From the moment we are born, loss is part of this human existence. We lose the comfort and safety of the womb when we emerge, covered in amniotic fluid. We are sometimes delivered into a world of harsh sensations, and if we are lucky, into warm receptivity and welcome. Loving family and friends may applaud our arrival and create a container for healthy development to occur. Even in that ideal situation, we continue to experience the need to let go, moment by moment and in all areas.
When we start school, we lose the carefree existence of childhood. When we graduate high school or college, we lose the routine and need to create a new schedule. When we begin a relationship, we lose our total sovereignty over our choices, since a 'me' is now a 'we,' and the other person's needs and wants come into play. When we shift a relationship; since I'm not sure they ever totally 'end', we lose the familiarity (even if it was a dysfunctional one) of the connection with that person and perhaps those who were part of the package.
Looking back on my relationships in the past 56 years on the planet, whether with romantic partners or the proverbial friends with benefits, I see that elements of loss are present. They take the form of disappointment of what I imagined they could have been, when the reality is that they were as they were and in every let-go, there are blessings and lessons to be had. One of my favorite Edie-isms is "Love is never wasted." I know that we leave sparklings of that essence with whoever we touch. The other less desirable stuff, I am learning to slough off.
When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory which highlights major life challenges and changes.
It incorporates 43 life events and the numerical value for each one. Some relating to loss include:
Death of a spouse: 100 points
Divorce: 73 points
Marital separation: 65 points
Detention in jail: 63 points
Death of a close family member: 63 points
Major personal injury or illness: 53 points
Being fired at work: 47 points
Death of a close friend: 37 points
When compiled, these figures indicate the risk of major health crises, ranging from 150 points or less, foretelling relatively low risk, up to 300 points or more, increasing the odds by 80 percent.
In 1992, I had an ectopic pregnancy, my husband was diagnosed with hepatitis C, we lost our home to Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Florida, and moved back up north to the Philadelphia area where we were both raised. In 1998, my husband died, and I raised our then 11-year-old son solo. He is now 27, and dealing with the losses in his life in his own way -- some that differ from mine. That, too, involves surrender, since his path is unique to him.
In the past few years, I have experienced the death of both parents and a few friends, job changes, financial fluctuations, as well as major health challenges that include shingles, heart attack, kidney stones and adrenal fatigue. Most who know me would consider me resilient and that I am. And in in the face of the here-and-now reality of 'life getting lifey,' I have needed to dance the line between denial and over-doing action to deal with the circumstances I have faced. The workaholic professional would often submerge the losses under a shiny veneer, in the service of functioning at an ever higher level of performance. It sometimes felt as if I was being chased by loss and I would hear in my head "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me. I'm the gingerbread man."
Although I had been in the bereavement field for many years, I was introduced to the term 'loss layers' when reading a book entitled Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity author and artist SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) penned what for me, has become a grief guide. She wrote it in the midst of the death of her mother, followed by the passing of her 17-year-old cat and the ending of a romantic relationship.
She explains that "loss happens in spirals and layers and not in steps like a ladder." The image that comes to mind is that of the child's game of putting one hand on top of the other and then moving the bottom had on top of the person's above it until a tower of hands is built. We can only reach so high before stretching too far and need to step back.
These days, I have been far more mindful of the ways in which the losses I denied impact on my life. I tended to cast them aside, since I reasoned that other people lived with far more dire circumstance than I and with far less support with which I am blessed to have, keeping me sane and vertical.
Another recent insight is that as I have been single for so long; with a few relationships since being widowed, that I have gotten accustomed to making my own schedule: coming and going as I please, making decisions that primarily affect only me. In order to join in partnership with someone else, which I do want, I need to surrender some of that independence. Believe it or not, that would fall into the loss category.
For those who have lost loved ones to death, there is often a fear of that occurring again. The truth is, everyone we know and love will one day die or leave us, or we will die or leave them. Sobering thought, but one that enables me to appreciate those in my life all the more.
I know that there is a trade-off for the joy of a relationship. I'm thinking it would be with someone who has a similar need for shared and solo time and an ability to sometimes lead and sometimes follow in the dance.
Is there room for both loss and important others as companions in our lives? I would like to think so.