What We Talk About When We Talk About Loss


Loss looms like shadows far off on the horizon; like pending storms, daunting even in sunlight, when you become aware that they approach.

One of the few certainties in life is that we will face loss in some way or another; the passage of time guarantees it. We forget that while we wish to be older, to be wiser, to achieve future accomplishments, time progresses not only in our own lives, but all around, like many rivers rushing down a mountain. We compartmentalize time; we look forward to the births of new children, forgetting, or perhaps, ignoring that, this progression in the circle of life moves all parts forward, ages all parties.

Then, inevitably, we are jarred into awareness—struck by loss, like lightning crashing down to mark territory, to carve milestones, and in its flash illuminating every crevice and fold of time’s stealthy figure, gracefully and swiftly striding forward, unbiased in the havoc it wreaks and beauty it creates, apathetic to our agendas as it races on in the only direction it knows.

How can we learn to cope with loss? It is an inevitability for which we can never quite seem to be prepared for, no matter how much we attempt to prepare. I can’t presume to know what methods work for each person, nor would I impose the expectation that we’re always meant to recover entirely after loss. Some wounds never fully heal, some wounds leave scars. But, humans, by nature, have a survival instinct. We march on after facing what, if imagined, always seemed a burden impossible to carry—the kind that would just crush us and leave us in that spot forever. In moments where I have felt loss, the sharp prickle of pain and the waves of sadness have been eased by these sources of comfort:

It dawned on me one day as I sank into a particularly sad mood—the type that has an ache to it like its own heartbeat—that we are not meant to be hollow. So, I chose to view as essential the grief, sadness, and longing that rush in like caged water escaping through cracks in crumbling walls. Essential, in that, the part of me that felt empty in the face of losing a loved one, needed something to fill it. Ideally – eventually – we are able to fill that space with fond memories and light and laughter. But in the immediate wake of loss, we’re often unable to emotionally articulate to ourselves what exactly we’d like to have that new emptiness filled with, and so instinctually, the heart sends in its soldiers, to ensure we don’t cave in ourselves. It hurts, but we’re almost painfully aware that we are alive – it hurts, but it means we’re not hollow.

This same grief is meaningful. It is a flag at half mast, honoring what’s been lost. When bad news is delivered and those words act like triggers of a chain reaction, setting off something inside you totally involuntary, just a spontaneous combustion—that is undeniable testimony to the presence of love. The presence of sadness in the face of loss is a proclamation of love; an ode to the fact that loving is risky, and meaningful, and strong, and wonderful and painful and powerful, and worthwhile.

Time is a source of comfort. Time is a complex character, one we can never seem to fully love or hate. Time ticks on, bringing about events that cause us pain, and then ticks on and ticks on further, slowly but surely making loss more manageable. Time may bring us to moments we wish to avoid with everything in us, but then it continues on, and it never leaves us behind.

Finally, I found comfort in bestowing a certain trust in my feelings, in respecting the healing process. The first time you feel the urge to smile or laugh after losing someone it tends to bring with it a jolt of guilt, as if we are dishonoring that person. I felt that way until I realized that locking yourself in a perpetual state of sadness is the greatest disservice you can do to the legacy of a loved one who genuinely wanted your happiness. On the other hand, once the initial sharpness of sadness wears off, and you’ve fallen back into the strides of your routine, but find yourself suddenly overwhelmed again with an inundation of hurt, give in to it and let it wash over you. Let your feelings unravel and regroup as they will. Ultimately, when our life’s story is punctuated by loss, all we can do is write new beginnings interwoven with the thread of memories.

image – Zach Dischner