The 5 Stages of Loss: Letting Go for Good

 Photos by  Caraz

Photos by Caraz

Stage 1: Denial
When we first feel a sense of loss, we usually develop a defense mechanism that “protects” us from immediate shock. We become numb and deny the reality of a situation and act as if everything is all right.

Stage 2: Anger
Once loss sinks in and the reality of the pain emerges, an overwhelming feeling of rage takes hold of us. It’s like we are trying to fight something even though we know we already lost. In this phase, our anger can be directed towards objects as well as people. Often, we will lash out at our loved ones, even though we know they aren’t to blame, which in turn makes us even angrier.

Stage 3: Bargaining
As we feel helpless and vulnerable, the need for control takes hold of us. This is when we begin to make deals with ourselves or with a higher power. This is when we begin the “what if” game.  

Stage 4: Depression
Stage 4 is when we truly realize what is going on. Feelings of emptiness and loneliness take hold of us, as we withdraw ourselves from our surroundings. It feels like this will go on forever, but it is a crucial part of the healing process and needs to be lived. 

Stage 5: Acceptance
Contrary to what it may seem, acceptance is not a happy period. In this stage, we remain in our “bubble.” We take the time to accept the reality of the loss and recognize that nothing will ever be the same. This stage takes time, but eventually we start to live again. We know that we will never be able to replace what has been lost, but we also know that we will make new connections.

//

Ever since I was little, I had a fascination for how films and TV shows were made. From script writing, shooting scenes, editing, visual effects and sound, I found the entire production process captivating and always hoped to be a part of it. I eventually started working in the production world, in advertising. I was lucky enough to land a job as a Production Coordinator in an internationally renowned firm, where I gained knowledge, experience and contacts. Surrounded by young bright minds as colleagues, and some of the biggest company names as clients, I participated in the creation of amazing projects. Dream gig, right? Wrong.

On the surface, it seemed like the perfect scenario. I instantly gained cool points with my peers when I mentioned I worked for said company and knew that I would be set if ever I chose to leave, because the name was well recognized within the industry. But the weight of that name was too much. It meant that I had to sacrifice some of my deepest values. I had to settle for a salary that I felt was quite too low, because in such a big company I was just another number and could easily be replaced by someone who would accept an even lower salary. I worked overtime all the time, unpaid, of course. I was given far too many projects to juggle with that had impossible deadlines. But it was worth it because the name looked good on my resume (rolling my eyes). I began to loathe work, every task seemed meaningless and I hated every second of being in an office. The happy, giggly Gabby whom my colleagues had learned to love disappeared and I became a shell of a person, sourpuss faced and irritated by the smallest assignment. What had once seemed like the most amazing opportunity had become, for me, a poisonous gift. I felt my soul dying every time I was briefed on a new project. I had always considered myself to be a hard worker, giving my 110% on all assignments, but it was never enough. My work was never acknowledged and I can literally recount the number of times I heard the phrase “thank you.” So what was the point? Why the hell was I there? As much as I loved production, was this worth it? Denial.

Burnt out and nothing left to give, I eventually found the courage to quit, and took a few weeks off to clear my head. I thought I would feel relieved, but I simply felt loss. Had I been too rash in my decision? Should I have stuck it out and stayed? Going from nearly being a workaholic one day and having literally nothing to do the next, I grew impatient and tired of my own company. I was bored and in search of adventure and new experiences. My judgment was cloudy and I made poor decisions, choices that were flamed by impulsivity and recklessness. I couldn’t recognize myself. I blew every situation out of proportion, picked fights with the ones that I felt closest to and blamed everyone but myself for the situation I was in… Anger.

I ended up going back to El Salvador, where last year I had found myself, or so I thought. There, I began to feel light again. The pressure left my shoulders and my breaths felt more relaxed. I was finally at peace. I did a lot of introspection and decided that I would give the production world one more chance. Although this time, I would do it my way. I came back to Montreal and started the New Year with a bang. I began to offer my services as a freelance Production Manager. As my own boss, I would be in control. I would choose my work hours, as well as the projects and people I would work with. Most importantly, I would determine how much my time and work was worth. It seemed like it was working out for me. Whenever I would get contracts, I would work like a mad woman for a few days non-stop, but I told myself it was ok because I had chosen to do so. Production companies began to know my name and I got called on really cool projects. Things were beginning to line up… Bargaining.

But then something happened in my personal life and I hit a wall. Midwinter, I was forced to let go of two very special individuals who had played significant roles in my life the year before. And it simply broke me. At that moment, my soaring path in the production world lost all meaning. I began to refuse contracts, avoided all social gatherings and even stopped leaving my apartment. I was knee-deep in an existential crisis, questioning the meaning of life and my reason for existence. I wasn’t suicidal or anything like that, but the realization that all the time and energy that I had put towards a career that was basically all about manipulating consumers into purchasing products that I didn’t even care about was soul crushing… Depression. This might sound exaggerated, but that’s exactly what it felt like at the time. And to be honest, I still kind of see it that way. Just take the word “advertise” for example. It means to draw attention to (a product, service, or event) in a public medium in order to promote sales or attendance. It is fuelled by money, materialism and sometimes lies. But I pride myself for not being influenced by all those things, so what gave?

Last winter, I didn’t just cut ties with two people; I lost a huge part of myself that I had spent most of my life creating. The person I thought I wanted to be, the image of myself I had fabricated. But I wanted to be this person for all of the wrong reasons. So at a mere 27 years of age, I decided to retire from my production life and it was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. I’m still passionate about all media arts, video, photography, print, but I simply can’t make a career out of them. I don’t have the backbone for it and I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore… Acceptance.

I couldn’t understand what was going on with me, because the feeling of loss usually comes after the passing of a loved one. In my situation, nobody died, but it truly felt like a huge chunk of myself was gone forever and I had this massive hole to fill. That void is still quite present, but now that I have decided to accept to let go and move on, although it really isn’t easy, I choose to fill the vacant space with light and warmth. I vow to make well thought-out decisions for the right reasons, and to be grateful for all that comes my way. I am blessed with a beautiful life. I am healthy, surrounded by loving friends and family, and have the opportunity to be whoever I want to be. I can promise you this: I will not take this second chance for granted.

Gabby Mather