I was talking to my grown daughter on the phone the other day. I told her that one of the unhappy things about getting older is that loss becomes just part of the scenery of life. I told her that I'd spent years of my life learning not to sweat the small stuff, the losses and frustrations that don't really matter, only to arrive at a time in my life that's filled with losses that do matter.
Live long enough, and loss, real loss, is inevitable, after all. We know it, but we live in the happy illusion in our youth that it is not so, that death and disease are the aberrations. Middle age knows they are the rule, and that soon or late they come for everyone we love.
But, I told her, there's an up side, too. The older I get, the better able to weather grief I seem to become. It turns out that in this, as in so many things, practice helps. Grief is a skill that grows better with use, if we dare to trust it--to feel it, acknowledge it, and keep walking.
I'm stronger now than I was at twenty, and I know it. I told my daughter so.
"Mom," she said, "Um... that's kind of dark."
I guess maybe it is.
Here's what I know:
I lost a friend this week. My good friend Abby has died, and I can't quite piece that knowledge together in my head. I don't get it, about death. Not yet. (I guess that means I'm still young enough that it does seem like an aberration to me after all.)
I understand grief, though. And watching Abby's wife Janet walk this valley is breaking my heart. No courage, no generosity of spirit, no warmth of heart takes away the pure, high, keening pain of Janet's loss. She speaks of it sometimes, bows down and weeps from it sometimes, but mostly, she keeps walking. And it is breaking my heart to watch her.
Here's what else I know: when your life brims over with pain and sadness--the real kind that can't be fixed with an attitude adjustment--you gotta go out and grow a bigger life. In fact, all of us, all the time, should be growing our lives as wide as our hearts can hold, so that, wherever there is grief, there will be some ghost of joy and gratitude to bear it company.
Be large. Love many. Give your time, give your energy, and above all else, give your empathy and enter in to all the joys and sorrows that there are in your friends' lives. Drink deep from the cup of life, especially when it is bitter, from motives of pure self-interest. Because in times of loss, it's all you've got to keep you going.
Don't tell me about the littleness of your life. Live large. When loss comes to you, too, it will give you something to hold on to.
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