Survivor: Connecting to Past Losses

Sara experienced the loss of a family friend, Brady, and though he meant a lot to her, her grief was more profound than she had expected. She actually felt a kind of guilt because there were people closer to Brady who Sara felt were more entitled to the surprising depth of grief she was feeling.

Missing the thirdFeeling awkward talking to friends of family about this, Sara joined a local support group and began talking her way through what she was experiencing. What surprised her was how much time she spent talking, not about her friend that had recently died, but about her brother who had died 15 years ago.

What Sarah hadn’t realized is that her past responses to grief inform how she grieves now, and often recent losses allow past grief experiences to resurface. Being that her brother died when she was a kid, Sara hadn’t invested much thought into how she felt, as an adult, about the loss of her brother. It wasn’t until her friend died, and those familiar feeling of grief resurfaced, that she reflected on how she had grieved for her brother and how she hadn’t.

Past loss affects todays grief

If you’re trying to understand your own grief, a good but difficult exercise is to look back on your own life, working back from now, and list out the losses you’ve experienced. These don’t need to only be people you’ve lost to death, but can be people you’ve lost to a falling out, job loss, financial loss, relocation, loss of a home, loss of a pet, or loss of a relationship through breakup or divorce.

Take a look at those losses and ask yourself how you felt about them at the time. How did you grieve? How did others expect you to grieve? How did you feel about the difference between the grief you felt and the grief people expected from you? Did you hide your grief? How did your family respond to your grief? When is, or was, grief for that past loss the worst? How is that grief different from, or similar to, the grief you’re experiencing now? What things helped alleviate your past grief? Could any of those things help you now?

think, observe, digest, reflectThis isn’t a five-minute exercise, it’s gonna take the investment of some time and emotional output. It’s worth writing down your losses and considering the answers to each loss individually. This can be done over days, and your answers may percolate and change from day to day. It’s worth your time.

We constantly say that everyone’s grief experience is unique, which is very true. Your past grief experiences, your relationship with the person who died, the series of losses that are part of your life story, apply exclusively to YOU. So no one is ever going to understand yourgrief as deeply as you do. No one is going to care about your grief as much as you do. So, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to look back and reflect on what you’ve survived and how you’ve survived it, so you can know how to survive the loss and grief that brought you to this article today.

(If nothing else, writing down all the losses you’ve experienced can show you in black and white what a survivor you are and that you are capable of overcoming anything.)

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