When one leaves for the stars, that person will be the one to blink at you in the night-sky and show you the way. While s/he will no longer be able to touch your hands s/he will forever be able to touch your heart.
Karla A. Claeys, M.A

Life and the world around us are constantly changing.  In Buddhism, this everchanging existence is called impermanance.  There are ways we can prepare for and deal with the changes and losses we encounter during our lives. These ten suggestions are adapted from Robert Neimeyer’s book Lessons of Loss, a Guide to Coping.

  1. Take advantage of small losses – Losses less significant than the death of a love one can give us the opportunity to “practice” coping with loss. For example, when a friend moves away or a close co-worker goes to another job, we can take a little time to show them we care about them. We can fully experience the sadness and feeling of loss so that future major losses will not thrust us into a virgin territory of grief. In the same way, if we have children, we can take advantage of “teachable moments” of loss such the death of a pet to help them learn about the meaning of death and its relationship to life.

  2. Take time to feel – Taking a few moments to reflect on our lives, our losses, and their meaning to us can help us prepare for the times of major losses. For some people, writing about these experiences can help bring understanding and acceptance.

  3. Do not let stress become a close companion – We all experience stress in our daily lives. Medical research has now determined that excess stress can significantly contribute to many physical ailments from heart trouble to cancer. Learning stress reduction practices such as meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, etc. can not only reduce our daily stress levels, but also give us some coping skills for the inevetable off-the-chart stress of bereavement.

  4. Let go of the need to control others – Just as you do not want others to dictate to you how you should respond to the death of a loved one, others do not want you to dictate to them. Trying to control others’ mourning simply adds to their stress and can make a difficult situation even worse. Practicing letting go of controlling others gives both you and them the freedom each of you needs when death comes into your lives.

  5. Confide in someone – Carrying all of the heavy burdens and secrets of our lives by ourselves is a most difficult task – even the mythological titan Atlas could not carry the weight of the heavens without stooping over. However, our burden is lightened if we share it with others. If you are not accustomed to confiding in others, practice so that when a major loss darkens your door you will not be afraid to talk about what you are going through. Find someone who is willing to listen without bring in his or her own “agenda” into the conversation. Similarly, practice listening non-judgementally to others knowing that someday the role of listener and of teller will be reversed.

  6. Allow yourself to change – The world is a constantly changing place and we must change in order to survive. Looking for opportunities to grow in the face of minor losses gives us the confidence and insight to face the major losses in our lives and to grow in the face of them.

  7. Participate in the rituals of life – Rituals play an important part in our overall well-being. They connect us to the past, the present, and the future by providing us with some stability in an ever-changing world. Religions rely on rituals to relay their messages at a deeper level than mere words can reach. Rituals (also known as “habits” or “practices”) can be taught to us and/or can be our own creations. Many of us devise our own rituals when we establish holiday traditions. Participating in established rituals related to death, such as funerals, and/or in those we create for our own meaningful purposes are very helpful in our coping with the loss of a love one by giving us grounding.

  8. Make sense of your loss – No one can ever know what the meaning of a loss is except for the one who has incurred it. Instead of trying to erase the loss from you mind, allow yourself some time to mull over what has happened and its place in your life. Ironically, the harder we try to keep painful images out of our minds, the more power they obtain. Let your mind and your heart come together to create the story of your loss and its meaning to you.

  9. Learn from you loss – From the small losses the big losses, take a time to step back and ask yourself what lessons did this loss have for you. Perhaps you observe something about yourself that you will or will not do in the future, perhaps you see that you need to change your life priorities, perhaps you learn that you are stronger than you thought, etc. Be willing to learn from your experience and make the lessons part of your life.

  10. Seek centering in your spiritual beliefs – Many times, losses, and especially losses from death, give us a prime opportunity to review our spiritual and philosophical beliefs. Sometimes this results in a renewal and deepening of beliefs that we have taken for granted. Other times the loss may cause us to question our beliefs and to explore what they are now in our new world.
These ten suggestions are not limited to a particular point in time; they are useful to keep in mind all of the time. Our lives are constantly changing and with those changes come some loss. It may be a small loss or it may be a world shattering loss. In either case, these suggestions can help us stay grounded in spite of the changing world around us.