On a previous blog, I mentioned factors in living a long, productive life. One factor was the ability to accept loss. The other three are: Optimism, Physically Active and commitment to a cause.
For many people, that ability to accept loss (or should I say, losses) can be the most difficult. My dad died of esophageal cancer when he was 67. My mother never got over that loss. I think bitterness best describes her continued reaction to his passing. I think that this bitterness hastened her own demise 12 years later.
She wasn’t the only one that found it hard to accept loss. I would like to expand on that topic as I see how easy it is to get hung up on something that didn’t go the way we wanted in our past. I am not writing this as THE authority that has this all worked out but as someone still working through life and trying to make some sense of what I see. At this point I think I can make a contribution.
Know When You Are Not Letting Go
It isn’t always obvious to the person involved that they are not letting go. The first step would be to realize that this is even happening. A good clue, I guess, would be something that keeps popping up in your mind in random situations. You just find yourself thinking about that opportunity that didn’t work out, the pet the died, the ill-timed comment at a party. It could be anything.
Life Is Change
Part of the complexity of life is the constant change. I remember people telling me that they weren’t going to change ANYTHING! At first I didn’t know how to respond to a statement like that and in some cases I might still not say anything in response and just let life do its thing. But this opinion is a violation of one of the cardinal rules of life and that is change. If it is one thing we can be certain of is that change is coming. We may have some idea of what that change might look like and sometimes we don’t know it is happening until it is upon us.
I think one thing that blocks the acceptance of loss is the notion that somehow if we accept the loss, we are inviting more loss. As close as I can tell, life doesn’t really work that way. Could holding on to that resentment or bitterness actually invite more loss?
We Don't Know What is Going On
I was listening to a podcast a few months ago. It was a science podcast and they spent several minutes talking about how this couple had met, their relationship, the husband contracting a terminal disease and then dying.
I was just about to switch to another podcast as I didn’t remember looking for a People Magazine type discussion. I am glad I hung in there and I will summarize with the super short version here.
The woman was a grad student working in astrophysics. Of the grad students, she lived closest to the airport so when a guest was coming in, she would get sent for airport pickup duty. One of the people she picked up was to be her future husband as they hit off pretty quickly.
So after a time he gets sick and dies. What kept her going was the notion from a physics point of view, she knew that we really don’t know what is going on. Her now deceased husband had completed work on a project where he could show that a single photon would hit all the telescopes of the world at the same time. To our current level of logic and reason, that doesn’t make any sense at all, yet he had hard data that this was true.
She concluded that the notion of time is not as linear and obvious as we think. She said for all she knew, they were really still holding hands and enjoying each other’s company.
This gives me comfort. This puts the complexity of life and the universe in a different context. It helps me realize that my job is to live my life even though I can’t really know what is going on.
Think Of Changes Over the Next 100 Years
I read one article that simply stated that in the next 100 years, who we know, where we live and what we own will be changed. Where we live may not even exist, ie the house might be torn down and turned into something else or be under water or who knows. Everyone we know will most likely be long dead or very, very old and much different than we know them anyway. All of our valued possessions will most likely be recycled or in a landfill.
Either you or your loved ones will have to deal with grief. I have heard it said that grief is the price of love. That seems like a reasonable statement to me.
How we deal with the loss of a loved one will be different depending on their relationship to you. Everyone will feel what they feel and telling people to just get over it, is insulting. What you can do after a reasonable amount of time is accept that part of grief is learning to live without that person. When I say reasonable amount of time, I mean a year or two in most cases. If we are talking about the loss of a child, I don’t know what a reasonable amount of time is.
I think the principles of accepting loss are consistent even though the level of pain and grief might be different.
Some Cases of Health Problems From Not Letting Go
I remember three specific cases where people got so caught up in causes that it led to their physical compromise. So when we talk about being committed to a cause as a strategy for long life, one has to be sure that it isn’t taken too far.
One person had worked out a financial system that he thought was far superior to our current system. I don’t doubt that he was right but he put so much energy into this and his ideas weren’t accepted and this became loss which led to physical compromise.
Another person was committed to finding justice for his black race. Again he wasn’t able to move that needle as he would have liked. This became loss to him that he couldn’t accept and it appeared that the damage was to his health.
Another person was working on saving the redwoods. Again, a perfectly worthwhile cause but when she didn’t see the progress she expected, she interpreted this as loss in her mind and her physical body suffered as a result.
These are specific examples that made an impression on me.
NET Can Help
I do use a technique of emotional balancing called NET or neuro emotional technique. It can be quite useful for helping to get over an emotion that just won’t let a person move on. When is comes to the loss of a loved one, I don’t use this for a couple of years. My thinking is that it is best to let the brain process the loss in an organic fashion giving time to learn to build life going forward without that person. I think it is a mistake to try to hurry that process.
If after a couple of years, a person really wants to build that life without their loved one, we can find the emotional blocks to that process.
The take-away here is that loss is a part of life and to be at our best from a health point of view, working to accept these losses will be to our benefit. That doesn’t mean the pain automatically goes away. You will build your ongoing life around the pain and grief of the losses.
Hope this helps at least a little.