Grief Course 2

Losses We Never Considered

Welcome everybody.    I hope you were able to pick your copy of “Recovering from the Losses of Life”, by H. Norman Wright.  After this lesson, I will ask you to start reading.

Please, pray with me:
Lord Jesus, we ask in your name to examine us, teach us and lead us.  You are the way, the truth and the life.  Amen.


image009 LOSS.  It’s a simple four-letter word that is one of our constant companions throughout life. But, we   seem to have an unspoken agreement with others not to talk about our losses.  We meet each other, ask ‘How are you?’, and answer ‘Fine!’ without blushing.

Yet, with every loss comes the potential for change and growth, for new insights, for understanding and refinement – all positive descriptions and words of hope.  Problem is, they are all in the future and we fail to see that far ahead when we’re in the midst of our grief.

Nobody likes to lose.  When a loss occurs, most of us assume something or someone is wrong or at fault.  Life is supposed to be filled with winners!   Losses, both small and large, hurt.
And it hurts even more because we have not been taught to expect the losses of our life.  We expect to be winners.  We want success.  We were taught early in school that we can achieve anything if we only want to.  We want to be in control of our life and so we build a wall around us with a sign saying, “Losses – No Trespassing!”  And then when they occur, we feel violated, we feel treated unfairly.  Life ought to be smooth to be considered “fair”.  “What did I do to deserve this?”, we say.

When we encounter loss, we look for a plausible cause, we search for a reason, we try to find the object or person that we can blame for our loss.  Many seek justice in the courts.  The concept that loss means ‘something is wrong’ carries over into almost every area of life.

*She must not have been a good wife for him to leave her.
*They failed as parents.  Otherwise that child would not have become involved with that bad crowd.
*He lost his job.  I wonder why?
*If they had been living the Christian life, this wouldn’t have happened.

Have you ever heard such thoughts?
Have you ever thought such thoughts?
This attitude toward loss has been with us for a long time.

In John 9:1-3, we read in the paraphrased version,
“And as Jesus walked along, He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi (teacher), why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?’  Jesus answered, ‘Neither, but to demonstrate the power of God.’

How you respond to losses, and what you let losses do to you, will affect the rest of your life.
Loss is not the enemy; instead not facing the existence of loss, is.

The intensity of loss that you feel is closely tied to the value of whatever you lost.  When your car burns to the ground, your upset will subside in several days or weeks.  But a child or spouse dying has a different impact.  In time, you may decide to have another child or marry again, but you can never replace the original.

When our beliefs and expectations come under attack, we ask:  What is the meaning of life? 

  • Why should I get up in the morning?
  • What really matters? 
  • Is my life significant?
  • If yes, to whom?  Why?


In life, change is a constant factor and change usually involves some form of loss, for better or for worse.

The biggest change in life is death of course.  We experience the loss of loved ones due to illnesses, accidents, suicides, abortion, murder.

As you grow older you expect your parents to die.  But what if it’s a brother or sister? 
When you are a child or teen and you lose a sibling, you’re a “forgotten griever”.  Sympathy cards are usually directed to the parents only and seldom include the brother or sister of the deceased.  There are few other losses in childhood that seem to be so neglected as the death of a brother or sister.  Few people take into account the depth of a bond that can occur between two siblings.  There is a lesson to be learned right here:  When you encounter this situation, please, write a condolence card to the entire family including siblings.

Let’s look at some obvious life-changes and connected losses:

  • Immigration and moving.   How are they different?
    Immigrants experience a major cultural loss of lifestyle, including money, language, familiar faces, role patterns, food, relationships.
  • Illness/Accident:
    Loss of health can mean loss of an ideal, a dream or a lifelong goal, loss of independence and loss of lifestyle.   
  • Loss of Identity:
    Marriage – divorce; adolescent romances – breakup; moving; student – high school drop-out; moving from high school to university:  all of these involve an element of loss.
  • Loss of Dignity:
    Rejection at school or anywhere else;   job/career loss;  false accusations

Here are some more subtle, less obvious losses:

1.  We may be aware of the pain of an experience but fail to identify it as a loss:  “Putting your foot in your mouth” creates embarrassment, shame or disappointment.  The Oriental expression of “loss of face” recognizes the “loss” of these experiences.

2.  Changing jobs; receiving a “B” instead of an “A” in a college course; a new teacher in mid-term; receiving less-than-hoped-for in a raise; the change from an office with windows to one without windows.

3.  Even planned change involves an element of loss:

 a) a child going off to school or university;

 b) a marriage.  Both, parent and child, lose and gain.

Question:  (Take paper, write down some answers, please.)

1) What are the four most significant losses which men experience?
2) What are the four most significant losses which women experience?

Let’s see . . .

I am sure that you know that MEN and WOMEN are different, but you need to remember that MEN and WOMEN might also react differently:

  • When a MAN experiences loss, he tends to respond to it in a way to problem-solve it, he tries to protect the woman, tries to provide a solution, tries to control the pain, and tries not to require ‘undue’ reliance on others.
  • When a WOMAN experiences loss, she wants to express her feelings, she wants to acknowledge the pain, compares herself to and with others, and she wants to focus on her current experience.

It’s as though both are listening to the radio, but one is on an AM radio station and the other on FM.
If a man and a woman wish to communicate, they have to remember to switch to the other channel occasionally! 


Let’s do some brainstorming together, perhaps again take a piece of paper for this:

1.) What do you think are the (ten) most significant losses of life in order of importance?
2.) What is the worst loss you have ever experienced?

Life is a blend of loss and gain, loss and acquisition. 

In nature, loss is the ingredient of growth:
– A bud is lost when it turns into a beautiful blossom. 
– When a plant pushes its way up through the soil, a seed is lost. 
– A decaying tree provides nourishment for new growth in the forest.

Childhood Losses

The losses of our adult life may be compounded by the remaining unresolved losses of our childhood.  We bring these into our adult life like unwelcome baggage.  The losses vary in their complex nature and intensity

For example:

  • Some children are not allowed time to grieve over the loss of their favorite pet.  They are told, “Don’t cry.  It’s just a cat,” or “We’ll get you a new one tomorrow.”
  • More and more people enter adulthood with a huge sense of loss, because they were children of divorce.  Several years ago, Newsweek magazine estimated that 45% of all children will live with only one parent at some time before they are 18 years old. 

The results of studies on ‘children of divorce’ indicate that the effects of divorce on children are more serious and long lasting than many divorced parents are willing to admit.  Studies released in England in 1978 showed that ‘children of divorce’ have more illnesses than children in families in which no divorce occurred.  These children also tend to leave school sooner.  In New York City which has a very high adolescent suicide rate, 2 out of every 3 teenage suicides occur among teenagers whose parents are divorced. 
Many others simply carry a pattern of insecurity, depression, anxiety, and anger into their adult years because of the extent of the losses they experienced.

In divorce, children experience many types of losses:

  • Disruption of the family unit
  • possible permanent loss of one of the parents
  • the loss of a home
  • neighborhood and school friends
  • standard of living
  • family outings and holiday get-togethers
  • self-esteem, etc.

When a parent dies, there is a sense of closure to the relationship.  And there is a rather predictable period and sequence of mourning.
But where is the mourning period after a divorce?  It is open-ended.  It comes and goes, depending upon the involvement of the non-custodial parent.  The occasional birthday card, the weekly phone call, and the all-too-infrequent visits keep the fantasy alive that the parent might return.  There is no closure.

Other childhood Losses are: 

  • Physical and sexual abuse of children.  
    It contaminates adulthood.  Abuse is demeaning, takes away the innocence of children, and violates their perception and trust of adults.  Children often learn to suffer silently.  These children are truly robbed of their childhood!
  • Abandonment. 
    Some children are physically abandoned, but far more have been and still are today emotionally abandoned.  Their parents do not leave them alone, and their physical needs are well met, but their emotional needs are neglected.  There is no nurturing, hugging, or emotional intimacy.  The verbal affirmations which children so desperately need, are practically non-existent or get replaced by material gifts.

These ungrieved-for losses of childhood interfere with an adult’s way of responding to life and marriage.

Can anything be done about those damaging losses of childhood?  Is recovery available?

The answer to both questions is a definite YES!   But, it involves actively giving-up a perspective that may have been with us for years.  When the losses of childhood are identified and confronted, the process of letting them go is a very active endeavor.  Time will not heal those wounds because the memory has such a foothold.  It will take all the steps of grieving, including letting go, and saying good-bye . . .

For now we will continue to look at the Losses of Life:

Let us take a look at just last week.  Maybe some of you can easily think of a (small or large) loss or a regret that you experienced.

For example, how did you feel or react:

  •  Your favorite sports team lost. 
  •  Terrorist attacks worldwide.
  •  An airplane accident killing all passengers.  
  •  Viruses and illnesses imported from other countries.
  •  Forest fires, floods, earth quakes 

 “Anxiety (worry) in a man’s heart weighs him down . . .”  (Proverbs 12:25)

We all perceive life from a backlog of experiences because our memories are always with us.  Our perceptions happen automatically, and generally we believe that what we perceive is actually the real world.  ‘Seeing is believing’, we say, which is an oxymoron.

However, the truth is that the way we perceive is similar to a camera.  Photographers can alter the image of reality through the use of various lenses or filters.  Thus what the camera records may not be an accurate view of the world.  Add computer technology and you get the picture!


  • A wide-angle lens gives a wider panorama, but objects appear distant and small. 
  • A telephoto lens has a much narrower and more selective view of life: just a flower, but shuts out the area where it grows. 
  • A normal lens will capture happy, smiling faces, but a fish-eye lens makes the same people look distorted and unreal. 
  • Filters can blur reality, break images into pieces, bring darkness into a lighted scene, and even create mist where there is none.

Like the lenses and filters on a camera, our perception of the world and life can become distorted by our experiences, both losses and gains.

Allow me to share a funny story with you to illustrate this point:
After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped.  Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride.  He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies.  The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days! 

“Do not look at people’s appearance . . . The Lords does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7)

As children, we learn to be good in order to acquire attention and praise from parents and others. In school, the acquisition of grades gives us acceptance and approval.  We are told that we can achieve anything if we really want to.
BUT:  Parents and teachers rarely teach us how to handle loss, disappointment, and failure.

The drive to acquire continues throughout life.  The advertising industry tells us we need to acquire the right label on our pants to be ‘cool’.
So, we grow up with the myth that “acquiring is normal.  Loss is abnormal.”  We continue this cycle with a pattern of accumulation.  And we continue to feel that losses of any kind are ‘unfair’.

  • When you hit the job market, losses multiply as rejections occur.   Someone else gets the raise or promotion, deals fall through, court cases are lost, businesses fail, the economy falters, you get stuck in a “going-nowhere” job.
  • We are builders.  The middle years (30-55) are spent building:
    Family, career, status, a home, emotional attachments, physical endurance, memories, etc.
  • After these middle years, the losses take on a different flavor. 
    Now they seem to be more frequent, more permanent and many cases negative.  This is a time when what was built gradually diminishes and dissolves.  And it’s hard to let go.
    Who rejoices over
    – losing their youth, beauty, smooth skin, agility, etc.
    – losing their muscle tone, shape, sexual ability or interest?
    – losing hair, teeth, or graduating to bifocals or trifocals?
    – weight gain is not exactly a “growth experience”!
    Who is thrilled
    – to let go of the children, the career, their home, their health,
    – to kiss their athletic activities and abilities good-bye,
    – to watch their parents abilities turn into dis-abilities as they age
    – to restrict or give up their own dreams.

Let us take a closer look at the losses in later life, but also at a new way of walking with the Lord.

  1. The Loss of our Youth, what does that mean, what did we lose?
    With our youth we lost
    – Our Ideals and ‘heroes’
    – Our Beliefs and thought system of the time
    – different entertainments, a certain youthful lightheartedness (silliness)
    – Our fashion
    – Our “Generation gap”, then kids-parents.  Now we have “generation gap in reverse” as we are the parents, the gap is with our kids!
  2. The Loss of Children is a gradual:
    – when they don’t have as much time or interest for you, don’t take your advice anymore.
    – parental loss of influence over the children
    – loss of dreams of success if the children didn’t turn out as well as parents hoped
    – when children move away to university, or establish their own families
    – the loss of one’s own marriage if the children were the glue.
  3. The Loss of our Parents
    –  We lose our ‘anchor in the past’
    –  “When parents die, we feel as if we are losing our childhood.”
    –  We lose their abilities, their personality.
  4. The Loss of Work
    –  If you lose a job at age 27, you simply look for another. But, if you lose a job at age 57, and there isn’t    as much demand for your skills anymore, you feel rejected?
    – Loss of status
    – Loss of many work place friends
    – Retirement, can be happy – or will it be unhappy, or a bit of both?
  5. Loss of Spouse
    Losing a spouse when you’re older is limiting as well.  If you divorce or your partner dies when you are young, tragic as that is, it is much easier to find another mate.
    And, statistically, most women who are over 50 and lose their husband, do not remarry.
  6. The loss of our Health
    – Diabetes, Parkinson’s, any disability
    – A life-long disability is a state of chronic grief.
  7. The loss of our Independence by way of
    – Loss of Driver’s licence
    – Loss of eyesight and hearing
    – Loss of balance and agility
  8. The loss of our Identity as circumstances change:
    – As a widow: you are involuntarily single again
    – As part of a work- or sports- team:  The team now goes on without you, you feel ‘replaced’.
  9. Loss of Home because you are forced to
    – Move to a smaller house or apartment
    – Move to a retirement home
    – Move to an “Adult Housing Complex”
    – A voluntary move might give a happier result for you.
  10. Loss of our Generation
    – Values we grew up with
    – Technology we do not understand
    – Friends, siblings died or moved or do not recognize us any longer

There is much to say for cross-generational friendships.

In any case let’s remember,
Loss is not the enemy; not-facing-its-existence, however, is.

This concludes session 2.
Please, read chapter 1 of your book, “Recovering from the Losses of Life”. 

Let’s close with prayer:  Lord God, have mercy.  We need your strength, your presence, your love, your peace.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen

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