words by: Ferree Hardy
Do you like skipping stones across the smooth surface of a pond? I wasn’t very good at it. Let’s say I never found a flat enough stone or never sent it across the water at just the right angle—instead of admitting I threw it like a sack of potatoes. My older cousins and uncles were so much better. We’d count their skips—four… five… six… that was a winner! A trail of ripples clearly marked the path.
Today we’ll see that, like skipping a stone across the calm surface of a pond, grief also leaves ripples of more than one loss.
Picture a stone skipping across a pond, creating four distinct rippling circles before it sinks. Picture these as four types of loss. Each of us has probably experienced all of these, sometimes individually, but often in combination. Someone has said, “Life is a series of losses.” Once we realize that loss occurs, even though we don’t always acknowledge it with a funeral, we will grow and recover from it a bit easier. But the initial impact of the loss, like the skip of a stone on the calm surface of water, sends out ripples of shock waves upon our lives.
Four Categories of Loss
There are many ways that counselors and psychologists categorize loss and grief; some list five or more kinds of loss, others may say only three. This is only one of the many ways, and it’s a brief and light overview, but it’s a good starting point. Please consult a professional for further help and explanation.
1 | The Loss of Someone or Something You Love
This is the type of loss most people understand—the death of a loved one which is usually signified by a funeral or memorial service. But we also experience losing loved ones in other ways which don’t have the benefits of closure, counsel, and sympathy that a funeral provides. Runaway children, miscarriages, kidnappings, and disappearances are all examples of lost relationships. Divorce is the death of a marriage; another loss is when someone we love moves miles away.
We might also feel a sense of loss when a pet dies or when an object that we highly value is taken away—perhaps you have been robbed of your belongings, your house burns down, or you must move away from the home, relatives, and friends you love. These cannot compare to the death of a beloved person, but they create the heartache and void of grief nonetheless. Acknowledge your sadness with friends who will understand, but don’t expect everyone to understand.
2 | The Loss of Something About Yourself, Your Body, or Your Identity
This is when a function of health or talent is inhibited or impaired. Think of losing one of your five senses or losing a limb or mental ability. For example, in my book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” I lightly touch on a widow’s loss of intimacy (pg. 18) because it’s a physical function that was suddenly taken away. For widows and widowers, we’ve “become one” with our spouses, and this identity is a sudden and very real loss we must grieve and learn to deal with.
Our identity also changes when other family members die, especially if they’re our parents: we become orphans no matter how old we are (yet a young child whose parents died would certainly have greater needs). With the difficult loss of a child, you lose your identity as your son or daughter’s parent, and that’s a distinct part of the heartbreak. It helps to acknowledge these losses, even if you only do so privately to yourself.
3 | Losing a Lifetime Goal
What have you always hoped and dreamed for? Did you dream of being married, having a large family, a good job, a loving spouse, good health, retirement in Florida, a generous bank account, or obedient children? I think most of us will agree that those are all good things to work towards. But sometimes they don’t happen, or sometimes tragedy wipes out the little we’ve built before it’s complete.
We don’t have a funeral when our dreams die, we don’t wail and mourn, but it hurts! Parents who’ve lost a child grieve for not only the child but also for the unfinished lifetime; widowers and widows grieve the futures they’ll never see. Maybe that’s why almost half of the Psalms in the Bible are laments to God about life’s pain. When bad stuff happens—because it will—God has the Psalms already there for us. He’s given words for the questions and the cries: see Psalm 42, 43, 46, 55, 57, 69, or 70 for starters.
4 | Loss Caused by Unwanted Change
This is when something big and outside of yourself—something you cannot control—affects the way you live, like the death of a spouse, an act of war, a death by suicide, a natural disaster, a business closure, church disruptions, etc. It seems like the world suddenly, tilts and things just aren’t right.
If your spouse dies, all of life changes. The first question you ask after you wake up is no longer “How much coffee do we want this morning?” but “How will I make it through today?”
A suicide can cause you to question everything you ever knew about the mercy of God and the truth of His ways.
Or, if the company you work for goes out of business, then life might go into survival mode and a frantic job search.
Upsets in church or government can knock your life off balance—even road construction or bridge repairs can cause various losses; some bring permanent change and scars to a town or community.
Some of these we need to take in stride, of course, but you can see how the “ripples” can accumulate. Just as a heavy rainstorm on a little pond can froth it up, there are times we all feel the stress of too many “ripples.”
Recognizing the ripples can help neutralize them, but sometimes we’re innocent or ignorant about grief and what is happening to us. Let me share a story with you from my life about the ripples of grief. When I was sixteen, my parents uprooted me from nearby grandparents, our amazing big old farmhouse, my church, and all the friends I dearly loved.
If only I’d known then what I know now. I was a stoic, compliant, uncomplaining girl, and I never cried. My parents told me to be happy and excited, but this move signified many “ripples” in my life. Can you identify the things that I lost? See the first and fourth types of loss categories for some good clues.
I now see how it affected me: I developed a terrible case of acne on my previously clear teenage face; adults I didn’t know often told me to “Smile!” as they walked past me; and as soon as I could, I left my parents and moved two hundred miles away for college. For decades I returned only when I had to, and I never considered my parents’ new house as “home” for the rest of my life. It’s only since I was widowed and have learned so much about grief that I finally recognized and resolved that first grief experience.
The Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are complex and complicated people. We will also suffer troubles and tribulations in this broken, imperfect world. I’ve been knocked down by a few, haven’t you? Yet, here we are. God is gracious.
Those ripples don’t last forever. The stone of grief sinks, the ripples dissipate, the pond turns calm once again. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Ferree Hardy has helped thousands of widows through her book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” small groups, speaking, and personal coaching, but touching one life at a time is what matters most to her. She holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute, and was a pastor’s wife in Ohio for over twenty years before her first husband died. She’s happily remarried now, and her readers know that moving seems to have become a hobby for her. But she also enjoys backyard chickens, aims to read fifty books a year, and loves to bake. Learn more by visiting her blog.