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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

My Lessons From Loss

This post is longer than usual. It is also personal, probably self-indulgent and was the most difficult to write. It is writing as therapy and catharsis. Please bear with me. Thank you.

A lot has been written about loss and what it teaches us. We’re all different, so we all experience it in different ways. Despite being a common thread though, loss isn’t something we dwell on most of the time. Why would we? It hurts. Only when we’re confronted by it do we give it any real consideration -which is where I find myself again. These are not my only losses, but they are the most significant to me.

Like most kids, my first experience with death and loss was that of my pets. My memory is fuzzy on who went first, Freddy the Goldfish or Whiskey the beautiful, blue budgie. However, my Nana was the first person I remember losing, when I was only eight. I didn’t attend the funeral, so didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I have often thought that was a shame, but my folks believed they were making the best decision for me, and I do understand and appreciate that.

My Lessons From Loss
Nana on her wedding day
However, a few days after her passing, I had a dream, or perhaps a vision, that she was sitting with me at the end of my bed. She didn’t say anything, was just there as a comforting presence. From that day on, I believed she was my guardian angel. Even now, forty-four years later, I still talk to her and feel her guidance and solace. Ultimately I didn’t need to say goodbye! I am a spiritual person more than religious, but I feel that my lovely Nana taught me faith.

The passing of my other Nana came at the time I was experiencing my first MS attack. She was a generous and welcoming woman, the ultimate ‘hostess with the mostess’. She was also ahead of the curve of career and family balance by at least a generation. And it was the strength she possessed to march to a somewhat different tune that held her lesson for me.

The pain of her loss will be forever interwoven with my own turmoil, uncertainty and fear. Suddenly alone, at Christmas time, and spending too much time in my own head, this tapestry of desperate emotions threatened to overwhelm me.
 
My Lessons From Loss
Nana at a family reunion
I thought at the time that this was my lowest point. Little did I know that it was still a hell of a way down to rock bottom, and I almost self-destructed. It was a long and difficult lesson. I don’t look back at that time much, as it still hurts. But I know that this loss, both of Nana and of the ‘certainty’ of my future, taught me how resilient I am.

My most recent loss also comes with life lessons for me, I think. My cousin Janet passed away a couple of weeks ago, at a mere fifty-eight years old, from lung cancer. All losses come too soon, but this one seems to me particularly unjust.

To the outside world she was an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life. But to those who knew and loved her, she was anything but. ‘Larger than life’ was a phrase used to describe her, and not just by me. She was impetuous, mercurial and wore her heart on her sleeve. But so much more impressive was her strength, determination and courage. She received many blessings in her life, but also more obstacles than one person should have to overcome.

Some challenges were of her own making, there’s no doubt, especially when she was younger. But this was because she lived life at full bore. Janet was a doer. She knew what she wanted and then worked, as hard as it took, to make it happen. I am the opposite. I think and over-think to the point of inaction, fear of the consequences or making the wrong choice halting me in my tracks.

I wasn’t always this timid and wishy-washy. And Janet surprised me once with her (sometimes brutal) honesty by telling me she knew exactly when the change started to happen and why. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say at the time, and thought I hid well the fact that I was a lost soul, especially from someone I didn’t see all the time. Not much got past her however. And she was right, giving me new insight into my own life.

These are all the things I respected about her. But the quality I admired the most was her positivity and her sense of humour. Despite everything, she never lost that. Nothing was off limits to her wit, particularly herself – and even her illness. By all accounts, she was still smiling to the end. I believe this was because, when she opened her eyes in those last days she saw what was always most important to her, the faces of those she loved.

I lost some of the continuity of my own story with Janet’s passing. Of my generation, but older than me, she’d always just been there and she ‘got’ a lot of what happened in my life. And because of her strength and her giant personality, I took for granted that she would always be there. Lesson number one is the one that all losses teach. It also seems to be the one that is hardest to learn.

I visited Jan after her diagnosis, to see her one last time and say goodbye to her in person. Imminent death had not changed her much, which I thought was strange at first. Then I realized that it’s only those of us who have left so much of life on the table to this point who would be changed. She might have had a few regrets over things she had done, but voiced none, at least not to me, over things she had left undone.

My Lessons From Loss
With Jan for the last time
So lesson two from Jan is to retrieve my courage and start living the life I've been blessed with while there’s still time. I’ll never be the one who dives in head first, and that’s okay. But I think life would be more colourful if I could take some of her spirit and her zest. I’d like to think that if a part of her lived on through me, she would be happy and proud. So would I.



















11 comments:

  1. I death of a loved one hits us all differently depending on the loved one lost.

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    1. Yes Rena, it's true. It seems that losing the women in my life has had the biggest impact.

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  2. This was a wonderful post, you have nothing to apologize for!

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    1. Thank you, Carol! I wanted to do these terrific ladies proud.

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  3. I'm so sorry for your loss..you've written about it beautifully

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    1. (With apologies for the delay in responding!). Thank you Michelle for your words. It was difficult to write, but worth it.

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  4. Beautifully done! I can see what amazing women these two were. So glad you had them in your life. Even if it seems like too short a time!

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    1. (With apologies for the delay in responding!). Thank you, Diane. Yes, I've been blessed with wonderful women around me. Glad I was able to convey some of their spirit.

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  5. I read this the other day an had a problem commenting. After reading your note on my post this morning, I came back here to reconnect. I see you are in Nova Scotia so I suppose we won't be doing lunch anytime soon! I, too, have suffered much loss and no matter how many years pass, you never forget. You did a beautiful job of sharing. Warm and tender - thank you.

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    1. Carol, sorry you had trouble commenting the other day. Glad you came back though, and thank you so much for your comment about the post. As tough as loss is, it has lessons for us, which is probably why we remember.
      I wish that we could do lunch! We will be back in Comox one day (don't know when!), so I'll keep it in mind for down the road!

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    2. +Donna - that would be awesome

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