It might chart a slow, predictable course, or it might catch us off guard. It could arrive too early, or not soon enough. Once in a while, it will appear right on target, and even though we know we need it, it hurts. Time slows and the world fades – colours, sounds, details of the everyday seem further away and harder to notice or remember.
The experience of losing someone close will affect each of us differently, and in ways we might not expect. After the tears, or even before, some of us will want to be close to people we love, while some of us will find the needs of others to be overwhelming and will retreat into ourselves, and some of us will set about getting things done or back on the course decided before anything changed.
At the same time, certain elements appear in stark relief: the look on your mom’s face when she hears the news, or the song you listen to on repeat because it’s exactly what you need to hear, over and over again. The life of a grieving person is a paradox.
No two people play the same role in our lives, and it’s these differences that colour the experience of grief. The closer you feel to someone, the harder the loss will hit. We’re bound to feel the loss of someone with whom we interacted frequently, or that of someone who shaped important moments in our lives.
The more we identify with that for which a person stands, or the more we imagine ourselves fitting in their shoes, the more we will feel the loss in ourselves. Our level of upset becomes a barometer of how much we care, and that’s a good thing. It’s a privilege to have close relationships, and it’s valuable to reflect on how people in our lives have inspired us.
Sometimes, we might feel the loss of someone we didn’t know well. Though many of us had never met Misha, his untimely passing brings home the reality of a situation playing out in other parts of the world. It’s a distressing dynamic from which we seem to be largely insulated, but to which this this young man from our own community, who walked the very same halls we’ll walk today and who had the same hopes many of us have for a bright future, has now become a direct connection.
Moments of loss are when life becomes real. Our bodies, the amazing machines they are, know how to take care of us. They provide endorphins for the pain and shift brain activity to help us cope. They slow us down with fatigue to encourage us to stay where it’s comfortable and safe, so we can process what happened.
If you’ve ever experienced a loss, you’ll know that it distills what remains in your world. There’s no room for the fake or forced. Your energy necessarily limits you to essentials. It forces you to prioritize the things that matter most, and in doing so, it forces you to recognize the things you care about most.
Cherish those things. Cherish your pets, your favourite belongings. All of these things form our identities. They shape who we are, so it makes sense that we will change when they leave our world.
Recently, I was driving home and heard that a tornado warning had been issued for the small town where I grew up. I gripped the steering wheel as I thought of my grandfather in his hospital bed, and I wondered for a split second how he would get to shelter if the twister hit. The moment I remembered I didn’t have to worry anymore was bittersweet.
My grandparents were married for 66 years. My grandma told us the story of their first date, when my grandpa spoke maybe three words. So awkward. She swore she would never go out with him again, but a few weeks later he presented her with tickets to a dance she wanted to attend. He managed to win her over, and together they built a family.
My grandpa passed away this summer, a year after my grandma. While he didn’t win a Nobel Prize or find a cure for cancer, his quiet and gentle influence shaped every member of our family.
With his passing, the dynamic of our family has shifted. In fact, every time we’ve lost a member, the strings holding the web together have reattached in a way that makes new meaning of the unit.
Loss means change, and life is loss, as much as it is love and growth. One of the neat things about life is that we can’t erase the past. So while death means your chance to form new memories with that person has ended, you will never lose those memories you’ve already developed. In fact, for most of us, the legacy we leave behind will be in the memories people hold of us.
So go out and make memories. Allow loss to remind you what has value in your life, and give yourself the time you need to adjust to the change, knowing that those who matter live on in you.
Photos by Alex Allan and Kristen Riester, Flickr Creative Commons.