FROM LOSS TO ACCEPTANCE: Why It’s Hard To Accept A Loss And How To Overcome It

IMAGE SOURCE: PEXELS (OVAN)

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.”― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

We all experience loss at one point or another. In fact, it is a natural part of life. However, facing a loss is not simple for it encompasses intense feelings of sadness and despair. Others go through an overwhelming shock and confusion, especially when losing something or someone is sudden and unexpected.

Loss comes in various forms and pain intensities. According to a study, the death of a wife or husband is ranked as the most stressful loss, while the death of a child is by far the worst kind.

In relationship breakups, women are reported to experience more pain but recover more fully. Job loss is also considered as one of the stressful events in life for it shoulders financial anguish. Other types of challenging loss include losing a project, parents, friend, home, pet, health, or finances. 

Whatever loss one experiences, the pain is unavoidable and a wide range of emotions can happen mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

As an individual goes through the process of grieving, it is natural to go through a rollercoaster of disbelief, denial, confusion, shock, guilt, anger, restlessness, and intense anxiety. One can be consumed with feelings of profound sadness, helplessness, and yearning.

The pain of loss can also affect physical health, manifesting in sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, chest pain, fatigue, weight loss, or gain. Others isolate or withdraw themselves socially.

Such difficult and unexpected emotions are common, legitimate, and normal reactions to loss. However, the most difficult part of dealing with it is acceptance. Some find it challenging to move forward in life and adjust to the new normal.

What Does It Mean to Accept A Loss?

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American Psychiatrist, introduced a model of the five stages of grief or loss in her best-selling book, “On Death and Dying”. She described acceptance as the last stage of the framework in dealing with a loss. 

However, according to psychologists, reaching this stage is not necessarily about complete recovery from the loss. PsychCentral defined acceptance as more about the acknowledgment of the loss, learning to live with them, and readjustment to changes.

Acceptance is to accept the new reality as the permanent reality, a new norm in which we learn to live with the missing piece. “It has been forever changed and we must readjust,” as stated by David Kessler, a grief expert and co-authored two books with Elisabeth Kubler Ross.

Moreover, Dr. Magdalena Battles, a Doctor of Psychology remarks, “Acceptance involves the recognition that you will never return to that person you were before the loss. It is to be oneself in your new life, a changed you, because your loved one is no longer present physically in your life.” 

She further emphasized that acceptance is not the final stage of recovering from the loss, but rather, the beginning of the real healing process, “It is the point in where recovery becomes about the person left behind, and not about the person being mourned.”

Why Is It So Hard To Accept A Loss?

To move forward in life with that missing piece is hard to face in reality. Here are some of the reasons why it is hard to accept a loss.

It is hard because every loss is personal and significant to us.

It is hard to let go of something or someone precious to us. When they are taken away from us, the pain can be overwhelming because that loss is once part of who we are.

Science has this principle called Loss Aversion, developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It is a cognitive bias or idea that the impact of loss is much greater than the gain of the same thing.

It is also found in a 2007 study that the brain has a stronger response to loss than to gain, “the brain regions that process value and reward may be silenced more when evaluating a potential loss than they are activated when we assess a similar-sized gain.” 

According to Discover Magazine, “the traumatic loss of a loved one is like experiencing a brain injury.” It is mediated by relationships that reside in the mind and the painful response to loss is driven by these relational patterns laid down early in life.

For a fact, the loss of a loved one is a traumatic experience. Dr. Lisa Shulman, a Neurology Professors implies that “it has profound effects on the mind, brain, and body, where stress hormones result in abnormal heart movements, chest pain, and shortness of breath.”

Certainly, we are relational beings that need each other and depend on one another for connection, meaning, and purpose. Once it is severed by death, break-up, or abandonment, it can feel like a part of us is also dying.

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.” – C.S. Lewis

It is hard because every loss needs a valid answer.

Why? It is the most excruciating question a griever asks. It is a painful question of someone mourning over the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, pulled down into a place of unfathomable feelings of void and misery. It is the profound and disabling emotion of someone struggling alone in the cave of depression.

It is hard to accept the loss when expected answers do not come or when there is no validation of the pain or suffering. It seems to haunt us for the rest of our lives. 

“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often – will it be for always? – how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.” — C.S. Lewis

It is hard because change is agonizing.

According to grief studies, a process of adjustment is experienced when a loved one dies. But sometimes, it can feel like the griever is stuck somewhere in the process, consumed in the past or imagined future. 

Change is agonizing for it requires a massive effort and time to adjust and adapt to the new norm. It is hard to reorganize life, thinking that the person is no longer there. So we cling to every detail that reminds us of the person.

Others refuse change because of unfinished business or regrets. So we keep on holding on to the past to try to make things right or finish what was supposed to be done.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” – Anne Roiphe

How Do We Accept A Loss And Begin Afresh?

It is psychologically valid that accepting a loss is hard. It cannot be hurried or forced. At the same time, it cannot be avoided, repressed, or prolonged for dealing with it is an inevitable part of well-being. “Grieving is not a linear process. It is insidious, imposing, and demands to be felt,” states Katherine Schafler, a Psychotherapist.

As grief takes time, accepting a loss also happens gradually. Once ready, here are some of the simple and practical steps to help move forward anew.

Start a makeover.

A makeover is a good way to begin anew. Try a new haircut for a fresh look. Pamper yourself with a relaxing bubble bath or spa. Moisturize with a facial mask. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.

Feel better with a room or home makeover. Re-arrange the chairs, tables, or bed. Change the curtains, bedsheets, or pillows. Add fresh elements such as wall paint or indoor plants. Repaint and choose hues and tones that evoke freshness and new beginnings.

These small changes do not imply betraying or replacing what has been lost. It is acknowledging that the loved one has gone to a better place and it is time for us to look forward afresh. 

Engage in a new craft or sport. 

Trying new things help widen our perspective and adjust to a new life. A lot of opportunities await. Go outside and try a sport you have never done before. Hike a mountain or go camping with friends. Travel and explore the world. Go to the beach, an island, and try snorkeling, fishing, or diving.

Begin to live again by enrolling in a cooking class, painting class, photography class, or music class. Learn something new and get creative! 

Indulge in reading good books that feed your mind with purpose and value. 

Give back to the community.

Enrich your life by giving back to the community. Engage in organizations or church activities that foster healing, growth, or change. Make new meaningful connections and extend help by offering your talents, skills, or resources.

Reach out to others who are also dealing with a loss. Listen to their pain and assist them in freedom and recovery. These small efforts for others and the community help us reinvest in the new reality and have a renewed sense of meaning and direction. 

How Long Is It Healthy To Grieve For A Loss?

As psychology suggests, there is no specific time for grieving or a normal timetable for recovery. It differs from person to person. According to American Psychological Association (APA), everyone reacts differently to a loss. Some may take months and others a year to recover from it.

Once an individual learns to accept the loss, it is natural to feel occasional pains as a part of the healing process. However, some struggle for longer periods that disrupt engaging in daily activities. Individuals with such severe grief are encouraged to seek help from a Grief Therapist or Counselor.

“The pain was necessary to know the truth, but we don’t have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

If you think you are stuck in your grieving process and find it hard to accept the loss for years now, seeking help is a good start. Talk to a professional Therapist or certified Counselor who can clinically help assess the severe grief and journey with you to freedom. Moreover, engage in a safe place of community that builds value and fosters a healthy perspective in life.

Know that you can begin again, however painful the loss is. Grieve properly then stand up again for a better you.

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