Mourning and Loss as Triggers

Any difficult loss we experience in life comes at an emotional cost. Feelings build up. You have to take the time to let those feelings out into the open.

The human mechanism includes safety valves: venting is in our nature. Frustration, anger, feelings of abandonment and rejection, all these are among the emotions we may feel after a significant loss.

Venting after a loss is a growth mechanism. The ways in which we can live out our grief vary. Techniques abound. The way we mourn will depend on the depth and the intensity of our feelings of loss. The death of a child or a parent is likely going to be felt more deeply than a loss by a favorite sports team.

But the same loss can be seen very differently. For some people, the loss of a cat can be nothing special. I know a woman who lost her limping, constantly sick cat, and cried uncontrollably for weeks. The years before, she had lost her kids, her husband and friends. Her cat was her child. The last living thing left for her to love. She had cared for it through several chronic health scares for three years. It had been her constant companion.

The loss triggered a crisis. She felt she had nothing left in her personal life. We can belittle such depths of grief over a cat. But the loss of a beloved family pet can easily be the trigger for a suicidal downward spiral. It all depends on the context.

It’s untrue that if we’ve survived one major loss, we can easily survive another similarly bad experience, no problem, because we’ve built up a resistance to shocks. Wrong. Our needs and vulnerabilities change over time. We aren’t the same at every point in our lives. Moreover, the time needed to mourn varies from person to person, from loss to loss. Some grieving goes on for years.

You may prefer to turn the page and ignore the grieving process, to not look back at your loss. But you risk having buried scars rise to the surface at a later date. The things you sublimate can hurt both your external relations and your internal psyche.

Bereavement confers emotional stability. Once my grieving has largely run its course, I know I can continue on my life path. Fleeing my sadness, ignoring the mourning process, would be unwise. Buried feelings would come back to haunt me. Burying things makes a person emotionally fragile, and actually less capable of withstanding future emotional shocks. If I don’t mourn, I know that the smallest reversal could set me on a dark road.

Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT

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