Surviving lossAnja van Kralingen
Last year August my father passed away and she was left alone after 52 years of marriage.
A few months later, due to miscommunication, all the trees in her back garden were cut down.
She was devastated.
Three weeks ago, she was attacked, robbed, tied up and left for dead. She was only found two days later. She is now moving to a retirement village when she gets released from hospital.
She has suffered a tremendous amount of loss. Her husband, her home, her safety, her jewels, everything that she identified with.
This obviously had a profound impact on me and has made me contemplate this experience of loss.
Everyone suffers loss.
Especially the elderly. It seems a natural process you go through. You lose your looks, your vitality, your body starts failing, you lose your friends, your loved ones, your children move away, and then you die. Perhaps not specifically in that order, but one thing is for sure, growing old is not for sissies.
But loss is an unavoidable part of being alive. We all experience it. Losing friendships and relationships; suffering physical loss of health; losing your faith, trust, hope; losing your security or your job.
These experiences are incredibly debilitating and emotionally draining.
Why is this happening to me? This is so unfair!
I am sure we have all cried these words in anguish.
How do you make sense of loss?
Let me use my mother’s situation as an example. One can say, why did this happen to her?
One of the first things she said to me was that she fought like a tiger because she wanted to live. She could easily have given up during the assault, and the two days that she lay there, hallucinating and dehydrating. She could have let go, but she decided to live.
What happened to her really?
Jung speaks of the numinous experience. This is the experience that puts us in touch with the transpersonal aspect of ourselves, the divine within, the Self Archetype. One can say that this is what happened to my mom. For a moment, she connected with her Self Archetype and knew that she needed to live. Perhaps she is not done here yet.
Now, three weeks later, has this numinous experience changed her? Has she realized that she has had a profoundly potentially transformative experience? I am sure she will never be the same again, but has she been able to extract meaning and will she be able to move forward with a new intention? Or will she slip into a depression and then from there move back into her normal way of being?
We all have these numinous experiences during our lives. Moments of resolve that we feel connected to something deep within us, but they drift away. Or sometimes we bang our heads against the same issue again and again. Perhaps you realize that you need to change, but change what; change how?
What is it that makes the difference between us being able to transform or staying stuck?
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
Unless we can derive meaning from our lives and what we experience, the world will always remain a scary place. Suffering puts us in touch with the divine, with grace, compassion, and empathy. It is what makes us human and connects us all.
But creating meaning is a choice. It is a process of creation. It does not come naturally and it takes effort. Blaming comes easily, extracting meaning is much harder.
Of course, the cynic will question this and say: “But that is just a fairy tale you tell yourself, it isn’t real. Life is random, shit happens and there is no meaning.”
This could be true! It could be all random and meaningless. In fact I know a few people who believe this. But an unhappier, more miserable bunch of people you will never meet.
To create our reality is a unique quality we as human beings share. We can use our imagination and creativity to transform physical and mental pain and suffering into meaning.
Ultimately, your life is your responsibility and you can experience it as a mystical and meaningful or cruel and harsh.
We recently put a question on our Facebook page that asked what the catalyst to transformation is. Someone responded and relayed an experience from her childhood, where at the age of 11 she had an epiphany about how other people treated her and that she realised that perhaps it wasn’t all just them. She said this about it:
“I’ve taken responsibility for my own situation ever since, not taken the blame for it or blaming others entirely as I had previously been oscillating between. I was able to increasingly put the responsibility for what was happening to me where it belonged and wasn’t afraid to admit when there was something I could do to change things because I loved feeling like I had some control. It wasn’t long after that that I went to the police and reported my mother and her boyfriend’s abuse of me and started a new, albeit, not much fun either, but on my own terms, life.”
For her, transformation involved taking responsibility for herself. Just with this change in attitude, she managed to survive and incredibly abusive environment as a child. I would like to point out a very important point she makes. Blame is self destructive. Whether you are blaming others or yourself. It paralyses and weakens the ego. A strong ego can assess where your responsibility starts and ends and enables you to act appropriately.
Having read this blog, I would like you to think of your own experience of loss and consider the following:
• What loss have you experienced?
• Did it break you or make you stronger?
• Can you move on, or are you stuck there, the emotion trapped and painful?
• Do you blame the other (people or the world) or do you blame yourself.
• Are you able to see both sides of the situation?
• Can you see meaning and purpose in your experience?
If you are able to extract meaning and purpose from your experience of loss, I congratulate you! You have grown, transformed and expanded your sense of self.
If you are unable to move beyond your situation and feel stuck and depressed, don’t despair. You are going through a normal human experience. Start believing that you can move beyond this and extract meaning from it. Find a symbol to help you move through it and best of luck.
Until next time.
If you enjoyed this blog and want to understand the Jungian Ego, please read my blog To have or not to have an Ego.
For an explanation on symbols and symbol work, please read my blog Of butterflies and symbols of transformation.