I write these columns about whatever’s been on my mind right before a deadline. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about loss. All kinds of loss: lost love, lost loved ones, lost dreams, lost experiences, lost youth, lost hope, lost expectations.
Loss is a huge part of living. Despite what a lot of people think, it’s not a bad thing – the fact that something could go away when you don’t want it to gives that thing value. If nothing could ever be lost, you’d never be in a position to gain anything.
One of the most obvious forms of loss is death, and this type of loss has the greatest emotional effect on me. In a recent nursing school clinical I cared for a patient who had recently been diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer – the same kind that took my grandmother. I lost her ten years ago and yet, when I heard my patient’s diagnosis, something rolled over inside of me. I realized how this very same diagnosis had affected my life so many years before.
But sometimes loss isn’t so dramatic and final. I feel that when we date – or put ourselves out there in any way – we are prone to experience loss. Often times when you meet someone and start to get to know them, you have great hope for what the future could hold for you. But all too often, things don’t go as we want. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there is still a sense of loss, even if we understand logically that things weren’t meant to be, or wouldn’t have worked out. That’s just what happens when expectations aren’t met.
Loss comes in many degrees, shapes and sizes. It can be wrapped up in a person, an experience or a secret hope. And all of these variables affect the impact it has on a person. Loss is different for everyone, and nothing you feel after a loss is wrong or inappropriate. Most of how a person experiences loss is internal, not something a lot of people get to see. This is why it important not to measure how you experience loss to how others experience it. It’s the actions we take after a loss that are most important.
A friend recently suffered a very significant loss, one that is on a level I have never experienced. In struggling to figure out how to support her, I’ve come to accept that, after sustaining such a deep loss, she’s existing in a place that I simply cannot be. In certain ways our losses isolate us. They put is in a place that demands we find a new perspective.
Acknowledgement of a person’s loss can have a significant impact as he or she grieves. When my grandpa died I felt completely disconnected from the experience. But as the police-escorted funeral procession made its way through the streets of the small town where my grandparents lived, total strangers stopped what they were doing and stood silently as we passed. The firefighters, who were out in front of the fire station washing their truck, stood tall with their hands on their hearts. These people didn’t know my grandfather, nor could they see the faces of my family members behind the tinted glass of the cars. These total strangers stood in acknowledgement of a life they knew nothing about and a family’s loss they were not experiencing. It touched me then, as the memory of it still touches me today. That experience reconnected me to the world as I was experiencing it at that moment.
To finish, I’ll share something I wrote to the friend I mentioned earlier: Take all the time you need. When you feel like crying, cry. When you feel like you need to be alone, be alone. Give yourself what you need. And when you need to, ask others to support you as you seek what only you can find. As you said the other day, the world just keeps on going no matter what. The world will keep on going but it will not leave you behind. The experience you're living every day is one that will speed you ahead of the rest of the world. It will progress you past many of your peers and drop you in a place that will allow you to experience life more fully and in greater depth. Live it with all your heart and don't be ashamed of the pain.