The Art of Coping with Loss In the Real World

In her book A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (and Other Dark, Difficult Times) (Green Fire Press, 2016) author and psychologist Maria Sirois brings positive psychology to the experience of loss.  She helps readers move toward happiness and offers a template for getting through pain and rising above it with a steady, resilient and open attitude.  Her work aims to help us face sorrow and love fully and laugh richly anyway.

Excerpt from “The Art of Losing” 

Much of life is about a falling apart, a losing of what had been. Our schools, teams, parents counsel us to win, achieve, strive for the best, and there is much merit here—without such intention we might fail to find our way toward our best lives.

And yet we must also uncover within us an aptitude for the art of losing, for there is no striving without defeat and there is no living without loss.

This is as certain as night follows day and any movement toward a happier, more whole existence occurs most healthfully and easefully when we understand how to shape a life around loss, just as we choose to shape a life around striving for excellence.

Not long ago I met with a family of four children and a dad. Their mother, in her mid-30’s, lost her life to cancer.  The oldest child was nine, the youngest was three.  I did not tell the dad that the two little ones would not remember their mom except in the most general sense, but I did let him know that this loss has shaped the path of their lives as few others will; it will influence their choices, definitively, for decades.  I assessed how our community might best support them, what they most needed to manage the acute pain, and because the dad asked for the barest, darkest of truths, he and I had an excruciating conversation, one in which I told him he would never know how to do this perfectly, nor could he completely find a way to protect his children from further loss; they were suffering and they will suffer, and we could not yet know what twisting might come to them because of this particular pain. 

Should we meet again, I will open another door of knowing for him as well.

I will tell him that there are ways to shape oneself through loss that leave room for the heart and the soul to grow.

Like a painter who realizes that his work cannot hold its original intent, we must learn to put down the brush and walk away from what has become unsustainable.  This dad must begin the long, hard journey of walking away from the image of the family as it has been toward the family as it is.  This is mandatory.  He must admit that all has changed; that nothing looks as it should.

We must all do this at one time or another.

From there we must watch carefully and honestly for what is true for us in our own particular grief.  One might crawl into bed from exhaustion, one might become numb, one might lash out and one might armor oneself against all such experiences and move back toward school or work as if nothing of import has happened at all.  There are a thousand faces to grief and we must allow room for the witnessing of what is true for any, for ourselves, in each particular loss.  Then and only then can we begin the artful process of losing – of looking directly at the brokenness within us, naming the damage done, and then bringing permission, and then forgiveness, and one day love to that damage.

A story is told about the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs in the late 15th century.  When it was returned, repaired with ugly metal staples, Yoshimasa prompted Japanese craftsmen to look for a more aesthetic means of repair.  They began to join the shards of broken pottery with a lacquer laced with powdered gold, creating an object that displayed its flaws while becoming whole once more.  The art form, Kintsukuroi, or golden repair, became so popular that a philosophy emanated from its artistry.  Both the imperfections and the repairs were seen simply as events in the life of the object, allowing its life to continue in service to its purpose.  Flaws and imperfections were embraced as an acceptance of the eventual brokenness of things and were understood to reflect the natural journey of life itself.

This is the art of losing, Kintsukuroi.