Thinking About Loss

I’m not sure why loss has been on my mind: my life trajectory has been strongly pointed toward “gain” for quite a while. Perhaps it is from this safer, more comfortable place that I can dare to think about loss, which is so incredibly painful in its nascence that it totally obliterates the possibility of any confluent constructive thoughts.

Now, mellower with the distance of time, I realize how far I’ve come; how valuable the lessons gained through great pain are; how there is gain with every loss. That last one takes time, an excruciating who-knows-how-long kind of time. It’s challenging to allow oneself to recognize positives arising from a Great Negative. It feels disloyal, cheap, small, queasy, and a whole host of other qualities that none of us care to own in ourselves.

Of course, recognizing gains is none of those things. It is the sign of life continuing. It is letting go into a bigger picture. It’s acknowledging a bend in the river, if you will, being willing to experience new currents and eddies, none of which takes away from what was upstream. That’s the thought that is hard to get to and accept. What “was” lives on in spirit and memory. We do not honor who or what we have lost by trying to stop time and preserve them or it in any way other than in spirit and memory.

I remember well my counselor saying to me not long after my husband died that my challenge would be whether or not I allowed myself to be happy again. It’s a thought I have carried closely all these years, the very admonition somehow giving me permission to be happy. How frail and tender we humans are, that we would even wonder about the rightness of experiencing happiness again when it shows up at our door, inviting us to come along. And yet, that is a very common response to grief. Understandable, I’m thinking, serving as a bridge from “there” to “beyond” if it is a wave that runs its course rather that a life sentence, or should I say a “death-in-life” sentence.

Other thoughts bubble up, as well: an insidious little voice that even now sometimes says “just wait” when happiness appears, warning me that another loss may be just around the corner, so best to brace myself… That’s all too human, as well. We are, after all, deeply programmed genetically to protect ourselves in order to survive, and the grief I’ve been through seemed all too close to fatally overwhelming me.

And so, fresh happinesses threaten, in a way. What if they disintegrate or disappear? How will I manage that? Have I clawed my way to this state of relative equilibrium only to be tossed asunder again? It’s true, life guts us, blows holes in our beings, our plans, our equilibrium. We can’t avoid that. What to do?

I’m reminded of a passage from one of my favorite books ever, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams. In it, Codi, the protagonist, is flattened by grief for her murdered sister. Her lover, “Loyd with one l” says “…for everybody that’s gone away, there’s somebody that has come to you.” Cody relates that she doesn’t wish to be comforted, then says “You can’t replace people you love with other people… they’re not like old shoes or something.”

Loyd goes on to say (and this is the phrase that has stuck with me since I first read it, over 20 years ago) “No. But you can trust that you’re not going to run out of people to love.” (Italics mine.)

He goes on, saying “Listen, I know how this is. You don’t think you’ll live past it. And you don’t, really. The person you were is gone. But the half of you that’s still alive wakes up one day and takes over again.”

That’s the point. The river can take a turn. Any time, with sudden, unpredictable ferocity, it can submerge us, make us feel like we are drowning. But that same river can also bounce us back up to the surface again. It can carry us on to the next adventure, the next person to love, the next purpose that needs our passion and attention. All we need to do (hah: “All”, indeed…) is say “Yes”. To life, all of it, even the hard parts. *


*Expression borrowed from the title of another favorite book, Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts) by Ezra Bayda.

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