Just over two weeks ago the husband of a friend and former co-worker passed away suddenly. I didn't know him well. Many people did however. The church was standing room only and those who arrived at the time the funeral service was slated to begin found themselves standing on the portico or stairs or in the parking lot.
Today I got together with a friend and fellow artist. We work in different mediums. We come from different generations. Different genders. Many significant differences. And we share many things in common as well. Such a combination often leads to deep conversations mulling the questions and challenges of our artistic journeys let alone journeys as human beings. Inspiring and hope-filling, these talks are of the ilk that carry the odd or the magnificent gem of insight, or two dozen. I love these. They make me feel like I am LIVING a life worth living. Today I heard myself saying "loss is not a bad thing." In our culture we shun it and run from loss at every turn. I imagine there might be those who would argure vehemently -- if not run and hide from that kind of a statement. "Loss is actually a good thing." I pressed on. It is how we best learn. It moves us forward -- when we allow it to be felt. When we run from or hide from or deny loss, we become mired in the thing which we cannot leave behind. We stop.
This isn't at all to say the death of my friend's husband was a good thing. It's unimaginable to me to lose a partner of 41 years. My thoughts are along the line that loss happens. Loss is simply and undeniably part of life. It is in the meaning of the death, just as it is in the meaning of the lived experience that the gems are found. The golden nuggets of insight and awareness are buried right in the center of the loss. If we run away or hide, we lose the opportunity to see the gifts of the loss.
I've experienced death since I was very young but my earliest great loss came with the death of my sister when I was fourteen. It was a sudden and unexpected death. There were many extenuating circumstances which made processing her death extremely complex for every member of my family. For me, I hardly ate or spoke for a week. When it came time to go to the wake, (open casket) I was mute and barely responsive. I sat at the table while family members gathered to drive to the funeral home. I remember noises. I guess people were talking to me but I couldn't respond. I was so deep inside the loss I was practically unreachable. Someone put a shot glass full of wiskey infront of me (a rural midwest last ditch cure-all) to "calm me down" before leaving. I stared at it. I didn't want to be made calm or numb or drunk. I wanted to experience this loss and to talk about it and understand it, or at the very least ponder it in it's depths, in MY depths. I don't know who drank the shot.
In a culture where we fear aging to the tune of billions of dollars a year in methods to hide or stave off its symptoms (isn't aging about loss?), talking about the gifts of loss let alone the gifts of death is pretty radical. But I think my sister's death, while grievously tragic on SO many levels, gave me beautiful gifts as well, just as her life did. So too the death of my friend's husband taught me to practice smiling more because this man was rarely without a smile and that memory alone (among millions for those who knew him well) marked him a beautiful example for us all to BE happy in this life, in our work and in our play. For this life is temporary and all too soon lost; and it is ours to decide how we will mark it.
So, the loss of a relationship or the loss of an opportunity, or position, or friend or favorite whatever, or the loss of our youth,... it's all challenging. Loss hurts. Loss shakes us and can hollow us out. But loss never, never comes without gifts as well to heal, to fill the gaps, to strengthen and beautify that which remains of our selves and our lives.
Loss is perhaps the ultimate experience of the convergence of Fear and Love. Explosive with shock waves and all.