Handling the Losses of Life - Part 1
- 2003 26 Aug
Over the years I have discovered that most people travel through life with unfinished business that acts as unnecessary baggage. Many are not aware that what they’ve experienced would be classified as a loss. Some try to ignore the loss, only to discover residual implanted in their heart and mind. Even when a loss is recognized, most people do not know what to do to recover; we are a generation that has not been taught how to grieve. And family life is full of losses.
Loss—a simple four letter word—is a constant companions throughout life. During the journey, the various stages we pass through include losses. They’re inevitable. Some are sudden—others gradual. Some cause us to be racked with pain, while others provoke mixed responses.
Losses are especially prevalent in the first part of life. Most are developmental. For example, young people graduating from high school may experience a loss of status, friends and familiarity, but they anticipate moving on in life. In the mid to latter years, losses usually are not seen as a positive step of growth—as a 60- or 70-year old it’s a sign that life will soon be over.
In later life they tend to accumulate. R. Scott Sullender describes it well:
“Losses also begin to become cumulative in nature after age forty. Losses build upon losses. Each loss is linked to previous losses, and in a sense fore-shadows the ultimate loss of life itself.”1
When losses are infrequent they are easier to handle.
Most of us don’t talk about our losses. Nobody likes to lose or be viewed as a loser. Believers should be the best equipped to handle loss and grief because of the rich resources of our faith, but typically this is not true. Christians are often given insufficient instruction and guidance on both the recognition of loss and on healthy grieving.
Did you know, for example, that:
- mourning a natural death takes approximately two years (although various influences affect the length)?
- the intensity of your grief peaks again at three months and twelve months following the death of a loved one and may be as strong as during the initial days?
- it usually takes six to eight months to fully grieve over a miscarriage?
- the loss of a child is called the “ultimate bereavement”?
Life is a blending of loss and acquisition. Every loss brings the potential for permanent emotional devastation and stagnation—or change, growth, new insights, understanding, and refinement. If there is to be wholeness, such growth requires both grieving and perhaps someone to assist you in going through this process.
Any event that destroys a person’s understanding of the meaning of life is a loss. Moving, putting your “foot in your mouth,” being burglarized or vandalized, receiving a “B” rather than an “A,” having a child leave home, seeing an ideal or dream shattered, changing jobs, experiencing economic failure or job rejection, going through divorce, and experiencing death are all losses. For the most part death is the only loss recognized as something to grieve. But other losses that we rarely acknowledge, such as divorce, could have more of a limiting impact that losing someone in death. When a loved one dies, there is closure, but all too frequently in divorce (especially if there are children involved) closure is lacking. Nina Donnelly describes our dilemma well:
“The trouble with trying to mourn loss when death isn’t involved is that there is no body, no funeral, and no public shoulder to cry on. There is no traditional, socially sanctioned outlet for mourning when the loss isn’t death. Loss of function, relationship, or financial resources, for example, bring no printed obituary, no “remains” laid to rest, no public gathering to cement the fact and focus love on the mourner.
“Trying to mourn loss when death is not involved is a lonely hell, with vague beginnings and endings defined more often by the intangible dimensions of lost and found hope than by the perimeters of the crisis itself.”2
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.