Surviving loss

Surviving loss

griefMy mother is 73.

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?

Jung said:

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.

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Comments (22)

  • Lisa Reply

    Wow I just loved this blog; both the topic and way in which it was written! Thank you for sharing!

    May 23, 2013 at 5:15 pm
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks Lisa!

      May 24, 2013 at 8:52 am
  • Michael Reply

    I’m very sorry to hear about what has happened to your Mom and I wish her a full and speedy recovery and thank you for an interesting and thought provoking post on a topic that has been on my mind frequently over the last few months.

    May 24, 2013 at 8:42 am
    • Anja Reply

      Thank you Michael for the good wishes. Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

      May 24, 2013 at 8:52 am
  • Ryan Reply

    Hi Anja,
    Your Mom in our thoughts and prayers.Your blog reminds and underscores the BIG challenge i.e. “creating meaning is a choice”,
    So I think I will make this a a central theme in my prayers for your Mom. That the grace is given her to recognise the moments, infinitely small and quick though they be, when the “choice” is available/applicable as well as to also live/experience fully those times when she is sad,depressed,hurt and angry.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:57 am
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks for the kind words and thoughts Ryan.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm
  • Shele Browning Reply

    Interesting blog – moving past ones loss is important and for each unique being it is wholly different experience. At times I have found that the most profound healing comes when one sits with their grief without moving to fix or change anything, perhaps you could reference this as “depression”, however in my experience and I am no stranger to loss one cannot remain unchanged by the suffering no matter how small a loss it may be, whether that change is self-imposed or not. Finding meaning I agree is fundamentally part of the healing process but by definition acceptance of what has been lost. i.e. acceptance of that which you cannot change, is perhaps the first glimmer of hope of finding meaning and gaining understanding which allows one to move forward.

    To Anja, I feel for you and the losses your family has endured, for your mom and especially for you so much love, compassion and understanding.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm
    • Anja Reply

      Thank you Shele and yes I totally agree. Acceptance is an important part of the healing process. Without that there is no adaptation. Thanks for your valuable comment.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm
  • Lana Reply

    Wonderful article. Thank you for the depth

    May 25, 2013 at 9:16 am
    • Anja Reply

      Thank you Lana, keep reading. 🙂

      June 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm
  • Claudia Dehnke Reply

    Loved reading this and will forward it to my young daughter who is carving out a life for herself under trying circumstances in a foreign country. Nina

    May 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm
    • Anja Reply

      I hope she extracts some hope and inspiration from the blog. Good luck to both of you.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm
  • Ashley Roman Reply

    Hi Anja ,

    All divine purpose , signed up last week . Yearning to resolve my catharsis and then your blog post notification landed in my inbox. Thanks for sharing.

    May 27, 2013 at 7:27 am
    • Anja Reply

      Synchronisity and meaning! It was meant to be. Hope you stay in touch with us on your journey to wholeness.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:33 pm
  • Jayn Reply

    I really enjoy your rational, clear writing.

    May 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm
  • Erns Reply

    Wonderful article, Anja.
    Your blog reminds me of a beautiful quote by the poet Rilke, in one of his letters. I find this to be a very meaningful way to look at loss, sadness, and the inner processes that follows (I guess they’re always at work…), if we choose to deal with it consciously:

    “It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.”

    May 29, 2013 at 8:57 am
    • Anja Reply

      Thank you Erns. The quote is wonderful. It speaks about an emotion that I think all of us can relate to, but a lot of people try to repress it straight away. I would say that emotion is a bridge to our souls.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm
  • Isabelle Lugo Reply

    Hello Anja,
    10 years ago I lost my country, my job, my friends, my home, my comfort zone and my routine after I decided to flee from my country that was (still is) ruled by a dictatorship. It had been very painful and I thought in many occasions I would break. I went into depression. Then my father died from Alzheimer, my mother died from sadness and my kids left. I went through menopause and the empty nest syndrome. It was hard. But at the same time I knew I was given a new opportunity to appreciate life and my priorities changed. I learned new things,from cooking to coaching; I got closer to my husband and children. I solved my issues with my mom before she died and forgave her.
    Now a day I feel closer to life and I am way happier. I can discern what is important (my family) versus what is not (looks) and I have a spiritual connection with presence. Crisis, I have heard, is spelled in Chinese as Opportunity. This is so true. I wouldn’t change a thing from my past. I don’t blame anybody. Life is not fair, however we have always a choice to either feel as victims or turn things around and see how powerful, strong and resilient we are.
    My wish is to encourage people to do their inner work. This is in my opinion, the best gift we can offer to the world that surrounds us: I am very grateful to be ALIVE.
    Thank you Anja for asking

    May 31, 2013 at 5:42 pm
    • Anja Reply

      Dear Isabelle. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your powerful message. I am sure it will be an inspiration to many.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm
  • Ilona Reply

    Thank you Anja. Especially for pointing out that to blame oneself is still to put blame. This is a good message for many.

    June 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

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