As counselors, one of the phrases that rolls off our tongues easily is:
“You have to grieve your losses.”
“Great” says a lot of clients “How do I do that?”
I really had to think about that for a while. I mean I know how to feel sad, but I am aware that it’s more than that. So I started at the beginning of the grief process as theorized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.
The first stage according to Kubler-Ross is denial. I found it interesting that the first step in the “twelve step program of recovery” is breaking denial. But it makes sense – grief is the process of recovery from loss.
When death is the loss, it is pretty easy to identify. It is just so up front and in your face. But there are so many other kinds of losses that we experience, and it may be that we don’t recognize the need to identify them as losses and grieve.
I would ask the question “What loss(es) might you be denying?
Dig deep – go into you history, your past. What do you regret? What things have passed you by? What relationships are unfinished because they didn’t end well, or you said too much or too little and wish you could have a “do-over”?
I know that I have rationalized some of my bad decisions so that I wouldn’t have to admit them as losses – but they really are. Other decisions were made for me and the reality of my powerlessness in those situations is a loss.
Truth be told, I don’t want to grieve my losses. I would rather stay in denial or avoid them. I don’t want to feel sad, or scared or angry. But the problem is that it is highly likely that I will either shut off all my feelings, or I will redirect them into an addiction of some sort. I might not even recognize it as an addiction if the pursuit seems positive, like focusing on a career, or volunteerism, or mastering a musical instrument or acquiring some other skill.
So what is the goal? For me, I would say freedom. Like releasing the air pressure that builds up in a balloon, the grief process releases the stored up pain and allows us to keep moving forward. Women often talk about the relief they feel after a “good cry”. Guys not so much, but I’ll bet it is still true. But I do know that the first step toward freedom is “owning” our losses, no matter what they might be. Then it is likely that some of the other stages of grief will follow.
The Bible clearly tells us that there is a time for mourning as well as a time for rejoicing. Perhaps it is not possible to do one without making room for the other.
Psalm 30:11 - You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.