Loss, grief, and bereavement carry a heavy responsibility. These words will stare you down throughout a lifetime. These words know they have the upper hand. No one goes through a lifetime without some or a great deal of experience with loss and grief.
It serves all of us to understand what we mean by loss, grief and bereavement. By understanding the concepts, we are empowered with knowledge, and knowledge can lead to more compassion and understanding toward the self and the other.
Everyone Is Touched By Loss
Loss begins at the moment of conception. The male sperm fertilizes the female egg and both egg and sperm have lost their ability to be independent functioning cellular structures. They give up independent life and death in favor of becoming something greater by their combined efforts. They don’t die; they become something new. A new life is formed and the human embryo eventually becomes a fetus and grows wildly and happily in the moist, warm, liquid-filled confines of a uterus.
All is well until one day the fetus has grown. The female body will signal expulsion maneuvers. Labor will begin. Labor is a series of contractions of various intensity beginning in spacing that occurs with considerable time in-between. In time the contractions will become interesting. Interesting is another word for something we don’t understand until we find ourselves there. The fetus is now known as a newborn and proceeds to be squeezed through the birth canal (vagina).
You have to wonder how it is for the newborn. Everything was just fine one day. Sitting around in a warm, dark, fully functional uterus doesn’t sound all that bad. You can listen to the sounds from outside the muffle of mother’s body and you can listen to the heartbeat of your mother. This all must end in order to be born.
The newborn arrives; usually head first at the portal that enters the outside world. The infant is taken from the vaginal canal, cleaned, wrapped, and typically placed in mother’s waiting arms. She speaks to her newborn. The newborn pays attention. A loss has taken place and something new is offered. We will continue to participate in loss scenarios throughout our lifetime.
Language is designed to help us transition. You can look at the various terms used to describe a human being on his or her way through the changes, losses, and gains of life. Consider: embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult, senior, elderly. As we transition further we have the following words: dead, dearly departed, those that have passed, souls, ghosts, and spirits. Isn’t it simply amazing that we make so many transitions through loss and change during a lifetime?
If birth is the first loss and gain what losses will follow? Let’s take a look at what we typically think of when we bring up concepts such as loss and grief.
What Do You Know About Loss?
When you think about loss it is likely that your mind goes to death and those you have lost through dying. It is possible that you may also think about the end of a romantic love relationship. Perhaps one of your significant losses was loss of a job. It is likely for many that loss will come up when thinking about a medical illness such as cancer. We experience loss through disease, illness, and medical interventions. There is no shortage of opportunities to experience loss in a lifetime. Everything that signals change involves loss.
The Difference Between Loss and Grief
Loss is something that has changed and grief is the process we attach to dealing with that change.
Loss is a noun. This means it is a main subject all on its own. The verb is to lose, we lose something and we call that which we lost, loss. Lose is a transition verb. Lost is an adjective. I think you can see how we want to wrap our minds around the words we are using. Think of all the times in a day you refer to loss, losing something, or something being lost. Related to the word loss is the word misplaced. Another word is missing. These words evoke a sense of possibility. It may be possible to regain what is now lost once it is no longer misplace, or missing.
Loss usually applies to something fairly significant to us like life or limb, but it also is used when it comes to mental stability or a sense of equilibrium emotionally. Loss of emotional balance can further be connected to a loss of a job, home, financial security, or children leaving home for college or to marry or to go to war.
Grief is a process. Everyone grieves differently and you grieve differently depending on the type of thing, person, or place you have lost. Grief involves settling in with that which is lost. Things that are less significant or more normalized in the everyday are not necessarily pondered through a formal grief process. Take for example going to kindergarten; the child may protest or may be looking forward to it. The child seldom openly and consciously grieves for a return to a younger state. However, children do this as well.
Consider little Unger, a five-year-old. He told his mother he never wanted to grow up or leave home and he was planning to marry his mother once he was older. We think of these things as the sweet utterances of young children. Embedded in all that sweetness are clues around the topic of loss.
More in the next blog on grief, loss, and bereavement.
Thank you and take care,
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
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Last reviewed: 3 Apr 2012