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How to Cope With Loss

Each of us has lost, or will lose, something dear. And the grief that follows doesn’t come with a road map. But it’s that unknown that can help see you through.

By Nancy F. Smith

Making Sense of Loss

How do we find reason in having something or someone we love taken away? The first impulse is to confront that most basic of human questions: Why me? Why did I lose my job while my colleague in the next office did not? Why was my house consumed in the fire but not my neighbor’s? But nailing down answers isn’t the only way to make sense of what you’re going through.

Rituals can help with the early, painful stages of loss. Funerals, memorial services, throwing a wake for an old job, and divorce parties all give us a structured opportunity to just “feel whatever we feel,” says Bonanno.


Talking about your experience can help you determine your path forward. When you experience a loss, it changes your life story. Characters or possessions are added or gone. Relationships shift. Daily routines are undone. Long-held roles are altered. Before a divorce, for instance, your life was structured around many identities, one of which was spouse. Now that part of your story has to be “rewritten,” preferably in a way that doesn’t obliterate the good memories or the continuing connections. By speaking about your loss―to family members, clergy, friends, even to yourself in a journal―you can reshape the narrative.


Loss can even be a catalyst for positive growth. Stephen R. Shuchter, a professor of clinical psychiatry, and Sidney Zisook, a professor of psychiatry, have studied hundreds of widows in ongoing research at the University of California, San Diego, and many of them have reported that their experience has changed them for the better: altering their priorities, enhancing their feelings of compassion for others, and boosting their sense of independence. Part of coping with loss is to incorporate the resultant life changes in ways that allow you to heal without forgetting. The important thing to remember, notes Alan D. Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is that “coping with loss is not about closure. Grief is a transformative life experience, not a rush to a resolution.”


I recently came across a photograph of my sister and me. We’re just kids, two towheaded, knobby-kneed tomboys side by side under a tree on a bright summer afternoon. I found myself smiling, drawn back into all the adventures shared by those two best friends. That’s when I knew grief had run its course. You mourn. You adapt. You remember. It’s called resilience.

Read More About:Emotional Health

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