What Is Loss Really About?
My husband and I recently lost one of the rescue cats we’ve been sheltering, feeding and trying to get adopted. His name was Solo, a sweet, gentle and friendly Tuxedo cat who was very loving and protective of the other cats in the colony; especially his smaller siblings. After a week-long search, we found poor Solo’s body in a neighbor’s yard, close to the fence between our homes. We believe he got into some rat poison. It was quite shocking to find him that way. I wept inconsolably because of the sad way he died, as well as the condition of his body, which was already in the first stages of decomposition; and for not having had the chance for a proper goodbye. But I also cried for not having realized how seriously ill he was and tried to do more about it (he had looked shaky and non-responsive a week before, so we tried to catch him to take him to the vet but he escaped, and because we couldn’t find anything visibly wrong and he seemed to be doing better, we decided to just keep an eye on him; unfortunately, that was the last time we saw him alive). I also wept for not having been able to find him a permanent home soon enough; for the deep pain I witnessed and felt in my husband, who had developed a soft spot for Solo; but above all, I cried for the kind of world we live in, where too many living beings suffer from neglect and ill-treatment, and where too many are killed so casually and mindlessly, often just for our convenience.
After my husband asked permission to enter the neighbor’s backyard, we went together to pick up Solo’s remains and bring him back to our house, the place that was never meant to be his permanent home but was the only home he knew for the almost three years of his life, ever since he was just a little kitten hiding with his siblings under our shed. We buried him in our backyard, saying our final goodbyes. Ironically, about a week later someone called and asked if Solo was still available for adoption. They were looking for a neutered Tuxedo male to keep company with a Tuxedo female who had recently lost her companion. Solo would have been perfect. The call came about two weeks too late.
A few days later, we attended an event with a few friends and acquaintances. One of the people there was a man who had lost his younger son to suicide just a few months before. I can’t even imagine the kind of pain that man had gone (and was still going) through. I also remember feeling embarrassed about how much I was still suffering for the loss of a rescue cat, and how self-conscious I felt after a friend asked what was wrong with me, and I shared it with him. I caught myself trying to justify what I was feeling and why I was still feeling that way.
Over the years I’ve suffered my share of losses, as everyone else. In the past year alone, my grandmother (with whom I had a very special connection) and a cousin-in-law (a special and wonderful young woman with whom I also shared a special connection) passed away. In addition to Solo, we also lost three other rescue cats; one of them was especially hard, as it was a sweet little kitten who got severely sick and had to be put to sleep. I still carry all of them with me.
As these events caused me to muse about loss more than usual; and considering that every single one of us deals with loss on a regular basis, I decided to write down some thoughts and feelings in relation to this important and reoccurring theme.
1) Loss is always about much more than who or what you lose. As it happened in relation to the death of Solo the rescue cat, loss can bring up many other issues to the surface, including fear of death, feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, etc. Generally speaking, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. However, as our losses can be connected with so many different aspects of our beings and existence (including past experiences of loss), the significance of each loss is quite personal and individual.
2) Loss is loss is loss. No loss should be considered greater or lesser than another; comparing losses is an exercise in futility. There’s no right or wrong here. So I shouldn’t have compared my grief for the loss of our rescue cat with the grief of the gentleman who lost his son. Losses cannot be compared by quantity or quality. Of course, it’s still a good rule of thumb to not try to engage someone who just lost his son to suicide by speaking about the loss of your rescue cat. Each person tends to feel very intensely about their own loss and most likely wouldn’t respond well to a comment that might elicit comparison, especially if they are still grieving. When someone is in need to sympathy for their loss, it’s always better to address their needs without bringing up your own loss, anyway. However, you should be able to go through your own grief process without guilt or shame. Which bring us to the following thought:
3) There’s no shame in loss. Or there shouldn’t be. Easier said than done, as I happened to prove with my own personal experience. However, that’s what we should strive for: understanding that grief due to loss is a very natural feeling that needs to be honored and experienced without guilt or shame. In spite of the fact that many of us believe in a higher realm where souls are eternal, it’s still hard to disconnect ourselves from the pain caused by the very real losses in our physical world. The thing is, we are also physical beings, and it is OK to acknowledge and feel loss in this realm.
4) Suffering more for the loss of one person (or animal companion, etc) over another doesn’t mean caring more for one over the other. Among other things, the circumstances involving someone’s death can make it harder for the people who survive them. As I mentioned above, I lost my grandmother and my cousin-in-law just a few months apart in the past year. Although I was a lot closer to my grandmother than I was to my cousin-in-law, in some ways I suffered my cousin-in-law’s death more intensely. The reasons were that my grandmother died at the age of 97, having lived a full life, having had the chance to see most of her family for her 97th birthday celebration a couple of weeks before (with family coming from out of state and even of the country), and having her wish for a good death fulfilled (she died peacefully in her sleep, and mostly in good health). My cousin-in-law, however, was only 41 and died painfully of cancer in the prime of her life, leaving her husband and her 6-year-old son behind, not to mention a mother who had recently lost her husband (my cousin-in-law’s father) to cancer, and whose son (my cousin-in-law’s brother) also has cancer.
4) Those of us who are highly sensitive people (HSP) might feel loss even more deeply. As I mentioned on my blog article “This Is Too Much!!!” About Highly Sensitive People, what is moderately stimulating to most people is overwhelming to highly sensitive people, who make up about 20% of the population. One more reason why it’s wise to not compare degrees of grief and loss.
5) The grieving process is not linear. So we shouldn’t expect it to follow a preset pattern. For instance, although the five stages of grief and loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as per Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model) are a generally accepted standard, we can’t expect to go through one by one and be done with it. While some stages might be easily identifiable, others might be hardly noticeable or existent. It’s also common to swing back and forth among them, mix them up and even create a few combos of our own... So it’s better to just go with the flow, accepting and honoring our own process as it is.
6) There is no statute of limitation in relation to loss. Therefore, there should be no rules concerning when and how we are supposed to “get over” a loss. Of course, the exception should be that it’s advisable to seek help to cope with grief and loss whenever that is leading to self-destructive and other destructive behavior.
7) There’s always loss. We are always losing someone or something throughout our entire lives. Accepting this basic principle can help us through the losses we’re certain to suffer. The more acceptance we can muster, the less we grieve. Yes, easier said than done, but something to work towards nonetheless.
8) Loss and change often go arm in arm. The reverse is also true. Change is the fiber of life; so is loss. We lose people (friends, family, romantic partners, etc), jobs, homes, opportunities, memories... But there’s always another where that one came from. Which brings us to the next thought about loss:
9) Something to lose, something to gain. The upside of loss is gain. We often gain a lot from our losses, from deeper understanding and awareness, maturity, etc, to new people, things or circumstances that come into our lives to fill that void or empty space and redirect our sense of purpose. It’s a natural law of the universe. The gentleman who lost his son knows painfully well that no one can ever replace him; but he has another son who now needs him more than ever. Some people who go through similar tragedies also choose to get involved in support groups and volunteer for organizations that have suicide prevention lines. In our case, just a few days after Solo was gone another stray Tuxedo cat showed up at our house, needing food and shelter. Of course, the newcomer can never replace Solo, who will always be in our hearts. But it is the nature of our universe to create new relationships and circumstances once previous ones are gone.
10) Loss is an illusion. We take loss very personally, and concentrate on the feeling that someone or something was taken away from us; we even express it that way by talking about “our” losses. However, nothing and no one really belong to us during our temporary passage through this world, do they? In addition, if we believe in the eternity of our souls or energy beings, and that nothing is wasted in the universe, only transformed, then loss doesn’t really exist from a broader perspective. Likewise, if we get technical and consider the quantum physics principles involving space/time and alternate realities. Whatever set of beliefs floats our boat is worth a try. Maybe believing that loss is an illusion or that everything happens for a reason won’t make us suffer any less; but it can offer some comfort. In my case, when things are tough I repeat to myself these well-known Abraham-Hicks words: “You are loved. All is well.”
11) We are simply not in control. One of the most important things that loss teaches us is that we are not in control. Concerning Solo, the truth of the matter is that my husband and I weren’t in control of our neighbor’s actions (using the rat poison), or Solo’s actions (eating the rat poison and then running away from our help). We were in control of our own actions, but only from a limited perspective and incomplete understanding of the whole situation. So, ultimately, we were not in control of what happened to him. And the bottom line is that everyone is always doing the best they can with what they know at any given time. That’s worth remembering whenever we start getting into the blame game (blaming ourselves or others) concerning a loss.
12) We are not alone. There’s always help. That doesn’t mean we can’t take whatever time alone we need to mourn and grieve a loss. But there’s great value in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and sharing it with others. For one, we are reminded that everyone of us deals with loss. In addition, if we are feeling spiritually disconnected due to loss and grief, sharing with others helps us reconnect and feel like part of the web of life again.
FINAL THOUGHT: If all else fails, remember these famous words: “This too shall pass...”
My heartfelt condolences to everyone in grief,
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 04/27/2016
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Is This A Thing?
Yes, Highly Sensitive People, or HSP, is a thing. There’s solid research that supports this concept. According to expert Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You:
“The brains of highly sensitive people have more activity and blood flow in the right hemisphere, indicating an internal rather than an external focus.
What is moderately arousing to most people is overwhelming to HSPs.
HSPs often have decreased serotonin levels resulting from the repeated stress of over arousal.
Likewise, they have more reactive immune systems (allergies) and more sensitive nervous systems.
The sensitivity trait is just as likely among men as among women; both represent about 20 percent of the population.”
Taking into consideration that 20% of the population currently corresponds to approximately 1.48 billion people worldwide, that’s too high a number for it to be just the latest fad, anyway. But hey, I get it. Many well-meaning parents, teachers and others responsible for rearing children want to understand what’s going on and do right by their kids, but don’t want to be taken for a ride in the process. With all the behavioral health trends that keep coming up, it’s hard to tell the difference between a legitimate thing and yet another label which legitimizes bad behavior. Or the difference between highly sensitive kids and over indulged brats, or between highly sensitive adults and dysfunctional drama addicts. The thing is, although being highly sensitive can lead to disorders and disorderly behavior, it’s not a disorder. Although it can lead to mental health problems, it’s not a mental health problem. It’s simply a different, more intense (sometimes much more intense) way of perceiving, relating to and connecting with the world. Of course, highly sensitive kids can become over indulged brats, and highly sensitive adults can be socially inept people or dysfunctional drama addicts. Why? Maybe part of the problem is simply the lack of awareness and information about how to raise a highly sensitive kid into becoming a functional highly sensitive adult. It can be hard to understand, relate to and deal with a highly sensitive child. The key is to remember that it’s also very hard to be one. Highly sensitive children are also referred to as “orchid children.” According to the article Genetic Roots of “Orchid” Children by Bruce Bower, “a Swedish expression that translates as ‘orchid child’ refers to a youngster who blossoms spectacularly if carefully nurtured but withers badly if neglected.” An orchid in a field of dandelions, the highly sensitive child has a much more delicate personality than his peers and needs a protective environment to properly flourish.
From early on in life, highly sensitive children have to live with the perception that they are different; that they don’t quite fit in; that there’s “something wrong” with them, according to others. Because they are so sensitive, they experience tremendous hurt, which may result in self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. In addition, highly sensitive people often have the capacity to understand or perceive what’s going on with others better than many do themselves. So they can become a bothersome and inconvenient presence to a lot of people, and frequently receive (and/or deeply feel) negative feedback from their input, such as anger, rage, fear, sadness, withdrawal, defensiveness, etc. In family dynamics, the highly sensitive child usually plays the role of the "scapegoat" or "screw up" or "problem child" (the "scapegoat" is the truth teller of the family; this role is played by the most sensitive and emotionally honest child, who often verbalizes or acts out the "problem" or dysfunction that the family is attempting to cover up or deny). It doesn’t get any better as the highly sensitive children grow up. I’ve heard many of my clients say that they are constantly told such things as: “stop being so annoying”; “why do you always have to see more into it or make a bigger deal than it is?”; “stop being so sensitive”; “calm down, you’re being irrational”; “you’re overreacting”; “you’re overthinking it”; “why do you care so much?”; “anyone else can handle this, so why can’t you?”; “you don’t know everything!”; etc. Of course, highly sensitive people are not always right about how they understand, feel or perceive things; but they are often on the right track, which annoys a lot of people.
A client once told me that it took her years to be able to see a dead animal on the road without crying, which used to cause her to be regarded by friends and family members (not to mention herself) as weird. Other clients say that they didn’t feel like they ever fit in; that they didn’t have a place. Some mention that they see (and intensely feel) too many things that are wrong with the way we live, the way we treat other humans and other living beings, the way we are destroying the planet, etc; and they simply can’t live with all that and go on pretending nothing is happening, ignoring what’s happening, or profiting from what’s happening, as so many do. They see the unfairness and injustice of the rigged system, along with all its rigged subsystems, that our modern society has become. And they want it to stop. Many of them do manage to thrive and become the dreamers, the doers, the game changers, the rebels with plenty of cause; but they often give so much of themselves and get so deeply involved that their cause sucks the living energy out of them. In addition, many highly sensitive adults often get discouraged easily, at the first sight of a challenge or disappointment; or simply change they cannot handle or suffering they cannot bear to witness. Others are lost and confused; they go into hiding for self preservation, often numbing themselves with mind altering substances (legal and illegal) and/or suffering from severe health issues which cause intense physical, emotional and mental pain. In short, many are hiding because they can’t find their place and their way; and they can’t function in this rigged system without it chipping away at their very souls.
Under References and Related Articles there are many suggestions that can be incorporated as part of the highly sensitive person’s survival kit, as well as sources of information for the non-highly sensitive people who have HSPs in their lives. As a highly sensitive person myself, I share some of what I have learned and offer a few suggestions below.
For the non-highly sensitive people out there:
For the highly sensitive people out there:
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 03/31/2016
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay
References and Related Articles:
1) The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, book by Dr. Elaine N. Aron
2) Are You Highly Sensitive? test from Dr. Elaine Aron’s website
3) The Plight of the Empath or Highly Sensitive Person
4) 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People
5) What Makes A Highly Sensitive Person?
6) Genetic Roots Of “Orchid Children”
7) On The Trail Of The Orchid Child
8) Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? What You Need To Know About The Science Of This Personality Type
9) Orchids and Dandelions Abloom - Best of Neuron Culture