I’m not sure I have much comprehension or real understanding of loss. I’m healthy and happy, as are my kids, as is my wife. I’ve lived a life that has so far been full of joy, love, opportunity, laughs and I have been surrounded by family and friends. I live in an amazing community – I work in an amazing place with good people. My parents are still alive. In short, I’ve not suffered any tremendous personal loss.
But loss can be small and I have surely felt it at times. Loss can be a kind of disappointment or inconvenience. Loss can be in sports, a broken leg or dislocated shoulder; it can be an inability to get that paper published, or a graduate student deciding to leave the laboratory, or some form of rejection. Small losses can sting for a little while. They are not insignificant when viewed at small scales, but they are small.
Loss can be significant. Life throws curve balls, gives some pretty sharp kicks and pays no attention to ‘good timing’. There are big losses that take up larger chunks of emotion, and affect us physically and mentally. Kids get sick (…how many of us have stayed awake all night, laying next to our child who may have laboured breathing and suffering high fever?). I’ve lost grandparents, I’ve had friends who have passed away, and I’ve had pets who have died. I’ve also been near to people who have suffered tremendous loss, especially recently. If it stings and hurts for me, it must be unbearable for them. I think I’m dreadfully scared of large-scale loss and I don’t know how people get through it.
From a broader perspective, this has me reflecting on what is constant about our lives. Are there any constants? Perhaps only that life is both fragile and unpredictable – that’s a difficult combination. When things are good, at their most basic level (health, food, roof), things are really, really good. That is an important thing to remember. When things go south, life makes little sense, it seems unfair and we despair. This is a confirmation of the fragile and the unpredictable.
When facing significant loss, why should we not despair and call it unfair?
Here’s why: the people I have seen go through significant loss, and who have been in dark places, do emerge from those places. The continue, they fight, they move on. They don’t forget, they don’t get over grief, they don’t get over the loss, but they do carry on. These are my heroes. Of course, this is my view, from the outside, and I certainly don’t pretend to understand. But I do take inspiration from people who move on and eventually laugh and smile again, after what must be the unbearable context of tremendous loss.
I’ve talked and written before about the importance of ‘slowing down‘. I believe this more strongly now than ever before. Be mindful, be caring. Curve balls are coming. None of us will be be spared those sharp kicks.
To end, a few lyrics from Tom Petty – I heard these while driving in to work, after just learning of a friend who suffered tremendous loss.
Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down