Several days ago I had a birthmark removed from the side of my head. While the chances of it becoming cancerous are relatively small, the dermatologist was concerned because I turn forty later this year and the incidence of cancer in these particular birthmarks goes up at that point. Although my hair covers up the shaved spot and my Franken-girl stitches, I didn’t sleep that first night. Everything was turned around from my usual routine. I had to sleep on one side the entire night, they suggested I place a towel on my pillow, and I was given some pain medication. The hope had been that two pills would knock me out. Instead, I felt like I slept with one eye open. In the morning, I was proud of myself for managing to brush my hair into a ponytail for my run without hitting the stitches (one of my fears and probably for everyone on my block who would hear me scream). After my shower I had been instructed to place Vaseline on the wound for several weeks. I ended up getting it everywhere leaving the left side of my head looking like a greasy mess.


Coping with loss and change in our lives are just as messy. Everything is thrown off. We can feel it emotionally because something in our lives has ended or someone has left. We feel as if we have a gaping wound within us. But often we don’t talk about how physically loss and change affect us. I can still remember the first morning after being told my sister had died, going for a run and feeling as if the tilt of the world had changed and no one told me. Everything felt off. And it would continue to be that way for some time as I struggled to adapt to life without her. For each loss in my life, there is a physical exhaustion as I emotionally adapt to life without someone who was important to me. Our physical and emotional selves work together in tandem and when one is affected, the other reacts. Some people find themselves sleepy while others bounce off walls, not sure what to do with their energy.


Bottom line? No matter how we feel, we usually can’t predict it. We usually don’t understand it. And, finally, it will be unique to each of us. Life in general is messy and we can’t expect that coping with loss and change will be a neat, straight line. We will be taking turns we don’t expect and coloring outside the lines even when we aren’t sure what we’re doing or how we feel. Accepting that this is part of the process may not help us understand it but at least we can accept it and let it run its course. And in that we can find a sense of peace in the messiness.


Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at

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