When You Lose Someone

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn is how to lose someone,” sings Scottish musician Nina Nesbitt. Her official music video for “When You Lose Someone” debuted on March 1, 2022 and has been viewed over a million times. The video is replete with heartfelt sorrow and simple images of her holding on to a shadow-person who eventually splinters into starlight.


In a YouTube live chat, Nesbitt says the song is about her specific loss, yet she hopes that her listeners will relate to the lyrics in the many kinds of loss they, too, experience: a loved one passing away, a divorce or breakup, being separated from a loved one by mental illness, or other forms of ambiguous loss.

Psychologist Pauline Boss “coined the term ‘ambiguous loss’ and invented a new field within psychology to name the reality that every loss does not hold a promise of anything like resolution.” 1 We experience this type of loss when our loved one is still with us physically, but dementia or mental illness has taken them away from their minds and from us. We see it in having to co-parent after divorce or in breaking up with someone we still love but can’t marry for whatever reason. Perhaps one of the deepest places we observe or experience this ambiguous loss is in fathers who are physically or emotionally absent from their children’s lives.

Whether grief stems from an ambiguous or a concrete loss, it shapes us. We can choose to hide either in or from our grief. We can ignore it, we can feel asphyxiated by it, or we can choose to walk alongside it as a companion. Seeing grief as a companion is not easy, nor is it the conventional first step after a loss. As Nesbitt asserts, initial grief often goes

from feeling numb to feeling everything at once
And I don’t know if I wanna cry—
One of the the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn
is how to lose someone

In a sense, the image of holding hands with grief—walking with it rather than fighting it or ignoring it—is an image of us holding the hand of Jesus. He is acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53:3-4). He walks with us through loss, mourning with us over what is broken (John 11:32-36). Grief should be our response to disconnection, because it is God’s response to death and disintegration.

The separation that comes from death or ambiguous loss is still something to be reckoned with, even though Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-27) and ultimate reconciliation. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, relationships fractured in every direction: with other people (Genesis 3:7), with God (Genesis 3:8), with the creation (Genesis 3:17-19), and with ourselves. This sheering apart is not the way it’s supposed to be. The severing caused by death is not how God made his good world to exist. When we experience loss it is the catastrophic consequence of sin (James 1:14-15).

What about those who don’t know God or understand that death and separation are an outworking of the Fall? For most of our culture, loss is something bad that we don’t want to experience. We want to outrun the ache of grief, the pain of loss. We want to be distracted from pain or become numb to it. But the reality is that our minds and bodies hold the scars of the Fall, whether we know that it happened or not. Surprisingly, Nesbitt acknowledges the continuance of loss:

[It] changes you forever in the blink of an eye
and it’s not something that just fades overnight
it’s something that stays for the rest of your life
when you lose somebody you love

We don’t just “move on” from a breakup or a death. While we shouldn’t stay stuck in the past or stop living the life God has gifted us, there is no such thing as closure when it comes to love. Pauline Boss continues, “‘closure’ is a terrible word in human relationships. Once you’ve become attached to somebody, love them, care about them—when they’re lost, you still care about them. . . .Somehow, in our society, we’ve decided, once someone is dead, you have to close the door. But we now know that people live with grief. They don’t have to get over it.”2 She clarifies that this doesn’t mean obsessing over our lost loved one, but rather living with grief is choosing to remember them, even though remembering might hurt sometimes.

And that is where the world stops. There is no hope beyond saying “It’s okay to live with grief. It’s okay to miss someone. It’s okay to feel the loss you’ve experienced.” There is no hope of seeing a loved one again. Maybe they disappear into the stars, as in Nesbitt’s music video; maybe they are reincarnated, as some Eastern cultures believe, but you can’t really know your lost loved one again as you did. There is no true hope in those ideas.

Even Christians sometimes get lured into the world’s idea that “death is simply part of life.” But let’s be clear, while death is a reality, it is not part of life in God’s creation. Death is a result of the Fall—it is the great enemy to be finally and fully defeated (1 Corinthians 15:20-26). Thanks be to God that by the Resurrection of Jesus, death is already being worked backwards until it one day is no more (Revelation 21:1-6). As Orthodox theologian and priest Alexander Schmemann expressed it:

Christianity is not reconciliation with death. It is the revelation of death, and it reveals death because it [Christianity] is the revelation of Life. Christ is this Life. And only if Christ is Life is death what Christianity proclaims it to be, namely the enemy to be destroyed, and not a “mystery” to be explained. Religion and secularism, by explaining death, give it a “status,” a rationale, make it “normal.” Only Christianity proclaims it to be abnormal and, therefore, truly horrible. At the grave of Lazarus Christ wept, and when His own hour to die approached, “he began to be sore amazed and very heavy. . . It is when Life weeps at the grave of the friend, when it contemplates the horror of death, that the victory over death begins.”3

We know that Life himself, Jesus, wept over death (John 11:33-36). We know that he has gained victory over death and he offers that victory—eternal life—to all who will believe in him, turning away from sin and toward him (1 John 5:11-13 TLB). But we also know that not everyone chooses to receive beauty for ashes, eternal resurrected life instead of eternal death. Just as Jesus bore the scars of death in his resurrected body, we too bear the scars of separation and loss dealt by the Fall. Grief shapes us. As the consummation of the Kingdom of God draws ever closer, we must acknowledge that some grief extends to eternal death and some grief ends in the hope of eternal life. Right now we live between these eternal and temporal griefs, holding both sorrow and resurrection-hope by the hands as our companions. Perhaps Nesbitt explains it best: One of the hardest things we ever have to learn is how to lose someone.

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Jody Byrkett

Jody Byrkett has a passion for copyediting and has loved words—their origins, art, and beauty—since before she could write. She studied English and History for a term at Oxford University (New College). When she’s not drinking tea, reading, or editing, you can find her trekking across the mountains by sunlight or starlight.