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Tell Me About It | by Carolyn Hax

Learning lessons about life through loss

With time comes perspective

on navigating life, loss

Q. In the past few months, I've had two people in my life die and a good friend in a pretty bad accident. Even though I was not really close to the two who died, I found myself sobbing when I found out about the second death on Monday. I feel tired and trapped in my life and am not sure how to break out. Just when I think I'm catching my breath, something bad happens. What can I do?


A. I'm sorry.

You describe so well the emotional roiling that comes with that kind of loss. Vulnerable, lonely, frightened at the idea that you'll always see the world in the light you do now, and never again as the generally benign place it was before you started getting bad news.

It sounds like you're still processing the idea that you've been taking things for granted that you simply can't — that friends will always be there, that accidents won't happen, that the reality of death will remain comfortably abstract.

Well, it never stays that way forever. The post-grief world isn't the same as the pre-.

But time does do its job in restoring the proper perspective. You won't have to absorb the news of two deaths and a bad accident every three months for the rest of your life. These remain exceptions, fortunately (quiet thanks for not living in a war zone). In time, you'll go back to seeing these as the inevitable but mercifully rare elements of a full life among people you care about.

What may change — and I hope does — is that getting a hard reminder of what matters may eventually help you think more clearly about feeling "trapped." It's a good time to ask "Why am I wasting my time on X?" and other such life-shaping questions.

Necessary depression disclaimer: If you feel overwhelmed, a depression screening might be in order.

Let things settle down before you start the sorting out

Q. My boyfriend of seven months and I are "taking a break" . . . mutually decided upon, and we both still love each other. How do you recommend that I a) live my life, and b) figure out whether I want this break to be permanent? I feel so confused by my emotions — sadness, anger, hurt — that I can't figure out what's real. We're both in our 30s and thought we'd marry each other.

Taking a Break

A. Worry about a) and let b) reveal itself to you when it's ready.

The business of a) will evolve with time. In these first days, you'll be all weirded out and emotional, and there's no point in fighting it with efforts to sort everything out. Just let the feelings slosh around. After this initial wave starts to recede, then you'll want to start getting your life back, even though at first it will just feel as if you're filling time.

Eventually you'll establish a new routine, which is healthy; thinking about the minor workings of your days will help you get comfortable with yourself and your life again.

That, in turn, is the position from which to make any decisions about your boyfriend. Don't agonize about ways you can win him back or make things work. Think instead about the life you've built, and whether he adds or subtracts.


Learning lessons about life through loss 05/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 2:00pm]
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