How do we measure loss?
This week our small community was rocked by the loss of another young person, a life cut short, too short, a life full of promise and hope. We ask ourselves why. We search for reasons and an understanding, but we often come up with nothing. There seems to be no measure for loss.
I’ve written several posts on the topic of time, life, and the search for fulfillment and emotional happiness. There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by where these huge, all encompassing topics don’t somehow filter into my writing. This week I chose to write about loss and how it affects us.
I pause here to note that it affects each and every one of us differently and our own personal reactions to loss are just that – personal. There is no right or wrong way to react to loss, because it is as individual as the loss itself.
As I thought about loss and its immeasurability, I considered the five stages of grief, a hypothesis introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as she studied terminally ill patients. The Kubler-Ross Model was expanded for use in multiple, different situations in which people experience a significant loss. It is important to note that not all individuals experience all stages of the model, nor do they necessarily occur in the order presented. Kubler-Ross stated that an individual will always experience at least two of the stages. Often the stages will be experienced in a roller-coaster effect – switching between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through the experience itself.
These stages have evolved since their introduction and have been often misunderstood over the past three decades. In an article defending the Five Stages Model, Elisabth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler stated that the five stages were “never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages” rather “they are responses to loss that many people have, but there is no typical response to loss as there is no typical loss.” (www.grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/)
Below is a quick overview, restated in my own words, which outlines my understanding of the five stages of grieving and dealing with a loss:
Denial – The first stage which helps us survive the loss. This is the stage in which the world feels meaningless and overwhelming. It is in this stage where we feel numb from the state of shock and denial. It is this denial and shock which help us to cope and to “pace our feelings of grief”. It is our mind’s way of protecting us and only letting in as much as we can handle.
Anger – This is another necessary stage of healing from a loss. Allowing ourselves to feel the anger will help the anger to disappear more quickly. The anger may be limitless – extending to everyone involved somehow in your loss, maybe even to God. Under the anger is pain and perhaps a feeling of desertion and abandonment. Anger may give us strength and act as an anchor or focus for our feelings.
Bargaining – This stage involves bargaining with God or attempting to form some kind of truce to return life back to the way it was. “What ifs” and “If onlys” prevail in our thoughts. Guilt often accompanies this stage as we find fault within ourselves and imagine what we could’ve done differently.
Depression – The depression stage moves our feelings into the present as we begin to accept what has happened. We may feel empty and begin to withdraw from life. These are very natural feelings and are not a sign of mental illness, rather a natural response to a great loss. This stage may seem to last a long time, but that again is individual to the situation.
Acceptance – This stage is often mistaken as the idea that we are “all right” and “ok” with the loss that has occurred, but this is not the case. The acceptance stage is actually about accepting the reality that the loss has occurred and that a new reality is now permanent. This stage is not even about liking the new reality but it is about accepting it and beginning the slow progress of moving forward.
Loss may never be understood. Loss may never make sense to us or seem “fair”. We may even want to try to deny it in our minds. We may lash out in anger towards anyone near us. We may attempt to bargain with God, praying for things to return to the way they were. We may fall into despair and depression, losing all desire for the things and life we once enjoyed.
We will at some point come to terms with our loss and accept that life has changed. This new reality may be approached with reluctance and trepidation but it will come to us.
There is no measure for loss, there is only our own personal grieving process which comes after the loss has taken place. There is no magic cure, no click of a button, or flipping of a switch. There is hope in the certainty that out of darkness there can shine light, however dimly at first. Our love and compassion for one another can bring peace to those who suffer loss. We can listen and be there for those who grieve. No one needs to feel alone.
Loss does not need to be measured. It only needs to be understood.
(photo courtesy of smartcanucks.ca)
(Dear Readers, My prayers are with those who suffer loss – present and past. May you find comfort and peace. Love, ~ K ~)