Coping with Loss
Loss is the palpable and often painful presence of absence, a ghostly remainder of the past, never fully past, a trace, an echo, an ethereal etching in the soul, through the disappearance of a loved one, a type of work, a sense of self, a place of belonging, at times welcomed as a clearing, opening up new paths and possibilities, while at other times an opening only for grief and tears, disintegration and uncertainty. Loss is the destiny of love. It is the tacit substructure of each relationship, and the unavoidable future of every appearance. Vanishing is experience unfolding.
In the wake of some unsought loss, we are likely not only bereft but bewildered, the mind adrift in a fog of unknowing, while the heart breaks, and the spirit reels, as though we somehow forgot nothing stays, or stays the same for long. Even though it is an absence, a nothing, loss has a way of collecting inside us, weighting us. Grief grounds us, and much more so than we typically prefer, a tether to the real, a touchstone to the truth. When we lose a beloved, maybe more so than any other kind of loss, we cry out for help, all the while knowing there is no one who can save us from the emptiness. Heartache is the vocation of all true lovers, and deep darkness in such times might be one’s only respite. Proust said for hearts that are wounded, there is no remedy by silence and shadow. Not unlike an injured animal in the wild seeking to be left alone, in a burrow or den, to heal or to die, human beings can have an instinctual craving for solitude in mourning, if for no other reason than we already feel consumed by the void of what once was, unrelatable, and not quite ready to receive the well-intentioned words or touch of another. This intuition, toward the reclusive for a time, allows space for the simple but sublime gifts of rest and reflection, without which healing is impossible.
Coping with loss begins by not coping, the stark realization you cannot cope at first, and any attempt to cope prematurely by stifling the rawness of your emotions will only frustrate future efforts to appropriately process the gravity of your grief. In the experience of loss, a piece of yourself goes missing, an identity, most likely never to be seen again, or seen again in the same way. Character does not exist in a vacuum but is the complex construct of the ever developing interweaving of relationships. When you lose someone close to you, it is inconceivable you would ever be the same person again. The Greek philosopher Plato believed two lovers actually became a single soul such that, in the ending of that bond, one was literally torn in two. In this imagining of loss, the deep aching of the bereaved cuts to the core. The word “coping” itself involves cutting, derived from the Middle English coupen, and from the French couper, meaning “to cut,” an old woodworking term. Prior to a loss, you hold a particular shape, and fit in life a certain way. Then, after a loss, you are no longer the same person, and no longer hold the same shape. You will never again know what was previously normal. A new normal awaits, requiring a reworked self with a new kind of fittingness to the world. This reshaping of your life is best handled gently with the help of a friend, family, or trusted confidant. Exhausted by the depleting, disorienting nature of loss, you cannot so easily treat yourself kindly and compassionately with all the attention needed. Receiving help, uncovering a wound for care, actually being vulnerable again with another, is difficult, and an essential elixir for care of the soul.