June 6, 2024
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Tell Me About Your Earliest Encounter With Loss

Tell me about your earliest encounter with loss. When I sit down with a new client, I often ask about this because our first experiences with loss can shape how we navigate and cope with future losses, or what I have heard called “grief beliefs.”

Recently, I was talking with my father about various forms of loss in preparation for a lecture I am giving. I was asked to speak about different forms of grief and loss unrelated to the death of a loved one. We were unpacking different ideas around loss and those that we encounter in life that I like to call “invisible losses.” For example, when we graduate high school, which can leave us feeling lost and afraid for the next steps in life, or when we embark on parenthood, which can evoke a sense of loss of our independence, when parents divorce, when children leave the nest, or when children choose a path in life that is incongruent with what we hoped and wished for them. These losses aren’t always obvious, but nevertheless they hurt and they require space for grief. I asked my father if he could remember a personal loss in his own life. He shared a memory of leaving summer camp as a young boy. He spoke of sitting on the bus ride home, welled up with tears, already missing the camaraderie, the laughter and the carefree days of camp.

His story stirred something deep within me, prompting a reflection on how even the brightest moments of our lives can also be tinged with a sense of loss. Have you ever returned from a vacation only to feel a hollow ache, longing for the moments that have slipped away? Do you

remember the feeling of falling in love, and the longing and missing you encounter in between the times you get to spend with your new love? Perhaps a sense of loss hits you at the end of a bar mitzvah or wedding that you spent months planning, only to feel like it’s over in the blink of an eye. I often feel a sense of loss after I return from a visit to Israel, an indescribable feeling of leaving something important behind. The definition of nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or affection for the past”; isn’t that really just another way of describing grief? Nostalgia is thus a reminder of the fleeting nature of joy and connection.

You might be thinking that I’m taking this idea too far.

Well then sit tight because I’m about to stretch this even further. Consider this: Could each passing day be a gentle farewell to the one before it? Maybe living itself is a perpetual dance with loss, with the most cherished moments often bearing the weight of the deepest grief?

“This too shall pass.” It’s a mantra we often cling to, a reminder that life is a fleeting journey of highs and lows. That despite our best efforts, nothing remains unchanged. We grow older, we evolve, we love, we lose, and eventually, we must say goodbye to this physical existence.

All we truly have is this moment—the memories of moments passed, and the hope of those yet to come. Maybe life is an exercise in embracing past, present and future, holding them close, and at the same time living this moment to its fullest. Being mindful and present is a very trendy topic; we have many courses and books on mindfulness, TED talks and YouTube videos. Wherever we turn, we are being told to stay mindful in this hot moment. I have found that until I was able to make peace with my past and let go of my fears about the future, I couldn’t even begin to understand the meaning of being fully in this moment. For me, and maybe this will resonate for you as well, part of being present is allowing myself space to grieve the past, in whatever way I need it.

I believe that as we learn to acknowledge and confront our losses—both minor and major, whether they be the innocence of youth, shattered dreams or the hardest of all—the pain of saying goodbye to the ones we love, we are gifted with new perspective and sometimes a much needed reframe that allows us to be fully present in this moment. The Nesivos Shalom refers to this feeling as “menuchas hanefesh,” or calmness of the soul. My prayer for you is that your own journey through loss allows you to become more alive, more whole and more capable of embracing the beauty and the complexity of your one life here on earth.


Tamar Stein is a clinical chaplain and certified grief and bereavement counselor. Tamar currently serves as the care coordinator for Affinity Hospice and Palliative Care of New Jersey. She facilitates bereavement groups for Jewish women in Bergen County and maintains a private practice in Teaneck, where she offers counseling to individuals grappling with various forms of loss. To contact Tamar, you can reach her via email at [email protected] or by phone at 917-572-1232.

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