What is loss? The concept of a loss is so basic and yet the experience can be unbelievably challenging.
Its basicness, however, is precisely why it must be elucidated. A loss is the space left behind when something is gone. The “something” can be anything at all, and that something can leave at any time. A loss sparks off the state of searching-without-finding. It is the flavor palette from which all grief comes – mourning what has been and what could have been in the future. It is the absence, the searching, the gap between. It is emptiness from which meaning is born.
And, it is more than absence. It is an empty space into which deep self-reflection and humility can nourish new seeds of meaning, connection, reverence, and joy. “The pain of loss is important,” writes Steven Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, “not just because it challenges us in ways that go far beyond a hot stove. It has huge lessons to teach us, and avoidance keeps us from a significant source of wisdom. Pain is really an instructor about caring. It tells us we’re vulnerable…The gift of pain is a message about what is important in life. It not only tells us how to love; it also provides us with an opportunity to discover sources of strength and flexibility within us that help us prosper. Looking inside the pain expands us, encouraging us to become larger than we are and to live a life full of meaning. To open your heart to pain is to open your heart to joy.” – “From Loss to Love” by Steven Hayes in Psychology Today.
Loss is a natural, normal part of life.
It is not a sign that your world is falling apart. Grief for that loss is also natural (as is avoidance of it). Loss amplifies the space of what is lost, as well as the presence of what is. Loss is a trickster in some ways, tricking the person into thinking they are the only one who has lost something, or that they are the only ones who have had it this hard.
“Loss” is much greater than dying. In fact, loss comes in many shapes, at all points of the human journey. By acknowledging and honoring all of the losses that occur in our daily lives, we practice learning how to turn towards rather than away, which will provide immeasurable assistance when really big losses come, and the pain feels insurmountable.
So, how do you “turn towards the pain of loss?” Become aware of how loss has layers: primary and secondary. Primary losses caused by recognizable changes to normal life (death, divorce, chronic illness). Secondary losses that reach beyond the initial loss to disturb one’s sociocultural position, For example, divorce is a primary loss (loss of romantic partnership) and connected to many secondary losses (loss of financial stability, loss of social status, loss of intimacy, loss of future).
A primary loss can be connected to many secondary losses while a secondary loss can be borne of a variety of primary losses. This is why one loss (romantic break-up) may bring up the devastation of an earlier, unrelated loss (loss of family dog as a child). Losses are significant because each one represents something greater than the thing that is gone – loss represents an unknown future, one without the object of attachment. One loss connects to another and to another, etc. Check out how they are all related here: “The Loss List.”
Once you’ve seen the lost list, you’ll have a well-developed understanding of the experience of loss we face, after we have lost something or someone.
That experience of loss, as well as its related emotions and the process of dealing with them is known as Grief. This is our following group of pages, and is the last/largest subject within this section.