Loss is an inevitable part of life. But when you actually experience it, as journalist Otje van der Lelij discovered, it can be difficult to know how to respond. How can we deal with mourning and overwhelming sadness?
“One of the most recent insights into the mourning process is that eighty percent of people actually recover from their loss very well,” says Paul Boelen, Dutch professor of clinical psychology at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. “We tend to think that people are crushed by loss, but it turns out it’s not actually as bad as that. How well someone deals with it has a lot to do with who has died: It’s harder to recover from the loss of a child than from the quiet death of a grandmother who has led a long and full life.”
It has also been shown that optimism has a protective function: People who feel confident they will be okay in the end actually are doing better a year after experiencing a loss. These are helpful scientific insights, but they don’t make the pain any less sharp or the loss any less great. What do you do in those moments when there is only sadness? How do you get out of that endless swamp of emotion that keeps sucking you in?
“It is really important to keep living an active life, even when it’s the last thing you want to do,” says Boelen. “No matter how hard it is, research has shown that it’s healing to continue with your normal life as much as possible. People who do this are, in the long run, more capable of handling their loss. Go outside, seek out friends. It not only provides distraction, it also helps you to see that life still has meaning.”
Boelen also says that carrying on doesn’t mean you should ignore your sadness or bury it. It becomes something that continues alongside your life. Mourning is a pendulum swinging back and forth between processing the loss (reliving memories, paging through photo albums) and recovering from it (visiting friends, relaxing). It is also important to remember that the misery will end. The time will come when you will be able to love life again.
- You can read more about dealing with loss in Issue 21.
Text Otje van der Lelij Illustrations Yelena Bryksenkova