Only when you have known joy and love, can you experience loss. They are different facets of the same diamond of life. Some people protect themselves against loss by walling off their emotions, indeed as someone who was brought up in Britain, famous for their ” stiff upper lip”, I know all about that. But I have learned that if I am to experience the richness of life, it’s passions and love, then I have to embrace that loss is part of the price you need to pay.
I am writing this on the eve before I put a beloved Siamese cat, Honey Bear to sleep, the time has come. And I will weep as I always do, mourning the loss of a favorite pet, who has loved unconditionally and served so faithfully, first as a Velcro companion to my late husband when he was sick with cancer, and then to me as I laid my lonely head on the pillow; she was always there, next to my head, bestowing whiskered kisses and purring in comfort. I can understand that some people who have endured the loss of one pet, stay away from pet ownership, never wanting to experience that pain again. Many people who have been divorced, or widowed feel the same way, they declare “never again”. I understand the very human tendency to shut down to avoid a repetition of the pain of loss, but of course what then goes missing is all those wonderful moments in between.
There are many thoughtful writers on the subject of loss and grieving, it’s various stages with end of the process, something most writers would call acceptance. At this stage of my life, I have come to know loss intimately; my parents, my husband, generations of pets, and other losses such as health battling breast cancer, or business reversals. I cannot say that I have seen it all, but I can say that I have experienced as much, if not more than my fair share. These losses, each in their own unique way have made me a wiser, more patient and compassionate person. There is a saying that you don’t know how it feels until you have trod in my shoes. I think that is true. You can have sympathy for another person undergoing hard times, but you do not know how it feels. I do not dwell in the past, but I understand with more depth, the suffering of others. So back to acceptance and being at peace with it all, how do you get there?
I think that there are two parts to the path to acceptance. The first is to realize that life has passages or seasons, whatever you like to call them. Unfortunately, as we all come to know, the good times do not last forever, but neither do the bad times. The key here is to realize that you are in a period of life, whatever it is, that sooner or later will change. But the second part of the road to acceptance is more difficult for most people. It involves realizing when life is going well, to never take it for granted, and to appreciate each exquisite moment in the present. Never let your life just drift along, to do so is to waste it.
When my husband was sick he used to tell me that when he died I should bury him in the ground and move on, find somebody else to love on this earth and he would claim me in heaven. I know that his advice was sound but as most of us have discovered, replacement is not that easy even when you have made your uneasy peace with the past.
Getting to a place of being able to accept loss in your life, opens the door to another place. It is called rebuilding your life after loss. It takes enormous courage to stand in the knowledge and acceptance of your losses, and build a new, but different life. That rebuilding process and what it entails, will be the subject of another post. In the meantime, in memoriam little Honey Bear, I will scatter your ashes at my husband’s grave. He would like that.