A blog about loss – this might be a difficult sell. Not exactly cheery stuff for an evening read. But if it’s on my mind it inevitably ends up in the blog!
And the thing is – life is full of losses. Between the joy and gains, laughs and memories being made, there is plenty of painful and scarring moments. It’s part of life’s rich tapestry, that probably shapes us in ways we never really consider. So it’s important they are acknowledged, shared and that we appreciate their impact so we don’t slowly drown in sorrow we don’t even realise we are feeling.
What is Loss?
Loss is no longer having something, or having less of it than before. When we think of loss our mind often goes to the tragedy of the death of a loved one, but in reality it comes in many forms. Because feelings of loss often accompany change, and my word can life be changeable! Particularly midlife, which seems to be a magnet for potential losses. Yes, ladies, you’re unlikely to get through this life stage without a few major blows.
Potential Losses in Midlife
- The loss of a loved one. This is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. Midlife women may face this loss more frequently as they age and lose parents, siblings, and friends. This loss can leave us reeling, feeling lonely, depressed, and overwhelmed.
- The end of relationships and friendships: Whether it’s a divorce, separation, or even the loss of a close friendship, the end of a relationship can bring powerful feelings of sadness, grief, fear and loneliness.
- Career changes: Losing a job, whether the circumstances are redundancy, retirement or something else, can be devastating. Midlife women can feel that their job is a significant part of their identity and a stable force in a life stage where other elements are rapidly shifting. This loss can also bring financial stress and uncertainty about the future.
- Relocation or downsizing: Whilst this may be a conscious and even positive decision it can also be tied up with feelings of significant loss for midlife women, as it might mean leaving behind a lifetime of memories and connections. It can be a difficult and emotional process as we adjust to new surroundings and routines.
- Children leaving home: A shift in family living circumstances may come with a profound sense of loss. The house feels emptier, and years of familiar daily routines may disappear overnight. It can be a challenging and emotional time as you struggle to redefine yourself outside of the role of mother.
- Health challenges: This loss can be particularly challenging as it can limit a your ability to do the things you love. It may lead to feelings of frustration, fear and isolation, reduced mobility and subsequently lowered wellbeing. It may also precipitate thoughts about our mortality and whether the best years are well behind us.
- Financial problems: Stresses around money can be just as devastating as any other loss, causing emotional distress and a sense of hopelessness. They can impact one’s sense of security and independence.
- Loss of purpose and identity: Midlife can be a confusing and emotional time as we try to navigate change, potential new roles, physiological shifts and redefining ourselves.
- Loss of youth: This can be difficult to swallow for many women (who is that old lady in the mirror??) and can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and even depression. It may be coupled with yearnings for times gone by and a sense of having lost that long bright future that has always stretched out in front of us but may be feeling shorter day by day.
The Impact of Loss on Midlife Women
We cannot know the impact of loss until we experience it, and how we cope is as unique as the experiences themselves. For some women certain things listed above may be viewed positively. For example children moving out and a subsequent downsize may just be a wonderful excuse for new adventures and experiences. But for others, these events are cumulative blows from which they struggle to recover.
In these instances the impact of loss can be significant and far reaching. They can bring a range of challenging emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, self loathing and guilt. If these feelings are not processed then they can lead to acute and long term physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues and headaches. In addition, loss can lead to changes in behaviour, such as social withdrawal, a loss of interest in hobbies, and even substance abuse.
I’ve not even made it past midlife infancy and bam…..loss, loss loss!!!, In the past six months alone I’ve said goodbye to significant relationships, a business, financial stability and a pet…. Very careless of me altogether.
But, no one died, so sometimes it feels like I have to just have to crack on with it, keep my chin up, and ‘keep it in perspective’. I have even heard myself say out loud with a heavy heart and fake smile, ‘‘well – at least no one died’. But the truth is- that’s not helpful, and also not entirely true, as I feel like bits of me did – like I’m not who I was before and I have to get to know this new, wounded version of me in this slightly foreign version of my World.
And this is normal. When we lose something or someone important to us, it can be difficult to move on because it feels like a part of us has been taken away too. We may feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed by our emotions. The often frequent memories and reminders of what we’ve lost don’t help, and can make it feel like we’re stuck in the past, unable to move forward.
However, I’m lucky. I know I will come out the other side of my losses stronger, wiser and embracing the changes they have thrust at me. Why? Because I know what I need to do to heal and I’m doing the work. It’s not always easy, and it’s certainly not a straight path… in fact sometimes it’s a blooming maze with a lot of frustrating dead ends… but I know I’ll find the exit at some point and I’ll have grown on the journey.
Tips for Overcoming Loss in Midlife
- Acknowledge your losses. Do not diminish your losses, or allow others to do so, because they don’t feel ‘big’ or ‘worthy’ enough. A loss is a loss and you deserve to mourn it. Denying or pushing it down will not remove your feelings and may just cause them to fester and grow.
- Allow yourself to grieve. This means giving yourself permission to feel and process your emotions, whether they are sadness, anger, or even relief. Grief is a natural and often lengthy process, and it’s essential to allow yourself to go through it in your own time.
- Seek support. Talk to friends and family, join a support group, or seek professional help.it doesn’t matter what feels right to you but do not go it alone. Whatever your loss, support can provide comfort and help you feel less alone in your grief.
- Take care of yourself. This means taking care of your physical and emotional needs. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, eating healthy foods, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. This might feel incredibly difficult some days when you just want to stay in bed with a box of Jaffa cakes, but give yourself permission to feel better, even if it’s tough- sitting in the sunshine for 10 minutes or going for a walk may shift your mood and help you through the rest of the day. For additional information on building real self care I to your life head to my blog ‘Beyond Spa Days and Manicures: What Real Selfcare Looks Like’.
- Find meaning in the loss. This involves looking for ways to grow and learn from the experience, whether it’s volunteering, seeking out new career or social opportunities or finding creative ways to process your experience like journaling or other forms of writing. This can be helpful in the long term but may feel difficult early on when emotions are raw. Don’t rush yourself with the healing process- the challenging emotions are important and you’re allowed to feel angry, hard done by and down right at odds with the World before you start to find comfort and meaning.
- Seek professional help. If you’re struggling to cope with your loss, a therapist, counselor or support group can help you work through your emotions and develop healthy coping strategies. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.
- Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude can help you maintain focus to the good things in your life whilst acknowledging and working through the challenges. It can be as simple as writing down three things you’re thankful for each day or consciously expressing gratitude to those around you to remind you and them how much they are appreciated. Gratitude practice should not be forced or it can have a negative impact, so only engage with it if you can genuinely find things in your life to feel positive about- no matter how small.
- Take things one day at a time. Overcoming loss is a process, and it’s important to take things one day at a time. Don’t try to rush the process, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not feeling better right away. Healing takes time, and it’s important to be patient, compassionate and kind to yourself.
How to Support Someone Through Loss
People can find it hard to ask for help after a significant loss, particularly if it’s not something obvious – like the loss of a loved one. They may feel embarrassed to be feeling as they are, and isolated. Reaching out and being there for someone can make a big difference. Trust me, I know. I will never forget the support I received this year from friends. The small gestures and acts of kindness have helped me immeasurably….even if at the time it just looked like they made me cry.
Here are some practical ways you can offer support in times of loss:
- Offer a listening ear: Be available to listen and provide a safe space for the individual to express his/her feelings and emotions. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or trying to fix the situation-just being heard is often all someone needs.
- Validate all feelings: Acknowledge and validate any emotions expressed without judgment. Reiterate that it’s normal to feel a range of emotions no matter what the loss and that all feelings are valid.
- Provide practical support: Offer practical assistance with everyday tasks where needed. These small gestures can alleviate some of the overwhelm that often comes when someone is getting used to a new norm. I have a friend who is a great cook (I am not). She has packaged up a few dinners for me over the past few months and invited my tribe round to eat with her family. It’s like a warm hug every-time.
- Respect the grieving process: Understand that people grieve for different things, in different ways and at their own pace. Respect a person’s need for space and solitude, but also be there when they need support.
- Encourage self-care: Provide gentle reminders to take care of himself/herself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Encourage him/her to engage in activities that bring joy, whether it’s exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Invite them along to what you’re doing as an additional incentive and to provide another opportunity to chat or check in.
- Be patient and non-judgmental: Understand that the grieving process can be lengthy and unpredictable. Be patient and non-judgmental as he/she navigates different emotions. Avoid imposing timelines or expectations on healing.
- Provide resources: if it feels appropriate and someone seems to be really struggling then offer information about support groups, therapists, or counselors who specialise in helping individuals cope with loss. Share books, articles, or online resources that may be helpful in the healing journey.
- Check-in regularly: Continue to check in even after the initial shock of the loss has passed. Offer ongoing support and remind him/her that you’re there whenever needed. This has helped me enormously this year and is a great reminder that whatever challenges you face you are loved and have a cheer squad who gave your back.
Loss is a difficult but inevitable part of life. And it can clobber you hard when you least expect it. As midlife women, we may face unique and cumulative challenges in many aspects of our lives. However, I found two things helpful to remember during a time of loss this year:
- Like everything else in life, ‘this too shall pass’. A bit like a kidney stone…. But it passed! I remind myself often that everything in life is transient-both the bad and the good. Knowing that makes the challenges easier to live through but also makes me appreciate the good bits more and more.
- Midlife may deal some hefty blows but more than any other time in life- boy am I ready for them and well able to get back up and keep fighting. Like most midlife women, the life experience, knock backs, relationships and growth that have been slowly accumulating over the years are now coming into their own.
So if you have experienced a recent loss, whatever it might be, your feelings are valid. Allow yourself to grieve, seek support, take care of yourself, and take one day at a time. Only you know what you need and how to move forward but don’t go it alone.
There are probably many others around you suffering their own grief who would appreciate support just as much as you. As the old adage states, and research supports – a problem shared is a problem halved-so share your feelings around your loss. It will not only help you, but maybe someone else will benefit from your experience when they experience a similar challenge in the future.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve experienced loss in midlife and how you have moved forward with your life
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