It’s never easy, it’s never something we want, and yet we so often have to do it in life….
If you want to look at life from a pessimistic point of view, life is a series of goodbyes, there is always someone or something we have to say goodbye to. In fact, every moment that passes, never returns, so even that could be considered as a little goodbye. That’s why my motto is: “Time is always passing and you never get to live those moments again, so choose wisely how you want to feel. Choose joy, choose gratitude. No matter how cloudy your life looks, the sun always rises again….
Goodbyes, they can really knock the wind out of you. Some you know will come, and others take you by surprise, but it’s never easy. We feel sad, sometimes we feel it’s unfair and yet we have to face it, whether we want it or not. Of course, there is a huge difference in goodbyes: some are permanent like death, an end of an era in your life, moving away, a divorce, … and others are less permanent, but feel very painful nevertheless, like kids leaving for college, friends moving abroad, colleagues changing jobs, … even getting ill or injured can mean the end of a healthy life and is also a goodbye.
So how can we cope with all this loss?
It would be unhealthy if we did not grieve a loss, so I am not at all advocating people should not feel sad for a while. I think we all need to enter the land of tears, but I think it is very important that we do not stay there. There is the known grieving process described by dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross* where she describes the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This can be applied to all kinds of losses, not only when you get the diagnosis of an incurable disease or when you lose someone, no, it’s applicable to every major feeling of loss in your life like for instance, an athlete who needs to quit sports because of an injury**, or any situation in which you feel something came to an end. The 5 stages are:
1. Denial: we still pretend nothing is going on, we make ourselves believe nothing has changed permanently. This is a necessary stage to be able to cope with a major loss. We need time to come to terms with it. We can’t take the gravity of the loss in all at once.
2. Anger: it begins to sink in and we think it’s unfair, we do not deserve this and we lash out, we are angry. We fight the people around us as we can’t fight the inevitable, the loss that is eminent. We feel frustrated, we feel powerless which we vent through anger.
3. Bargaining: as feeling angry gets us nowhere, we try to ‘use’ our loss, we keep telling everyone what is happening to us so that people would be more compassionate, more willing to help, so that people would be more lenient towards us because of our situation. We want to be pampered, we need the extra care and attention.
4. Depression: then we hit rock bottom, we realize it’s permanent, we understand that being angry, ‘using’ our situation is not making us feeling any better and is not a solution either as we can’t undo the loss. Some people get stuck in this phase, they can’t find a way out.
5. Acceptance: this is the moment where we know: this is my new ‘reality’, this is how it is going to be from now on. And from here people can start healing, people can start finding new meaning in life again. This is where the sun shows up again.
Of course, these stages are not always clearly defined, it is a process. There can be an overlapping of stages, a phase can be skipped, there can be set-backs. It’s personal and it’s like a timeline, you see people moving through these phases. As I said, not everyone reaches the end stage and there is not a specific time frame in which they should have completed the process. It all depends on so many variables** like: what does their social support group look like, what kind of loss they suffered, for instance a professional athlete will cope better with quitting sports when he/she had the injury during a competition, visible to the world, than when he/she hurt themselves falling down the stairs which has nothing to do with the sports they are practicing, the mindset of the person grieving, …
What I specifically would like to share here in my article, is that grief is also an emotion that we can get a grip on. After we’ve entered the land of tears and some time has passed, we can choose to start looking forward, to start taking our life back into our hands, and to start celebrating, when looking back, all the good memories we had of that person, that event, that house, that job, that era in our life, … Instead of mourning what is lost, we can think back of the good things and be grateful that we got to live those beautiful moments. In fact, mourning is mostly about ourselves, and not about who or what we lost. We feel sad, because we don’t have things like we liked/used to have them. Like for instance, your kids going away to college is a good thing in life, it’s something to celebrate and yet, we moms, cry our eyes out when they leave, the same goes for when our kids get married, for saying goodbye to a pet, … and even to an old or a very sick person: we know we all have to cross over sometime but it still is so hard to let go, even when they had a long and fulfilling life, even when they are suffering, we still want them around. Of course, there are losses that words can’t even begin to describe, and I feel the utmost respect and compassion for people who have to deal with those huge losses. But still, I believe that at some point, we can choose how we want to continue our lives. It’s not easy, not at all! But it determines the rest of our lives, so I think it’s important to know there is another possibility too.
When people can choose to give new meaning to their loss, it’s better for them and for everyone around them. Like when parents who lost a child, can start a project to help other parents, or to make traffic safer, … it’s hard and you can’t do these kind of things immediately after the loss. But when, at some point, you can make the choice to turn the pain into something helpful, it is so much better. Otherwise, the pain will eat you up from the inside. It is very hard but it’s such a huge step forward if you can find the strength to make the choice to become better instead of bitter.
I am not saying it is easy, no way. Again, I absolutely feel a lot of respect and compassion for people who are grieving. All I am saying is, if you can make the decision to get out of the land of tears, there is a whole new horizon right in front of you.
As I have written about in many of my articles***, what you think determines how you feel and how you feel determines how you act in life. Think there is a new life possible, and that will make you feel more powerful and you’ll be able to create it.
I wish all of you, who are facing any kind of loss, the strength, the courage and the willingness to choose your thoughts, to choose to look for that new horizon. It’s hard and the more support you have the better, but ultimately, it is you who decides what to think. Believe in life, believe there is still joy possible, believe you are still needed in this world, believe you are not alone… Once you start thinking about new possibilities, about a new future, you’ll realize there is a beautiful -yet different- life waiting for you.
Bless you all and have a beautiful life. Cherish your memories with a smile on your lips and feel gratitude for all the beauty you’ve experienced in the past and still may experience in your life to come. Choose to look at life from an optimistic point of view, from a place of love, of gratitude, of being blessed. Choose to look forward as that is the way you are going. When you open yourself up to new possibilities, the Universe will provide. It always has your back****. Trust, have faith and you will be all right. That is why I chose a picture of a sunrise instead of a sundown. The sun always rises again.
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*’On Death and Dying’ by dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
**’Het Psychologisch Proces na een Sportletsel.’ by Katrien Degraeve.
***Articles here on Medium by Katrien Degraeve.
****’The Universe Has Your Back’ by Gabrielle Bernstein.