There are several steps to take to recover from your losses. The initial one is to acknowledge and understand the loss—at some point in time (after the numbness subsides) you will need to develop some explanation of what happened that makes sense to you. You need the freedom to raise and explore your questions without someone quickly inserting biblical or theological answers. In time you will be able to grapple with these issues and move on to a resolution.

The second step is to fully experience the pain and adjust to life without whatever you lost. It involves learning to move ahead with an empty place in life. It’s common for us to resist this. Involved in this is changing the emotion attachment and investment in whatever was lost to something new that can give you satisfaction and fulfillment.

The final step is moving ahead with life without forgetting your old life. These suggestions for recovering from the death of a loved one have applicability in many cases to most losses. They are:

  • Develop a new relationship with the deceased or whatever was lost.
  • Keep your loved one or whatever you lost “alive appropriately.”
  • Work toward forming a new identity based upon being without whatever you lost and incorporate the necessary change you have made to adjust to the loss.
  • Take the freed-up emotional energy that used to be invested in your loved one or whatever was lost and reinvest it in other relationships, activities, objects, roles, and hopes that can give emotional satisfaction back to you.
  • Expect to be ambushed by your grief. The most unexpected things will bring you to tears even years later. That’s all right. You’re normal.

One of the most important steps in recovering from loss is saying good-by to whatever was lost. To do this helps you move toward closure and bring back control over your life and the circumstances that were diminished by the loss. When you say good-bye you are acknowledging you are no longer going to share your life with whatever you lost, whether it be a person, job, place, or even a part of your body. What remains is the memory and in time it dims. Visiting a significant place that is no longer a part of your life and actually proclaiming a “good-bye” can bring closure. Or you can write letters to friends, places of employment, portions of your body that have been lost, to children leaving home or about to be married, or to a deceased loved one. Addicts and alcoholics have written good-bye letters to abusive substances.

Being able to say good-bye by prior to the loss will help in the grieving process. Right after the doctor told us our son Matthew would probably die within an hour, we stood at his bedside and said good-bye to him. And even after ten years we still do this. Saying good-bye is not morbid, pathological, or a sign of hysteria or being out of control. It is a healthy way to transition into the next phase of life.

What can you do to prepare for the losses of life? Realize they will invade your life. Read books about loss and grief in order to handle it better as well as minister to others. Encourage your church to teach on this subject and to have a Grief Recovery program in place. And remember—don’t try to handle your grief by yourself. The weight is lighter when it’s shared.


Recommended Books

Recovering From the Losses of Life, H. Norman Wright, Spire, Baker Book House

My Companion Through Grief, Gary Kinnaman, Servant Publications

Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love, Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside, Servant Publications

Notes

1 R. Scott Sullender, Losses in Later Life (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 3.

2 Nina Hermann Donnelly, I Never Know What to Say (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987), 123.

3 Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1983), 36-49, adapted.

4 Ken Gire, Incredible Moments with the Savior (Grand Rapids, MI: 1990), 96-97, adapted.


Dr. H. Norman Wright is a graduate of Westmont College (B.A. Christian Education), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.R.E.), and Pepperdine University (M.A. in Clinical Psychology) and has received honorary doctorates D.D. and D.Litt. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and Biola University respectively. He has pioneered premarital counseling programs throughout the country. Dr. Wright is the author of over 65 books—including the best-selling Always Daddy’s Girl and Quiet Times for Couples. He and his wife, Joyce, have a married daughter, Sheryl, and a son, Matthew, who was profoundly retarded and is now deceased. The Wrights make their home in Southern California.


 **This article first published on August 16, 2001.