I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Learning to deal with loss

A type of spiraea flower, taken last Thursday
Although right now our forests are abnormally dry, there are still many beautiful flowers for us to enjoy, like these spiraea blossoms on the Yellow Aster Butte trail. If I hadn't seen this same trail many times before, I don't think I would recognize the extreme dryness that shows in the flowers or the trees in the distance. This is the third day since our heat wave broke, and the temperatures here in the lowlands have stayed in the normal category, in the low 70s. It's such a relief. But it's not even the middle of July, which begins our hottest time of the year. I feel such a sense of sadness that so many different places are feeling the effects of extreme weather. We have just been officially declared to be in a severe drought. I wonder how wildlife manages to cope with it. They must travel long distances just to find water sources.

There are several reasons that I decided to start with this topic: loss. The first is that yesterday I got on Facebook and learned that my nephew Joseph (he's the son of my late sister PJ) went to his father's home because his dad wasn't answering the phone and he got worried. He found his father lying on the kitchen floor, dead. Ken and my sister PJ had been divorced for a very long time, but I saw him last at PJ's memorial service last year. He looked the same, only much older.

For Joey (as he will always be known to me), he has now lost both his mother and his father before he turns fifty himself. I'm glad he is surrounded by family and friends who care for him,  because he will get over this with their help, and time. It's pretty shocking to discover someone you love who has died unexpectedly, I'm sure. It's never happened to me and I hope it never does. But I sure know how to deal with loss, which comes in many shapes and sizes during our mortal lives. Just getting older means having to deal with the loss of our youth, our mental and physical faculties, and as we age we deal with the loss of our parents and other older relatives. That's just in a normal life, but sometimes we must find ways to recover from other, more unexpected loss.

Last week I wrote about the importance of our social circles, the people we love and who love us. The downside to that is caring about the welfare of so many people, because they will continue to grow old, sicken and die, just like we will. I suppose that one reason why some of us decide to limit our interaction with other people is to minimize our losses. Then as we try to insulate ourselves from loss, we close ourselves up and make our lives miserable. I've seen that happen more than once. No, it's better to just take the pain and suffering, which is part of living anyway. I wonder if that is where hypochondria has its roots: hoping to be vigilant enough to catch something going awry in our body before it goes too far. Or maybe it's simply a way to occupy one's mind.

Dealing with loss is never something one gets good at, even though we have so many chances to practice. I am learning to find other things to do on the weekends, when it occurs to me that I would normally have been driving down to the Drop Zone. I realize that it was definitely the right time by the contentment I feel with my daily life, in spite of having quit that activity. I'm learning to take care of myself in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, back when I was a youngster of 65. There are times when I catch my reflection in a glass and don't immediately know who that person is. Time goes by, and those little imperceptible changes accumulate in a single instant of recognition.

There are even harder losses to deal with than those that come with the passage of time: loss of reputation, for instance. When someone does something despicable and thinks he got away with it and then is discovered (I'm thinking of Bill Cosby here), he must deal with the aftermath for the rest of his life. I am amazed at how some powerful people believe that they are above it all and can do what they want to others. Well, his legacy is gone forever. How very sad, all of it. Every one of us must find ways to deal with the loss of loved ones, but not many of us will walk in his shoes, thank heavens.

I saw a movie yesterday that got me started on this track, I guess: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's a movie about a high school senior (Greg), his best friend Earl, and Rachel, a girl who develops leukemia and how Greg's mother forces him to become friends with Rachel during her chemotherapy treatments. It's an excellent movie, and there are plenty of laughs and poignant moments to appreciate. I walked out of the theater with tears in my eyes but so very glad to have seen it. I may watch it again. It's based on a book, so my next step will be to read it; I've put a hold on it at the library, but I'm #15 in line so it will be awhile. Often I do this: put a book on hold and then when enough time passes, I cannot remember how I heard of it. It's kind of a nice way to be surprised when I get a notice from the library that I've got a book waiting for me. And I usually enjoy them and even if I don't, I can just return them to the library unread. I do that, too.

For whatever reason, I'm filled this morning with rather strong emotions, feelings of loss and the passage of time, of those I have loved who are gone. I realize that their memory still lives within me, and thinking of someone I haven't laid eyes on for decades does not diminish their importance to me. In some ways, they are even more present. Sitting with an old picture and remembering when Mama and Daddy were young and vibrant, when I was a child, can feel joyful, if I let it and don't try to hang on to what was.

Mercy! Another post got written while I wasn't looking. Another Sunday has begun, and I have fulfilled the first task of the day. All is quiet outside; for some reason I don't hear any birds singing (oh, there they are), and I notice that we once again have overcast skies instead of unrelenting sunshine. It's not quite 7:00am in the morning, and this habit I have of sitting in bed while my partner sleeps next to me is so familiar and reassuring. I am remembering to notice all this, because there will be a day, hopefully far in the future, when this will be a memory, too. Until next Sunday, I wish you all happiness and that you, too, will be smiling many times between now and then.


Far Side of Fifty said...

I am sorry for you nephew, finding someone dead is not a good thing, he will carry the photo in his brain for a long time, probably forever. (I still have photos stuck in mine from years as an EMT) They become less disturbing with the passage of time, but they are still there.
I am glad you have cooler weather, perhaps your rain will return!
I hope you have a good week:)

Deb Shucka said...

I always love how your posts seem to be random, but end up making an important point. I've been pondering loss a lot lately, too, and interestingly, Bill Cosby is a part of that. So is my new status, and my aging body, and the weird weather. Thank you for starting my Sunday with this food for thought, and with the feeling that I'm not alone in my ponderings.

Tabor said...

I think more of how things would be when my husband is gone. I worry about him if I leave first. Oh well, such is life and I cannot dwell on those I have lost and the missed opportunities to have told them how much I loved them!

Anonymous said...

Funny, I wrote about the Life Expectancy Calculator today, and here you are writing about loss. I guess death is part of living, isn't it? You can't have one without the other.

On the other hand, what to do with loss of good reputation? Sad to read about Bill Cosby, as I enjoyed his sit-coms years ago.

Linda Reeder said...

I'm a bit late in reading your post this morning. We are having a slow day, something that doesn't happen very often. With the cooler weather we can go for our walk later, and since yesterday was a big day after a busy two weeks, we are slowing down.
Our Open garden yesterday was very pleasant. We had 21 visitors from the NPA and ten guests that were friends of ours. Four of them even had an impromptu tea party on the deck. A little rain didn't bother anyone. I think we were all relieved that the heat had broken.
After a big event that one has been working toward and planning for, there is always a bit of a let down, sort of like a sense of loss, I guess. For me much of the pleasure is in the planning and preparing and the anticipation.
I'll post photos of our garden, and an update on son Jake later today. For now, I'll get some breakfast and then tom and I will go for that walk. And then we'll enjoy a slow day.

Linda Myers said...

Loss. Whether a friend, family member or even a celebrity, the world is a bit less. However, I had a colleague once who said she never let herself make friends because it would be too painful when they were gone. I'd rather have some loss.

Arkansas Patti said...

I do hope those clouds bring you the much needed rain.
I am so sorry about your nephew. Death of a parent is devastating, I can't imagine discovering him in that manner. So glad he has support of family.
To fear relationships after a loss is like vowing to never have a dog again after you lose your first. You and some lucky dog loses. Loss hurts but never loving has to hurt more.

Elephant's Child said...

I don't think we ever get over those losses, but find a way to incorporate them into our lives.
And some of them (like Bill Cosby) I don't think we SHOULD get over. We need to be reminded.
That said, I hope your nephew can move past the shock and into remembering the good times quickly.
I do love your thought provoking posts. Thank you.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I think you have us all thinking now. I'm definitely facing losses as I age...just yesterday I told Peter "I want my young smooth skin back!" He reminded me that it doesn't really matter...at least not to him. But yes, there are constant little losses and compromises to be made as we enjoy the privilege of continuing to be alive.

Red said...

You make some excellent comments on losses. There are many types of losses. we deal with losses all the time. what about the loss of my hair??? the shocking news of your ex brother in law's death would really shake you up. There are many ways to deal with loss. People deal in different ways with loss. However, the other side has to be dealt with. How do we deal with gaining something? Does gaining help to balance out losse?

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

You are poinying to many types of losses and on Friday we too had a loved one, distant relative, pass on . His brother preceeded him last October. Both had been given the gift of life, double lung transplants and both got to experience an additional 7 /8 years with their families. Thhey were there for the arrival of grandkids. Both leave wives and family behind.
And like you I wonder about how things might change and my biggest concern is Buddy now.
Hubby or I may be gone in any order and we are thankful for our years together. But Buddy has changed our focus from each other a bit. We both wonder.
Health is a huge factor now as we head forward into the unknown.
I sometimes wonder if the memories we cling to are as real as we think. Seems time alters some of them but we are not able to notice we've changed them somehow.
Food for thought from you as always. Thank you.

Rian said...

It must have been awful for your nephew to find his father like that... and especially so soon after his mother. Hopefully he is a strong person and will be able to handle it. And having friends and family around him will help.

But when it comes to 'loss' I too think it is better to have loved and lost... (physically or even emotionally) as I believe that love opens up something inside one that would never have experienced otherwise (perhaps the pain that is inevitably involved makes the 'wondrous times' even better?). The loss of family members and friends as we grow older is on my mind more now than ever. I guess this comes with aging. Dwelling on it would not be good, but recognizing that it is inescapable 'might' perhaps diminish the shock when the time comes.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Beautiful post, DJan!

Rita said...

Just recently lost my dad, as you know. And two blogger friends have passed away now, too. I never thought about having Dagan or Leah let people know if I wasn't around anymore or unable to blog anymore for some reason. I'll have to talk to them about that.

The older we get the more we can see of the big picture, I guess. Life and death, the smallness of us--touches my heart in a different way than it did decades ago. Beautiful post, Djan. :)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, One of the things about your writing that I find impressive is your ability to convey your feelings and emotions. I certainly felt them while reading this post. That is so sad about your nephew finding his dad on the kitchen floor dead. To me, it just seems we become more aware of loss as we get older. Like Red said in his comment, perhaps we just need to look for the balance. Thanks for another excellent post.

Glenda Beall said...

Loss is on my mind today. My dear friend's daughter died yesterday after a long, long battle with cancer. My friend has lost her father and her husband in the past two years. Now she has lost her daughter. I have been so worried about her and all she has faced and the burden of caregiving as well. It must be so hard to loose a child even if the child is 50 years old. But my friend decided to look for the joy in their last days together and concentrate on that. To be able to hold your child's hand each night as you slept beside her, to give her the medicine to relieve her pain, to talk to her and hold her while knowing it is a matter of time, this had to be bitter sweet. But, as you say, with age we expect to see and learn of more losses each day, month and year. I am in the group that is preparing for my end of life, while some I know will not talk about it. But I am still looking forward to each day, making plans and setting goals for the future. This is another of your excellent posts, DJan. Thank you.

jo(e) said...

What a lovely rumination on life and loss. I'm part of a large extended family who spend a whole lot of time together. The great side of that is I have a wonderful support system. But the tough part is that one of the family members dies (my older sister died last November), we really feel that gaping hole.