How to Use This Guide What Is Loss? Loss and Unitarian Universalist Faith Loss Across the Lifespan Activities Footnotes Resources UU Principles (Adult and Children's versions) About the Authors, About FMTF, About the Series
Nothing lasts, and yet nothing passes, either. And nothing passes just because nothing lasts. --Philip Roth, The Human Stain
Happiness is salutary for the body but sorrow grows the spirit. --Marcel Proust, Letters
We are broken people, you and I. What matters somehow is whether we become weak or strong at the broken places.
How to Use This Guide
Let's face it. Life is a risky business. In every week, if not every day, we all face a number of losses, big and small. Our ministerial intern leaves after a year of sharing her insights, grace, and wisdom. Our family home is destroyed by fire, burning all our treasured photos. We question our belief in God as our marriage crumbles or our daughter is diagnosed with a crippling disease. Our youngest child leaves for college, signifying a new and unwelcome phase of our life.
Since we all have so much experience with it, you might expect that we'd be comfortable acknowledging loss and the changes it brings. But you'd be wrong. Instead of accepting its inevitability, we often greet our losses with a profound silence-a silence that suggests that loss is too scary, too unpredictable, too uncontrollable for us to handle. Better to deny its existence than to let in-and be destroyed by-those overwhelming feelings.
Despite what we want to believe, however, we all experience loss throughout our lives. Sometimes these losses are relatively minor and predictable-at age five, we must leave the familiarity of our home, pre-school, or day-care center to start kindergarten. Sometimes these losses are major and totally unexpected-we lose our home, our job, our spouse, our child.
This guide prepares family members to explore the topic of loss with one another. It offers information about how children understand loss. This booklet also provides Activities and Resources to help families and congregations examine their own histories of, and reactions to, loss over their lifetimes.
Families have so much to gain from these discussions. As adults, you will have a chance to reflect on your own assumptions and beliefs about loss, gain greater understanding of your responses to it, and become more comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with others. If your family includes children, parents (and grandparents) can help children accept loss as a part of life and find ways to cope with it rather than deny its impact. Just as importantly, you can communicate your willingness to accompany children not only through the joys of life but also through its struggles and hardships. Fred Rogers, in a broadcast of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, agreed:
The best thing in the world is for your children to be included in your family ways of coping with the problems that present themselves... particularly now, in this very difficult time, in our nation. There are those who will find a great comfort in being able to sit and watch a television mass, or a funeral-so long as it is included in the family.... For other families, maybe a walk by a river, a walk in a favorite place. For others, maybe just a strong arm around the body of a small child as you walk.
How to Begin
Most of us fear loss. After all, it changes our world, and even when our lives are less than perfect, we still find greater comfort in the known than the unknown. As a result, many adults actively avoid change and the pain it causes, working instead to keep things "just the way they are."
Think back on your own experiences. Did an aunt or uncle die when you were a child? Did no one talk to you about this death or acknowledge its impact on your life? Did you have a gay relative who distanced himself from you and your family for fear of being judged and rejected? Was your sister, born with Down syndrome, labeled as "special" and did you ever really knew what this meant?
If you experienced this type of silence, a silence that sent a clear message of shame, fear, and discomfort, then you may also remember the terror of facing your losses alone. With no one to share them with, your losses may have assumed a power that continues to influence your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to this day.
Try This: When you have a few moments of quiet, think back to losses you have experienced throughout your life. Write them down. Now choose one that you find particularly significant. With this loss in mind, ask yourself the following questions: How did you hear of this loss? Who told you about it? What language did he or she use to describe this loss? What was the mood of the discussion?
What Do You Think? If no one openly discussed this loss with you, what did you conclude from this silence? How do these conclusions continue to influence your reactions to current losses?
Wouldn't it be wiser to bring our losses to those who love and support us? Perhaps--sadly-- this may be hard to do. Those mourning a loss often find that friends are overwhelmed by our misfortune, may not know how to help us, or fear that they will lose control. The result is that we often deal with our losses in isolation and by example, teach our children to do so as well.
This guide offers no universal truths, nor can it guarantee that you will become entirely comfortable with the topic of loss. Rather it will offer families tools they may find useful to understand their loss history, recognize how this history influences their reactions to current losses, and discover how to help their children learn to cope with loss in a healthy, deliberate way.
Before planning any discussions and activities with your family, read through the entire booklet. In some places, you will be asked to consider questions related to your own experiences with loss (What Do You Think? or Try This.) Take time to reflect on those questions that seem most relevant to you. Jot down some notes or keep a journal if you find that helpful. When you do so, you will be better prepared to join with your partner and/or your children to explore this difficult but vitally important topic.
Remember, however, that all families are different and come from different cultural and personal traditions. As a result, do not view this booklet as the final authority on loss but rather as a set of suggestions to help you approach this topic in a way that respects your family's unique style and circumstances.