The Dimensions of Loss and Where We Go From Here

No one can speak about loss unless they’ve experienced it. How could they?  I am writing this article on the six-month anniversary of my mother’s passing, and I feel that loss. Period. But at the same time, I also feel reborn from the experience, as losing my mother was a clear sign to me that it was time to live my life, and time to move on. 

Climbing to the top of the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs to be a whole person requires us to experience life with its good or bad, ups and downs, losses and gains.  When we conquer these obstacles, we become our true selves, our creative selves, our whole selves. There is no great epic story told that doesn’t include challenges and overcoming loss, but no one can tell us how it happens to us.

Loss is a personal feeling

I know that the way in which I feel is not the way in which you feel. Feelings are non-judgmental, and no one has the right to tell you how to feel or how to react to loss. I know quite well that all of you reading this article have already correlated losses in your life just upon seeing the very word itself. Frankly put, unless you’ve been under a rock, the entire world has been held together by loss during the pandemic.

During this time, we have collectively lost much as a society, as a world, and as a people – and we will never forget this time. Like 9/11 is stamped in my mind forever, so will this time be in our collective consciousness. We will all be able to answer questions like Where were You? What did you do during the pandemic? Who or what did you lose? We share our pathos over the heart-wrenching pain that loss of a loved one brings.  We empathize with people who have lost their businesses, their jobs, and their identities. In my business life, I perceived the advent and growth of communities, of masterminds, of people coming together to support one another as many are adapting and seeking a new sense of direction having lost their former identities, roles, and career paths. To some, this has been a time to reboot, redecorate, and recalculate.  But how does this relate to loss?  Loss gives us the permission we require to move forward to explore something new.

Loss of human interaction was experienced on a global degree

We all felt it as we cocooned in our homes, apartments, rooms, igloos, tents, and more.  The good news is this: we’re working our way back and re-entering society. We connect as people and those who choose to move on and create new identities through advanced education, marriage, moving, exploring, and learning are different. Those individuals who kept an eye on the rearview mirror are sadly, well, still seeking and grieving. Loss of identity, losing a job or a partner, redefines you and that ‘label’ is your ticket with how to process the change. I clearly remember being downsized twice in my life – and it was devastating. How would I introduce myself when I was used to “Hi, I’m Dianne from XYZ Company.”  Instantaneously, I was simply Dianne. This loss gave me the opportunity to look in the mirror and challenge the confidence in myself.  Was I enough? Was being me sufficient? Did I need a company – or partner – or association to identify the uniqueness that lies in each of us? 

Loss has a purpose for all of us

Simply put, without loss, we would not recognize or appreciate what we have. Loss helps us cultivate a sense of gratitude. Over the years, I’ve lost at receiving awards, winning games, and being promoted. I’ve also lost the opportunity to have children, lost my business, and lost over $2 million dollars.  It didn’t occur to me until someone pointed it out, that as a Professor, I have over 10 children come into my life every semester.  This brings up an important point about the experience of loss. When a loss is replaced by something, it changes it’s meaning. It becomes a significant part of personal growth, a step to move forward on the journey.  It becomes a part of letting go which is fundamental to development and growth. We can’t see this when experiencing the loss, but in hindsight, there are always a sequence of events to connect that tell the story, our story, that was meant to be. What I now know is that without the losses in my life, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today with the sensitivities, compassion, and empathy for others that only pain and personal angst can bring. 

Many losses I experienced instilled in me a sense of determination to live as fully as possible allowing my pain to push my creativity and my productivity. Loss is the ingredient for non-verbal expression. The greatest inventions, prose, and artwork have sometimes arisen out of the depth of grief and pain. Loss seeks expression in whatever form works best for you, i.e. writing, art, dance, sport, music, volunteer work and more.   

On a metaphysical level, if we don’t lose things, we don’t have a choice to find something new and grow. This is easier said than done as any loss I’ve encountered didn’t come with a roadmap to heal and the process certainly isn’t linear. One of my favorite old movies is “Oh,God!” with George Burns.  In it, he states, “…you can’t know joy without pain, you can’t know good without evil,” and I’ll add, you can’t know what you have without loss. 

Loss drives us to do two things: to give up or get up

In giving up, we stop living; we block our development and our ability to think and use our creative mind to visualize what our next steps could be to form ‘what’s next.’  We give up and we give in.  If we  ‘throw in the towel’ and choose to stay in that dark place,  we miss the bridge time between loss and finding or making a new discovery about ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong, depending on the loss, we all need time to process and absorb the change that loss brings but processing is different from being defeated. I will not be defeated by loss anymore.

To me, there are different types of losses:

  • Losses that are out of our control
  1. Losing a parent and other loved ones throughout your life.  My father’s sudden death in his sleep was such a shock to all and the most comforting thoughts were through prayer.  There is no answer to why in this situation.   “Why ask why?,” my dear late friend, Tim Brown, used to say. We comforted ourselves by saying, “not gone, just gone on ahead” or “his/her time was up here.” No words take away the pain that only time can heal. When Mom passed this February 2021, it was different.  She was so sick for so long that we prayed for her passing.  Yes, it is a loss.  My best friend.  But the loss is assuaged knowing she is out of pain and none of us want to see those we love to suffer.  
  1. Losing a job is another loss out of our control and I’ve lost a couple of them. The chain of events leading up to the final termination were like walking to the guillotine.  I could sense them coming, i.e. being replaced by the CEO’s daughter who felt my job was ‘her dream job.’ Or losing an opportunity for a position I was qualified for to a man I had to train because “he had a family.” I give these examples to you because I know you have your own stories to tell.   
  1. Losing business is sometimes out of our control as well.   New management or a conflict of interest sometimes causes a break or severing a relationship and that is a loss especially if one party is the prey.
  • Losses that are in my control
  1. To leave an abusive relationship
  2. To quit a negative job environment
  3. To lose weight
  4. To clean out a closet – or house
  5. And many more

Loss finds physical places to hide in our bodies that affect our health

I learned in yoga to observe postures of students and people and to ‘read’ certain areas of concern.  For example, many people who are no longer with someone they deeply care about tend to protect their heart by involuntarily moving their shoulders inward. When we ‘speak from our heart,’ we expand our chest, open ourselves up and our shoulders fall back into place. Some hold the pain of loss in their digestive tracts, others aren’t grounded because the pain literally pulled the rug out from under. Loss can weigh heavily on our bodies which is why exercise, yoga, walking and anything physical is part of a healing process.  

In the amount of time it takes to pull a finger out of a glass of water, that is the time it takes for most humans to reconnect in person. In our sensory lives, over 11 million sensory synapses occur per second so when you do encounter someone after two years, reach out and touch them, hold them, hug them and feel the joy associated with contact, and hug yourself in between. 

We have all lost something or someone in our lives at one time or another and this time we are in that exemplifies the universal shift we are experiencing.  A new age is born and with any birth, there is pain making way for life.  With all the loss around us, have you recognized what is being let go to make way?  Do you give yourself time to process it? To recognize and honor it? To put the loss in a place? To learn from it? There is a saying, “Let Go and let God.”  Loss and confusion are bridges from where we were to where we are going and the faith and fortitude to move on are our transportation.  

Following the financial crash of 2008, I was speaking at a conference about Understanding Your Personal Value.  I asked everyone to hold up a one-dollar bill with two hands and on the count of three, rip it. Aghast, shocked, stunned, and clenching their stomach muscles, the faces of the people in the room reacted simultaneously. I asked, if this is the response to a one-dollar bill, what is going on internally when you lose so much more perceived value?

Loss needs to be recognized

I live in Chicago and realized I can’t visit the NJ cemetery to acknowledge my parents.  I ordered a simple plaque for the garden and now have a place to recognize them. Something about a symbol, object or name written down makes the loss real. Many people chose charities and causes for donations in someone’s honor – whatever it is, make it real.

Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” If we are not forced or pushed to discover new lands, how would we know they even existed? 

​​So, is the concept of loss and the grief associated with it the real issue or is it the fear of change? Is it the fear of being a better version of ourselves? Is it fear of success and of growth? Is it fear of leaving behind what is familiar? Fear and change can be paralyzing to some. Loss demands change whether we like it or not. Loss is a catalyst that, like a two-year old having a tantrum, says, “pay attention to me.” Loss gives us an opportunity to find new things, to manifest our creative selves, to be, go and do – and that requires courage, faith and love. 

And so, whatever your loss and losses, honor them, recognize them, learn from them while you move ahead trusting that there is something waiting for you that is bigger and better than you can imagine. And, take down that rear view mirror so it doesn’t get in the way.    

I’ve been through many changes in my life and I’ve found that accepting them, understanding them, and moving ahead to adapt to the changes – in my own time – has helped me to take advantage of the new opportunities that come with change.  

What have you found through loss?