When we think about grieving, we usually think about what we feel after we’ve lost a loved one. But there are many situations in life that may evoke feelings of grief.
1 Loss of identity
Losing an important ‘role’ in life means losing part of your identity. You’re mourning the loss of a part of yourself. In some cases, it may feel like your identity was stolen – for instance, when you lost a breast due to breast cancer and your body has changed, when your partner broke up with you and you’re no longer ‘X’s girlfriend or boyfriend’ or after getting fired. Feelings of grief get even stronger because it feels like you’re not in control. But the same feelings may arise when you chose to leave part of your identity behind – by choosing another career or deciding to quit your marriage. It may feel like you don’t have the ‘right’ to grieve, because the change was your own choice.
2 Loss of safety
Normally, we trust a certain amount of safety in our existence. We feel safe in our own home, in our own society and in our relationship. When suddenly you don’t feel safe anymore – physically, emotionally or mentally – for instance after a burglary or after abuse, your whole world may feel unsafe. It makes one very alert, even if there’s no danger anymore. In very serious cases, you may even suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS). Losing sense of safety means learning how to handle trauma, and also mourning this lost sense of safety.
3 Loss of autonomy
Loss of autonomy happens, for instance, when illness or old age limits your abilities, or when financial problems make you dependent on other people’s help. Especially when it’s illness or old age, you feel the loss of autonomy in almost every part of your daily life. Things that were once self-evident, like going to the supermarket, getting a shower or getting dressed, are suddenly not so self-evident anymore. And if you’re having trouble making ends meet, you may feel like you’re failing and you may despair. You’re not just grieving because of your lack of autonomy; you also need to reshape your self-image.
4 Loss of dreams or expectations
If your desire to have children doesn’t result in becoming a parent, if you’ve studied hard for years but can’t find a job, or if your career isn’t what you expected of it, you need to change your expectations of the future. Life may turn out differently from what you hoped, and it’s not always fair. Grieving over the loss of dreams? A sense of failure may add to it, just like comparisons (continuously comparing yourself to others).
You’re allowed to grieve
When we think about mourning, we think about death. That’s why we feel like we’re only allowed to grieve when someone we love has passed away. However, we’re allowed to grieve the loss of other things, too: identity, safety, autonomy or dreams. Accept your feelings of anger, sadness and denial. And, just as importantly, allow other people to feel them, too. Grieving helps to get through a difficult part of life, no matter what we’re grieving about.
Text: Sanne Eva Dijkstra - Photo: Kinga Cichewicz