I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. Not just the loss of items like I described in my last post, Seek and You Shall Find, but the paralyzing kind of loss that comes when a relationships ends, a job ceases to exist, a beloved pet passes, a child leaves home, we are exposed to a glimpse of ourself in a really revealing floor length mirror, or a friend gets diagnosed with cancer. Without an unwavering faith in our ability to handle what this loss leaves in its wake or in a creator who will not to dish out more than we can take, this can be a daunting, if not downright dismal, period.
Because these kinds of losses tend to crop up more at midlife and beyond, I wanted to share a few of the strategies I’ve found for coping them. Hopefully they can help you in your hour, moment, days, weeks, or months of grief or loss.
· #1 – Be grateful. Always begin with gratitude. Don’t expect to be grateful for the loss right now, but do be grateful for the love this person, this critter, this experience, this job, this adventure, this revelation, this belief in something bigger than yourself graced you with during its presence in your life. You wouldn’t be distraught about losing this person, place, or thing if you didn’t love it dearly or believe it in wholeheartedly at one time. Passion is something to be profoundly grateful for.
· #2 – Don’t just do something, sit there. Contrary to popular belief, not everything requires immediate action or can be replaced with the click of a mouse. Even if online dating allows you to meet someone new and exciting within hours of ending a relationship, you may want to put yourself in time out and think about your behavior before foisting your broken heart or bruised and battered ego on someone else in order to avoid the sting of a facing a Saturday night alone. (I dare say alone is better than with the toothless wonder who claimed to be ten years younger, employed, and without a prison record.) You may want to wait a few weeks and figure out what kind of pet fits into your family before heading to the shelter to pick out a new one. You may want to make sure your offspring loves the school he’s attending half way across the country before telling him you’re turning his room into your art studio. You may want to give the gym a try before you schedule liposuction. And you may want to simply sit with a friend and listen to her fears instead of overwhelming her with ways that together you can conquer cancer.
· #3 – Feel your pain. According to Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who had a stroke and was able to study her own brain, it takes our bodies ninety seconds to process hormonal reactions associated with fear, anger, and grief. If we can experience them without resistance or repeating our version of the infraction over and over, the emotions will disappear, making peace possible. When the emotions return again, they do so in ninety-second waves. Ninety seconds seems manageable to me.
Having said that, feeling your pain requires immense courage to sit in the sacred silence of deep space long enough for your soul to inform you what it really wants and needs now. If facing this emptiness seems unbearable, remember the ninety second rule. If you do not give yourself this gift, you run the risk of acting out of fear or scarcity and mistake the first person, job, opportunity, or answer that presents itself as the end to your suffering instead recognizing it as merely a different version of it.
· #4 – Take extremely good care of yourself. Now might be a good time to get that mani/pedi or slip away to the beach house your friend offered up, or go to a matinee instead of a meeting, or luxuriate in a hot bath. As long as the consequences don’t create further chaos, whatever indulges your senses and soothes your soul is just what the doctor ordered. Nap. Eat well. Listen to music. Swim, cycle, or go for a long walk. Read a book or a blog. Hug a tree. Send yourself some flowers. Let your cat cuddle up next to you on the couch. Pull those pesky weeds. Shred some paper. Now is not the time to deny yourself the pleasure or privilege of being alive. While some part of you undoubtedly feels dead, you are still here and the world needs your unique contribution.
· #5 – Connect. While you may think isolation is a good idea, unless you want friends and family descending upon your household with soup, sandwiches, Yahtzee, or other diversions, stay in touch with them. There are so many ways to let people know you are okay. Tweet, text, show up, phone home. Watch an inspiring video of other people overcoming similar situations. Read poetry. Help at an animal shelter or nursing home. Go where you are needed. Despite what has been lost, there is still more love, more kindness, more amazement to be found. Discover it.
· #6 – Let your art heal your heart. I realize not everyone feels the same urge to express themselves as much or as often I as do, but however you are inclined to express yourself – through writing, drawing, staining the deck, sculpting, painting, singing, pantomiming, rapping, rearranging furniture, gardening, grilling, quilting, mowing, organizing your music playlist or making mixed tapes – do so.
The hidden gift of a significant loss is the energy, effort, and creative output that results from getting through those grueling moments when you are jonesing for your lost love, job, pet, or perspective. The most prolific time for me is that very vulnerable time when I’ve lost something I once held dear. Writing is my medicine. What’s yours? Cura te ipsum. (I took one semester of Latin at McGill University. Today is the day it pays off.) Physician, heal thyself.
· #7 – Ask for grace and guidance. I have a Divine Assistance Team – my artillery of angels, guides, helpers, gods and goddesses – on psychic speed dial to help with anything from finding a parking space to finding my life purpose. I could not manage my life without the intervention of these invisible allies. They are so much funnier, wiser, savvy, sexy, and sensible than I am, left to my own devices.
I also have an incredible Earthly Assistance Team of healers, therapists, artists, poets, musicians, friends, family, canines, frenemies, fellow bloggers and blog followers, and neighbors that together act as my personal GPS. I don’t for a minute consider navigating my new reality without them. Gather your peeps and recruit them into service for the greater good. Theirs and yours.
· #8 – Dare to love, trust, believe again.The last time my heart was smashed to smithereens, I went into a love lockdown along the order of, “Nobody gets in to see the wizard. Not nobody. Not no way. Not no how.” My heart was definitely off limits. Then I fell in love. First it was with my dogs. Okay, every day it’s with my dogs. Then it was with a pair of shoes. Ditto for the shoes. Then I worked my way up to amber waves of grain, red velvet cupcakes, and waterproof iPods. Finally I fell for Mr. Right, until he recently left, leaving him Mr. Left, right? Custody of the dogs, shoes, and iPods remains with me.
I was betrayed or otherwise thrown under the bus enough times at former workplaces (weren’t we all?) to motivate me to start my own business so as not to have to deal with institutional insanity. I quickly discovered crazy making is an inside job. I’ve been at my current job for 5 years now. They work around my insanity.
There is a great line in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The innkeeper is relentlessly positive in the face of any and all disasters and consoles his guests by saying, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
The way I see it, life is fragile and we are incredibly tender and mystifying creatures. Hearts are broken and dreams are dashed every day.
Despite our culture’s obsession with winning, we aren’t all going to go home with the gold. Let’s face it, there will be far more excellent, impressive, awe-inspiring athletes leaving London without a gold medal than those who will.
But for many of us, that isn’t really the point. It’s about participating. It’s about being here. It’s about accepting that this loss may be necessary to come back better, wiser, stronger, and maybe with more humility at another place and time.
No matter how many times we are faced with loss, the challenge is to open to it, breathe through it, keep the faith, love fearlessly, trust again, and show up despite our certainty that, if we are fully alive, are hearts will surely break again.