Everyone experiences a myriad of losses during a lifetime. Much of what I have learned about handling losses is from working with people professionally to help them through recovery.
A young widow whose husband was fatally crushed when a large round hay bale he was stacking came off the loader backwards and pinned him on his tractor took two years to repeatedly analyze her husband’s death during her monthly or more frequent counseling sessions. She regularly recalled what she knew of the event and how she couldn’t move forward with her life.
They had an infant son who would grow up without his father. I learned her story by heart. I encouraged her to talk more about where she was headed with her life, but she persisted in recounting what had happened and how she couldn’t leave the scenario in her mind.
One day the woman announced during our meeting that she experienced a moment of hope during a walk that she could lead her life without her chosen mate. She thanked me for being patient, perhaps not realizing I had wanted her to move on for a long time.
I was the one who learned the widow could think about the future only when she was ready, and not according to my timetable. She was living with upheaval of her dreams as well as the loss of her husband.
She never married again and her son is now farming. She established a successful career as a school administrator while also managing the farm she rented out until her son was old enough to take over the farm. And, he has a roll-bar on the tractor he uses to move hay bales.
Some losses are so painful we can hardly bear them. The losses we can’t control, like storms that destroy our homes and livelihoods, hurt but we can eventually come to terms with them easier than if they were our fault.
Then there are those losses we clearly could have avoided, like not vaccinating livestock for a contagious illness we chose to ignore. After a period of reviewing the preventable loss we say, “I’ll never do that again,” and move on.
The losses that often haunt us the most are those we could have avoided if we had treated people differently, such as siblings quarreling over family farmland in an estate. People involved in such disputes often tell me that winning ownership of the land isn’t worth losing good relationships within the family.
How can we handle losses when human mistakes contribute to the hurt? The actions of the families of the victims massacred recently in the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina offer a powerful example for healing.
They forgave the perpetrator. They won’t forget what happened but they are moving on instead of vowing revenge and holding onto anger and hurt.
They are helping the whole nation heal from a painful episode that has many of us searching ourselves for what we can do better to respect others. Being able to allow others to make a mistake and then going on to live with dignity after getting hurt sets an incredibly positive impetus for healing.
How can perpetrators of losses heal themselves and others? Perpetrators can take their cues from victims who are healing.
Apologizing for causing a loss goes a long way toward healing ourselves when we harm others and cause them terrible losses. It helped one well-to-do farmer who took rental land away from competitors who were good farmers and careful land stewards by offering higher rents for leased farmland and then exploiting the ground and its resources.
When the larger and well-heeled operator realized that he was losing his reputation as a fair businessperson, he ended the leases and paid visits to his competitors to express his regrets. Now all these farmers and land owners can look each other in the eye when they meet.
The farmer who hurt his neighbors can live with himself knowing he fixed his mistake. Perhaps best of all, everyone involved in the matter feels they can count on each other for help if a threatening circumstance arises, such as a fire or illness.
Some losses are made more painful because we view them as significant. One Nebraska farmer and his wife were excluded from his parents’ will that gave all their estate to his only sibling, a brother.
The brother was instrumental in having the will go his way. The aggrieved couple who lost out decided there was little they could do to change what had happened and determined to concentrate on the here-and-now and their future.
They stopped attending the same church and social functions as the brother, but they treat him civilly in public and at family gatherings.
They won’t forget how they were hurt but they are over their anger. The burden for healing is now on the brother.
Dr. Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa psychologist/farmer who can be contacted at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.