Coping with loss is not easy.
Change can be tough for many people.
Coping with loss can be paralyzing.
How do we cope, especially when the change is one that involves loss?
Think about how we have experienced change in our lives, from childhood to adulthood, the change between the seasons, from being an athlete to a couch potato or vice versa.
The change that we have all experienced from having a competent and intelligent boss to finding that we are now being managed by a bipolar raptor.
We are all experiencing change, one way or the other, every day, every month and every year.
There is no question in my mind that abrupt change, the type that hits you out of left field can definitely be beyond shocking, it can be traumatic.
There was no anticipation and there was no prep time for this to happen.
A good and important friend of mine, who I shall refer to as ‘E’ recently told me of such events.
E has experienced an incredible amount of change in just the span of a few short months.
It involved too much family loss, E’s coping with loss of her father, brother and work colleague.
That is a lot of change to cope with in a short amount of time.
How do we cope with such traumatic change, how do we change ourselves to meet the new challenges that we face every day? How do we make the changes that we need to make to both survive and thrive?
First, I want to focus on the challenge that “E” is facing, the challenge of losing a loved one, family or friend that changes your life dramatically. Especially when it is a sudden loss. I have experienced this personally on several levels and wish that I had the tools at the time with which to navigate this type of situation.
One specific moment of dramatic loss was when my Father was killed in a car crash. Actually, I had spoken to him just the day before and we had made plans to meet together in the City for lunch so I could tell him about my new promotion and show him my new office. On top of that, I had just moved into my new home, the down payment was provided by my Mom and Dad, and the world was looking great. I remember walking up the path to the new house, seeing my wife (at that time) inside with the kids and thinking of how fortunate I was.
I had not had many opportunities to spend time with my Father and was looking forward to showing him that I was doing good, I do not think it is so uncommon to want to show your parents that you are being successful in life. We were going to meet on Monday at midday for lunch.
Suffice it to say that never happened. The next day my Father was killed in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. The accident was so frightful that it shut down the turnpike for over seven hours. I will write out the entire story in a different post, but the bottom line is that when I left the hospital after a night of praying that he would live through his terrible injuries, the sun was rising, and the world seemed like it had changed. What was once clear, was now opaque, what was once bright, was now dim, a film of murky existence seemed to color my world. In fact, my world had changed, I no longer had my Dad. It was sudden and gruesome, shocking and paralyzing.
(By the way, if any of you still have your folks around, please give them a call, assuming they want to hear from you).
At that time, I was in my twenties, married for five years, working for four and was for the most part able to weather the storm because of the huge anchors I had of my family and job. I focused more on my job which is what helped me to continue on more productively despite the loss of my Dad.
But, I did make a fairly significant error, and that was that I stopped doing some previous basic habits that I was accustomed to, mainly because I was finding it so difficult to focus on anything, I wanted to make sure that at least I was present when at work.
Unfortunately, the practices that I dropped, were ones where I spent the most time with my kids, and they suffered because of that during their childhood and I am still feeling the effects of that for the last ten years.
It becomes even more important to hold onto your connections when you lose a parent or significant person in your life.
So, I wish that I had that awareness at that time. I did not and still live with the effects of those choices that I made in the past.
“E” is different, she is much more mature than I was at that time. She is not only holding on to her job, but she is also staying connected as much as possible to her friends, the people that support her and she is doing whatever she can to nurture herself.
If any of you have experienced loss out there, my condolences. If any of you are still suffering from the loss, I can only empathize and hope that you can take some of the following steps which might be helpful:
1. Keep up with your basic healthy routines. This means, do not devolve into bad habits, whether it be drinking, smoking, junk food to assuage the pain.
2. Get good sleep, every night, no matter what, turn off the lights, take melatonin, do whatever you have to do to get the best sleep possible.
3. Eat healthy foods, steer clear of the chocolate cake and reach better for the food that you know actually came from the earth, processed as little as possible, like fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans. Do not starve, Do not overeat. Take care of yourself.
4. Stay connected with your friends and family who want to be there for you. Do not isolate.
5. Take on a new project or goal in memory of your loved one, something that you know they would be proud of. I think of the Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund when I write this because the loss of that eight year old child was so horrific and traumatic, yet the parents have met this nightmare by coping with their grief by doing good here .
Some might say that it is not appropriate for me to write about handling grief on a blog site that is specifically dedicated to rebuilding life. Nobody wants to hear about loss, grief, tragedy or depression. My answer to that is if we know how to handle these storms, then we will be more effective all around, and as anyone who does suffer from depression and/or anxiety knows, they can always pinpoint certain events which have triggered their bouts on a more intense level.
So, while I definitely agree that we want to keep paying attention to what we have, these events cannot be avoided in life and we have to have a plan, a guide, a path on how to deal with this more effectively. This will enable us to recover faster and make the most of what we still have in our lives.
What are your strategies for coping with loss?
Please share with all of us.