Almost all of us have suffered from some form of loss in the past—the death of loved ones, the loss of a job, or the realization that a dream would not be fulfilled.
We experience these losses differently, but there is a way to process the loss that can lead to growth. Psychologist William Worden developed a model of grief that recognizes that we all grieve in our own way and yet identifies certain common tasks that allow any of us to grieve well. We have slightly modified it here, but retained the idea that these tasks do not have to be completed in a certain order or within a certain window of time:
- Accept your loss. One of the most difficult parts of coping with a loss is letting ourselves accept that the loss really has occurred—there will be no graduation ceremony; I’ll never see my grandma again; the company has downsized me. It’s natural to want to hold on. Life can be the most complicated when we can’t tell if the loss is final. Eventually, though, it’s important to recognize the loss as final.
- Experience the pain of the loss. When we have a loss, pain is almost inevitable. But many of us come from homes where we value looking strong and don’t want to risk vulnerability. Or we fear a flood of pain if we let ourselves feel the slightest bit. And yet, feeling the pain is part of the healing process. For some, it helps to journal or talk through the pain. Whether the emotion is sadness, disappointment, fear or anger, feeling the pain is essential to healing.
- Adjust to life without. Somehow, we have to cope, even when we don’t know how. Often, that means finding practical solutions: planning an intimate backyard wedding instead of a big ceremony, cutting back on expenses to save some money, hosting online parties to stay connected to family, friends or co-workers, finding someone who can mow the lawn or do the taxes.
- Form an enduring connection and move toward your next phase. By focusing on the gift of the time we had with the person or job or thing we’ve lost, we are often more open to new people and things we can experience. It might be scary or confusing, but this time invested in new people and things helps to build our resilience and strengthens our appreciation for the people and things we’ve lost. Instead of forgetting them, we carry them as part of us.
Coping with a loss of any kind is deeply personal and rarely easy. But many find strength and resilience they did not know they had. Maybe you will too.