No one ever tells you how much it’s going to hurt. They can’t. Even though two losses may look remarkably similar from the outside, every loss we encounter is made unique by the hopes, dreams and expectations that we held at the time of the loss. Often, it’s the loss of these intangibles that cause us the most pain.
Intangibles are what make losing a child so incredibly painful. Although we may have only had a few short months or years with them, our hearts and minds were filled to the brim with hopes and dreams for that child and we expected to have a lifetime to create memories together. On top of the love lost, we feel cheated out of the future we were looking forward to.
Surprisingly, the death of someone who has caused us pain often leaves us feeling similarly raw and bereft. On the surface, it seems odd that we would grieve deeply for someone who wasn’t front and center in our happiest memories but that is often the way. When a less-than-loved one dies, they take with them all our hopes and dreams for reconciliation and the chance for making happy memories with them in some rosy and distant future.
Our society does not hold funerals for lost dreams. There are no memorials for our loss of hope and there is little sympathy for dashed expectations. These losses, kept close to our hearts, are mourned in private if at all. More often they are left hanging and unspoken because unless something prods us to look deep inside, most of us are unaware of our expectations.
Every day we make hundreds of assumptions about life. We expect the sun to rise, our money to be safe in the bank, we expect drivers to stop at red lights and we expect our loved ones to be there when we go looking for them. Assumptions like these are the foundations that we rely on in order to muddle along contentedly. When any one of them shifts or changes, our world is rocked.
It is rare in our world, to be able to talk about these things freely. More often we are cut short and told to “count our blessings” and focus on the good. Unfortunately, this well-meant advice only adds feelings of isolation and a lack of support to the list of intangibles we are grieving.
Blessings in life do not negate the pains and it is wrong-headed to focus on either one alone. Like a balance sheet tallying a business’s costs and profits, our heart keeps track of our wins and losses and some losses seem to come at a very high cost.
Recovering from grief starts with seeing that we are hurting and acknowledging all the pieces that add up to the whole of the loss. What are you grieving?
Written by Catherine Mitchell, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist.