In the past year I’ve seen friends and family experience different losses – the loss of loved ones (through death, dementia, divorce and even unresolved dispute), the loss of personal ability and opportunity as changes occur in health, job position, home or career move, others have gained in beautiful ways (having children) and yet lost a sense of their own identity. It has me wondering…
What is loss?
All losses involve some sense of a loss of control. Loss always takes the form of an event (or series of events) in time, that marks significant change, generally creating anxiety or/and sadness. So, in spite of all the anxiety and sadness, what opportunity does loss create?
It occurs to me that maybe in thinking of loss as an event in time, we take it to be one that reveals ‘space’, creating opportunity for growth. The old space-time continuum conundrum of life. I can think of times when this has been true – the freedom felt after the break-up of dysfunctional relationships, in not gaining acceptance to one thing we are often led to more original projects and so on. In each case, we have been granted space (or had it thrust upon us) to reflect, because of a loss.
When we lose someone or something, we often feel a sense of space on a scale – either vast or restricting. For example, we often feel lost, afraid, vulnerable, alone, empty, that we might float away in silence to some forgotten zone of nothingness. But sometimes, it’s the opposite and we feel trapped, crushed or suffocated… Either way we become overwhelmed by ‘space’ – in either direction by the amount of space we perceive. Too much and we are lost in the vacuum or, too little and we are crushed.
Either we fear the loss (of control) and have too little space to breathe or we fear the loss (of control) and we have too much to stay anchored. Sometimes we swing from one to the other. Either way, we ultimately feel we won’t cope and might not survive the event.
Perhaps the person, pet, role or circumstance we have lost was in fact ‘holding space for us’, whether we knew it or not. To put this expression in context, therapists often ‘hold space’ for their clients and this means that they take on a role of being a ‘container’ that holds empty space – like an empty bucket in to which the client can pour their feelings and thoughts (without judgement). The feelings and thoughts are thus ‘contained’ within the space (and time-slot).
Sometimes we feel overwhelmed day to day and need another person, role, project or outlet to pour our overflowing selves in to. Those special people, roles and outlets are our containers. When they are lost or taken away, we have nowhere to pour. Or, contrastingly perhaps we were the containers, holding space for others who have gone e.g. a friend or relation who needed us in their sunset, communities or projects that gave us a sense of purpose, identity and so on.
Having the ‘wrong amount’ of space.
So, when our losses occur, it can feel that our personal space has been compromised.
Resolve can come from acknowledging and managing our mental and emotional volumes, by adjusting our perception of the space we occupy we can feel more comfortable just being with our emotions and, where there is overflow be willing to pour in to new containers – art, sport, animals, meditation, others, community groups…
Space is not a tangible asset that comes and goes. It is a perceived concept formed across our senses and emotions. Someone or something departing cannot take space with them, nor all that you poured in to it nor can they take away what they shared, when you held space for them. When a loss occurs, the space does not go with that person or circumstance.
The grieving party can therefore choose either: to avoid the space or explore it.
Our losses can lead to our most precious gains.
We create our spaces as we project ourselves in to them. By exploring, we expand into that space, fill it and grow. Space is created by us as we perceive it. Just as when we pour in to those containers, we are projecting into and filling that space. The space is never lost.
Ultimately, when we lose we also have opportunity to gain. We may lose our ‘containers’ and grieve or be angry for this but if we move in to the space that was held, we grow.