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The Real Rules of “Living Losses“
If Someone You Love is an Alcoholic or Addict, Debilitated, Estranged, Sick or Missing, You May be Experiencing a “Living Loss”
By Ken Druck, Ph.D.
When my daughter, Jenna, died in a bus accident in 1996 while on the Semester-at-Sea program in India, I was in choice-less agony. So were the parents of the three other girls who died in that accident. That same year, I started the Jenna Druck Center, a non-profit foundation, to honor my daughter’s life and spirit — and created Families Helping Families, a program to help other bereaved families. The response was overwhelming. We started receiving calls from all over the world and, to date, The Jenna Druck Center has been a lifeline for over five thousand bereaved families.
After our first year, however, something completely unexpected happened. We started getting calls from parents whose children were still alive – but who were grieving their loss none-the-less. Their children were either missing, strung out on drugs, debilitated by a mental or physical illness or an accident, estranged, incarcerated and/or lost to them is some other way.
These parents were suffering horribly and in as much need of support as those whose kids had died. Feeling helpless, scared, confused, angry, humiliated, guilty — and living under a dark cloud of fear, dread, despair and sorrow – everything from their health, to their relationships, to their work and sense of purpose for living were all profoundly affected. The future they had envisioned for their children, themselves and their families was in great peril, or had already been lost. They were in dire need of understanding, emotional support, guidance and resources to help their children — and themselves.
And so, I began inviting these mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents and friends from all corners of the community to come together to support one another, learn from experts, develop effective intervention and survival strategies and share vital information about resources in our community. The “Living Losses” program has been helping families from all over the world for 16 years since then. I have been giving public workshops and running support groups for families in every imaginable situation. And the need is even greater today. Let me explain a few reasons why:
And so on.
One of the most powerful, yet little know, truths I write about in The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own is that we grieve for the people we love while they are alive. And that many of our worst losses are “living” losses.
Our society has yet to recognize the severity of pain associated with living losses – or to provide adequate resources to those who are suffering. Living with alcoholism and drug addiction, or someone who is debilitated, estranged, traumatized or has gone missing, is heart-wrenching. Lost, or at risk, are their hopes and dreams for the future. Parents, spouses and siblings fight valiantly to help their loved ones, in some cases just to keep them alive. The cost of living on edge, depleting their own limited resources, seeking help from the community and going to sleep/waking up every day hoping for a miracle is considerable. The frustration, pain, confusion, humiliation, exhaustion, heartache and feelings of utter helplessness can be overwhelming. Believing that somehow, some way, things will get better, and devoting our time and energy to making that happen, takes tremendous amounts of raw courage, faith, hope and determination.
Sometimes things do get better. An addicted or alcoholic son or daughter goes to rehab, stays sober and builds a good life for themselves. A returning vet gets job training and trauma counseling, falls in love and slowly puts their life back on track. An estranged daughter comes home after years on “the road.” A missing child is found alive. The heart of an 18 year old boy is transplanted into the body of a dying 70 year old grandfather and his life is saved.
And sometimes they don’t. Living losses become life losses. Casualties. And we grieve a death.
What can those of us who suffer from living losses do to help ourselves? Our loved ones? Where can we turn to find relief no matter what the source of our suffering? What can we do to save a loved one’s life? Salvage their future? How can we take care of ourselves, “process” our grief, continue to learn from experience, remove ourselves from torture chamber and summon the strength to survive? How can we fight our way back into our own lives? Here are three resources that exist in many of our communities.
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