I was privileged enough to be sitting in a cafe near my home this morning drinking hot chocolate with a friend. The bill came in a tatty plastic folder. I did not consciously notice this, but my friend commented on the message that was being sent to us as customers in that important concluding moment of the relationship between us and the proprietors. I realised during the ensuing discussion how many of us are not consciously sensitive to the rituals between us. These rituals and the symbols we use in them result in the communication of the care or the lack of care we have towards others. I was reminded of how the unconscious or underlying positions we hold towards each other reveal themselves continuously, despite our best conscious efforts. And finally, I thought about how important it is to align the different parts of our psyche as much as we are able to, if we are to have relationships that support and enhance our mutual worth.
We suffer loss everyday. We lose our youth, our health, inexorably and we lose the people and things that we become attached to. Conceivably, this is an unbearable part of being human, and in many instances, losses are indeed experienced as unbearable. However, surprisingly, we also recover from losses, even remarkably painful ones. I have been thinking about the things that help us recover from loss.
It seems that we as humans have an inherent capacity to grieve – in other words we have inbuilt mechanisms which help us metabolise the experience of loss. Elizabeth Kubler Ross did important work in this area and her books are well worth reading if one is struggling with loss. We have emotions that help move us through difficult experiences, if we are allowed to feel them and ideally express them. Sadness (and maybe first, anger) helps us to accept the eventual separation from the people and things that we are attached to. The experience and expression of grief allows us to come to terms with the loss. However, many of us have lost our capacity to grieve, or we never developed it in the first place. Grief is messy, and in world that insists on the shiny one-sidedness of perfection as the ultimate goal, we increasingly shy away from the useful chaos and misery of grief. We have fewer and fewer rituals that evoke our deepest meaning-making capacities, and so we are losing touch with our archetypal predisposition to heal.
Another idea is that loss is never the final act of the drama. As an insightful friend recently commented, anything that had life once, eventually supports new life. In that way, we live forever. This idea is possibly not comforting in itself, but it does embed each of us firmly in the cycle of life, and this may deliver a sense of belonging that, although abstract, softens our felt isolation from a creative source.
Finally, loss keeps us humble. It forces us to re-evaluate our relationships, our lives, our choices. It reminds us of what we do value, and sometimes encourages us to newly appreciate people and things around us that had apparently lost their lustre. With the full experience of loss, we wash the dust from our eyes and our hearts, and we discover that, remarkably, they still work.