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What if the purpose of life was to learn about loss?

Reflections on reality

Kat Jayne Pexels

What if the purpose of life was to learn about loss?

This question has been causing me some concern. I have been trying to make sense of the reality of loss within normal life. It is not as if it is an unusual experience.

The Cambridge dictionary defines loss as ‘the fact that you no longer have something or have less of something’.

Every day we experience loss. As a minute passes, it is gone from our lives. As the sun sets and darkness falls, the day is lost to us. When we have a conversation, the silent gaps signify lost time, lost opportunities to redirect the course of the discussion.

Reality is a moving staircase with each step behind us dropping further and further as we slowly ascend.

Children suffer loss all the time. Friends move away, a beloved pet dies or worse, a much adored grandparent takes their last breath. In the past, children were shielded from loss and it must have come as an immense shock when they eventually realized the truth. These days we expect children to accept loss, but without giving them any guidelines on how to do it. All they can do is take their direction from watching their parents’ reaction to loss.

That is hardly the best solution. Their parents have also been fumbling through life wondering how to cope with loss. Some react with nonchalance, others use alcohol as a numbing drug, a minority take it stepwise and learn from their emotional response.

We should be telling children and young people; you WILL have loss in your life. It may throw you off your tracks, douse you in sorrow and make you question the purpose of living. But if we teach them coping strategies from a very young age, they will learn to accept that loss is just another factor in daily life, and there are effective ways to counterbalance the negative aspects.

By National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Did you not realise that even within your own body, cells die every day and are replaced? Do we mourn the cells that are lost? No, because we understand the regenerative process. The cycle of life continues. Loss is balanced out with new growth until it reaches the tipping point. And to some extent, we are responsible for the factors that accelerate or decelerate the tipping point.

So we must build the concept of loss into our understanding of growth.

Loss is not synonymous with death, though often that assumption is made.

‘I am sorry for your loss’. We hear this phrase frequently in response to someone’s bereavement. Grief is only one form of loss, but it is the one we talk about most. Perhaps because it is the most extreme variant. We readily show sympathy to those suffering from a death in the family. It is a very finite event, there are no fluffy edges.

We are encouraged to have an outpouring of emotions, but not for too long. It is embarrassing if it drifts on and on into months and years. ‘Hasn’t she got over it yet?’ her colleagues say. She has failed the test. She completed the obligatory elements of tearfulness, distraction, reduction in appetite and avoidance of social interaction, but neglected to switch these factors off after the expected interval, and resume normal activity.

The truth is, she never had any training in how to incorporate loss into her life. It is no wonder the process was alien to her. If she had been taken through the smaller loss events of her childhood with sympathetic mentoring, perhaps she would be in a better emotional state to deal with the greater loss.

We share the planet and the atmosphere in complex ways and it is futile to pay attention to only one organism, or only one event.

We must celebrate all that we lose, with all our senses.

We must make a record of our losses in the same way that we make a record of our successes.

Every part of our life experience contributes to who we are.

Building a memory bank of success and loss will further our understanding of connection, for all living things are connected.

How did you deal with your own personal losses? Can you see how they have contributed to your resilience? Would you have benefitted from an education process that embraced loss as part of developing a more complete psyche? Can we redress the balance between loss and gain? In my opinion, there is too much emphasis on celebrating gain without acknowledging the necessity of accepting loss.

Previously published on Medium Nov 2020

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