How to Survive
the Loss of a Love
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose
under the heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
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Return and read these introductory pages when you have time.
Let's take a moment to view loss in the larger perspective. In nature, loss is an essential element of creation--the rose blossoms, the bud is lost; the plant sprouts, the seed is lost; the day begins, the night is lost. In all cases, loss sets the stage for further creation (or, more accurately, re-creation).
So it is in human life. It's hard to look back on any gain in life that does not have a loss attached to it.
With this firmly in mind we can examine the various losses in life. (Without this overview it tends to become awfully depressing.)
- death of a loved one
- break-up of an affair
- loss of job
- loss of money
- rape or other violent crime
- illness (loss of health)
- chaning teachers, changing schools
- success (the loss of striving)
- loss of a cherished ideal
- loss of a long term goal
LOSS RELATED TO AGE
- childhood dreams
- puppy love
- adolescent romances
- leaving school (dropping out or graduating)
- leaving home
- loss of "youth"
- loss of "beauty"
- loss of hair or teeth
- loss of sexual drive (or worse, the drive remains but the ability falters)
(Is it on? Is it off? Is it a gain? Is it a loss?)
- awaiting medical tests or reports on their outcome
- a couple on the brink of divorce for the fourteenth time
- a friend, spouse or relative "missing in action"
- lovers, after any quarrel
- a business transaction that may or may not fall through
- a lawsuit
- putting your house up for sale
Limbo losses often feel like this:
My life has fallen down
around me before
--lots of times,
for lots of reasons--
usually other people.
And most of the time
I was fortunate enough
to have a large lump of
that life hit me on the
head and render me numb
to the pain & desolation
And I survived.
And I live to love again.
this slow erosion from below
it's me falling down around my life
because you're still in that life
--but not really.
And you're out of that life
--but not quite.
I do all right
I do very poorly
I do much,
I do more,
I only transfer
pain to paper
in gigantic Passion Plays
complete with miracles and martyrs
and crucifixions and resurrections.
Come to stay
This series of passion poems
is becoming a heavy cross to bare.
The feeling of being "in limbo" is itself a loss. Even if the situation turns out fine (the veteran returns, the lover calls and again professes undying love, etc.), while in doubt that doubt is a loss and should be treated accordingly.
- Realize that "not knowing" may be the worst torture of all.
- When in limbo--and your better instincts tell you there's little hope--it's better to end the situation than to let it drag on and on.
- Call or send in your formal notice of termination and get on with the business of surviving, healing and growing.
To give you up.
What bell of freedom
that rings within me.
No more waiting for
that never came.
No more creative energy
in letters never mailed.
And, after awhilE,
no more insomnia,
no more insanity.
Some more happiness,
some more lifE.
All it took was giving you up.
And that took quite a bit.
There are inevitable losses--losses in which death or separation is imminent. When you recognize these in advance, it will help greatly to
- Discuss your situation with the person who is leaving.
- If you are the one who is leaving, talk it over with those who are being left.
- Take part in making the decisions that must be made.
- Let your wishes be known.
Temporary losses (lover on vacation, spouse in the service, son or daughter away at school, a slump in business)--even when we know the outcome will eventually be positive--are losses nonetheless.
Even success has built into it certain losses--the loss of a goal to strive for and the changes that are almost certainly part of success.
There are also innumerable "mini losses" that tend to add up during the course of a day, week, month or life. An unexpected dent in the car here, an argument with a friend there, and one can find oneself "inexplicably" depressed.
Each of these losses--immediate or cumulative, sudden or eventual, obvious or not--creates an emotional wound, an injury to the organism.
WHAT LOSS FEELS LIKE
Along with the obvious feelings of pain, depression and sadness, there are other reactions to loss, such as
- feeling helpless, fearful, empty, despairing, pessimistic, irritable, angry, guilty, restless
- experiencing a loss of concentration, hope, motivation, energy
- changes in appetite, sleep patterns or sexual drive
- a tendency to be more fatigued, error-prone and slower in speech and movement
Any or all of these are to be expected during and after a loss. It's part of the body's natural healing process. Be with these changes; don't fight them. It's OK.
If you haven't had an obvious loss, and yet you relate strongly to a good number of these reactions, you may want to examine the recent past to see if a not-so-obvious loss--or a series of them--has taken place.
If so, you might want to follow a few of the suggestions given in this book. Your mind and body are already involved in the healing process.
THE STAGES OF RECOVERY
- Recovering from a loss takes place in three distinct--yet overlapping--stages.
- They are
- understanding/acceptance/moving on
- Each stage of recovery is
- a part of the healing process
the fear that I would
come home one day and
find you gone has turned
into the pain of the
"What will I do if it happens?"
I would ask myself.
What will I do
now that it
The first stage of recovery is shock/denial/ numbness.
- We cannot believe or comprehend what has happened to us.
- The mind denies the loss.
- Often the first words uttered after hearing of a loss are, "What?" or "Oh, no."
- We forget that a loss has taken place, and find ourselves stunned each time we remember again. (This is especially true after awakening from sleep.)
- Meanwhile, the body's natural protection against intense pain--shock and numbness--is activated.
we wake & snuggle.
a phone call, california beckons.
the airport, a brutal good(?)bye.
o my god. o my god. o my god.
I know it was time for us
I know I had much pain to
The second stage of recovery is fear/anger/ depression.
- Fear, anger and depression are emotions and reactions most often associated with loss.
What do I do
now that you're gone?
Well, when there's
nothing else going on,
which is quite often,
I sit in a corner and
until I am
inside or out.
Then I think
how much I miss you.
Then I feel
until I am
And finally, understanding/acceptance/moving on.
- We have survived.
- Our body is well on the way to healing.
- Our mind accepts that life without what was lost is possible.
- We move on to a new chapter of our life.
the sun will rise
in a few minutes.
it's been doing it
for as long as I
maybe I should
pin my hopes
not on such relatively
trivial matters as
whether you will ever
I must conquer my loneliness
I must be happy with myself
or I have
Two halves have
when they coincide. . .
We go through the three staes of recovery no matter what we lose.
Loss is loss, no matter what the cause. When someone or something we love is taken from us or denied us, that is a loss. The only difference in recovering from one loss or another is the intensity of feeling and the duration of the healing process. The greater our loss,
- the more intensely we feel each of the stages of recovery
- the longer it takes to pass from one stage to another
With small losses, the three stages of recovery can be moved through in minutes. For large losses, it can take years. The body, mind and emotions have enormous wisdom. They know how to heal themselves, and the amount of time they will need to do it. Give them what they need to heal. Trust in the process of recovery.
drowning in love
drowning in doubt
God, I can't drag my
self to church this morning.
Please make a house call.
You Will Survive
- You will get better.
- No doubt about it.
- The healing process has a beginning, a middle and an end.
- Keep in mind, at the beginning, that there is an end. It's not that far off. You will heal.
- Nature is on your side, and nature is a powerful ally.
- Tell yourself, often, "I am alive. I will survive."
- You are alive.
- You will survive.
in my sleep
you called. you said
you were moving back
with your old lover.
you said you thought a
phone call would be the
cleanest way to handle it,
"it" being that we could
never see each other
again, and that I should
I moved to wake
myself and found I wasn't
sleeping after all.
my life became
If You Need It, Get Help at Once
- If you think you need help, don't hesitate. Get it at once.
- If you are feeling suicidal--or even think you might be feeling suicidal--call a Suicide Prevention Hotline at once.
- To find the number, call Directory Assistance and ask for "The Suicide Prevention Hotline." Almost every town has one. (And notice how nice the directory assistance operator suddenly becomes.) (Our thoughts on suicide are on page 68.)
- You should also seek help at once if you:
- feel you are "coming apart"
- are no longer in control
- are about to take an action you may later regret
- have a history of emotional disturbance
- turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive substances in time of need
- feel isolated with no one to turn to
- repeatedly find yourself in loss situations
- Help can be found in--of all places--the Yellow Pages. Explore the organizations under such listings as "Help Lines."
- This is not the time to "be brave" and attempt to "go it alone." In fact, it takes great courage to ask for help.
left me a
I called the
Acknowledge the Loss
You may struggle to both believe and disbelieve that this could have happened to you. It has happened. It is real. Recognize that a loss has taken place. You may wonder if you are strong enough to bear such a loss. You are strong enough. You are alive. You will survive.
there is nothing to be
only accept it. . .
You Are Not Alone
Loss is a part of life, of being alive, of being human. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone. Your task is to make the journey from immediate loss to eventual gain as rapidly, smoothly and courageously as possible. Somehow, the camaraderie of mutual suffering eases the pain. You have comrades--almost six billion on this planet alone.
Our love affair
has crash landed.
I am trapped
in the rubble
of gossamer wings.
The Wright brothers
would have been proud
of our flight, but
we live in an age
of moon landings and
Our flight was pitifully low
and painfully brief.
make the circumstances
of the beginnings
It's OK to Feel
It's OK to feel numb. Expect to be in shock for awhile. This emotional numbness may be frightening.
It's OK to feel fear. "Will I make it?" "Will I ever love again?" "Will I ever feel good about anything again?" These are familiar fears that follow a loss. It's OK to feel them, but, to the degree you can, don't believe them.
It's OK to feel nothing. There are times when you'll have no feelings of any kind. That's fine.
It's OK to feel anything. You may feel grief-stricken, angry, like a failure, exhausted, muddled, lost, beaten, indecisive, relieved, overwhelmed, inferior, melancholy, giddy, silly, loathful, full of self-hatred, envious, suicidal (feeling suicidal is OK; acting upon the feeling is not), disgusted, happy, outraged, in rage or anything else.
All feelings are part of the healing process.
Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.
I drive away,
tears in my eyes.
Bugs commit suicide on my windshield.
I drive away,
nothing in my eyes.
Snowflakes commit suicide on my windshield.
Be with the Pain
If you're hurting, admit it.
To feel pain after loss is
- proof that you are alive
- a sign that you are able to respond to life's experiences
Although you may be frightened by it, be with your pain. Feel it. Lean into it. You will not find it bottomless.
It is an important part of the healing process that you be with the pain, experience the desolation, feel the hurt.
Don't deny it or cover it or run away from it. Be with it. Hurt for a while. See pain as not hurting, but as healing.
You are a good, whole, worthwhile human being.
You are OK. You are more than OK, you're great.
Your self-esteem may have suffered a jolt. Your thoughts may reflect some guilt, worry, condemnation or self-deprecation. These thoughts are just symptoms of the stress you are going through.
There is no need to give negative thoughts about yourself the center of your attention.
Don't punish yourself with "if only's." ("If only I had [or hadn't] done this [or that], I wouldn't be in this emotional mess.") Disregard any thought that begins "If only"
You are much more than the emotional wound you are currently suffering. Don't lose sight of that.
Beneath the surface turmoil
- you are good
- you are whole
- you are beautiful
just because you are.
I am Joy.
I am everything.
I can do all things but two:
1. forget that I love you.
2. forget that you no longer love me.
Give Yourself Time to Heal
The healing process takes time.
The greater the loss, the more time it will take to heal.
In this age of fast foods and instantly replaceable everything, it's hard to accept that anything takes time.
You require time to heal. Give yourself the luxury of that time.
You deserve it.
is not so heavy
a burden in
prevent a good
deal of destruction.
even though no one
is there to warm me,
the sun will.
Fall just fell,
with no warmth
within to face
the cold without.
I might just stick
to the sidewalk
The Healing Process Has Its Progressions and Regressions
The process of healing and growth is not the smooth progression many people assume.
It's more like a lightning bolt, full of ups and downs, progressions and regressions, dramatic leaps and depressing backslides.
Realize this and know that whether you are "better" or "worse" than yesterday--or five minutes ago--the healing process is under way.
life is becoming.
with each new person I meet
I wonder, is this the day
fate has chosen, or is fate
what I have chosen to get me
through the day?
is the most
force in the universe.
the memory of loving,
Tomorrow Will Come
Life contains many positive experiences.
The good is on its way.
No doubt about it, tomorrow will come.
I have to get
of love with you.
I have to remember:
until you see
Take a breath, deep into your lower abdomen.
Breathing is healing.
Breathing is life.
Exhale fully. Take another slow, deep breath.
Use the breath to stretch your abdomen, stomach and chest.
Place your hand on your heart, stomach or any other part of your body that seems to be in turmoil. Breathe into that area. Tell yourself
- "Peace. Be still."
- "I am alive. I will survive."
Get Lots of Rest--Now
Obtain help with ongoing tasks.
Arrange your life so that you get lots of rest. Schedule rest into the day. Plan to go to bed earlier and sleep a bit later.
Be gentle with yourself. Don't rush about. Your body needs energy for repair.
Rest your emotions. Don't become "heavily involved" for awhile.
Productive work often helps rest the emotions. Do as much of that as is comfortable.
Rest is the foundation of health.
(there is no poem
on this page
as the poet
take a nap)
Stick to Your Schedule
OK, enough rest. Get going!
Alternating rest with activity brings efficient healing.
Rest as much as you need to, but don't become lethargic. Keep active.
While your inner world is chaotic, maintain a modified (lightened) schedule in the outer. This gives you a sense of order--also something to hold onto.
nature is not to
live by day,
night like this.
I will wake up
tomorrow morning and
do do do
all day long,
Keep Decision-Making to a Minimum
Expect your judgement to be clouded.
Keep decision-making to a minimum.
Postpone major decisions, if possible.
Ask friends, family and business associates to make minor decisions for you. Delegate; relegate; rest.
Too much change has already taken place--that's why you're hurting. Keep additional changes to a minimum.
find something new.
get over you.
get you back.
It's OK to Make "Silly" Mistakes
You may forget your keys, misplace your wallet, drop a glass or misspell your own name--several times in a row.
Absentmindedness, forgetfulness and clumsiness are frequently experienced after a loss.
It's a variation on walking into a room to get something, and forgetting what it was you went to get--except that after a loss it's worse, and more frequent.
It's OK. Be easy with yourself. You're healing. If you have any reaction to the silliness of your mistakes, let it be one of amusement rather than irritation.
Copyright © 1967-1996
Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D.
& Peter McWilliams
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Dr. Bloomfield, please click here