Loss – what exactly IS loss? That question hit home a tad more personally this week, when my five-year-old stared longingly at the quietly inviting neighbourhood playground we walked by, ring-taped with cautionary boundaries of its closure due to social distancing breaches.
"Mama, can I go and play?" she asked.
My mind flashed fleetingly to the time when we walked past this same playground that was blustering with activity, raucous laughter and the pitter-patter of little feet, as I bent down to whisper in her ear, "Not here, but let’s find another playground."
How many of us have been feeling an on-again, off-again, irrevocable sense of loss over the last two years since the pandemic whip-lashed our sense of normalcy? Perhaps a loss of leisure and play time activities like my little one, or a sense of time just ebbing by without us being able to do what we would usually enjoyed doing.
For our family of eight, a nice family dinner out together already seems like a distant faraway notion with its slew of rather complicated logistical issues.
In the larger scheme of things, these are little inconveniences we’ve had to put up with as a family. Especially considering that some of us may have had it harder: more illnesses and deaths to mourn both in our families and collectively as a nation, as well as the loss of jobs and financial stability.
And let’s not forget the loss of physical presence: our scaled down interactions with friends and loved ones. While we have adapted online, these cumulative disappointments are felt, if not at once, but over time and it chips at us mentally and emotionally.
Psychiatrist Parul Tank says that pandemic-era changes occurred overnight and unexpectedly – hence we can be emotionally unprepared to face them. “This has led to a constant perception of threat, and this is the root of anxiety many people are feeling,” Tank says.
Our immediate stress relievers and circle of support may not be as easily accessible in these exceptional times – friends, community, family, a weekend away – and this could lead to feelings of helplessness, loss and even guilt for some.
Don’t Look Outward, Look Inward
How do we cope when our lives aren’t going to plan? Is there a way to make our losses less stinging? Perhaps we can start by looking inward for answers.
Robert Emmons, a psychologist and world expert on gratitude, defines it as the ability to recognise the goodness in your life, whether it is brought about by your surroundings or the actions of people around you.
There are many benefits to cultivating and reframing our minds and hearts to adopt a posture of gratitude.
Gratitude is an inward posture that helps us take stock and literally "count our blessings". It helps us to recognise what we do have – our inner strength, a new wellspring of resilience, new skillsets that we acquired while adapting to the most limiting of environments, our pared down social and familial relationships which we’ve learnt to appreciate and cultivate in more meaningful ways than we have in the past.
Author Robert Brault reminds us to celebrate what we have, who we are and the people who are in our lives. "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Practising gratitude and adopting humour can help bring some stability to our lives by getting us to focus on what is good rather than what is uncertain or unpredictable.
Here are some ideas on how to reframe loss:
Reconfigure our time with those who matter
Spend quality time with loved ones in different ways. Social measures may not allow for large groups but we can take advantage of smaller groups and interacting in more intimate settings. As parents, we have been taking the kids out one on one or in pairs, which we find helps enhance our interactions with one another and allow for more meaningful conversations.
Realign our expectations
Research on healthcare workers who logged three good things that happened to them each day showed improved work-life balance and reduced depressive symptoms and burnout. Collectively, we can do the same.
Gratitude need not be something over the top. Appreciating the small things in life, such as a fresh cup of coffee, perfect weather at the beach, or snagging a good parking lot can train our brains to see the good rather than the bad.
Keeping a gratitude journal helps us to note patterns in how we structure our days and what activities bring us most joy. Do more of what keeps us thankful. If you’re regularly refreshed by nature, getting outside may be a great booster to your mood. If you love bonding through board games with the family, prioritising family game time can enhance your sense of wellbeing.
Rejoice in relationships
Humans are relational creatures. In times of adversity, relationships are the glue that helps us make sense of our experiences and gain fortitude. It is a good time to sow into the relationships we treasure and express appreciation to our loved ones.
My father takes time to write a letter to each of his grandchildren when they turn 12. Reading his words of affirmation and encouragement to each child is a powerful and deeply moving gift. So, drop a text, write a thank you note, and spend time to affirm those who are precious around you. Reconnect with friends who have slipped off your radar or reach out to someone who needs a friend.
As we begin the new year, a part of us may still mourn the loss of what used to be, but we still have our family around us and we can be one another’s pillar of support. Things may never quite be the same, but with a better understanding of who we are and what’s important, we can move forward – perhaps with more courage than ever before.
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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