How to Cope with Sadness and Loss

by JoHarrington

It's a fact of life that things change, people die, life moves on. But that doesn't make any of it easier to bear. Here's how you might make it through those dark days.

Our feelings make us human beings. We could not feel compassion, if we had not also experienced pain. We couldn't be sad, if we hadn't been happy. There can be no love without also knowing hatred.

And for all we lost, there was once a gain. There was belonging, empathy, caring, needing and being needed; there was something there, and it was beautiful enough for you to feel the void, where it once stood.

You are allowed to feel these things. Without them, you'd be an automaton, not quite participating in the human condition. Your mourning is your right.

You are Allowed to Break

The stiff, upper lip is over-rated. Being adult about things isn't always right and healthy.

Your emotion is your mind's way of defending and healing you.  You should let it do its job.

Too many people assume that feeling too hard is wrong, and that it must be suppressed at all costs.  The operative term is 'at all costs'.  Can you really afford to lose much more right now?

Emotion isn't standing still.  Emotion is moving. The clue is in the word itself.  It contains 'motion'.  It comes from the Old French émouvoir, which translates as 'stirring up'.

Happiness makes us bounce and clap; mirth causes us to rock back and forth with laughter; fear triggers the fight or flight response; it's all moving.  So what about sadness and loss?  That's one of nature's greatest tutorials of all.

The movement here is inwards.  It may audition anger, fear, hopelessness and all the rest, to see which is going to be the best coping mechanism for you.  It will find it. You just have to give it time. Your life has been stirred up and you are experiencing the emotion of sadness as a result.

Now what? No self-help article or book can tell you that.  If you weren't a unique human being, then there would be no need for emotion.  But you are.  Your feelings will find the way most appropriate for you, if you let them.

It's ok to break.  It's ok to sink into sadness.  It's to be encouraged to let your emotional reaction take you to a stronger mental place; for that's what sadness is.  It's the evaluating emotion.  It's the one which will eventually find its conclusions, as long as you have the courage to feel it and the patience to await the results.

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Talk About How You Are Feeling

Suffering in silence never did anyone any good. It was in vogue in Victorian times; and that ended in Freud, hysteria and World War One.

If sadness and a sense of loss are the evaluation emotions, then they need data. 

You cannot understand what just happened, if you don't have all of the facts.  You can't determine a strategy for coping, if your view doesn't take in all angles.

This is where your friends and family come in.  If they aren't available, then there are others too.  New friends are made, when you reach out to acquaintances for advice and support.  The Samaritans and other help organizations are at the end of a telephone.

Talking about it isn't 'wallowing in self-pity'.  It's actively helping your emotion find the way forward for you.

Others may sympathize or even empathize, but they can be much more objective. They aren't in the morass of emotions that you're lost in right now.  However, that doesn't mean that others are necessarily right.  They are another viewpoint, another take on the matter. That is invaluable, but your gut instinct wins out every time.

Take on board their information.  Give it time.  No knee-jerk reaction is likely to be the correct response, because that may be born simply of your desire to make sadness go away.  Listen to what your sadness is saying deep inside, as that's your survival instinct in evaluation overdrive.  It's your friend in the long run.

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Do the Job in Front of You

One thing has changed. It may be far-reaching, touching the whole of your life, but it's just one thing. Trying to face it all will overwhelm you.

We've all been there.  One last loss which topples the pile.  The straw which breaks the camel's back.  Or the end of something so huge, so great, so life-changing, that nothing else gets through.

No-one can confront the whole mass of things without caving in. 

Even in happy days, you focused on only one thing at a time.  At your most efficient, multitasking best, it was probably only a handful of things juggled.  Add any more and things get dropped.

So why is it that, in sadness and loss, we attempt to take on the whole?  It takes mere seconds then to become overwhelmed and start to rage or cry.

Look at the job that's in front of you.  No-one is asking you to plan out the rest of your life right now.  The next five minutes is adequate enough.  The next hour is fabulous.  All of those minutes and hours will eventually add up to the rest of your life anyway.

Naturally it's hard to prioritize what needs to be done, when you're so upset.  This is where talking to people comes fully into its own.  Let those who know your world point out the most important activity - the call to make, the documentation to sign, the kettle to put on for a nice cup of tea.

By focusing on one thing at a time, you will move on through.  Then take on the next thing.  Just never, ever attempt to cope with everything at once.  Your sadness is fully occupied with dealing with what just happened.  It doesn't need the extra stress of facing the long-term future.

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Don't Avoid Stressful Situations

The temptation may well be to hide away from the world forever, but learning how to live in it again is better.

When we lose someone or something, the initial reaction is to want to curl up and die.  Society doesn't take kindly to someone sobbing in the street (well, not permanently anyway); and you can't maintain your public face, when everything has gone so wrong.

Plus loss can come about through a whole range of circumstances, which may impact on how you see the world, and the world sees you.

It may be a death, or a betrayal, or stupidity, or simply that time moves on.  It may be more socially acceptable to appear outside in mourning, than it would be after a humiliation.  But they are all loss and they all need to be approached in the same way.

Get out there.  Confront the situation.  Face your encounters.  But don't hide from the world.

This is the cruelest aspect of coping with sadness and loss, but it's highly necessary. Otherwise your long-term strategy might end up being avoidance or becoming a recluse.  Your sadness needs to teach you how to cope out there, as well as inside your head.

The trick is to think ahead.  Not for your whole life from this moment forth, but for the next five minutes.  The next hour.   What are you likely to do?  Plan it out, so that you're not frozen when it comes to it.  Buy a newspaper?  Walk that journey in your mind's eye.  Imagine picking it up, taking it to the counter, buying it. 

Who are you likely to meet?  What might you say?  You don't need to plan the whole conversation, as that relies too much on the other person.  But having an opening line is great.  Even if it's just 'hello'.

How will you respond to the most likely comment or question?  If it's sympathy, pity, retribution or blame, how will you react?  Have these things in your head, so that the reality doesn't take you by surprise.  It's all part of the healing process.

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Give Yourself Time and Compassion

This too will pass, no matter how devastating it is right now. Your mind, fuelled with sadness, will find a way to cope with your loss.

It's so easy to be compassionate with other people, but what about yourself?  You deserve that same respect and empathy, even from yourself.

Beating yourself up for not having the answers immediately is utterly self-defeating.  Every project requires the time to grow from concept to actuality, and rebuilding your life is no different. 

Right now, you could be struggling even to work out what the question is, let alone come up with a genius solution.  So let us take this all the way back to basics.

When you were born, your parents knew that you were alright.  They did that by the very simple checklist of checking that you have all of your fingers and toes.  Do you still have them?  Well good!  Then you must be fundamentally alright.

(And if you don't, well it was never a test with any sound medical basis nor logic behind it anyway.)

Back then, you couldn't hold your own head up without support.  You couldn't speak, walk, crawl or take yourself to the toilet. You couldn't feed yourself.  Your eyes barely focused on anything. Your brain interpreted the world as a collection of shapes, colors and sounds.  And you were loved, deeply and unconditionally, for it.

Now look at you.  Look at all that you achieved.  All of the boxes that you ticked and moved beyond.  Can you hold up your head without a hand behind it?  Can you express deep and complex emotions in your mother tongue?  Can you walk into the kitchen and fix yourself a glass of water?

Then you're already one step further than you were when you started.  You gave it time then and you can give it time now.  It's all only a matter of scale.  You may have to begin with a crawl, then stumble when you start to walk.  But you did back then too.  It was viewed as part of your life's learning; and so is this.

That love, deep and unconditional, may be in the people around you; but it should be in you too.  Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time.  Talk it over.  Focus on the job in front of you.  Then the rest of your life will gradually fall back into line.

No-one is asking you to get over your loss.  Some things can never be forgotten, nor should they be.  But be patient with your sadness and yourself, and in that compassion will come coping.  Time will make it easier to bear.

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Updated: 11/08/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/02/2012

I had something similar! I really got into Blue October big time and finally got round to checking if they were ever going to be on tour in Britain. I discovered that they'd just finished one! In fact, they'd been in the next city to me two nights before, then had gone up Manchester.

They haven't been back since. I'm so gutted. :(

I'm glad that my words could help you then. I hope that they can continue to help people now. Thank you. <3

Ember on 12/02/2012

I am a huge Blue October fan, from the very first time I heard them (it was in my car, driving down the freeway on my way home from work. The song finished and the dj said that it was Blue October, and then talked about how they were playing a show that evening in the next town over, and I was so tempted to just keep driving down the freeway and go to it >.> But I had homework, so I did not. I wish I had though! It would have been spontaneity at it's best.)

I remember very well you saying a lot of these words you wrote here to me last December. I remember thinking, 'damn,' because I was really amazed by how powerful such simple words and advice was, but not really having much else to say. It gave me a lot of courage, and I was really touched. I really appreciate your wisdom, (I think I always will :p). But yes, this really is good advice you've got here. :)

JoHarrington on 12/01/2012

Ember - You know I'm a big Blue October fan. Justin really knows how to sing it.

I've heard that about the seven year thing before. I didn't know if it was just one of those myths, so it's cool hearing it from you too. Doesn't it take seven years for every cell in your body to be brand new?

OMG! That comic is brilliant! Wow! *bookmarked and pinned*

Once you get to a certain age, I think that we've all been there and got the t-shirt. Thank you, it's appreciated. *hugs* <3 and many more cyber hugs too. <3

JoHarrington on 12/01/2012

Sue - That one step at a time thing seems so cliched, but that's because it's age old, sound advice. The future is overwhelming enough, without trying to peer at it from the perspective of present day pain.

I like what you said about practicalities. Dealing with tasks, which are doing the head in of the person who's suffering loss, is one of the kindest things that anyone could do for another person.

Ember on 12/01/2012

I'd never listened to Janis Joplin before :) This is a favorite for me-!

The other day, I was freaking out over something trivial, but I was upset. My friend told me something interesting. I mentioned it to her, and she replied, 'That's okay, a life-time is usually only about 7 years, so it was about time for this anyways.' 'You mean 70?...The average life-time is usually into the 70's,' I asked. 'That's the average life-span. The average life-time is seven years, some may be shorter and some are longer. But things tend to only last about seven years. It takes on average seven years to master something. One life-time is ending, for you, but how many have you got left? This just means that you're about to start your next life-time.'

I thought it was interesting, I'd never really heard that concept, so I've been thinking about it since. (LOL she just told me that she was just talking based off of something she read off of a web comic, so I just went and looked it up...

I've mourned for things that you never really get over, I'd been changed too much by the person or event so I'd never really 'get over it' per say, but it is fair to say it gets better. And others where I just needed some time, and in the end I can look back fondly but once I'm over it, I'll never really be sad about it again.

Lastly, *hugs* <3 I wish I was better with words, or advice, or what have you, but I understand and I'm here with lots of cyber hugs whenever they're needed :)

2uesday on 12/01/2012

It does help to take it one step at a time. The bit about coping with the moment, rather than trying to think about looking into the future really does help. If you are trying to help someone to cope with loss, practical help is useful as well as emotional support.

JoHarrington on 12/01/2012

You're very welcome. It's a pep talk that I've been having to give to myself, but we do get through these things. We always do.

Ragtimelil on 12/01/2012

I will bookmark and reread this the next time I have one of those days. Thanks for the beautiful words of wisdom.

JoHarrington on 12/01/2012

'Little Girl Blue' is a song which I once played during a time when everything was over. I'd lost it all. There was absolutely no way past that moment.

Twenty years later, I'm still grateful to Janis for teaching me how to count my fingers and the raindrops. It turned out that there was a way past my loss after all.

Hugs back to you too. <3

Mira on 12/01/2012

Oh man, I can't believe you put Little Girl Blue up there. And said you listened to it so many times. . . . Love Janis, and love the fact that you're reaching out to people who need your words right now. Hugs <3

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