Loss is an integral part of life and our adjustment to it varies from person to person. The current climate caused by the pandemic has increased our risk of loss and the emotions around it. The journey through loss often presents us with feelings of not being able to cope in our daily lives.
The terms associated with loss, are explained below:
- If bereavement is what happens to you, grief is how you feel and react.
- If bereavement is a wound, grief is the inflammation that follows. It causes pain, swelling and disturbance of function. It can last a long time and may leave scars. However, it is the process by which healing occurs.
- Mourning is what you do. It is vital to have something to do, to have a ritual to follow so that there is a recognised role for everyone concerned. Mourning can help to allow reality to be faced (Wilson, 1993).
Leading from the “River of Life” concept, we recognise that sometimes events occur that toss us into turmoil – leaving us feeling overwhelmed. This turmoil that accompanies loss can best be explained by the following diagram from Wilson (1993).
The River of Life depicts life’s journey with its ups and downs. The canoe and oars represent the tools we must use to navigate through this journey. Sometimes we come across obvious obstacles (these can be any diversion from the norm within our worlds) like rocks and fallen tree trunks which we can navigate around and other times these are hidden beneath the water. When these surprise us we often capsize the canoe and must get back in and row on. These challenges are minor and do not change our worlds significantly.
However, we are sometimes hit with losses that are much more significant and often life-altering. These come to us on the river when we start hearing the roar of trouble along the way, the rapids increase and eventually we come to the waterfall. We have no way to stop this journey as the rapids throw us about in our little canoe and the ensuing emotional upheaval and disorganization.
We lose the canoe and the oars and freefall down the waterfall with this significant loss that we experience. Feelings common here is shock, numbness and denial as we fall down the waterfall into the water below. Once we hit the water, there is a host of emotions that come up as we try to stay afloat. The power of the water pushes us down and around within the whirlpool.
Some emotions common in the whirlpool is:
|Hopelessness||Irritability||Shame and self-hatred||Loss of faith|
|Decreased concentration||Change in eating patterns||Pain and apathy||Periods of calm|
|Insomnia||Panic attacks||Unfairness||Longing and yearning|
|Numbing||Depression or sadness||Searching||Guilt|
|Loss of interest||Pity||Anger||“If only…”|
Our bodies are beaten up as we swirl around in the whirlpool and eventually we may find a way to swim out of it but most often it is towards the rocks which are slippery and wet and we manage to claw our way up onto them and out of the whirlpool. Often, we get scratched and scrape our hands and knees which represent the physical symptoms and the pain that we may experience with loss. This pain can be headaches, migraines, upset stomach, crying, feeling heartbroken, etc. but once we are behind the waterfall we can breathe and take a moment to reflect. Signifying that the path is not smooth but has moments of peace.
However, we know that we need to get to the other side – the riverbank, and so we jump back into the whirlpool, again fighting the force of the water. We might even repeat the climb up the rocks a few times before finally making it to the riverbank.
Upon reaching the riverbank, one will typically be battered and bruised and need some help or support. With a good support system, one knows that they will be there to help one recover and deal with the breakdown or unravelled you that is most likely to land on the riverbank. This is the space to reflect on the emotions and start to heal from the trauma of the fall or loss. This typically means acknowledging the reality of the loss and its implications on one’s life.
Eventually, one can pick up the pieces and find a new boat to start rowing on the River of Life again, knowing that the journey must continue after dealing with the loss. One will typically learn the following coping skills to deal with the pain of loss:
- Look to the future, whilst recalling happy times
- Find comfort and pleasure in their memories.
- Life becomes more meaningful and they regain a sense of control
Wilson, R. (1993). Good Grief: Exploring feelings, Loss and Death with over Elevens and Adults.