Loss is a human event.
Many times in life we find ourselves grieving loss. Or we find ourselves supporting or caring for someone dear to us managing loss.
Some losses are recognised and revealed:
- Loss of a loved one
- Loss of a soul mate
- Loss of a treasured friendship
- Loss of a job
- Loss of a pet
- Loss of our health
And some losses are hidden, deep in our hearts and unrecognised. These are those private dark sorrows we bear alone.
Loss, of whatever cause, is painful.
Whatever the cause of loss, we can all feel grief, suffering and pain.
There’s the initial, acute, breathtaking pain.
There’s numbness, depression, anger, and pain again.
Crushing pain, that crashes over you in waves and takes your breath away with it’s intensity.
And loneliness. And mourning and keening grief.
All natural, all normal – but at times the hardest thing we ever have to face.
Shifting our view of loss
Viktor Frankl in his classic work “Man’s search for meaning” writes words of profound wisdom for people who find themselves facing the work of pain and loss and grief and suffering.
When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.
In these short and powerful words, Frankl has given us a way through loss. Not only does he turn suffering into a source of meaning, but he has turned suffering from something that victimises us – to something we can hold in our hands and do something with.
So what are we supposed to do with suffering anyway?
What we do with our suffering is ultimately up to us – and nothing less than an exercise of our human autonomy and free will. As Frankl says:
…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
In talking of fighting despair in a Concentration Camp – a place of more losses than any of us can imagine – he writes:
…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
So here’s what I think this means for us in our lives – and what has indeed helped me.
Hold your suffering in your hand, gently and lightly and with as much kindness as you can-as you lovingly as you would hold and nurse a baby bird with a broken wing.
And with kindness and compassion towards yourself, look deep into the feeling of brokenness – and wipe away the mist of tears to find hidden wholeness and the unique meaning contained within.
In the brokenness of crushing pain, and the emptiness of devastating loss, you can find diamonds.
And when the journey feels to lonely to bear, make a tiny bit of room (an eye of a needle if that’s all you can manage) for the love of others who come to support and nurture you. Maybe they don’t know what to do or say – and sometimes get it wrong. But allow the love in their hearts to carry their caring intent into yours. And love can fit through the eye of a needle anyway.
And never, ever give up hope. If you are breathing, there is always hope. Religious or not, the beautiful and ancient words of comfort written by King David in Psalm 23 have a profound message for all of us:
A song of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days.
And my personal prayer – may the swirling oceans of emotions and tears wash away the pain and suffering – and reveal only wholeness, inner strength and courage and the true meaning of what it means to be fully human.