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Mourn the loss, resolve the pain

May 15, 2010

I have mentioned this before and will mention it many times in the future. You can only resolve your anger through the pain of the primary emotion. Your primary emotions include feelings such as fear, sadness, helplessness, & hurt. These are negative emotions which occur before anger. We humans use anger as a way of covering up our negative primary emotions because we feel uncomfortable with them. Feeling angry actually makes us feel more comfortable than the vulnerability of the primary emotion, at least in the short run. At the core of many of our negative primary emotions is a sense of loss. Take sadness for instance. Let's say we have lost a loved one and can't shake the sadness or the secondary feeling of anger that we use to cover up the sadness. Whichever emotion we are stuck in, anger or sadness, we are stuck and unable to move forward. We may also be stuck in depression, which is another place we sometimes hang out.

We get stuck in these feelings because we have not properly processed our sense of loss. So how do we accomplish this?

1. First we must identify the loss. Sometimes we are just sad or mad and don't really have an understanding of the feeling of loss that drives it. We must name the loss. Some losses are tangible, such as losing a person, a pet, a piece of property. Some losses are intangible, such as a loss of companionship, a loss of trust, or a loss of status. Usually we experience both a tangible and intangible loss together.

2. Second we must expand on what this loss means to us. There is no right or wrong to this. It is whatever it means to us and how it has affected our life. We can expand on this understanding by talking to others about it. The expression of our feelings and the sharing of them with others is what helps us. Make sure the person you talk to is a good listener and won't try to give you advice. Often it is best to talk to a professional about these things or join a group of people who are having similar experiences, such as a grief group. We can also expand on this understanding through writing about it, such as keeping a journal, or writing a letter to someone.

3. Thirdly, it is very important to validate your own feelings. This means you place no negative value judgment on them. You see nothing wrong with yourself for having the feelings. By doing this you raise your level of self esteem in regards to your feelings. This helps you let go and move forward. This is critical, because if you do the opposite and negatively judge yourself or your feelings you will probably stay stuck in the negative feelings as mentioned above.

4. And finally, accept what is. Accept that you cannot change what has happened. Create a plan of action to make the future better and let go. Allow yourself to grow from your past experiences, not be controlled by them.

And so, as they say, I should practice what I preach. It has been a year of healing for me and I wish to share this with you.



It was Spring. A lovely Spring day. The sun was showering us in warmth and brightness. New life was everywhere. The flowers of Spring were fully in bloom. The trees were sprouting shiny new leaves. The birds were active, talkative and flying all around us. It was a joyous day. I remembered how much my father loved the weather in San Diego.


My mind couldn't shake the fear, the fear of losing him, the fear of that horrible aching pain of loss that I knew was soon to come. The loss of my 2nd parent in 16 months. Feeling like an orphan at age 61. Watching my father slip farther and farther away from me. Accepting that this was his wish, the peace of death, but constantly wanting to say words I would never say in life, "Please come back, I need you".


I pondered the great lessons he had bestowed upon me. All of which he always exhibited without failure. Not so for myself.

Work hard......
Do it yourself - Don't ask for help......
Be truthful......
Be moral......
Be responsible......
Above all - Save your money......


I thought about how much he said he needed to die. I was okay with his right to make that choice. I decided it was not so much about dying for him as it was about not struggling. Of course, my father knew about struggle. He had faced struggle all of his life and mostly won against it. In the last year, his life had become a struggle that he felt he wasn't beating. He felt he had no control in this life. He depended on others for mostly everything. My father needed to have control of his life and couldn't bear living without it. I believe his decision to die was the decision that gave him back control of his life. It was his final ability to control the direction of his life. I believe it gave him peace.


The hardest part for me was watching him struggle. I ached for him in his struggle and prayed that his suffering would end soon. I held his hand and stroked his arm as I had many days before. Something was different today. He was farther away. He was sleeping deeply, very deeply, not waking to voice, labored breathing. I knew he was leaving me. I spoke to him about what a good father he was and how much I loved him. These were the very last words I spoke to my father in life. I pray that he heard me.


I remember the face of the charge nurse after he was gone. No acknowledgment of his death, no condolences to us, too busy to know what had just happened. How can she not know what just happened? A person, a husband, a father, a life, a man who had been on this earth almost 95 years, probably twice as many years as her, had just left us. Doesn't she know who he was? Doesn't she know what he's done here? Doesn't she know what we've lost? Doesn't she know how brave he was in his journey to death?

In his death I can see so clearly the importance of his life. And in my quest to fill this empty hole in my heart, I will continue to look to my father for meaning.


Author: Lorraine Watson

Lorraine Watson is a licensed therapist in California with extensive experience in the areas of anger management, nonabusive relationship skills and trauma. She is the author of "Expressing Anger Nonviolently". The contents of that book can be viewed on our website at

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