Wednesday, 5 April 2017

On Loss ... and Gain

As I’d spoken about in a previous post I have recently become a student again and am retraining as a Psychotherapist.  It still feels a little bit unreal and very BIG but so far I’m enjoying it.  I’m just nearing the end of my first year which, incidentally, has flown by.  Every so often I’ll be reminded why I decided to embark on a career change and the weekend’s training that has just passed has been no exception as we were learning about grief, loss and bereavement.

Prior to the day itself I found myself fantasising about breaking down – about not being able to cope and my own grief overwhelming me.  In my fantasies I would run out of the room and leave the training centre realising that actually I’m not cut out to be a psychotherapist after all.  The familiar fear of failure leapt at me again.  I had no idea how I would respond.  I worried it could go two ways – I could experience the reaction mentioned above, descend into panic and find myself firmly back in the darkness of loss or I could breeze through the weekend not feeling anything, rising above it all and be able to leave saying ‘my grieving is done, I am restored’. 

Neither happened. 

I felt it.  Actually I felt everything and familiar feelings of loss and grief resurfaced throughout the day. It was tiring – but not exhausting in the way I had feared.  It was sad and if I was someone who cried I’m sure I’d have shed a tear ... but that’s something else that needs work!  But I really felt it ... and I knew at that moment, more than I’d known before, that I am making the right decision in this career change.  Those feelings; the grief, the loss, the fear, the devastation – they are all things that I am familiar with.  They help me to empathise with people in different situations and, I hope, have helped me to develop a sense of openness and integrity that I will eventually be able to use to help other people.

A question was posed to us this weekend; ‘can loss bring a gain; can it be transformative?’

I’ve spoken about this alot throughout this blog – about the transformation in my life since Emilie died.  Would I have chosen that path for myself?  Not a chance.  But it happened and we had to move forward.  We had to find the ‘new normal’, work out what that meant for us and discover how to carry on being parents when one of our children had died.  In my training notes I wrote the following:

“Moving forward in a new experience means leaving the old behind.  The old pattern is gone forever.  Every move forward means leaving something behind and each new stage means loss in another area.”

This got me thinking about the different losses we have experienced as a family – and I have experienced as an individual.  Even starting this training meant a loss in another area.  It meant that I would never return to teaching.  Adopting our daughter meant that we had to leave our dreams of fostering lots of children behind.  Each new stage means loss in another area.  I have reflected a lot on these different losses and am beginning to see real value in acknowledging them and giving them the importance that they deserve.

I am not a stranger to loss.  I have suffered years of infertility, miscarriages and the stillbirth of my daughter.  My adopted daughter has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Autism which is a huge loss in itself.  She has defied expectations and is doing incredibly well yet seeing the other children in her class make progress and meet their milestones whilst she is left behind is hard.  There are simple losses like not being able to go to the cinema as a family to see the latest films as she would not cope with the crowds, the noise and the containment. Often, activities we have planned are cut short when she has had enough. 

There is loss surrounding Samuel and the relationship we’d hoped he’d have with Emilie, had she survived.  I feel this loss most when our daughter is struggling; when she lashes out and hits him or is unable to engage with him as she is overwhelmed and over-stimulated.  I see this loss so starkly in Sam as he takes himself off for some alone time or sobs when she has broken one of his possessions.  I long to be a ‘normal’ family – whatever that is.  And then I feel the joy of seeing them play together, of seeing how much he adores her and how much she idolises him.  And there is the gain.  They will never have a ‘normal’ relationship and the gap between them will widen as they both grow older and he develops ‘typically’ yet their relationship is incredibly special because of that.  When she is struggling and can’t make herself understood Sam knows what she wants and what she is trying to say.  We hope that he will be more accepting of people around him as he has learnt to be accepting of and to love his sister unconditionally.

Loss is huge. It can be as simple as the disappointment felt at losing an ebay auction; the sadness of missing an opportunity – or not getting what you expected.  It can be more complex; losing out on a house purchase – something we have recently experienced – or losing a pet.  Losses can be more impactful; losing your job, losing a friend, diagnosis with a serious illness or life - long condition, losing a parent, losing a spouse, losing a child.
All of these things will evoke feelings of grief and grief, as I have learnt, is frightening and all encompassing.  I am not an expert on grief but throughout this blog I have spoken about our own journey through grief and about what has helped – or hindered us.  However, the prevailing truth in our own journey is that grief doesn’t go away.  It does not shrink; time does not heal it and you do not wake up one day to find it is gone.  There are times for me when my grief will be triggered; a smell, a sound, something that has been said, a memory, a photograph – and for a time I will be taken back to the weeks and months after Emilie’s death when nothing felt like it would ever be right again.  But my ability to deal with those triggers has improved and life carries on.

Loss is an inevitable part of life.  It affects us in one way or another every day; the loss of time being a huge example.  The task is not how we get over these losses, boxing them up neatly and moving on, but instead what we do with them.  How can we allow loss to bring a gain?  I had a picture in my mind this weekend of bulbs in their dormant stage as they die back in the autumn ready to emerge in the spring. I always feel a sense of sadness when the flowering bulbs in my garden die back and lose their beauty.  But the anticipation is always there.  I am certain that they will return the following spring – bringing life and beauty back into my garden.  The transformation for me this weekend was the reminder that ‘every move forward means leaving something else behind’.  We’ve had a difficult few weeks as a family but I hope believe that it is just a season.  As we leave this season behind I wait in hopeful anticipation for what is coming next.

To close I’ve borrowed an idea from Lois Tonkin ( ).  For me, this was both transformative and affirmative.  I will it do its own talking.


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