I have many character strengths.
Coping with loss is not one of them.
Whether it’s a stitch in time or a relationship gone sour, I’ve never fully come to terms with the “right” way to deal with loss. Maybe it’s the eternal pragmatic positivist in me or maybe it’s the attachment to what was, but every time I’ve dealt with loss it’s felt like a part of myself has driven away.
This weekend, I saw a lot of family I have not seen in ages. A couple members had no clue I write. They said they were looking for me at the Oscars, asked what play I was in right now. And I explained, with full confidence, that I’ve since taken a step away from the acting world to focus on something more aligned with what I feel my purpose is. I wondered if that identity had been lost forever.
When my grandparents moved out of their house of 52 years, I did not help pack the boxes. I don’t regret it per se (as I feel regret’s a useless emotion), but I wonder if I would have felt more of a sense of closure if I had. Leaving behind that house, my own second home, broke my heart. I still play out scenes in my mind, walk through the hallways and up the stairs to the wall filled with family photos. I don’t want to forget. Not remembering would mean death and I just cannot deal.
There are members of my family, older members, who are just not like how they used to be. Approaching the golden years of one’s life, it’s fascinating to watch how everyone deals differently. Some are in denial. Some have had a gameplan for years, decades even. Some choose to use their lifetime of wisdom for a greater good. Some just cannot deal.
We all grieve a tiny bit throughout each day. The loss of the morning, the loss of the first cup of coffee, the missed phone call you were so waiting to get.
And each of us deals differently. Some of us make jokes. Some remain silent. Some pour their feelings out to a friend, and some cry out their pain. Some distract themselves with possessions or plans; some become angry and bitter that what they want has slipped from their reach. Some deal. Some cannot.
As I deal with my own sense of loss, ironically in a time of my life in which there is so much newness and possibility, I struggle to find what works for me. Because in the past, my coping mechanism is to detach. Engaging in the loss is way too sad; hanging on to the glimmers of hope just feel futile.
But I feel as if all the loss tumbleweeding towards me at the same time is a lesson to be learned: you have a choice as to how you deal with it this time.
We might not be able to do anything about our past, but we sure as hell can do something about our present and future. For they too, one day, will be lost. Learning how to cope in a way that’s right for you, in line with your own ethics and values, is something you can always rewrite. Just because you didn’t reach out then doesn’t mean you can’t reach out now. Just because you mourn the loss of those high school years you didn’t even realize were the safest ones you’d ever know doesn’t mean you can’t reconnect with the influential figures who shaped your young life back then, building new relationships and marveling at where the world has taken you both and yet how you’re essentially the same. Just because the house is sold, the job is done, the relationship is over, doesn’t mean that you don’t still carry with you a little piece of what you were supposed to take with you as you step-by-step down your own hero’s journey.
Allow yourself time and space to grieve in a way that feels in line with who you are, in that moment. No shame, no regret. At worst, you’ll learn a lesson about who you are. At best…you’ll learn a lesson about who you are.
We sometimes forget that we get another morning, another first-cup of coffee, another chance to connect. Our lives are splattered with loss – yet the more we learn how to embrace it in a way that feels right for us, the less those losses will feel like forevers. They become transitions. They become touchstones. They train us how to feel…and how to deal.
Coping with loss might not be one of my strongest suits, but that’s because it’s constantly in flux. There is no “right” way to deal with loss – there’s just the way that’s right for you. And coping, in a sense, is really just a way of hoping, a way of praying that tomorrow will begin again and be just as bright as the yesterdays you knew. Here’s the deal: if you allow them to, they always are.
Question – how have you dealt with a particularly difficult loss in your life? What’s some advice you can give for people who might be struggling?