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Tools for Handling Loss

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Tools for Handling Loss Special Dedication

To the memory of Dr. Gloria Phillips (1925-1986), my close friend, colleague, and courageous role model of handling loss in life. The letting go of my grief over her death has given me the strength and power to change my life in a myriad of ways.


The goal of Tools for Handling Loss

In this book you will be exploring the loss experiences of adulthood; what the stages of the grieving process are; how to handle denial, bargaining, anger and despair; how to arrive at acceptance through the letting go process, and how to handle death. Lastly we will share how you can share your own legacy with your family and friends prior to your own death.


It is not important or necessary for you to accept the term “dysfunctional family” to describe your family of origin if you are in need of the material in this book. If you are in need of dealing with the losses in your life then it is important to recognize the normal, necessary and painful steps you need to take to come to full acceptance and resignation in order to carry on with life.


What is important is to recognize that losses are a common phenomenon in life and they have an impact on your life. What is important for you to do with this book is to use the "Steps to" procedures in each section to come to a positive restructuring of your thinking, believing, feeling, and behaving in response to any loss in life. The chapters are written in a format to identify processes necessary to accept change in your life. This book will not be a useful tool for you unless you do the work prescribed in each chapter and work faithfully in your daily journal writing.

Prologue to Tools for Handling Loss

I cried when I realized that I had lost my childhood while trying to play the adult to my mother, the dysfunctional child. In my naive way I had thought that my sacrifice would somehow save her.


I cried when I married and found out that the fantasy family I had always dreamed of could never be.


I cried when my only child was born with a developmental disability, even though I had hoped and prayed that my child would be able to have a better life than I had had.


I cried when my mother died, not because I would miss her, but because of all the words I wanted to say, all the things I wanted to get off my chest that she would never hear.


I cried when my marriage finally collapsed. My chance at finding true happiness in my lifetime was lost.


And now I cry, the tears streaming down my cheeks, because in the mirror I see the bitter, unhappy person I've become.


I cry because I know I'm acting dysfunctionally more and more, because I know I'm relying on compulsive behavior more and more just to get me through the day.


I cry because I feel myself becoming the person my mother was, a person I always hated and despised.


I also cry because for the first time in my life I see that I must learn to stop denying my hurt and pain.


I must acknowledge my right to feel anger and despair, to accept my terrible losses as they are, and to finally “let go” of the misery and pain that they bring to my life.


I welcome the changes that this “letting go” will bring. I know that if I cannot do this, the next loss I will cry for will be my own.