Loss: A Journey Of Survival

Dealing with loss is never an easy process.  It can take the joy right out of your soul in seconds, and change everything you have every know.   It can even change you.  Are you ever the same after losing someone?

There are all kinds of loss.  Loss of a parents, grandparents, siblings, children, friends.  Loss of ideas, concepts, and hopes.  Loss of dignity, pride and self.  It doesn’t matter whom, or what the loss is, it all ends in the same way – pain, confusion, hurt, anger.  It can put us in a very dark place.  A place that is there which leaves us questioning our meaning of existence, our beliefs, and ourselves.

I’ve had a lot of losses in my life.  My first “loss” was when my parents divorced.  I was six years old and I remember the time period – it stands still in my mind.  It’s a whirlwind of events, but for some reason the moments I remember are played so slowly.  My parents were just not meant to be, and I clearly understand that now, as a grown woman, but as a little girl my world was shattered.  I remember asking my Dad to stay in my room so that I could sleep.  I asked him to sit beside me for nights because I feared losing him.  I feared waking up and not finding him there anymore – not knowing where he went.  Life as I knew it was different from the rest of my friends and I was scared.  I did not understand the concept of Mommy and Daddy not being together anymore.  What did that mean for me?

Years later I lost my Grandfather. This was the first time I had physically lost someone.  I lived in a different city, and remember the phone call from my Dad.  Hearing words of loss is never easy.  Trying to figure out how to deal with it is something that you are unaware of when you are 13 years old.  I cried, as I hurt.  I lost my Grandpa – which little girl doesn’t cry?  I was a child still.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” ~ Unknown

1998 was one of my most challenging years.  I was working with elderly people.  Loss was inevitable in this job.  It was also the year that my Step-Dad and Grandma were both diagnosed with cancer.  I remember that summer being filled with confusion, and many tears.  Cancer is a hellish disease.  I thought I was “trained”.  My medical experiences had prepared me.  I had a full understanding of how this disease would take its toll, and take the very life from my loved ones.  Watching them die in front of you is much different from receiving news on the phone – I took a leave of absence from my job and devoted my time, knowledge, experience and love to both of these people, my family members.  I took over palliative care – spent nights in the Cancer Agency, and palliative care homes. My efforts of love and devotion could not win the battles that were in their lives, and eight weeks apart was just too much for me.  I looked at death in a different way now – I was scared of it, and it had its control on my life.  I was scared to drive, I was scared of my loved ones driving,  I was scared of accidents, I was scared of disease.  I went so far as to not order food from a restaurant for delivery for fear of something happening to the delivery man and me being responsible for taking away someone from this earth who was loved my friends and family in their lives.  I was scared of everything in this world that would potentially take away someone I knew, someone I cared for, or worse – someone I loved.

One could say I did not handle this well … and nearly 20 years later I still feel scared of death.  I’ve lost more friends, and family.  And each time it takes away my faith in reality in this whole life process.

If you don’t realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. You can deal with whatever life brings you, and when death comes, you are ready. Lao Tzu

And then loss, at its finest … miscarriage.  This is not only a physical loss, but this is an emotional loss.  Horrific, and indescribable.  I have had two successful pregnancies between 2011 – 2013 and have two beautiful boys.  Why would I think that this would happen to me?  But apparently,”This is common”, they would tell me.  “We are surprised this has not happened to you yet!”, another would say.  Wait? What?  Am I really hearing this?  The idea of not seeing my babies heartbeat on my ultrasound, or feeling them kick and move in my belly was sad enough, but the reality of “what could have been” broke my heart to pieces.  What would my baby have looked like?  What would she, or he have grown up to love?  Would they have had the most beautiful smile, just like my two boys?  What caused this?  Was it me?  Was is God’s plan?  Was I being punished?  What did I do wrong to deserve this? Am a I horrible person?  What did I do in my past live to deserve this?  Did someone hate me so much that they wished this upon me?

My baby would have been born last week, and so i’ve sat here going through the motions and trying to understand loss a little better.  Making an effort for Loss and I to become pal’s so I can empathize a little easier.  What is it that causes us the tears, that horrible ache in your heart, the feeling that causes those uncontrollable tears.  Because my mind wants to identify it, and grab it and throw it away and never think of it again, or do I?  If I am able to figure out what I can do to block those emotions does that make me a horrible person?  Heartless?

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love.  ~ Washington Irving

I realize now that it is nothing that anyone can prepare for, prevent, or even accept gracefully.  Loss is horrible, and it breaks you down.  Only time can heal, and that is because of the distance it creates between you, and when it happened.  Time … will eventually heal all losses.

And after the tears stop I sit back and think just how lucky I am to be alive and to have experienced all of these memories, especially the ones that hurt so much, the losses that broke me into pieces, and tore my soul apart.  I pick up the mess I have turned into, and I remind myself that I hurt because I loved so much, because I cared so much, because I let things matter to me from the deepest parts of my being … because at the end of the day what it comes down to is that some people are never this lucky.  I am blessed.

 

 

 

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Like Forgetting – By Jen Pastiloff

A very beautiful and emotional read. I will hold this one close to my heart!

Were you afraid?

I was. At first.

Why?

Because I knew I was dying and I wasn’t finished.

With what?

Living.

Then why did you let yourself die?

I didn’t know I had a choice. 

Did it hurt?

Not in a way you will understand. 

Well, what did it feel like then?

It felt like forgetting. Like my life was slowly pouring out of me as I lay there grasping at it with invisible fingers. I watched it fall out of me as if it had never happened. It was that fast, the undoing. And, just like that, it was gone. I was undone. I saw you at age 38, my same age, and I understood your own forgetting and how difficult it was to keep a life going when there was no body anymore.

I understood my body was going. My arms numb, my head heavy, my eyelids caked shut. I understood my body was disappearing and I was afraid for what that meant.

I was afraid of who I’d be without my body. And how would my grandchildren know the sound of my voice and Oh my God, they wouldn’t. 

So what did it feel like? It felt like forgetting. Letting go of the body is an effortless thing unless you fight for it and that’s what I did. I fought. I fought to bring my body back. But I was too tired. I gave up fighting when I understood.

What did you understand?

That you might forget small details but that you’d carry my legacy on. And that you and Mommy and your sister would know that I loved you and did the best I could. And that maybe I was finished? How can anyone really know anyway?

Did you? Do the best you could?

I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. No.

Why is it so hard to do our best? 

Because we forget.

*   *    *   *   *    *   **

I started to imagine this conversation between my father and I as if he was having a glass of wine here with me, after my friend said “ I don’t care about dying” when she stopped by yesterday. My great big regret in life is that my father and I never got to be adults together. We never got to watch a rerun on the sofa with some wine. He never sent me a text message. He never saw me with laugh lines.

My friend and I had been talking about death and she blurted that out nonchalantly. I don’t care about dying.

“What do you mean, you don’t care about death?” I asked back. “Do you mean that you aren’t afraid to die?”

She said that she wasn’t.

I am. I am very much afraid to die.

I think about my father’s death a lot. Was he scared? Did he know it was happening? Did he know before it happened, as many people have suggested? He gave away his prized possessions. His signed hockey stick from the Philadelphia Flyers. He made jokes that he was about to die. Did he know? Did he too say to someone on a sofa somewhere I don’t care about death as he loosened his tie?

My friend said she lives her life in such a way, that were she to die tomorrow, her affairs would be in order. Would there be anything left unsaid? Anything left undone? She said she checks herself daily. She lives as if, were she to die the next day, nothing would be unfinished.

*    *    *   *    *    *

Were you afraid?

I was. At first.

Why?

Because I knew I was dying and I wasn’t finished. 

*     *    *    *    *

My friend gets things done. She writes books. I talk about writing books.

(Maybe it’s because I am scared of dying and she isn’t?)

Her candor on the subject sent me spinning into my brain and its big questions looming there next to the mundane thoughts about when Homeland was coming back on and how I didn’t know what to eat for dinner.

How can such things live in close proximity?

Life and death are like that though, aren’t they? So close to one another.

Here you are living one minute and then here you are saying goodbye to your 8 year old daughter for the last time. The time span is so short between the two events that it feels impossible, a scientific impossibility! And yet, it’s not. How can this be? you shout at anyone who will listen and anyone shouts back How can what be? How can death live in such close proximity to life? How can someone die that you love just as you were getting to know them? How can babies die and mothers and people that you love? Is that what you mean? And you nod yes yes and anyone says back It was always going to be this way.

We live in these glass bubbles and every so often they pop and the rest of the world rushes in at us and we realize it was always that way. That the glass was an illusion. It just takes some of us longer to break the glass.

My friend thinks people make too much of a big deal about death.

I know I do.

Look, I get that the person’s spirit and memory and all that resides in my soul or wherever, but, truth be told, I would rather be able to rest my hand on their arm, to sit and look them in the eye, to be able to have a glass of cabernet with them. I would. Maybe I am too sensory or maybe I am just honest? Maybe it’s all of it?

I don’t understand it and I don’t know what comes after but my God, when someone is ripped from your life, how do you go on making the bed and the breakfast as if it’s just another Monday?

I don’t know, but we do. We do again and again and again. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t trade the breakfasts and the bedspreads to have the father back, the beloveds back.

I’m scared to even write this piece. Typing the word out.  D-E-A-T-H. What if some hocus pocus superstition states that if you talk about it that it will happen to you.

Well, it will. Eventually. All of us. Every single one. No one escapes alive.

So why are some of us so afraid of it? How is my friend not afraid? How am I so afraid? What stuff is she made of? What am I not made of?

Last week I became obsessed with the story of Zach Sobiech. He had a rare bone cancer and at 17 found out he had one year to live. There was a short documentary on him (he passed away a week ago) which I watched three or four times, each time riveted. His message You don’t have to find out your dying to start living haunted me all week as his song played on repeat in my head. He wrote a song called “Clouds” for his girlfriend about the fact that he was dying and it went viral on YouTube. The day after he died it was number one on iTunes.

I can’t stop singing the lines of the song “It won’t be long now. It won’t be long now.”

I am not obsessed with death or anything macabre like that. I want to not be afraid.

I want to write the books and not just talk about writing the books. I want to do my best. I want to not forget. I want to ask myself If I died tomorrow would my affairs be in order? Anything left unsaid? Anyone I didn’t say I love you to that I should have?

To all the people I love: I love you.

To my father whom I said “I hate you” to right before he died: I love you.

To myself: I love you.

I suppose if we lived as if it won’t be long now, we’d really get shit done. We’d love harder. We’d write the books. We’d show up.

Why is it so easy to forget what it means to be alive? Why is it so easy to be afraid?

 

When I was little we belonged to this swim club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There was this giant pool and snack bar and chaise lounges (this was back when people still drowned themselves in oil and baked in the sun.) There was a pair of diving boards over in the deep end. You had to have a band to show you were ready to be in the deep end. The red band. You had to take a test for it and everything. It was some serious business. I remember after I finally got my red band how I climbed up to the high dive. My father waited down below, waving at me to go go go. Jump. Go. I saw the red band on my ankle and remember thinking What if I hit my head on the board and die? What if I drown? What if I

photo

And then nothing but quiet. There must have been a moment when I decided to jump. There must have been a moment while I glided through the air a million miles above my father who weeks away from dying. There must have been a moment before my head shattered the water but I don’t remember any of it. I just remember breaking through into the air gasping I did it! And then climbing the ladder again to do it one more time. There was no memory of the fear until I got to the top again and my stomach came into my throat. But I did it again and again and each time the fear dissipated until it was a forgotten thing and it was as if I had always been a world class diver. I was an Olympic medalist that day.

It’s okay to be afraid.

But at some point we crack the water and swim, despite that fear, and it’s glorious. It’s quiet under there, a quiet that is comforting, like a companion you don’t have to say anything to while driving.

At some point you just dive in and eventually you forget that you were ever scared of the plunge.

Letting go of the body is an effortless thing.

So you just climb up there in your little one piece bathing suit and jump. Letting go of the body. You float in the water without a body for a few moments or a million years and realize that it won’t be long now.

Except often, the moment we come up for air we forget again.

We forget what it felt like to be unafraid of floating. Of letting go.

*    *   *   *   *   *   *  *    *   *

Well, what did it feel like then?

It felt like forgetting.

~~~~~

The Manifest-Station

Like Forgetting. Jen Pastiloff.

Were you afraid?

I was. At first.

Why?

Because I knew I was dying and I wasn’t finished.

With what?

Living.

Then why did you let yourself die?

I didn’t know I had a choice.

Did it hurt?

Not in a way you will understand. 

Well, what did it feel like then?

It felt like forgetting. Like my life was slowly pouring out of me as I lay there grasping at it with invisible fingers. I watched it fall out of me as if it had never happened. It was that fast, the undoing. And, just like that, it was gone. I was undone. I saw you at age 38, my same age, and I understood your own forgetting and how difficult it was to keep a life going when there was no body anymore.

I understood my body was going. My arms numb, my head…

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