Is catastrophic illness or injury really a loss? If you’ve ever had this happen to you – there’s no question you’ve felt many losses from your illness or injury and experienced – the “ripple effect.”
We’ve all seen news reports about survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing or TV personalities who have triumphed over cancer. Those smoothly edited stories show the tragic beginning, the struggles in the middle and the victorious recovery. But what they don’t show are the layers of loss, the continual fallout from the original event or diagnosis.
The perspective from the outside seems like there’s only one loss. As a breast cancer survivor, I know this to be false. Many think that the amputation of a body part is the loss to “get over.” In reality, it’s only the pebble in the pond that creates many ripples of loss that are far reaching.
When someone has experienced life altering illness or injury, it’s important for them to have the opportunity to acknowledge each layer of loss. Often people think once the major illness or injury event is over, the loss is over and the grief needs to be finished too. Not so. Different losses unfold over time, sometimes for years, and each loss needs to be addressed individually.
I recently helped a couple work through the ripple affects of the husband’s life altering illness. At first they were only able to identify the major losses of health, job and income. Then we explored the multiple ripples that expanded from there. Loss of security, identity, role, contribution, emotional stability, routine, present and future experiences with children and spouse, emotional and sexual intimacy, meaning and purpose, were just some of layers uncovered.
As long as all these layers get lumped together within the main loss, people stay stuck. Each loss needs to be acknowledged, actively grieved and come to terms with. For instance, when this husband was able to go through that process in regard to his loss of identity as a hard working union carpenter, he was able to shift his focus to teaching his son carpentry skills. This enabled him to shift his identity to that of mentor.
When we acknowledge and honor the ripple affects of catastrophic illness or injury, we create a more thorough and positive healing that enables the redefining of purpose and meaning moving forward.