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Finding Meaning in Loss

posted by Diane Holmes on Friday, February 23, 2018

The onset of symptoms - the recognition that something is wrong with us - raises alarm. We tell others, consult with doctors, have medical tests, and feel a sense of urgency to do something, fix something - we are in a state of crisis. 

When the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is made, we are relieved, knowing something can be done, but with the disease comes uncertainty. It not only affects our bodies, it can change everything, setting the stage for “ambiguous loss”, our loss is “unclear, indefinite, vague”, and it cannot be resolved or cured. 

According to Pauline Boss in her book, Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss, “the inability to resolve the situation causes pain, confusion, shock, distress, and often immobilization”. But, we and those who care about us, cannot be afford to be immobilized.  Dr. Boss states further, “We assume pain is bad and must be eliminated...but pain often has a leads to change”.  And, change, we must.

By focusing on our ability to change and adapt, we mobilize our inner resources, our resilience, our ability to find meaning, moving us beyond “crisis”.  John S. Rolland, M.D. in his book, Families, Illness, & Disability: An Integrative Treatment Model, points out everyone touched by the diagnosis - the person with the diagnosis, family, friends, co-workers, and physicians - can become part of the treatment process, when their distress is acknowledged, too. This promotes a sense of empowerment, we believe can do something, and we are not alone.

Finding meaning in life promotes resilience, defined as “recovering strength, good spirits, etc., quickly”.  Dr. Boss suggests finding meaning “to reconstruct new hopes and dreams” for the future by:

  • Naming the Problem - increased understanding of the problem helps us “move forward despite uncertainty”

  • Dialectical Thinking - being able to “hold two opposing ideas”, I am healthy and I have MS

  • Religion and Spirituality - “connect with the spiritual part of our lives”

  • Forgiveness - forgive our genetics, our bodies, medical science, whatever we need to forgive

  • Small Good Works - helping others reminds us we are not alone and that we can make a  positive difference

  • Rituals - celebrate holidays, birthdays, things that have meaning for us

  • Positive Attribution - believe we can thrive, despite the obstacles we face

  • Sacrifice for a Greater Good or Love - focus on loving and caring for family, for example

  • Perceiving Suffering as Inevitable - despite change that is out of our control, believe we can adapt

  • Hope - believe we can thrive, despite the obstacles we face

Life affected by MS can bring unexpected changes, for us and those who care about us. But, MS is not who we are, it is a condition we have, that we can treat, learn to adjust to, and move on to live a life of love, meaning, and hope.

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