Telling Our Stories Helps Us Share Our Losses and Heal
In a recent NY Times Opinion titled, “The Losses We Share”, Meghan Markle candidly shares how she struggled to see how she would heal after experiencing a miscarriage. Weaving this loss with other life experiences, she came to an understanding that our collective path to healing begins by asking each other, “Are you OK?” and listening to the response.
Nearly immediately, more than 1500 readers commented on the essay. This represents more than 1500 accepted invitations to revisit one’s own story of loss, take another step toward healing, and connect in ways that support greater wholeness for all.
Telling our stories helps us share our loss.
The essay brought to mind my surgeon calling to discuss a procedure needed after my own miscarriage. Just when it felt like the emptiness was threatening to swallow me, she softly said, “This baby will always be a part of you. Before this surgery, find a special place in your heart and tuck her in there. This will be hers alone.” Such acts of compassion are not forgotten.
Other memories flooded back as I read the essay, including how my husband’s look of utter helplessness stood as a mirror for my grief while surprising me with its own devastation. Witnessing his shattered dreams caused my heart to break open even more and provided some balm for its slow repair. My loss was his loss was our loss. No words were needed or sufficient to hold the depth of it all.
Sharing our loss helps us heal.
Ms. Markle addressing the taboo of openly discussing miscarriage brought to mind my father’s teary-eyed response to my loss. It was years later, sitting around his kitchen table talking about my mother who had died when I was younger, that Dad was ready to reveal that I wouldn’t be here if my mom hadn’t also had a miscarriage. While grateful for his truth telling, I wondered how knowing this earlier might have eased my very real struggles to reconcile my desire to honor the daughter lost with my gratitude for the healthy daughter that followed.
Our relationship with loss shifts over time as we learn and evolve.
With the passage of time, I relate to my miscarriage from who I am now, in what author Hope Edelman calls the long arc of loss. My arc of loss certainly has been shaped in powerful ways by two decades as a resilience researcher, working in suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress transitions, and human thriving. From my current view, I can see that there is much we can do to share our losses.
We build strength and heal by meeting our core human needs for safety, belonging, competence and purpose. When these needs are not met, it can cause us to feel threatened, isolated, powerless or useless. In her new book Neighbors: The Power of the People Next Door, Dr. Brenda Eheart highlights the capacity of ordinary people to intentionally help each other meet shared needs and address vulnerabilities.
Healing happens in relationships.
One powerful way to show care is to affirm mattering – a sense that one’s life has significance and others care about you. The mattering research measures things like the extent to which another shows interest in you, notices when you need help, tries to understand you and acknowledges your feelings. As a sense of mattering lessens, we see increased loneliness, social anxiety, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.
Ms. Markle’s reflection on the woman she saw crying on a New York street, asking, “What if no one stopped? What if no one saw her suffering? What if no one helped?” is an invitation to explore mattering. Researcher Brené Brown uses the metaphor of seeing someone fall down a hole. Opportunities for repair don’t tend to reside in poking our head in and saying we’re sorry you are down there. The magic is in crawling down and sitting in the hole alongside another.
Hope building can be learned and practiced.
While some claim that “hope is not a strategy,” research clarifies that hope is more than a soft sounding emotion. It is a concrete thought process and powerful healing agent – whether tending to personal loss, strengthening others or working together to collectively address great societal challenges. You can use the 4 Ps of Hope Building to nurture hope:
Possibility is about believing a path exists and setting clear, meaningful goals.
Pathways include strategies to reach goals and create alternative paths as needed.
Perseverance requires persistence and a belief in the ability to work through obstacles.
People is a reminder to connect with those who provide assistance and offer encouragement to keep walking forward, step by step.
Coupled with an abundant dose of compassion, it can be useful to have a response handy to help process a loss or setback, such as Marie Forleo’s empowering mantra, “everything is figureoutable”.
What might not be helpful? Suggesting that everything happens for a reason – something others may or may not believe. Here is a reframe: we can find meaning, even in adversity.
Ms. Markle’s act of publicly writing about her miscarriage models choosing to find meaning within tragedy and using loss to foster collective well-being. This is a choice available to us all. As I think of the hundreds of people who courageously shared their own stories in the essay comments, I want to say: You matter. Your efforts to stay connected to your hopes for a better day matters. And the positive, wholehearted ways you show up for each other matters.
If you need help sorting through anything this conversation is bringing up, you can reach out to a caring professional by text or phone, anytime day or night. Crisis helplines also are available for particular challenges or geographic locations.
You are not alone. There are many who want to ask if you are OK and listen to your response.
As “The Losses We Share” essay reminds us and the research confirms, no matter the loss you’ve experienced, there is a path available to heal and grow.
It must be walked, side by side.
We thrive together.