing. Maybe you deeply feel the loss of solitude because your whole family has been holed up in your house for weeks. For those of you who live alone you might feel the loss of connection to others. Perhaps you miss fun. In fact, if you thought about it for a minute, you can’t really remember the last time you actually laughed. Some of you are missing the freedom of choice with so many pandemic restrictions currently limiting the activities of your life. These examples, my friends, are what I mean by loss.
Or maybe you have lost some one, a person or maybe even a lot of people that you haven’t been able to see in person for a long time. Maybe you are really, really missing being able to hug the people you love. Some of you may even be experiencing the loss of a loved one to death. That’s my story, I’m afraid. I lost two family members to unexpected death last year and I can tell you that I am still grieving. Many of the things I’m going to share with you today are some of what I’ve learned about grief and loss this past year and a half.
One thing I’ve noticed is that loss can be visualized as a wave. You’ve probably seen the COVID-19 graph that they have been showing on the news. One wave on the graph comes on suddenly and spikes way up high. The other wave is shorter but longer in duration. This graph tells the story of loss I think. When loss comes on suddenly, like it did with this pandemic, our reaction is stronger. We feel it more deeply. It catches us off balance and it takes a minute for us to get our bearings in the new normal. If a loss comes on slowly, then our feelings of loss may never peak as high but it often stretches out over a longer period of time.
Let me give you an illustration. I lead a support group for those who are involved in the care of a loved one who is old, sick, dying or in need of continuous care. For most of our caregivers loss occurs slowly over months or even years. Their loved ones often slip away a little bit at a time. By the time the loved one actually passes away, the caregiver has already experienced an extended period of grief as they let go of the person they once knew and loved a piece at a time. They may never feel grief at the time of their loved one’s death to the same intensity that my family did when our young ones died suddenly. An unexpected loss is like a gut punch. It takes your breath away. Your heart stops. You are in shock.
Regardless of whether the losses you are experiencing came on suddenly, like this pandemic, or slowly over time, the effects are the same. The first thing I have learned about loss is that it affects the whole person. For me, I feel it first in my body. It starts with a heaviness in my chest. There is a deep ache in my muscles and bones. I feel sluggish and exhausted after the slightest exertion. I don’t sleep well. That’s when I realize that I have begun to experience loss in my mind. There are cyclical thoughts that go around and around in my head like an endless loop. Regrets, memories, wishes that seem like they can never come true. My spirit feels dull and listless. The spiritual rhythms that normally refresh me have little to no effect. I feel disconnected from God, myself and others. That’s when I begin seeing the effects of loss on my relationships. I become short-tempered. I feel isolated and disconnected from others, even those in my own home. Finally, I stop and begin to explore the emotions that are causing all of this. My heart is broken. I am deeply saddened. I feel a deep longing and emptiness. I might even feel despair that I will ever feel lighthearted again.
There is another emotion that I sometimes feel and that is anger. For me, anger may be one of the first signs that I notice when I’ve experienced a loss. Yet, anger is sometimes hard for me to recognize. It has a tendency to lie just under the surface of my awareness. Once I realize it’s there, I have to remind myself that anger is usually a symptom of something deeper. In the case of the death of my loved ones, the underlying emotion was guilt. I should have done this. What if I had done that? Could things have been different? Then that feeds right back into the mental loop I mentioned earlier.
See how it all connects? Loss affects our whole being. It’s not just our heart that is grieving. Our spirit, mind, and body grieves too. And when we grieve, those around us feel that grief as well because it affects our relationships.
The second thing I learned about grief and loss is that you have to let yourself feel it ~ fully feel it with your whole being. Stuffing down these feelings and experiences is incredibly unhealthy. God invites us to bring them into the open so that He can heal them. God can only meet us where we are, not where we wish we could be. If we are grieving, then God can only meet us in the middle of that grief. If we try to walk around it, we will miss Him. If we try to walk away from it, we also walk away from Him. If we try to jump over it, it will trip us up every time. The only way out of grief is through. In my next #weeklywellnessword we will explore an ancient spiritual practice that can help us process our losses. I hope you will join me then. #weeklywellnessword #nourishyourbeing