By Dave Roberts
In her book, “Grief and Loss: Theories and Skills for Helping Professionals, “Katherine Walsh-Burke describes symbolic loss as follows:
“There are many types of losses that are not due to death, but rather represent the loss of relationships, intact systems, and even dreams for the future.”
Walsh- Burke goes on to list examples of symbolic loss such as: divorce, losing status because of job demotion, foster care placement, unemployment, and changes in health status. She also mentions that symbolic loss is not normally recognized as a loss per se, but that it will initiate a process of grief just as a physical loss will.
One of the most profound revelations that I witnessed about symbolic loss came from an individual whom I worked with several years ago, while employed as an addictions counselor. His house had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. When I asked him to conceptualize the loss in his own words, he said: “I lost my history.”
His words will continue to stay with me until the day of my death or my rebirth into a new existence.
When You Can No Longer Contribute
I received an email from the HuffPost towards the latter part of 2017 announcing that they were closing their contributor site effective January 18,2018.
I had been a blogger and contributor for the HuffPost since August of 2014. I had no inkling prior to their email that the contributor site was going to be discontinued, so I was really caught off guard when I received the news.
For the purposes of this article, their rationale for making this decision is not important. However, my reaction and the subsequent events that transpired afterwards are I believe, more relevant .
I enjoyed my experience with the HuffPost, and it was deeply gratifying to be able to tell people that I was a contributor for a nationally known news and opinion website. I was very saddened by the fact that I would no longer be able to contribute my writings to the HuffPost. It represented another in the long line of both physical losses and symbolic losses that I have experienced since early childhood.
One of the things that has been effective for me when I have dealt with any type of loss is to seek out support from those who understand or those who I believe can offer a fresh perspective.
About a week or so after receiving the news that I would no longer be able to be a HuffPost contributor, I let one of my spiritual mentors know what had transpired. She simply replied, “Ah….. The blessings and gifts of impermanence”
She now gave me a different perspective to examine, in light of what transpired with the HuffPost.
Knowing and Accepting Are Two Different Things
Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya, is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant.”
Another way to explain impermanence is through a phrase that I have often used throughout my life to attempt to come to grips with death and non-death related losses: “Nothing lasts forever.”
A short time ago, I asked myself that if I truly believe nothing last forever, why do I continually react to losses in my life as if everything does lasts forever? Certainly, understanding that many aspects of our human experience is inconstant or transient, should mitigate the emotional impact of the losses or setbacks in life that we experience. Or does it?
Knowing that the human experience is finite as well as the events that comprise it, such as job status or death of our loved ones doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of those endings. The emotional impact is determined by the significance of our relationships, or the amount of status that we ascribe to any activity that we are involved with at any time in our lives. The emotions of any loss need to be fully felt and worked through to deal with the impermanence inherent to our earthly lives.
So perhaps one of the blessings and gifts of impermanence is the reminder that with every type of loss experienced, we consistently demonstrate the capacity to feel and experience life at the highest level of emotion. We experience pain because of the intensity of our love for those who have died and in the case of symbolic loss, the amount of passion that we have for our activities or relationships that we deem to be meaningful.
Every loss reinforces our capacity to feel deeply, and as a result strengthens our connections to others who are living the human experience. Our shared pain becomes a gateway to hope from which new relationships are forged, opportunities are developed, and from which spiritual awakenings can occur.
Life After The HuffPost
After my spiritual mentor’s insightful perspective on the end of my time as a HuffPost contributor, I now tried to view this event as an opportunity for further growth.
Shortly after receiving the news from The HuffPost, I connected with an individual on Twitter who had published some articles on Medium . I sent her a direct message inquiring about her experience . Her response was positive, and motivated me to explore Medium’s site. My first article for Medium was posted on Medium during January of 2018, and I am currently a listed writer for three publications. I have also had several direct positive interactions with other writers on Medium, making my experience much more fulfilling.
This new opportunity to publish my writings presented itself to me because I trusted that the universe would work with me to make this happen. Any life setback or loss creates fear of what lies ahead, but our faith must be greater than our fear, if we are to persevere. The impermanence of my contributor status at the HuffPost, strengthened my belief about this truth.
Though the grief response in the case of symbolic loss is similar to loss related to death, the time that it takes to discover the teachings of impermanence due to death related loss, varies for each individual.
To fully embrace impermanence as our teacher after death-related loss, we need to first: (1) accept that our life has permanently changed, (2) be willing to embrace a different perspective about life and death, and (3) be open to finding meaning and purpose in a world where our loved ones are no longer physically present.
“When you truly embrace your human impermanence, you connect with the power you have, and influence you have, over the time you have.”- Steve Mariboli