Grief Course 6

“Adjusting to Loss”

Let’s open with prayer:
“Lord, as we deal with loss and grief we often feel like we are groping in the dark.  Lord, be with us in this study session so that we might find light in our darkness.  Lord, as night turns into day, we pray that you would turn our losses into opportunities, and that you would release us from the prison of loss and grief into the freedom of your love through Jesus, your son, our healer (savior) and brother.  Amen.”

In addition to experiencing the pain of loss, you must also adjust to the void left by the person or an object that is gone.  Whether it be the loss of a dream, a body function, a job, a friend, a pet, or a spouse, there is an empty space in your life – a vacuum that nothing seems to fill. 

Step # 1 is becoming accustomed to the absence of what was a very important part of your life.   There is a  feeling of emptiness in you which is directly related to the significance of what you lost.  Your task now is to learn to function without whatever is gone. This is a change we deeply dislike.

  • In the loss of a person, regardless whether this may be because of death or divorce or moving, you learn to move on without the special relationship, without the interaction that you were accustomed to from your spouse, your friend.  We all resist this type of loss because it is never one we want.
  • The lack of the person’s physical presence in your life means that your needs, hopes, dreams, expectations, feelings, and thoughts will change. 
  • Slowly and over time, the reality of separation begins to sink in and you realize, “For now I exist without this person as a part of my life.”

Step # 2 is:  Re-adjustment to your new world
Whatever the loss you experienced, it means making major changes in your life.  For example,

  • an elderly person who loses a pet may experience major grief because her cat/dog/bird may have been the main companion in her life.
  • If you lost a person, you may discover that it will take you time to even identify all of the ways this person was a part of your life.
  • If you lost your health, your life will be a step-by-step / day-by-day process.
  •  If you lost your job, you might be confused and will need time to cope.

Each time you start to respond to the person, each time you wish to use your healthy body, each time you go looking for your pet, each time you get up in the morning to go to work, you re-discover that what you lost is no longer there.  It’s a painful fact.  It’s a painful reality.  And this reality stares you in the face.  There will be many many reminders to be sure.

Whenever a significant person is lost from your life, you have to broaden your roles and your skills and learn to function without them.  You learn to make up for what you lost.  You change what you do and how you do it, take over the responsibility, find another person to help, or there will be some things you don’t do anymore at all.   Adjustment means – and necessitates – not behaving in the same way you did before you lost a part of your world.  

Step # 3:  Acquiring a new identity
For many people, the loss of a significant person in his or her life means acquiring a new identity, because you will never be quite the same as you were before the loss.  In marriage, originally, “me” had to become “we” in your relationship, now “we” has to adjust to becoming “me” once again.
As it has been said, “That part of my life is history.  I will never be that way or be that person again.”  Look at the people around you and think about how their losses were turning points in their lives.  Often people point to a time of loss as a turning point in their life, like “after my husband passed away”, and that’s ok.  We do the same thing with happy occasions like we say, “after my daughter got married”.

Step # 4 :  Developing a new relationship with what you lost.

‘Sub-title’:  Going on with your life without forgetting the old.  

Perhaps this is the most crucial task to be completed.  With some losses this is relatively easy and clean since in a short time there is a diminishing emotional effect of the loss.  A lost opportunity, job, a wrecked car, a stolen wallet may not have the same lasting effect of some other experiences.
One of the more difficult situations is a divorce  when children are involved and one of the spouses did not want the divorce.  Because of the children, there is a continuing relationship over the years and a constant experiencing of past, present and future losses.

Getting on with your life involves several steps.  These don’t necessarily lessen the pain, but they give you a direction, make you aware of the process in advance and let you know you are on track and not going crazy.  These steps apply to the more serious and impacting losses.

You will need to develop some type of a new relationship with what you lost, especially in a divorce situation or the death of a spouse or child or sibling.
There are other difficult losses like health, aging, moving, career.  However, let us mainly consider death or divorce as the loss for the moment.

Implement Step # 4 :  Developing a new relationship with what you lost.
1.)  Keep the loved one alive in your memory in a healthy and appropriate manner.  

In a divorce this is often worked out by the courts.  That is fairly easy to understand.  But what to do with a spouse or child or sibling lost through death?

*Death does end the person’s life on this earth but not your relationship with that person.  This is not morbid, this is a very normal response.  Why be shy to talk openly about it?  After all, if we keep famous, good and bad, politicians (Julius Caesar/King Henry VIII) and artists (Charlie Chaplin) alive in our society as we reflect on who they were, their achievements, their impact on society, then we can feel free to make statements like, “I wonder what so-and-so would think if he or she were alive today.”  This is absolutely normal.

*What is ab-normal is the feeling you MUST do things or see things just the way the deceased did, the feeling to be dominated by the deceased.  Sometimes in divorce, a spouse continues to allow the memory of a pressuring spouse to dominate his or her present life. This is unhealthy.
The phrase, “She would have wanted me to paint the house this color,” could be evidence.

*When we lose a loved one, our memory of this person becomes initially  distorted: We usually recall only the positive aspects.  But in time, there must be realism.  A balanced realistic accurate pool of memories must be developed, including both good and bad, positive and negative, situations we were glad occurred and those we wished had not happened.  This is the image that is needed to develop the new relationship with the deceased person.
It might be helpful to write a relationship-history-graph about the person you lost and identify the positives and negatives of your relationship. 

Here is a sample graph, taken from the book.

  Read chapter 5, page 84, in your book.

  • On the bottom of the graph place 5 – 15 positive events and experiences.
  • On the top write negative, upsetting or hurtful experiences.
  • The length of the vertical line indicates the intensity.
  • You can add to this any time later, as you remember.
  • Try to write a paragraph about each event with as much detail as possible.
  • Some of your feelings may include “Regrets” or “If only’s”.  Make a list of them, but do not get stuck there.  Remember that the emotion “grief” is an avenue on which you walk.  The point of this exercise is to bring you out of any pattern of denial and help you recover.

 It is important to allow your feelings to emerge.  Here are examples of “if only’s” and “regrets” people wrote:

– My feelings are all mixed up.  I wish they were clearer.
-I’ll never forget the times we prayed together.  That meant so much.
-I’m glad we have pictures and videos from our anniversaries.
-I’m still hurt over the drinking.  I wish it had never been a part of our marriage.
-I’m sorry for my angry outbursts.
-I’m angry you died so young.  I feel cheated.  We needed more time.
-I wished we could have talked more.  There’s so much more I wanted to tell you.

These statements reflect our own critical attitude toward what we did or didn’t do and what the deceased person did or did not do.  If we remain in this critical stage, inaccurate memories of the relationship emerge.  And the more this happens, the more difficult it is to complete our grief work.  What you discover through this evaluation can bring you out of any pattern of denial and help you recover.  It may seem like the pain is too much and unnecessary but it is very important and vital for developing this new relationship with the deceased person.

*What about recalling how a deceased person died or how the divorce went?  Is that necessary or normal?  YES!  Repetitious reviewing helps you fully realize that your needs, hopes, expectations and dreams of continuing to be with this person are not going to be fulfilled because the person is dead or divorced.  You may tend to resist this since the memories bring pain, but each time you do this you discover that you have a lot more control over them.

*Some people never seem to relinquish what they have lost.  They hang on and dwell upon what they never had or what they lost and it dominates their entire lives. And often such people become bitter. 

*After the death of a child some parents keep their child alive by keeping his or her room just the way it was when he or she was alive.  They make a shrine out of their child’s room, and this can go on for many years.  Unfortunately, all this does is to prolong grief.

*Some respond with just the opposite reaction.  After the loss occurs, whether it be a love relationship, death, a house that burned, or an unfulfilled job promotion, they act as though it never existed.  They seem to block its existence from their memory and attempt to move on.  This is not a healthy response either!  THERE IS A BALANCE.
There is a way, especially in the loss of a person, to keep a loved one “alive” appropriately.
There are healthy ways to “hold on” to something that you have lost.
In healthy remembrance you will find yourself having thoughts, or doing, saying, and feeling things that show that the other person continues to influence you.
Balanced approach of Step # 4 :  Developing a new relationship with what you lost.  
2.)  Form a new identity without this person’s presence in your life.
      a) Recognize the other person is gone and you are still alive, although at first you may not feel as if you’re very much alive.  Initially, you feel you can’t go on, or you don’t want to go on without the one who left or died.  You do not want to make new memories that do not include the person you lost.  But there does come that time of emotionally letting go and reinvesting in life in a new way.

b) Decide what there was about your life with the other person and your life style together that can and should be retained.  It’s deciding what would be beneficial for YOU.  After the loss of a spouse, do you continue to:
– go to the same coffee shop each morning for breakfast?
– go on an evening walk around the park as you did together?
– keep special items you either made or purchased together displayed?
– maintain the daily or weekly routines the two of you shared together?
– attend the weekly couples’ Bible study and/or potluck dinners?
Some activities will be kept for comfort, many will be dropped. 

Some healthy ways to remember a deceased person include:
– learning more about their favorite activities and involvement.
– looking at home movies or videos, listening to tapes of them or reflecting on some of their  stories to bring back memories of them.
– deciding to try some of their favorite foods or engaging in their former activities just to experience what the person did.
-visiting the deceased’s childhood school, work.
-going to the cemetery. 
It is perfectly all right and normal to talk about someone you lost, do things based on what you learned about the person, or reflect on memories.  Part of who you are today and how you respond today is based upon your relationship with that person.
Perhaps that person had taught you new insights, perceptions, skills, appreciations or values, leaving a significant mark on you.  Sometimes you may even be surprised as you discover yourself solving problems or responding in a manner that the deceased person used to do.

c) A real surprise for most people is the formation of a new identity.
A student who has graduated from the security of 4 years at the same college is plunged into the job market and is no longer viewed by himself and others as a student.
The athlete who after an accident is confined to a wheelchair is seen differently by friends and others.  New roles, responsibilities and expectations are now a part of his or her life.  The way he or she views oneself has changed.
This can be one of the most painful transitions of all.  You see the world around you differently.  Some of your friendships may change as well.  Adjustments may have to occur. 
At the end of a marriage through either death or divorce, there is a change in identity from “we” to “me”.  Your identity may have been as a couple and most of your friendships were couple relationships.  But now you’re alone.  You will need both, some old and new relationships with people.

d) Recovery, as was stated before, is re-investing your emotional energy in something new that can give you satisfaction and fulfillment.  The relationship with the person or object you lost cannot be replaced and we are not talking about a replacement.  A new cat or dog cannot replace the old one, a new person is not a replacement for the former and any attempts to clone them into replicas are unhealthy responses.
In the loss of your health, you may re-invest in learning about new possibilities, new activities, new opportunities.
In the loss of your career, you might re-invest in learning new skills.
In the loss of a person, try not to re-invest in another one as a replacement.  However, what you can do is re-invest in a service organization, ministry, a new career, a hope, a hobby, a goal, etc. for starters.  You might meet another person later and perhaps decide to
re-invest your emotions in a brand-new relationship.
These are the steps.  This is the task.  It’s not easy.  It’s not without pain. But our lives go on, different and new.  How our lives go on, how different, and what is new depends on our grief work.
And then, as these steps are in process and your grief work is being completed, the emotional energy that was once invested in the person you lost is now freed up and reinvested in other people, activities and hopes which in turn can give emotional satisfaction back to you.

Please, be sure to read chapters 5 of your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”.  Take your time.  Don’t hurry.

Let’s close with prayer:

“Lord, the light of Your love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us.
Set us free by the truth you now bring us.
Shine on me, shine on me.
Lord, I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness.
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness!
Shine on me, shine on me.