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The Loss of a Dream

By: Sarah Kahan, LMSW

Published in Building Blocks, August 28th, 2013

As we go through life, many of will encounter situations, some of which are completely out of our control, which will cause us grief. Some examples are divorce, infertility, teens at risk, children with disabilities, loss of financial security, chronic sickness, death, etc. In fact, any important loss in life can lead to grief.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a Swiss American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies and the author of the book On Death and Dying (1969), where she first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief. She outlined them as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

In my work withgrief counseling, I observed that some people have difficulty getting in touch with painful emotions, so they either avoid facing their feelings or pretend they don’t exist. Others dwell on their negative emotions and constantly talk about them, which reinforces the bad feelings.

The healing process begins when we can be honest and name the dream that has been shattered. Since we are not trained to notice the dreams that are attached to our losses, it may help to have an outsider aid us in discovering what our dream had been, and the loss we are feeling. It is important to give ourselves the time to grieve and to find a supportive person who can be patient and sympathetic within this process.

Telling your story can also be very healing and helpful to getting over loss. When we look into the eyes of others who hear our lost dreams and we notice their sadness, their compassion, and sometimes their outrage and horror, it helps us heal our pain. Telling your story honors the past, and creates room for the future. It’s a way of cleaning out your psychological garden to make room for new growth.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman gave a shiur a few years ago titled “Plan B.” He included it in his book Pathways of the Prophets. In his book, he writes that Hashem runs the world through Plan B and that life doesn’t always work out according to Plan A. The natural tendency is for the person to get depressed when Plan A doesn’t work out, but if we can internalize that Plan B was really the original plan, it will help us modify our dreams and accept them for what they are.

When a couple is dealing with painful infertility issues and have done everything possible to have a baby without positive results, sometimes grieving over the loss of not having a biological child (Plan A), will enable the couple to consider other options such as adoption (Plan B). Helpful ways to grieve may be to join a support group or to go for individual counseling. Talking to other parents who adopted and gathering as much information about the adoption process can help the couple create a new dream, which may bring joy into their lives.

When parents are dealing with a struggling teen or a child with a disability, mourning the loss of their dream can help them accept their child for who they are, without trying to change them. An amazing thing happens when we stop wishing of having the child of our dreams and we begin to internalize that Plan B is actually the original plan that Hashem intended. I am reminded of a poem that Emily Perl Kingsley wrote called Welcome to Holland. She describes her experience of raising a special needs child as preparing and planning for a trip to Italy but instead of landing in Italy, she lands in Holland. In the beginning the disappointment is overwhelming, but as she begins to see the special things that Holland has to offer, she begins to enjoy Holland as well. The pain of the lost dream may never go away, but if you spend your life mourning, you may never be free to enjoy the lovely things about Holland.

There are times when we will get triggered and slip away from acceptance to depression, and anger. The most random things can serve as a trigger, and it’s normal not to feel acceptance 100% of the time. Sometimes when we mourn, there are days it seems impossible to reach any level of optimism for the future. We need to dig deeply inside of us and use the three Fs: Family, Friends, and Faith to give us strength.

Acceptance can take many forms. For some, it gives them the ability to be open-minded to other options. For others, acceptance may take the shape of starting organizations to help other people in similar situations. People find healing in taking their own pain and using that experience to help others. It allows them to perceive that there was a purpose to their suffering. They are able to find perspective regarding their loss and to see the bigger picture by helping others in similar circumstances.

If we are to have new meaning in our lives, we gradually need to try new dreams. If we refuse to entertain new visions for our future, bitterness will set in. It takes courage to dream again. Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss understands the expression, “dare to dream.” It’s definitely daring to get our hearts and minds wrapped around another vision. If we’re willing to take the chance, it provides powerful affirmation of life that feeds our souls.

Since 1969, OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services has served as a dependable haven of individual and family support, helping people of all ages surmount everyday challenges, heal from trauma, and manage with strength and dignity during times of crises. Driven by service excellence, OHEL’s professional staff meet the myriad social service needs of the general community, while at the same time providing culturally-sensitive services to the Jewish community, including Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian speakers. Through highly-rated foster care, developmental disability, mental health, and other programs and services, OHEL provides supportive housing, treatment, care coordination, education, outreach and much more to elevate lives and strengthen individuals and communities in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Florida, California and worldwide on the web. David Mandel is the CEO of OHEL. 

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