A loss of life’s expectations.

A client I was seeing for the loss of her husband 5 years prior had difficulty understanding why she was still struggling so much. They were separated and had an acrimonious marriage and she had already partaken in grief therapy after his death. So why was she feeling symptoms of grief still after 5 years? Eventually we realized it wasn’t the loss of her husband that was causing her distress, but rather the loss of her expectations of her life at the age of 65. She had always expected to have a partner to travel with, grow old with, and enjoy her grandchildren with. Her friends around her all seemed to be experiencing what she was missing. Once she came to the realization that it wasn’t her husband that she was grieving but rather the life she wanted, the healing was able to begin.

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Expectations of Grief

Oftentimes people associate grief specifically with the death of a person, but that is not the only time we experience grief. It’s not always obvious when we are grieving a loss that isn’t associated with a death.

Some examples that people might be grieving:

  • The loss of physical ability. Perhaps an illness or ailment has taken your ability to be as physically active and partake in activities which you once enjoyed and expected to continue to enjoy.
  • No longer being able to partake in an event due to COVID-19. It might have been your wedding, you daughter’s graduation, or a concert for your favorite band.
  • Grieving the loss of not having children. Maybe you expected to have children to bring in to the world and raise, however were unable to for any number of reasons.
  • Grieving the expectations of having a successful career. Maybe you thought you would have started a successful enterprise or been a star in your current job, but neither ever materialized.
  • Grieving the loss of a friendship. You expected them to always be your best friend and have your back, but the friendship did not turn out the way you had hoped or expected.

 

Once you have identified your grief it can be looked at and worked on.

Share Your Emotions

Share with someone you trust to hold your grief and to be able to respond compassionately. You can speak to a loved one you trust, or a mental health clinician. Tell them what you expected and hoped for, and what the loss has actual cost you. Allow yourself to feel, truly feel, what this loss has meant to you. Sit with that loss and allow yourself to feel the sadness that comes with it.

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Do Not Minimize Your Loss

It’s easy to think that there are people in the world that have it worse off (even if it is true), especially in today’s Coronavirus world, but that does not make your feelings of loss any less valid. The fact remains that you suffered a loss of something that mattered to you.

Perform a Ritual

A ritual can be remarkably effective at helping one grieve.

  • Write down all your thoughts and feelings about this loss and put that paper in a fire and watch it burn.
  • Create art that helps you reflect on the loss. Art can be a great way at making the subconscious reach the conscious.
  • Visit a place that is connected to the loss and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that arise. You might be surprised to find gratitude among them, however recent research has shown gratitude to be one of the most powerful emotions.

Identify changes that you can make to make your life more in line to what you wanted and expected. Maybe you can’t climb Mount Everest anymore, but perhaps you can still go on smaller hikes or get the thrill you wanted in other ways.

What changes can you make to make your life more in line to what you wanted?  Maybe you can’t climb Mount Everest anymore, but perhaps you can still go on smaller hikes or get the thrill you wanted in other ways.

As for my client, after grieving the loss of not having a partner, she realized that she didn’t want to be tied down to anyone and actually enjoyed the freedom she had to see friends and partake in activities she found fulfilling. She was able to see more accurately the life she currently led and the benefits it provided her.

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About the Author

Simran Bhatia is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In his words, “It all starts with being heard. Expressing ourselves and really feeling understood.”

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