“Suffering is simply the difference between what is and what I want it to be.”
— Dr Spencer Johnson
If you’re human, you’ve known loss.
Where there is life, there is loss.
And loss is a word that contains much more than the death of someone we love and lose.
It is the grief we experience as we watch a beloved parent disappear into the shadows as dementia eats away at their sense of self.
It is the death of a marriage that once held the hope and promise of lasting happiness.
It is the severing of a friendship when betrayal and hurt tear apart the tenderness of a cherished connection.
It is the alienation of a geographical move, far away from everything and everyone familiar and known.
It is our children growing wings and leaving home to soar in the big, blue skies of freedom.
Loss walks alongside us on this earthly journey—because every life transition involves a measure of loss. How we deal with our losses determines how we live our lives. Some of us shut down and barricade our hearts, afraid and anxious of being hurt again. Others are broken open by loss and, as a result, go on to live more expansive lives.
Every loss has something to teach us—if we care to listen. Here are three lessons that come to us through the experience of loss in our lives.
We are not alone
Our first response to loss is usually Why me? It is normal to feel alone and believe that our life is doomed. We feel an intense sense of alienation, because we notice the world continues to move on, whereas life as we have known it has come to a complete standstill. But when we pause, take a breath and connect with the larger truth, this is what we know: Everything that is born must die.
Pain is part of the human experience and no one gets a free pass. This very realisation connects us to the truth that we are not alone in our experience of grief. Everyone’s life has its own form of pain—whether it’s a divorce, a terminal illness, family feuds, teenagers making poor choices or addictions that topple entire families. Singer Jana Stanfield’s lyrics “You hurt just like me, I cry just like you” bring home this powerful truth. So, no matter who you are and no matter the nature of your pain, stop and close your eyes for a moment. Connect with millions of others all over the world who are walking in similar shoes—and you will feel a little less alone.
Focus on what matters to you
Anytime we suffer a loss, life has a way of narrowing the lens. We have the opportunity to reflect on what truly matters—and let the other stuff go. When my mother died in 2009, a powerful truth dawned on me—I don’t have all the time in the world. It jolted me to the urgency of living my life on purpose, investing my time and energies in what fuelled my passions. I could no longer take my time here for granted. Living in alignment with that principle, I focus on my top passions: writing, teaching, coaching and learning. I have little time for gossip, complaining, or indulging in activities that drain my energy. Our soul is here to deliver its gifts, talents and treasures, and living purposefully is about being mindful of our soul’s agenda. Australian author Bronnie Ware draws our attention to this in her best-selling book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. She says that the number one regret of the dying is: “I wish I’d lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” When a crisis awakens us, it offers us a second chance to evaluate our priorities.
Heal another's broken heart and you heal yours
When we are steeped in the sorrow of our loss, we buy into the notion that God or the Universe is unfair, unfathomable and punishing. But if we take the energy of our pain and turn it into purpose by serving another, the very act of being a healing touch in another’s life mends what’s broken in us.
For me, visiting nursing homes to console and comfort the elderly who ached for companionship was the most healing act of self-care in the midst of mourning my mother. Service helped heal my broken heart in ways that I simply cannot articulate. It is my belief that the Divine energy of reaching out in love was returned to me a thousandfold. Spiritual teacher Neale Donald Walsh, best-selling author of the Conversations with God series, says, “Your life is not about you. It is about everybody whose lives you touch.”
Loss is life’s biggest and best teacher. The only question is: Am I a willing learner?
This was first published in the April 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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