If you’re just waking up to the reality that loss is central to the human condition, you must be in dreadful shock. If you’ve experienced two such shocks within a year, you may be thinking your world is ending. Where is God? Isn’t “He” supposed to protect you from pain? Sorry, but death is a part of life. “If we live long enough,” James Hollis writes, “we will lose everyone for whom we care. If we do not live long enough, they will have lost us. As Rilke puts it, ‘So we live, forever saying farewell.’” [Swamplands of the Soul]
If this is your first season of loss, of your peers and their young spouses or children, vanishing summers and beloved homes, it may become only practice for more of the same. We live with sadness and grief among our seasons of joy.
There are means, however, to walk through even these seasons. Sitting at dusk in a comfortable chair, or in a patch of noon sun, may allow the tears to flow, pause, and taper off. Tears have an end of their own. Tears are in charge of how much they need to flow and when to stop. Taking an aimless drive may let the mind wander forth and back over a reverie that will never end. You can visit it at will.
Begin watching PBS Masterpiece Theater. Read a gripping best seller. Walk–rain or shine. Work out. Nap. Feel the empathy of other people’s losses and the world’s pain, and weep. It takes only hearing a song two of you loved to be transported immediately to the scene where you first heard it together. Eat a favorite meal, sense a familiar fragrance. We can cherish these gifts, these pain and joy-filled flashbacks, even though they ended too soon.
Singer Diana Krall’s latest album, “Turn Up the Quiet,” is her last album with her champion, the producer Tommy LiPuma, who died in March. “Though the shock hasn’t worn off, Ms. Krall has come to see ‘Quiet’ …as a testament to the values Mr. LiPuma embodied for her….‘He took such joy in life,’ she said. ‘He had a tremendous sense of humor, and he taught me the importance of taking the time to be with my family.’ As Ms. Krall has dealt with the losses in her life, she comments that “’It gets to the point where you need to laugh….we had so much fun making this record; that’s what I hope comes through.’”
Have I said, laughing? What to do while living through great loss is also to laugh, to continue a life that seems to, but does not stop. Of course we must laugh. A good wake includes laughter and tears, so closely related that we cannot tell when the laughter so easily turned to tears.
Be among good friends. See a therapist. Forget reaching anything like “closure.” We can’t shut doors on our losses. The experience of the whole person will always be with us, and our relationships continue. Back in the day my mother thought that flying saucers were angels flying in close to watch over us. Although she died in 2002, she still makes flybys today. My dad, who died in 2005, is less talkative, but he is a presence to me regardless, shyly smiling from his favorite chair.
Follow Wendell Barry’s advice: “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” [Emphasis mine] Don’t worry about making a beeline to some politically correct goal. Nor about knowing where you’re going. Or what other people expect you to do, except this: …create life in the midst of grief, create love in the midst of loss, create faith in the midst of despair. Resurrect us from our big and little deaths….The only road to Easter morning runs smack through Good Friday. [Barbara Brown Taylor]