Monday, September 21, 2009

When The Light Goes Out: Tools For Coping With Grief/Loss

Like many of the readers here, I am struggling to get through this week anticipating that GUIDING LIGHT will be history by Friday. I am dreading my couch on Monday, September 21st, knowing that will be the first day in my entire life there will be no GLepisodes on the air. It feels as though it is a loss that none of us can fully grasp until Monday comes.

Yet I, for one, am making a commitment here and now to experience my feelings with minimal suffering. I want to be able to experience the loss of this beloved institution, while keeping away from wallowing and immobilizing depression. I want to rest in acceptance, not stir in grief. How can this be possible?

One tool that helps me out is to separate pain versus suffering. This is a concept frequently used in spiritual practices, and cogntive-behavioral therapies. The idea is that pain is an involuntary feeling over which we have little control. If you hit me, I will feel pain. When people say cruel things to me, I feel pain. When GL leaves the air, I will feel pain.

Suffering, on the other hand is completely voluntary. In this case, suffering merely means what you tell yourself about feeling pain. When I tell myself, “GUIDING LIGHT shouldn’t have gone off the air,” or “nobody cares about tradition or this institution,” or “those bastards purposely sunk the show,” then I suffer. I may get angry, frustrated, hopeless, even depressed.

What’s the alternative?

1. Lose the “should.” At least for the upcoming week! Using “should” in this context only puts you at odds with the reality that GUIDING LIGHT is gone and it’s not coming back. If you persist in stating, “It should still be on the air” then YOU will suffer the emotional (and probably physical) consequences. It doesn’t have to be this way.
2. Decide if you want to be right or happy. In an ideal world, you could be right AND happy. But this is not an ideal world, and GUIDING LIGHT's cancellation is an opportunity to become very angry and righteous with your opinions. People around you may agree and tell you you’re “right,” but they won’t have the sleepless nights, the high blood pressure, nor the ulcers that come with it. The choice is yours.
3. Remember everything living thing is temporary on this earth. Everything! You, me, every person, every show. GUIDING LIGHT broke all the rules by staying broadcasted for 72 years. It lasted 67 years longer than the average hit television program. You can use your thoughts to decide that it’s loss is an insurmountable tragedy, or you can use your thoughts to honor and respect the legacy it will always be. You know which one of these options brings peace, and which one brings suffering
4. They can cancel the show, but they can’t cancel our memories. They can’t take away the meaning of these characters and these stories. During the GUIDING LIGHT tribute at the Paley Museum, several audience members shared how their lives were positively affected by Otalia’s love story, Lillian’s mammogram, Ed’s drinking problems, and even Reva’s postpartum struggles. The ways Guiding Light has shaped your heart or helped you through a hard time can never be taken away from you unless you allow it.
5. Share your memories with others. Non-viewers of GL may not completely understand what you are coping with this upcoming week. Fortunately, here at WeLoveSoaps we do understand, and want to know about it. Take some time to look over the historical clips, pictures, articles, and new interviews and features we have posted in recent weeks. Leave us comments and let us know how you’re coping. Remember, we were bonded initially by our love for this show, and that bond will still be there longer after the show is gone.

Finally, as we prepare for the end and the weeks ahead, let’s not forget the meaning of the title, GUIDING LIGHT. When the show debuted on the radio, the title referred to Reverend John Rutledge’s lamp that he kept in his study so the town’s residents could find him when they needed help, when they needed guidance. It was meant to be a symbol of hope, of redemption, of the basic human bond which reminds us, “No one goes that way alone. All that we bring into the lives of others comes back into our own.” It is time to step up and sustain the spirit of these words by connecting and helping one another. We now have the technology to be each other’s Guiding Light. I intend to go forward with that. How about you?

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." He blogs regularly at You can purchase a copy of his book at

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