Loss is inevitable. Growth is optional.
That’s how the presenter opened the session on Grief and Loss last weekend at the Community Alliance for Healthy Minds Forum. From there, he shared statistics on loss, the typical stages of grief, and healthy ways to process loss when it happens.
But what he didn’t say is probably most important: Losses happen every day, because every change brings loss along with it.
- That favorite restaurant closes down.
- Escrow falls through for that house you really wanted.
- Your youngest child just had her last day of high school.
- Your dear friend tells you she’s taking a job out of state for a year.
- That promotion you worked for goes to another employee.
We’re not going to grieve our coffee shop removing that favorite syrup from the menu like we would our “baby” moving off to college, but even those little changes bring grief hiccups. Collect enough undealt-with hiccups, and they make it pretty heard to breathe in life.
In the same way, when we limit our understanding of the grieving process to experiences like the death of a loved one, we limit our ability to thrive in every situation life brings.
Which is why, when my husband’s colleague asked me my “One Best Piece of Life Coaching Advice” at a dinner party recently, I said, “Learn how to grieve well.”
How do I grieve the “little things” well?
Admit it happened. Whether that means your favorite family haunt is closed, or you won’t get to meet your friend at the gym for a year, or you won’t get that house you’d already pictured your favorite couch in…. sit with the truth that it happened. Sit for 30 seconds (for the restaurant), or an hour (probably more than once) when your little girl starts packing for college. Be with it. Don’t run from it.
Acknowledge what that means for you. As you admit what’s changed (or changing), let yourself be honest about what that means. Don’t censor yourself, correct yourself or talk yourself out of its importance to you. Seriously. If you are really going to miss that peppermint mocha latte, don’t tell yourself it’s a stupid thing to miss. Just miss it.
Let yourself feel sad (or whatever you need to feel). Grief comes out in lots of ways. Anger. Denial (a.k.a. “I don’t have time for this right now” or “This isn’t really a big deal. Think of all those kids in Africa.”) You aren’t going to be able to help the kids in Africa if you’re stuck in grief, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling whatever comes.
The best way to get a hard feeling to leave you alone is to let it happen. Fight it, and it will fight back.
Find a way to honor the past. Let your mind wander to those great memories. To the breakfasts when your high school senior remembered to hug you before she ran out the door. The epiphany you had as you worked toward that promotion. The way you felt when the light streamed through the window in that house. Even if it’s not going to be your house, nobody can take that warm, sunlit moment from your memory.
Look for the gift. The memories above? They’re gifts. The lessons we learn? Gifts. The way that promotion made us realize we love our job more than we thought? A gift. The fact that our kid actually has the study skills to attend college and move toward independent adulthood? A gift, even if the distance will be painful.
The gifts don’t negate the loss, but finding them carries us through the waves of reminders and feelings that follow.
Comfort someone else who’s grieving. The one common experience we all have in life is loss. So let yourself be part of that “club.” Smile at the widow at the supermarket. Send a note to your friend who had to move (she’s facing loss about it, too). Let your daughter know it’s ok to feel sad or mad or relieved, or whatever she’s feeling as she gets ready to move out. Let the loss you’ve had to grieve give you the tools to love others more.
How are you handling life’s little losses lately?