How are we changed by devastating loss?

hearts4It is a tender day here in Connecticut. My eyes well with tears at the memory of the senseless shooting of beautiful, bright-eyed first graders, teachers, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Loss is never easy. Loss of a child is especially traumatic. Loss of so many children leaves us speechless and shaking with emotion.  How do any of us walk through this miasma of agony? As you well know, we just do … one foot in front of the other. Life does continue, day after day.

The question that comes to mind is how are we changed by devastating loss?

Life is a little more precious. The immediacy of loss makes us hold one another a little more tightly, a little more closely. We are more aware. We value what we had once taken for granted and now know — heartbreakingly so — can lose all too quickly and unexpectedly.

We want the loss to mean something. We want to transform the pain and create an alchemical process. We want to allow something new, tender, and hopeful to grow out the grief. We humans need to do something, take some action that makes a difference. We do not want the loss to be in vain. We want the phoenix to emerge out of the ashes of our loss. We look to create anew – be it a memorial that serves as reminder of what needs to be remembered and never forgotten or we bring energy and life to some course of action that honors our loss.

Our hearts are expanded. We understand that it is our through our connections with one another that life holds meaning and value. We didn’t know it was possible to hold the weight of such grief and pain. We didn’t know that we could love so intensely, much less grieve so deeply. Our hearts have been excavated and stretched beyond measure. Our hearts hold a new-found wisdom. We are forever changed.

We have learned a few things. Grief is unpredictable, crazy-making, and a unique process. It takes time, patience, and presence to find a neutral place. Along the way, we learn what is important. We learn that pain can morph into something else. We learn that we can help others who are sucker-punched by grief and that we can show up and be present amidst the darkness.

To quote psychologist and cantadera Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.” So, let us polish off our souls and let our own particular brand of light come forth. It always helps dispel the darkness.

N.B. If you want a bit more, please check out Being a parent during dark times under the Favorites tab of the Penguin. This piece is based on my experiences as a crisis responder to Newtown parents, friends, and coworkers.


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2 Responses to How are we changed by devastating loss?

  1. Rebecca December 13, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    “It is through our connections with one another that life holds meaning and value.” – oh yes!

    This year has been brutal. Sometimes I wonder how we survive. Connections
    With other Souls are critical. Soooo true.

    Merry Christmas Adele.
    Blessings on your important work with those in grief and shock.

  2. Sara December 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Thank you for this tender and informative and healing post, Adele. Yes, we are all changed by loss, and while there is no way I can understand the full heartbreak of what the Newtown parents (and other parents who lost children to gun violence, gang violence, domestic violence, war, terror, insanity, cruelty, apathy, and other man-made pain); I think I understand the place of heartbreak, and the realization of how we all are, indeed, connected.
    Every child lost is a potential snapped midway. It is what could be and who we missed the opportunity to see growing up, becoming the world’s next healer, president, mover-and-shaker, teacher, researcher, leader, problem solver. We all lose, intimately, when a child’s light is taken. Especially when it is taken in violence, in the indescribable waste of human potential that manifests in acts of terror like the one in Newtown.
    And yet…though we cannot dial back the time and bring those precious children back to life…we can still help each other, help the parents, help the siblings, friends, neighbors, people all around this world who understand pain more acutely now that these children are gone.
    We can work to make those who still cannot open their heart to pain, to maybe become more receptive to it–by showing care, by teaching by example, by being kind, by validating the immensity of loss without becoming lost to it.
    May there be healing.
    May there be growth of other kind, rising from the ashes of the hopes and plans these precious children held.
    Their souls are here, looking to us to carry their light now.