Life After Loss: How Does the Healing Begin?

A short reflection on grief work.

Posted Apr 25, 2012

We have all sorts of love-and-loss in life. We lose beloved family members and friends in death, sickness, accident, or separation. In all these ways, we also can lose family members and friends with whom we have difficult and conflicted relationships. We may face an unwanted divorce or break-up with someone we truly love—or a break-up which is greatly desired because the relationship was so bad—or one which is reluctantly given up because the fit just wasn’t right. We may lose a dream or a job or a home or a capacity. We do not seek out these losses, but they are a part of any life that is truly lived.

My favorite psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, says we move forward bit by bit, slowly over time.  With anguish, she said, we rebuild our inner world.

Consider this dream of a young adult woman, the night after her mother’s funeral:

I was at work. For some reason, it was going to be my last day. So I went to my office to clean out my desk. Most everything already had been packed up, but I needed to clean out the drawers.  And the main task was to sort through the silverware, as there were mismatched forks and knives and spoons, some of good quality and worth keeping (they’d fit with my set at home) and some to be thrown out.

The work of grief involves careful sorting. We must sort through the good and the bad, holding on to what is worth keeping and letting the rest go. 

Hopefully, there is a lot of good that is worth keeping. We treasure the memories of our loved ones in our hearts and minds. In sorting through our experiences, we have the opportunity to take in all that was helpful and, like silverware, use it for the rest of our lives. We also have the opportunity to work through the disappointments, differences, and grievances we may have had. We must try to forgive our loved ones and ourselves. Through this painful work, we can let go, bit by bit, and move on. 

Sometimes there is not too much good that is worth keeping from the lost relationship itself, particularly if it was a troubled one. Then, we must look hard to find the good of the experience. Lessons learned through mistakes, regrets, and suffering are still lessons worth keeping. Sometimes they are the lessons essential to life, for they guide us as we move forward.

Loss, like love, is both painful and valuable. Take the time to sort through it. In this painstaking work, you may find something helpful to take with you on your journey.

Copyright 2012 by Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.

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