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Loss and Grief (Outside of Death)

Have you ever been through a break up that was so utterly destroying that it felt like that person had died? Your heart felt like it was actually breaking, you were in physical pain from missing that person, you couldn’t eat or sleep and were crying around the clock. Chances are, even though this pain was crippling and very real to you, those around you (apart from perhaps a select few caring friends or family) may have made light of your suffering. “Ah well, plenty more fish in the sea” is a particular favourite expression to hear in the depths of grief.


Because what you experienced at that time, is, in fact, grief. It is a loss so profound that you are indeed grieving. Especially if this person was part of your every day life. Why do we treat break ups as almost comical? This is how they are often depicted in films: the hysterical girl sobbing into a box of tissues, carton of ice cream next to her, looking bedraggled as her best friend simultaneously comforts and rolls her eyes. If this girl’s partner had died, instead of broken up with her, the scene would be much more sensitive and serious. So why don’t we treat other losses in life, such as break-ups, with more respect?


The loss of a job, home, your health (such as the diagnosis of a serious illness), relationship or creative project can completely devastate us, and studies show we will literally process it the same way we would the death of a person.

Thanatologist Cole Imperi has given a name to these ‘other losses’ – she calls them Shadowlosses. For those who haven’t heard the word Thanatologist before (don’t worry, that’s all of us) this means someone who studies the practices of death and everything that goes along with it, including the needs of the terminally ill. But despite her heavy subject matter, according to her TEDX Talk, she’s still “really fun at parties”, LOL.


Cole highlights the value of these Shadowlosses, and talks about the moment she found out at age 22 that she was infertile, as being a defining Shadowloss. She lost the future she imagined for herself, and had to go through the grieving process of this loss.


Many of us today have no doubt experienced these Shadowlosses throughout our lives, without truly realising the impact they have had on us.


The sudden and unexpected loss of a job after 25 years, for example, can lead to loss of identity, feelings of failure and confusion and a complete lack of direction. In situations like this, we can be left feeling frustrated, angry, powerless and overwhelmingly sad – all stages of grief, that we may not even be aware we are going through.


Wouldn’t it be more helpful to us all if we collectively acknowledged that losses outside of death can potentially impact us just as hard, and will require time, patience and care to get through? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for workplaces to extend compassionate leave to those struggling with a divorce, losing their long time home, diagnosed with an illness that will change their ability to take care of themselves etc?


For anyone struggling with these kinds of losses, particularly if you are not experiencing support from those around you while you process them, please know that you are not alone, and that what you are feeling is normal. Reaching out to professionals for grief counselling, hypnotherapy or psychology is a great starting point in acknowledging your feelings and beginning the healing journey.

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