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This wonderfully inspiring book, with over 4 million copies in print, has helped generations of readers. A perfect gift item for any occasion of loss, this timeless masterpiece of instruction and understanding is, according to the New York Times, one of the most recommended books by clinical psychologists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780931580437
Publisher: Prelude Press/Mary Books
Publication date: 11/01/1993
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 212
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


I find
I lost.

Let's take a moment to view loss in the larger perspective. In nature, loss is an essential element of creation--the rose blossoms, the bud is lost; the plant sprouts, the seed is lost; the day begins, the night is lost. In all cases, loss sets the stage for further creation (or, more accurately, re-creation).

So it is in human life. It's hard to look back on any gain in life that does not have a loss attached to it.

With this firmly in mind we can examine the various losses in life. (Without this overview it tends to become awfully depressing.)


  • death of a loved one
  • break-up of an affair
  • separation
  • divorce
  • loss of job
  • loss of money
  • robbery
  • rape or other violent crime


  • moving
  • illness (loss of health)
  • chaning teachers, changing schools
  • success (the loss of striving)
  • loss of a cherished ideal
  • loss of a long term goal


  • childhood dreams
  • puppy love
  • crushes
  • adolescent romances
  • leaving school (dropping out or graduating)
  • leaving home
  • loss of "youth"
  • loss of "beauty"
  • loss of hair or teeth
  • loss of sexual drive (or worse, the drive remains but the ability falters)
  • menopause
  • retirement


(Is it on? Is it off? Is it a gain? Is it a loss?)
  • awaiting medical tests or reports on their outcome
  • a couple on the brink of divorce for the fourteenth time
  • a friend, spouse or relative "missing in action"
  • lovers, after any quarrel
  • a business transaction that may or may not fall through
  • a lawsuit
  • putting your house up for sale

Limbo losses often feel like this:

My life has fallen down
around me before
--lots of times,
for lots of reasons--
usually other people.

And most of the time
I was fortunate enough
to have a large lump of
that life hit me on the
head and render me numb
to the pain & desolation
that followed.
And I survived.
And I live to love again.

But this,
this slow erosion from below
--or within--
it's me falling down around my life
because you're still in that life
--but not really.
And you're out of that life
--but not quite.

I do all right
and better
I do very poorly

In solitude
I do much,
in love
I do more,
but vin doubt
I only transfer
pain to paper
in gigantic Passion Plays
complete with miracles and martyrs
and crucifixions and resurrections.

Come to stay
stay away.

This series of passion poems
is becoming a heavy cross to bare.

The feeling of being "in limbo" is itself a loss. Even if the situation turns out fine (the veteran returns, the lover calls and again professes undying love, etc.), while in doubt that doubt is a loss and should be treated accordingly.

  • Realize that "not knowing" may be the worst torture of all.
  • When in limbo--and your better instincts tell you there's little hope--it's better to end the situation than to let it drag on and on.
  • Call or send in your formal notice of termination and get on with the business of surviving, healing and growing.

To give you up.

What bell of freedom
that rings within me.
No more waiting for
phone calls
that never came.
No more creative energy
in letters never mailed.
And, after awhilE,
no more insomnia,
no more insanity.
Some more happiness,
some more lifE.
All it took was giving you up.
And that took quite a bit.


There are inevitable losses--losses in which death or separation is imminent. When you recognize these in advance, it will help greatly to

  • Discuss your situation with the person who is leaving.
  • If you are the one who is leaving, talk it over with those who are being left.
  • Take part in making the decisions that must be made.
  • Let your wishes be known.


Temporary losses (lover on vacation, spouse in the service, son or daughter away at school, a slump in business)--even when we know the outcome will eventually be positive--are losses nonetheless.

Even success has built into it certain losses--the loss of a goal to strive for and the changes that are almost certainly part of success.

There are also innumerable "mini losses" that tend to add up during the course of a day, week, month or life. An unexpected dent in the car here, an argument with a friend there, and one can find oneself "inexplicably" depressed.

Each of these losses--immediate or cumulative, sudden or eventual, obvious or not--creates an emotional wound, an injury to the organism.


Along with the obvious feelings of pain, depression and sadness, there are other reactions to loss, such as

  • feeling helpless, fearful, empty, despairing, pessimistic, irritable, angry, guilty, restless
  • experiencing a loss of concentration, hope, motivation, energy
  • changes in appetite, sleep patterns or sexual drive
  • a tendency to be more fatigued, error-prone and slower in speech and movement

Any or all of these are to be expected during and after a loss. It's part of the body's natural healing process. Be with these changes; don't fight them. It's OK.

If you haven't had an obvious loss, and yet you relate strongly to a good number of these reactions, you may want to examine the recent past to see if a not-so-obvious loss--or a series of them--has taken place.

If so, you might want to follow a few of the suggestions given in this book. Your mind and body are already involved in the healing process.


  • Recovering from a loss takes place in three distinct--yet overlapping--stages.
  • They are: shock/denial/numbness, fear/anger/depression, understanding/acceptance/moving on
  • Each stage of recovery is: necessary, natural, a part of the healing process

the fear that I would
come home one day and
find you gone has turned
into the pain of the

"What will I do if it happens?"
I would ask myself.

What will I do
now that it

The first stage of recovery is shock/denial/ numbness.

  • We cannot believe or comprehend what has happened to us.
  • The mind denies the loss.
  • Often the first words uttered after hearing of a loss are, "What?" or "Oh, no."
  • We forget that a loss has taken place, and find ourselves stunned each time we remember again. (This is especially true after awakening from sleep.)
  • Meanwhile, the body's natural protection against intense pain--shock and numbness--is activated.

we wake & snuggle.
a phone call, california beckons.
the airport, a brutal good(?)bye.
o my god. o my god. o my god.
mourning. again.

I know it was time for us
to part,

but today?

I know I had much pain to
go through,

but tonight


The second stage of recovery is fear/anger/ depression.

  • Fear, anger and depression are emotions and reactions most often associated with loss.

it rained.
I vloved.
I lost.

What do I do
now that you're gone?

Well, when there's
nothing else going on,
which is quite often,
I sit in a corner and
I cry
until I am
too numbed
to feel.

Paralyzed, motionless
for awhile,
nothing moving
inside or out.

Then I think
how much I miss you.
Then I feel

I cry
until I am
too numbed
to feel.

Interesting pastime.

And finally, understanding/acceptance/moving on.

  • We have survived.
  • Our body is well on the way to healing.
  • Our mind accepts that life without what was lost is possible.
  • We move on to a new chapter of our life.

the sun will rise
in a few minutes.

it's been doing it
for as long as I
can remember.

maybe I should
pin my hopes
on important,
but often
like that,

not on such relatively
trivial matters as
whether you will ever
love me
or not

I must conquer my loneliness


I must be happy with myself
or I have
to offer.

Two halves have
little choice
but to
and yes,
they do
make a

but two
when they coincide...

that is

that is

We go through the three staes of recovery no matter what we lose.

Loss is loss, no matter what the cause. When someone or something we love is taken from us or denied us, that is a loss. The only difference in recovering from one loss or another is the intensity of feeling and the duration of the healing process. The greater our loss,

  • the more intensely we feel each of the stages of recovery
  • the longer it takes to pass from one stage to another

With small losses, the three stages of recovery can be moved through in minutes. For large losses, it can take years. The body, mind and emotions have enormous wisdom. They know how to heal themselves, and the amount of time they will need to do it. Give them what they need to heal. Trust in the process of recovery.

Reprinted from How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, Harold H. Bloomfield, Peter McWilliams. Copyright © 1993 by Melba Colgrove, Harold H. Bloomfield, Peter McWilliams. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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