Our youngest son, a senior in high school, had the great fortune to be on a successful football team this year, winning two playoff games and then going to the state championships. In the final game his team, the Hammond Skyhawks, were down 21-14 at halftime, but came back in the second half and with just two minutes left in the game were leading 27-26. But then a few key errors were made, among them a fumble leading to a touchdown by the opposition and our quarterback throwing an interception ending their last hope. Hammond lost 34-27, but ended the season with a 10-4 record. A loss to be sure, but many lessons to be learned that will help each of them grow into adulthood.
Let’s face it, losses in our lives suck. Be it the loss of our health, the passing of a family member or close friend, financial losses or the loss of a job, a house or one’s reputation. As humans we’ll all face them at various times throughout our lives. Some losses are much more devastating than others, but I believe it is how we react to loss that will determine how quickly we can accept it and move on or start over.
I’m not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve learned that all losses have commonalities that help us get through the pain and anguish. If we can better understand the processes we all go through, then perhaps we can learn to move on from the losses we’ll inevitably face.
- The five formal stages of loss and grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, you may or may not go through each of these stages as you work through the losses in your life. Let the emotions flow and learn to rely on your network of support be it family, friends or business contacts. Willingness to talk, be open and not hold your emotions in seems to be the fastest path to healing.
- Once you’ve accepted the loss, you can start to formulate the best next steps. In the case of the loss of someone close, a spouse or parent, this process may take months or sometimes years before we can formulate the necessary first steps. If you’ve lost a business, you might decide it’s not worth the sacrifice to start over or if your health is faltering, you’ll want to understand what your options are to deal with the situation.
- Understand that as counter-intuitive as it sounds, failure and loss walk hand-in-hand with success. You will rarely find anyone successful who hasn’t also failed at least once, often multiple times. Take the time to analyze your failure and, if need be, take responsibility for it. We all have weaknesses and if we can learn to mitigate our weaknesses by surrounding ourselves with others who have the attributes we lack, our successes can take us to heights we never dreamed of.
- If we don’t take the time to learn from our losses, chances are they will happen again. As the saying goes, those who fail to understand history are bound to repeat it and the same is true with loss. Reflection and meditation are essential in seeking to understand even when there are no pat answers.
I believe in the concept of yin and yang and that without opposites, our lives would be very dull indeed. How would we know what beauty is if there were no ugliness in the world? Without grief would we have an appreciation for joy? Would success be as sweet if we had never tasted the bitterness of failure? And without loss would we ever know true fulfillment?
1998 was a terrible year for me. At the start of the New Year, my brother learned he had an aggressive form of leukemia, in the spring my mom unexpectedly passed away, in June my car was totaled (thankfully no one was hurt) and in the fall my brother passed away after a mere 10-month struggle with his cancer. I was devastated, but the end of year brought a silver lining. My dad met his soul mate oddly enough at my mom’s funeral; she was the minister who performed the service. I know that sounds strange and there was no romance until just before my brother died. It was then my dad finally took the advice of friends and asked Mary out on a date. Three months later they were married and it was the happiest nine years of either of their lives until my dad passed away in 2006.
Loss can be bittersweet and while most of us will never relish it, we can learn to accept it as a part of life. Be open to the lessons each loss has to offer, communicate with others to get their insight and, if needed, seek out professional help to work through your emotions. As cliché as it may sound, learn to live each day as though it were your last. The human spirit is amazing and while today’s loss might seem insurmountable, given time and reflection my hope is you’ll find the seeds of growth in every challenge you face.
As Scarlett O’Hara said as the movie “Gone With the Wind” came to a close, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”