What is Loss?
Death. It’s one of the most taboo subjects. If you ever want to end a conversation, start talking about death. Death and the sadness that occurs afterward, are often met by friends and loved ones with attempts to return to happiness as fast as possible, instead of attempting to understand how to cope with the experience. Avoidance is even found in graduate-level counseling programs, where grief/loss is completely removed from the required coursework. Despite all of our avoiding, death and loss surround us and occur more often than we realize.
Loss can be camouflaged, but it lies in almost everything we experience. Loss of identity is a common hidden loss. This can occur for many reasons. For example, after a divorce, many people experience a loss of identity as they transition from a married couple to a single individual. It grows increasingly difficult the longer a marriage lasts, since the longer someone has held an identity, the harder it becomes to transition to a new identity. Loss of identity can also be seen in children during divorces. For some children, the change that occurs may mean taking a new role in the family, transitioning from son to “man of the household.” This switch can cause stress, conflict, and confusion for the family member who is forced to take on a role they are not normally accustomed to. Losing a job can also cause identity loss, particularly with men. Society has labeled men with the social role of “provider.” Working and providing for a family is an identity for many men, and when that is taken away via job loss, men sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to a new role as dependent.
Another common but hidden loss is the relocation of a home. This loss is probably more common today as many families are forced to move because of the inability to afford their current bills, job relocation, or foreclosure due to a poor economy. For many families, the home symbolizes much more than just a roof and four walls; it can hold history, memories, and an ongoing restructuring project and result of hard work. Losing a home or being forced to move can be devastating and leave one with feelings of intense loss. Our homes are also our place of comfort. Do you remember your first move? How long did it take you to make your new place feel like “home”? This feeling of comfort is often grieved as well when losing a home.
Loss of ability is another example that can occur for people with chronic or terminal medical conditions. For instance, some diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which results in loss of muscle control, slowly strips away many abilities that a person once had. Just one month after diagnosis, an individual may lose their ability to sleep comfortably. Months later, they may lose their ability to walk without assistance. Next goes the ability to walk at all, being bound to a wheel chair. Loss of vision, the ability to control bowel movements, and the strength to feed oneself can also occur. Each of these different stages in the disease results in a loss, and those individuals experience grief during each individual stage. [I would like to note that this is a generalized example based on a severe course of MS. Not all individuals with MS will experience these symptoms, and not all courses of MS follow the same path.] Sudden loss due to either disease or tragic event is also a loss that requires grieving.
As one can see, there are many types of losses that are not the actual loss of a human life. People experience these losses many times over, but often confuse the experience with other emotions. Are we really mad that the staircase in the new house is placed in such an awkward place, or are we just grieving the loss of what was once our place of comfort and security? Are you really upset that your partner took on more hours at work, leaving no time to help you around the house? Or are you having a hard time transitioning out of the role in the family as “provider”?
One may answer, “What does it matter? Regardless of how I got there, I’m left feeling mad!” One cannot begin grieving something they have not yet acknowledged has been lost. Appropriately defining these moments as a loss ― whether it be a divorce, losing a job or a house, gaining a new identity as a single, taking on a new role in the family, or declining physical abilities due to a chronic medical condition ― will help one gain a clearer understanding of what they are experiencing, and help one to better cope with the feelings they are having.
It is also important to recognize the actual loss to allow for the time and space to grieve. Although it may not be seen by others as an “actual” loss, what was experienced is, in fact, a loss and can leave one with the exact same feelings. Taking care of oneself during this difficult time is not only important, but essential.
Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist
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© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.