Catastrophic loss takes more than 'recovery'

Monday, January 31, 2005

Loss is part of life. We lose childhood to become an adult. We lose the independence of youth for the intimacy of marriage. Life is a process of change, and with change also comes loss ---- sometimes in little doses, sometimes in big ones.

When the loss is sudden or catastrophic or seemingly premature, the effect can be crippling.

Such is the story of author Jerry Sittser, a young pastor who in an automobile accident lost his mother, wife and infant daughter, while he and the rest of his children survived.

First published in 1996, Sittser does not take the approach of "recovering" from the loss, but rather how to respond to it.

"If we face loss squarely and respond to it wisely, we will actually become healthier people, even as we draw closer to physical death." he said in the preface to the first edition.

In the eight years since he wrote that, his experience has reinforced what he wrote in the first book.

Catastrophic loss is sudden, with no forewarning. It may take the form of financial insolvency, loss of spouse, or physical impairment. Survivors often find themselves in a dark hole of despair, with memories of what once was being re-experience, only to again feel the sharp pain of the loss.

The process is not easy. Facing the pain and loss is harder to do than sink into self-pity. Sittser compares those who refuse to see the loss for what it is to the patient who, after major surgery, refuses to get out of bed and put damaged muscles back to work.

Oh, the pain will always be there under the surface, it seems, like the amputees who report phantom pain in limbs they no longer have. In the end, denial results in greater loss, he said.

Whose loss is worse is irrelevant, and comparisons are pointless. Suffering loss is a solitary experience.

Anger, denial, bargaining and other emotions are all part of the grief process, and depression can impact one's daily activities, relationships, identity and spiritual beliefs. But Sittser has crafted suggestions which can, if taken to heart, transform those who grieve into true survivors, able to continue in life with hope and optimism, and even grow.

With his personal experience, and what he has learned from others, Sittser has crafted a sensitive, insightful and practical handbook which can be used in group discussion or personal reflection.

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss; by Jerry Sittser; non-fiction; expanded edition; hardbound; 224 pages with notes and discussion questions; Zondervan; $16.99.

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