The Long Way Back- Create Your Masterpiece When Experiencing Loss
“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
There is no way getting around the human experience called grief. It's the indelible side effect of being human. For most of us, (albeit hopefully temporarily), the experience of loss can feel like the awesome tyranny of Thor's proverbial hammer crashing down onto our tightly wound world, that once comfortable universe where the people, places, and fruitful experiences in our life (that perhaps once defined our life trajectory) is suddenly take away from us and lost in a hermetical sinkhole. Whether it is the sudden death of a loved one, losing a once successful business we worked so hard to build, or the loss of a romantic partner, experiencing loss is that one human experience that activates our evolutionary coping mechanism to survive and keep going despite the tremendous pain and suffering it brings.
There is tremendous courage to be found from surviving loss that is within all of us. Dostoevsky so eloquently describes the experience of loss as "that great mystery of human life where grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy” which is that delicate space in-between suffering and loss where everything becomes possible to once again create our life masterpiece (no matter how unattainable and difficult it seems). It is that space where your life's best work is just waiting to be discovered.
Friedrich Nietzsche saw loss and suffering as ‘the ultimate emancipator of spirit' which was essential for his philosophy, since it ‘forces us philosophers to descend into our nethermost depths. I doubt whether such suffering improves a man; but I know that it makes him deeper.' His experience was that when a person emerges from episodes of grief he is ‘as though born again, he has a new skin,' with a ‘finer taste for joyfulness.' In the Prophet, Kahlil very eloquently explains that ‘the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.'
When South African actress, Charlize Theron was only 15 years old, she witnessed her mother kill her alcoholic and aggressive father out of self-defense. Instead of allowing the trauma define her, she looked to her mother’s example of strength and to create a resilience and confidence of her own. She built a successful acting career, and she ultimately became the first South African actress to win an Academy Award.
We all have the ability to transcend tragedy and loss even if it seems impossible to see the proverbial forest from the trees. When tragedy appears in our lives we should be aware that, beneath the tyranny of sadness, desperation, and hopelessness that follows a major loss there is a magnificent opportunity to recreate a life of deeper meaning and purpose. And through the suffering of loss in time the light will once again shine through the cracks of darkness where life’s masterpiece is waiting to be created.