December 1, 2023

Illness and Loss

by Petra Brunnbauer

Facing Reality with Support

When we confront illness and loss, we're faced with challenges that can shake the very foundations of our daily existence. These life events carry a weight that extends far beyond the initial shock and grief, permeating every aspect of how we function from day to day. The routines we've built, the spaces we've curated, and the futures we've envisioned are all subject to change. And this often necessitates a complete reevaluation of our way of living.

In the midst of this upheaval, existential therapy can provide an anchor. It's a form of support that allows us to explore the depths of our emotions in a structured and understanding environment. Such therapy doesn't just acknowledge the pain or disorientation we might feel. It actively engages with it, offering strategies and insights to help us find a path through the chaos. It's a process that respects the magnitude of our experiences and assists us in adapting to our new realities with grace and self-compassion.

Navigating the complexities that come with illness and loss requires more than just time. It requires guidance and a space where our feelings and challenges can be laid bare. Existential therapy offers this space, helping us dissect and understand the multifaceted impact of our experiences. This is a crucial tool that can help us not only to cope with the immediate effects of our circumstances but also rebuild our lives with intention and renewed purpose in the aftermath of profound change.

"So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love."

                                       - E.A. Bucchianeri

A Therapist's Journey

Delving into the realm of existential therapy, we find dedicated professionals like Aviva Keren Barnett, whose career is a testament to the power of specialized support in times of need. With a compassionate heart and a wealth of knowledge, Aviva Keren has honed her expertise through varied and intensive experiences. Her early career, spent on the front lines of telephone crisis intervention, provided a foundation of practical skills in addressing immediate psychological distress.

Aviva Keren's academic journey, enriched by training at Birkbeck College and Regents College School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, culminated in a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Her scholarly pursuits led her to explore the profound topic of mortality in her dissertation, aptly titled ‘Death the gateway to life’. This academic endeavor reflects a deep engagement with the existential questions that shape our lives.

Aviva Keren Barnett

Today, Aviva Keren's professional path has evolved into a multifaceted role where she practices both in-person and online, extending her reach to those grappling with some of life's most challenging moments. Beyond her private practice, she continues to shape the field through her upcoming book on death, illness, and loss. She also remains actively involved in facilitating bereavement support groups and imparting her knowledge through online courses, ensuring that her insights and empathetic approach to therapy are accessible to a wider audience.

The Tangible Effects of Intangible Losses

Navigating the aftermath of illness and loss requires us to confront not only our emotional responses but also the tangible shifts that occur in our everyday lives. These events can act as catalysts, bringing about profound changes that affect every aspect of our daily routines and interactions. In understanding these impacts, we can better prepare ourselves for the necessary adjustments, ensuring our environments continue to support us in this new chapter of our lives.

Environmental Shifts

Illness and loss can upend the familiarity of our personal environments. The spaces where we once found comfort may now echo with absence or become impractical in the face of physical limitations. Such significant shifts demand not only our emotional attention but also a practical response, as we strive to realign our surroundings with our evolving needs and capabilities.

The Ripple Effect on Relationships

Our relationships often bear the brunt of these life-altering events. The dynamics within families, friendships, and partnerships may shift as roles and responsibilities change. It's crucial to navigate these transitions with open communication and a willingness to adapt, ensuring that our support systems remain strong even as they transform.

Grief and Loss

Adapting Our Spaces

As we face new realities, our living spaces often require a thoughtful reorganization. This can involve introducing mobility aids to navigate physical illness or redesigning a space to honor the memory of a loved one while still moving forward. The essence of adapting our spaces lies in creating an environment that not only acknowledges loss but also embraces the future.

Routine Reimagined

Our daily routines may need reimagining to accommodate the changes brought on by illness and loss. This could mean establishing new rituals to begin the day, finding different ways to incorporate movement and activity, or adjusting our schedules to include new self-care practices. In redefining our routines, we can find a sense of structure and normalcy amidst change.

Emotional Geography of Spaces

The places we inhabit hold emotional significance, and illness and loss can alter the emotional geography of these spaces. Rooms may take on new meanings or evoke memories that are challenging to face. It's essential to acknowledge these emotional responses and, if necessary, to reassign or reshape these spaces to foster a healing environment.

Through acknowledging the tangible effects of our intangible losses, we can take proactive steps to adapt our environments and routines to better fit our altered reality. This process is not only about managing practicalities. It is also about creating a space where we can find peace and a sense of continuity as we navigate our changed lives.

Maintaining Balance Amid Change

In the face of illness and loss, maintaining an equilibrium becomes a delicate and deliberate process. It's a balancing act between acknowledging the flux of our current situation and striving for a semblance of stability. As we traverse these changes, the establishment of new routines and the management of our emotional wellbeing become pivotal in cultivating a sense of continuity.

Cultivating Predictability in the Unpredictable

Amid the upheaval that accompanies significant life changes, establishing routines serves as an anchor. Predictable patterns of daily activity offer comfort when much of life seems in disarray. It's about creating order in small, everyday habits. Whether it’s morning rituals or organized spaces that provide a predictable structure, giving us the strength to face the larger uncertainties of life.

Moving on from Illness & Loss

Navigating the Emotional Currents

The journey through illness and loss is as much emotional as it is physical. Feelings of sorrow and joy, anger, and gratitude may ebb and flow unpredictably. Recognizing and managing this varied emotional landscape is essential to our wellbeing. It involves creating safe spaces for expression, whether through therapy, creative outlets, or social support, where the full range of our emotions can be explored and understood.

Self-Care as a Necessity, Not a Luxury

In turbulent times, self-care becomes a necessity. It's about much more than indulgence. It's about giving ourselves the resources we need to cope with change. Self-care practices, whether they involve exercise, meditation, or simply quiet reflection, can provide a much-needed respite. This can help replenish our emotional reserves and restore a sense of personal agency.

The quest to maintain balance amid change is not a straightforward one. It requires patience, persistence, and often, a redefinition of what balance looks like. By establishing new routines, addressing our emotional needs, and prioritizing self-care, we can navigate the complexities of change with greater resilience and hope for the future.

Charting a New Course

In the aftermath of profound loss or a significant health diagnosis, we're tasked with charting a new course. This isn't about replacing what was lost or returning to a previous state of normalcy, which is often impossible. Instead, it's about creating a new trajectory that accommodates the change in our life's landscape. The task is daunting but deeply necessary. It's a process that requires us to be architects of our own lives. It means drawing up plans that include not just the structural necessities but also the personal touches that make life meaningful.

Reclaiming Control Through Routine

A sense of control can often feel like it's slipping through our fingers during times of crisis. Reclaiming it starts with the basics: establishing a routine. This new routine doesn't have to mirror the old one. It just needs to provide a framework for our day that feels supportive and manageable. This could involve setting new rituals or adapting old ones to fit our current capabilities and circumstances.

Reclaiming Control via Routine | Illness & Loss

The Role of Environment in Healing

Our living environment plays a significant role in our healing process. It might involve reconfiguring a space to better suit our physical needs post-illness or redesigning a room to feel peaceful after a loss. These changes to our environment aren't about erasing memories or experiences. They are about creating a space that acknowledges our past while supporting our future.

Embracing a New Normal

Adjusting to a 'new normal' is more than a buzzword. It's a genuine goal for those who have faced significant changes in their lives. It means accepting that life is different now and that's okay. It's about finding joy, purpose, and contentment in the present, even if it's different from what we had planned or expected.

Navigating illness and loss is an ongoing journey, but within it lies the opportunity for profound personal growth. As we adapt to our new realities, we learn to balance the acknowledgment of our loss with the embrace of new beginnings. It's in this delicate balance that we find the strength to continue forward, carrying with us the lessons and love from our past while staying open to the possibilities of our future.


The stark reality of adjusting to the chaos brought on by illness and loss is a profound testament to our capacity for resilience. These life-altering events compel us to reassess and reconstruct the familiar routines and spaces that we once took for granted. More than just an endeavor to survive, this adjustment is a proactive assertion of our agency. It is a conscious shaping of our existence in the aftermath of change.

Illness & Loss

Such adaptation is indeed critical, extending well beyond the benefits of comfort and routine. It's about taking deliberate steps to forge a life that can be whole again. Even when parts of it have been irretrievably altered or removed. By embracing and enacting the changes required by our new situation, we lay the groundwork for a life that is not only adjusted to our present but also open to our future. A life that respects the continuity of our journey, with all its pivots and progressions.

As we chart this course through uncertain waters, we often discover untapped wells of fortitude and flexibility. This process, while challenging, strips back layers, revealing an inner core of strength that sustains us. Acknowledging this power within ourselves is not a dismissal of the pain or a search for a silver lining. Rather, it's an affirmation of our ability to endure and adapt. With every step in this process of adjustment and every strategy we employ to manage our transformed lives, we grow in understanding and appreciation for the constants that anchor us.

Those unchanging elements that provide a sense of stability amidst life's inevitable flux, guiding us as we continue to evolve and thrive.


acceptance, cancer, death, grief, illness, loss, pain, peace

You may also like

Healing Mental Health

Healing Mental Health
Share via
Copy link