On Loss and Healing

Conscious Conversations on Loss and Healing
Interfusion Festival 2020: Evolution
January 18, 2020

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Opening reading by Jonelle Lesniak

Living requires loss: it is knit into the nature of life. If we spend any stretch of time in this life, we encounter what it feels like to lose something or someone. Whether expected or unexpected, devastating or more mundane, it inevitably comes.

We can lose all sorts of things. Loved ones, family members, friends, partners, pets. We can lose them to illness, to death, to transitions, to distance, to differences we cannot reconcile. 

We can lose feelings, dreams, visions, abilities, jobs, money, safety, traditions, beliefs, convictions. 

We can even lose a sense of self, or grieve the loss of a previous self, or the paths we didn’t choose to walk and will never know what they might have been like.

Someone once said to me that to experience grief in the face of loss is to know that we loved, that we held something dear. I’ve experienced this kind.

I’ve also experienced the opposite kind: when we grieve the losses of things we didn’t like, simply because they were familiar. We leave old homes, cities, communities, jobs, relationships, families, life stages and more for new ones. Change, is loss, is grief.

Grief was something I didn’t even think about until my dad died, and then a whole new world opened up to me; and it was a strange place. Over the next few months and years I learned a few things about grief I wouldn’t have guessed.

Among them, I learned that grief isn’t only sadness. It brings a lot of other emotions too. When we asked our community to describe grief, they put words to a spectrum of experiences including regret, guilt, confusion, dissociation, numbness, frustration, exhaustion, brokenness, clarity, new energy, freedom, relief, and even elation. Though the winding road of emotions is confusing, unreeling, and winding, there is space and acceptance for all of them—and it is by no means a “one size fits all” journey.

One member of our community wrote, 

Grief feels like being on a tilt-a-whirl—constantly moving in multiple directions without the ability to breathe properly or know which way is forward. Then it will feel like you’re living under dark water, where everything is muted and you can’t see or move well at all. And then there are small (hopefully ever increasing) moments of bright memory, triumph, and deep nostalgia. There are also times where you plunge to very dark places, and you need help finding your way out.

DC-based Writer Mari Andew helps put words to what loss can feel like, 

There were so many times I felt like I was sitting around and waiting. So many times I was meandering around with a heavy heart, mourning the loss of a happier season without any idea what would come next. Seasons of loss are the hardest ones to endure, even if you logically understand they won’t last forever. It’s really hard to sit with loss, and it takes so much discipline to resist numbing oneself and skipping quickly to the next season. It’s even hard to watch someone else sit in it; hearing someone say “I’m hurting” calls for immediate action. It’s a lot easier to tell someone “Things will get better” than “I can’t imagine what you’re going through—I’m so sorry.”

Second, I found that grief isn’t something we move on from, but rather, something we learn how to live with, how to welcome it when it visits. One person in our community put this well, 

I wish others knew that grief always lives inside you, even when you have “moved on” or are happy.

Third, I experienced that loss changes things. In fact, it can change almost everything, like a new filter on life. Sort of how people in Harry Potter can only see thestrals if they’ve seen someone die. For me, some things that didn’t used to be important suddenly became urgent, some things that used to be important faded completely, and some deeply held worldviews that I used to hold no longer made sense when I held them up to my lived experience.

And more than anything, I realized how much I just wanted to talk about it with people who get it. In our culture, grief is still uncomfortable, like a pokey object we don’t know how to hold. In periods of grief I’ve gotten tired of showing up like a wet blanket, or being too sad for my friends, or knowing how to talk about it with my family, or being unable to hear one more well-meaning but heart-wrenching phrase like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Things will get better.” Listening without trying to fix it, or feeling like they need to fix it, is a lost art when we insist on things being ok. 

After the texts and the check-ins stop, grief stays, and it stays a lot longer than people keep asking. And it can be hard to ask for that space for people to keep asking. As one member of our community said, 

I wish people would accept you no matter which phase of grief you find yourself in, and that they would have the understanding to ask where you are today on your journey, without judgement, anger, or expectations of progress. Sometimes growth, understanding, and love are louder in your head, [but] sometimes you hear things you don’t want to. True family and friends should be prepared for both moments.

And another wrote, 

I wish others knew that just being present for me in any way (emotionally, verbally, physically) is hugely helpful, even if I am closed down, and even if I try to push them away.

Helping one another integrate loss into our lives is an opportunity calling us. In the words and wisdom of Rachel Naomi Remen,

The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life more than anything else. The way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves from life. I have come to see loss as a stage in a process. It’s not the bottom line. It’s not the end of the story. Often we connect through our wounds, through the wisdom we have gained, the growth that has happened to us. Because we have been wounded allows us to be of help to other people.

By simply creating the space for these conversations, we have an amazing capacity to help each other heal.

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~Jonelle Lesniak


About the Author 

Jonelle comes to Interfusion Festival as a zouk dancer and event organizer in the healing arts space. Her mission is to help people feel the courage and freedom to express themselves, be themselves, and free themselves; to be heard and seen while doing it; and to uncover the unique purpose that can drive their lives.

In 2019, Jonelle and co-founder Lindsay Bigda began the Movement for Healing Project based in Washington, D.C., which exists to create shared spaces for those experiencing grief and loss to explore the healing power of movement and community, and to ultimately grow their toolkits for coping, recovery, transformation, and growth.

In her professional roles, Jonelle works as consultant to help organizations heal toxic workplace cultures and is a life coach. As a certified positive psychology-based practitioner, she embeds neuroscience and evidence-based interventions for wellbeing into all of her work. You can learn more about her at her website.