A reader recently asked for tips on dealing with loss and disappointment. The permits for a trip she had been planning for six months got canceled, making it difficult to maintain enthusiasm for her trip. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes. It includes injury, illness, change in plans, loss of livelihood, loss of youthfulness, and even death. After nearly two years of exploring change, the best suggestion I can make is to look for good to come out of the loss.
Weekend Hike to Teneriffe Falls
Last Saturday my daughter, Ajax, and I headed to Teneriffe Falls (6 miles, 1600′ gain) at Exit 32 on I-90. The drive has never passed so quickly. I usually listen to an e-book. Instead, we chatted easily about her coursework, the upcoming hike, her friends, and my clients.
When we started hiking around 8:30, the parking lot was about a third full. A trail maintenance crew was preparing for a day of work. Several Portapotties stood near locked latrines. And a large flat rock held numerous poop bags, indicating recent high canine traffic. Expect lots of people. It’s a Saturday in June.
I’ve been so conditioned to go at dawn on weekdays to less frequented trails, that I have forgotten what it’s like to hike with hordes of people. (side note: If you seek solitude, avoid Rattlesnake Ledge on a summer weekend.) When my daughter pointed out bleeding hearts, banana slugs, and nurse logs, my heart swelled with pride. She still remembers much of what we taught her during her childhood hikes.
Loss or Gain?
Over the past year, I have explored what it’s like to move forward with an “empty nest.” Sort of. My daughter attends a local university and often comes home for a few days. We’ve adjusted to weekdays without her, and weekends with her. Now that she is home for the summer, we’re adjusting again. The biggest change: she wants to join me hiking.
How could this ever be perceived as a loss? You can view any change as having loss and gain. For instance, hiking with another person means a loss of freedom to go at my own pace. To leave the house when I want. Hiking on the weekends also brings a loss of solitude on the trail and a loss of time due to higher traffic in the city.
But it also brings plenty of good. Wonderful conversations with another person. New perspectives. Varied pace. Exploration and adventure of a different kind. Moments of pride when you realize your daughter has absorbed all sorts of lessons from childhood. It depends entirely on how you frame it.
Ask yourself: are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” person? What if you tried to look at your loss through a lens of self-compassion and kindness, or tried to view your experience as a new learning opportunity?
Look for Good: Problem as Learning Opportunity
When my daughter insisted on a third break on the ascent, she needed to check her feet. She had hot spots on her heels that threatened to form blisters. I reminded myself of my biggest intention. Make sure she has fun so she agrees to hike again. I channeled the patience my friends showed me on Mt. Wrightson when I experienced heat exhaustion.
I asked myself, What’s good about this problem?
- Learning how to lace boots properly and adjust for uphill or downhill
- Layering socks correctly to prevent wear on the skin
- Learning to doctor hot spots before they become blisters
- Making sure to carry Moleskin, duct tape, or Bandaids in a First Aid kit.
Experience is one of the best teachers. I doubt she’ll ever hike again without bringing blister protection.
Look for Good When Losses Are Ubiquitous
Earlier this week it felt like every email I opened pointed to some kind of loss. Lost mobility that led to canceling a trip. Illness meant cutting a trip short. A fall that led to a trip to the ER. A friend reporting death of a friend. Loss of enjoyment due to pain. Loss of awareness while driving. And the death of a former client’s tentmate on Everest. Pain and loss everywhere.
Where’s the good? Two jumped out at me:
- I have finally learned to hold suffering at a distance and not take other people’s pain on myself. I can remain compassionate and empathetic but not drown in the pain. Win!
- Maybe I could write a blog about it that might help others find a path through loss.
Additional Posts on Loss
I’ve written about loss in other blog posts. This list is not exhaustive, but it might point to some interesting reading if you’re relatively new to the blog.
- Surviving a broken wrist in the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park
- Accomplishing your goal, and handling anticipointment (the disappointment of losing anticipation of a goal you’ve held for a long time)
- Slowing down to find joy in simple pleasures
- How to let go: lessons from cultivating raspberries
- How to learn from alpine autumn changes
My parting thoughts are about Kelly Clarkson’s blockbuster song, “Stronger.” To paraphrase, what doesn’t kill us builds our RESILIENCE. A hero’s journey is filled with obstacles. We can bury our heads in the sand, smother our pain with food or alcohol, or we can face the pain and go right through it. If we look for what good might come out of it — connecting with others also experiencing the loss, having a different kind of adventure, getting more clarity on our goals and values — we can handle the pain more easily.
If you have recently experienced some sort of loss, please share it so we can all learn from and help each other. You are not alone. And if you have a topic you’d like to explore, please suggest it. A shout out to E. for asking this question, and to my Monday Morning writing partners for a wonderful, lively discussion of the Murky Middle blog post. I learn so much from all of my readers and commenters! Thank you!