A Perspective on the Loss of Loved Ones

I am learning that our perspectives change in the most surprising ways as we mature. Where I once was ready to dive right in to an argument, I hesitate, ask myself whether it’s really worth the energy I’ll expend, and often end up walking away. Where I was ready to force my views on others, I ask myself, “Will my getting involved bring about any positive change?” If I decide it won’t, I don’t waste my time and breath. In things like this, I have a choice.

There are other things that I have no control over. One being my reaction to death. It’s not a comfortable subject, but bear with me. I have a feeling what I am learning is something more people experience than not, but it’s not something we talk about because it hits at such a gut level.

CarnegieStairwellA young friend lost her 20 year old son in a traffic accident last December. I knew her when she was a child and teenager. I never met her son. Yet the news of his death sent me spinning back to the 48 year old me of 1995 when I too lost a son. I wondered if my friend was living in that half world I experienced. I lived among family and friends. I felt the sun and the rain. I felt the pain of loss we all hear about. But at the same time there was a part of me that dwelt in an abyss. In that place I observed the rest of me and life around me. But at the same time I was totally separate and apart. I was in a prison of non-stop mental and spiritual pain coupled with an unbelievably vast emptiness.

As I healed none of that went away. I just learned to live with it, to wall it away most of the time. But I know it’s not gone. Every so often it springs back to life and grabs me by the throat again, as when I heard of Keri’s loss.

What do you do when something like that overtakes you? I used to fight it, struggle against it, tried to push it away. Didn’t work. After 18 years of occasionally being blind-sided by “the abyss” I’ve learned to open myself to it. Crazy, yes? But by accepting it, while moving forward with my life, as hard as it can be at times, I’ve learned it seems to release its hold on me sooner than when I fought it. Go figure.

I think that special personal hell was reserved for the loss of children.

I lost my father… then my mother… then my brother… and most recently, my best friend. With each of them, the sense of loss has been a bit different. And this, at last, is what I set down to write about today. Sometimes it takes me a while to get to the point. So sue me.

I have come to realize that parents, siblings and our closest confidants hold a special place in our lives that we don’t even know exists until they are gone. These people are the safe harbors and moorings in our lives. They give us a sense of our place in the world. When we lose them we become like a ship whose mooring lines have been cut. Until we adjust, we feel adrift and lost.

I first realized this when my father passed away. It wasn’t an immediate thing. In fact, in his case, it took several months for it to hit me. Maybe it was because I had so recently lost my son (20 months prior) or because I had finally found a husband who made me feel whole. For whatever reason, it wasn’t until we were driving down the road in a town I had lived in as a child. My husband asked me something about my childhood and I couldn’t remember. I started to say, “Next time I see Pop I have to remember to ask him.” I got as far as “Next time I see Pop…” and suddenly felt lost. Pop was my last link to that part of my life. There wasn’t anyone I could turn to any more to fill in my blanks. If I don’t remember something, it’s gone. Forever.

Suddenly I realized that my place in the world, my relationships with the people in my life, was forever changed the day my father died. I was now the elder. I was the keeper of the memories. I had no one in my family older and wiser to turn to. I would now be the one the younger generation turned to for memories and answers… and I was not ready for that. I may be older but I sure as heck am not wiser. If I were, I’d know how to stop myself from reaching for the phone to get advice from my mother (who has been gone several years now) or to share my day with my best friend, DanaRae, who left us less than a month ago.

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