There’s an old saying, “When a parent dies we lose our past. When a spouse dies we lose our present. When a child dies we lose our future. When a sibling dies we lose our past and future.” There’s an element of truth in this timely bit of folk wisdom.

Grief looks and feels differently for the various types of loss — a parent, grandparent, spouse or partner, a sibling or a friend. Let’s unpack its meaning…

A parent is most often our primary emotional source – the one we turn to first when we’re distressed or in need of guidance, who accompanies us to the threshold of adulthood. For a young or middle aged parent loss survivor, there is a sense of being “orphaned,” if the relationship has been positive.

By contrast, our spouses or partners are our “best friends.” They are our companions who take up where our parents leave off in continuing life’s journey through the glories of youth, the trials of adulthood, and the profundities of old age. Little wonder, then, that most people find the loss of a spouse or partner the most crippling or debilitating type of loss. It is also one that can entail a profound re-evaluation of who we are – our identity and sense of ourselves.

Child loss survivors look upon their children as their primary gifts to life itself – a legacy that issues in a kind of immortality, a purchase on the future, and the ultimate prayer of thanksgiving. for the opportunity to have lived.

When we lose a sibling, we lose the one who shared with us the joys and travails of childhood, our hopes and dreams for the future, and whom we fully expected to continue the journey with us.

Despite these differences and the many and varied ways of coping, there is, essentially, but one way forward – the path of transcendence, devoting our lives to something greater than ourselves and in so doing experiencing a profound expansion of the self and a corresponding infusion of meaning and purpose which encompass all of life’s experiences.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber expresses this well when he observed that “a human being becomes whole not by virtue of a relation to herself only but rather by virtue of an authentic relation to another human being. I think no human being can give more than this: making life possible for the other, if only for a moment.”