This weekend we said our goodbyes to a dear old cat who has been a member of our family since many years before our son was born, and so she has always been a presence in his life.
It got me thinking about loss.
Loss is something that we all experience at some point in our lives, and can come from bereavement, someone important to us moving away, or divorce, or even the end of a favourite TV show.
In reflecting on loss and my HSC I have realised that he has exhibited signs of varying degrees of grief/loss in response to quite a range of things.
His first big encounter with bereavement came during his reception year at school when his Nanny, my mum, died after a serous illness. For him, it was not only losing Nanny that was difficult, but for a period of time he ‘lost’ me too. My mum lived 200 miles away, so for me to support her during this time, with my sister, meant often staying away from home. I was also working, so was trying to balance my own ‘overwhelm’ of trying to deal with the stress of mum’s illness, a stressful job, frequent travel, lack of sleep etc. so I had less of me ‘available’ for him, and I still carry a lot of guilt about that – I wasn’t always there for him when he needed it (my husband provided the crutch for the family). So how we express our experience of loss is also vital to our children, and especially our HSCs – tricky to do well if we are HSP ourselves and facing emotional and psychological overwhelm!
We were careful to be open and honest with him about what was happening, and when the time came he attended the funeral as we felt it was important for him to feel ‘included’, to see some closure, and to see that it wasn’t all sadness and tears, there was much laughter too. His sensitivity was quite apparent though throughout the process, and afterwards he took some months to accept that I was OK, and that even though it was very sad that Nanny had died, and I had been visibly very upset for many months, it was OK too to laugh and to carry on enjoying life (the books “Always and Forever” by Alan Duran & Debi Gliori, and “No Matter What” by Debi Gliori were huge helps).
In the aftermath of this we of course got lots of questions about death and dying, and he became acutely aware that you don’t have to be old to die. To this day, some 5 years later, when he hears about people dying he always asks how old they were.
Since Nanny, he has experienced the loss of his Hamster to a tumour, his Great Grandad, his Great Uncle, and most recently our eldest cat, Jess. Jess was 19 (which is well into her 90s in human terms!) so was elderly, and had a number of health issues, so we had known for a while that her time was limited. My HSC found the uncertainty of when it was going to happen extremely difficult, especially when she outlived the predictions by quite some time. He was living in constant anticipation of the Big Grief emotions he was expecting to experience, and he also was worried about how I would be, and how I would cope. Over this period he also went through personal worries about dying, and the difficulty he had with the fact that one minute you’re there, and the next you’re not.
BIG worries for a young boy!
I think this anticipatory grief is something that perhaps highly sensitive people are more prone to because of the tendency of people with this trait to spend more time reflecting on things and to see the ‘bigger picture’. Some of the most recent research into the how the Highly Sensitive brain works is indicating that when people who have the trait experience something they process the information in a way that seeks to link what they are experiencing with previous experiences – and this would certainly seem to be what happened in this case. My HSC was linking back to how it was when my mum was ill and then died, and from that ‘anticipating’ what it would be like for me, and for him, when the end eventually came for Jess.
I have also seen this anticipatory loss causing great worry for my son about ‘losing his cat if it got run over’ or ‘losing his teddies’ – even though it hasn’t actually happened, and the risk of either happening is quite low (this low risk was how he managed to get some perspective on these worries by the way) when he has been It’s not just through actual death that we have seen my son experience loss.
I can also recall a time when a cartoon series on TV that he absolutely adored came to an end. Towards the end of the last episode he had tears streaming down his face, and he was sobbing his heart out. I tried to console him by reminding him that we had the two series on DVD and he could watch them any time – but his response was that he knew that, but he was just so sad that he wouldn’t be able to see his favourite characters on any new adventures ever again. His sense of loss was immense and extremely intense. All I could do was to acknowledge his heartache, and give him a huge hug.
Earlier this year one of my son’s best friends moved to New Zealand for a couple of years, and again he found the anticipation of this loss very difficult to deal with. He was acutely aware of what it would mean, and for him it was another big change in a year of too many changes for him (he had moved school, which was positive, but none-the-less a big change and stressful in parts, he was including the anticipation of Jess dying, ). This resulted in weeks of upset and anger, and random, unexpected meltdowns – but when the actual time came, he had reached a point of having rationalised it, and had already worked through his ‘loss’ leaving him better able to cope on the day she left.
One of the common threads through all of these experiences too, is ‘change’. When Jess was finally no longer with us, my son explained that one of the things he was finding difficult about it was that she has always been around as long as he’s been alive and for her not to be there was a big change and ‘you know I don’t like change’. I think for him one of the main things he finds difficult about change, is the loss usually associated with it (even though he also knows that that loss has often lead to ‘good’ things!)
On a much smaller scale, my son always feels the tug of being away from home. Every holiday, especially if we are away for more than a week, towards the end of our stay he hits his ‘homesick’ wall, and really desperately misses his house, his cats, his bed, his garden, and he becomes noticeably sad – and at this point he finds it hard to enjoy what’s left of the holiday, because all he can think about is what he is missing!
Whilst the sense of loss, especially anticipated loss is very strong and intense, and his grasp of what it all means and the finality and meaning of it seems beyond his years sometimes, I have also noticed that his acceptance of the loss when it happens is equally strong.
I wonder then whether one of the positives about experiencing loss so intensely, of processing it so deeply, linking it to previous experience, is that is also enables us to see it through, to grieve properly, to feel closure – and with that the ability to see that life goes on, and you can still enjoy it.
A friend also reflected that HSPs may also be well equipped to deal with loss through their tendency to be more spiritual: I can’t comment on this specifically as I do not see myself as a particularly spiritual HSP, but I do know that my connection to nature helps me, and I believe helps my son too.
Do you have an experience of about loss that you’d like to share? Contact Us or leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you!