Losses Yet to Come
September 6, 2023
BY KEN BARRINGER
When we think of grief (death and nondeath losses) we may think of lamenting and sadness over what we had that we no longer do. Do we ever think of grief as ‘losses yet to come’? In her groundbreaking book The After Grief author Hope Edelman describes the concept of “Proxy Grief”. This is when the survivors realize their deceased person missed out on milestones their deceased persons peers will go on to experience.
For example, when a 25-year-old dies their parent(s) will lose the opportunity to ever be a grandparent to that child’s offspring. When a parent dies their children lose the prospect of their parents never seeing them grow and reach new developmental milestones, whatever they may be. When we lose a job, we really liked we may also lose the potential of future earnings and promotions within that company. When we suffer a catastrophic injury, we lose our physical potential and that piece of our identity. Yes, we grow, evolve, and develop through the four scenarios listed here. However, the losses yet to come from them can be disregarded and linger rather than processed.
How do we plan for future losses? Like with most everything it starts with awareness and acknowledgement. One of the ways grief gets complicated is when we think it ends at some point or we should be over it. Universally, we now know we don’t “get over” a meaningful loss. There are times when memories get triggered to past events and we feel it then. Edelman further describes “Resurrected Grief” meaning when a new loss in the present has the capacity to revive elements of a past loss, you’re left to embrace grief you thought you managed already. To wit, if we see three generations of a family at a ball game or cultural event, and we have had our oldest generation die off we can get very strong feelings we perhaps haven’t identified as grief. We know grief exists and is real but if we only think of grief as being about the past, we may end up disenfranchising ourselves by not acknowledging our relationship to this loss – if we even think of it as a loss.
A client was telling me she was looking through her college alumni magazine and saw that one of her former classmates had been elevated to a wonderful high-level position (which one assumes also comes with greater salary). Reading this triggered feelings like bitterness, anger, and self-doubt amongst a host of others. These could also be grief reactions. She had been let go from job years ago that she once hoped would bring her to the place her fellow alum is at.
Like so much of emotional management and regulation, when we have words and language to describe what is going on with us it becomes more manageable. When we are floating in the abyss of what might or might not be happening with us, how we got here and how we get out of it can feel unmanageable and we may try and avoid it. Whatever we talk about we figure out whatever we resist gets bigger and feels more difficult to come to terms with.