Feeling, Relating, Existing

On emotion and the human dimension

Varieties of Love and Loss

Grief needs to find a relational home.

Four forms of love were identified by the ancient Greeks: Philia (friendship), Eros (romantic, sexual love), Storge (parental affection), and Agape (love of humanity, of our fellow human beings). In my view, these forms of love are most often complexly intermingled. In the richest and deepest romantic relationships, for example, we may experience a lover fluidly and flexibly as an object of our erotic desire and as our best friend, as our parent and as our child, as our brother or sister and as our soul mate, and, in existential kinship, as a fellow human being. The richer and more multidimensional a love relationship, the more traumatically world-shattering will be its loss.

More generally, the nature of a loss experience will depend complexly on the forms or dimensions of love that had constituted the lost relationship. For example, relationships differ according to the extent to which self or other—two experiential foci within the unitary structure Being-in-the world—occupies the emotional foreground. The experience of the loss of someone who primarily had been loved narcissistically, serving as support for the bereaved person's sense of selfhood, will differ from the loss of someone whose otherness had been recognized and deeply treasured. In the former case one’s sense of selfhood will be weakened, whereas in the latter one’s emotional world will be emptied out and impoverished.

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There is no loss more horrific than the death of a beloved young child. What is not generally recognized, however, is that loss is experienced by a loving parent throughout the course of his or her child’s development. At each newly emerging stage, the parent experiences both joy in the child’s developmental achievement and grief over the loss of what is being left behind. My 2003 poem, “Emily Running,” captures this phenomenon:

          My favorite time of day

          is walking Emily to school in the morning.

          We kiss as we leave our driveway

         so other kids won’t see us.

          If I’m lucky, we have a second kiss,

          furtively, at the school-yard’s edge.

          My insides beam as she turns from me

          and runs to the building where her class is held,

          blonde hair flowing,

          backpack flapping,

          my splendid, precious third-grader.

          Slowly, almost imperceptibly,

          a cloud begins to darken

          my wide internal smile—

          not grief, exactly, but a poignant sadness—

          as her running points me back

          to other partings

          and toward other turnings

          further down the road.

An adolescent child’s rebelliousness and massive disengagement can entail a nearly unbearable loss for a parent, as the loving little boy or girl of earlier developmental eras is experienced as being lost forever and must be painfully grieved.

Grief over the loss of a love relationship of any kind needs to find a context of emotional understanding, a “relational home,” in which the pain can be held, borne, and eventually integrated. If you, or someone you care about, ever experience a traumatic loss, never think or utter the words, “You have to let it go and move on.” Do not turn away.

 

Copyright Robert Stolorow

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D. is one of the original members of the International Council for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, which stems from the work of Heinz Kohut.

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