Pockets of Loss

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My mind and heart feel a bit scattered, this week. I have returned from retreat to work and errands and the ups and downs that characterise life in the real world. Each time I go on a retreat, I want to stay there, where there is space and quiet and a relief from worry about finances and obligations and commuting and cleaning and all the things that we resist and resent. But I know that living the life of a monk or a hermit is not my path, however appealing it seems, at times. So I return, and try to juggle the mundane tasks of life in western society with the contemplative life that calls to me.

I am facing some possible changes at work, where there are huge budget cuts expected, in the next two years, which could mean that the program I am managing will end. This means more changes in my work life, and, though I don’t have a lot of fear around finding a job (there are always jobs in the field of child abuse and neglect, unfortunately), I am not ecstatic about the prospect of having to acclimate to a new work environment. I would prefer to move from this position to retirement, but I am fortunate to even have a job, in these economic times, and for that I am grateful.

My husband’s granddaughter is headed toward University today, and we all gathered at his daughter’s house, on Friday, to send her off and wish her well. I felt Stan’s presence all around us. I could picture him, sitting on the sofa, in his usual spot, at his daughter’s house, beaming with pride, with me there, right beside him. We were all mindful of his physical absence, that night, as we raised our glasses in toast to her, and to her accomplishments.

My nephew is coming for a short visit, today. He grew up in Indiana, and now lives in Denver, and loves hiking and rocks, having studied geology, so I hope to show him some of our beautiful countryside while he is here. He lost his older brother, who died at the age of 23, in 2004. Eleven years ago. Chris’ death was a shock to us all, a devastating loss for our family, and for his father, him, and his sister, especially. It is hard to believe that someone can die so very young. I am mindful of this loss, and of the hole it left in all of our lives, as I ponder going to meet my nephew at the train station this afternoon.

And I am remembering my father, today. He died on the 1st of October in 1987. 28 years ago. He was 62. I remember, then, thinking that he was old, not old enough to die, but that he had lived a life that was long and full. Now, at the age of 58, I see how very young 62 is. He missed out on so much of our lives, and of his. He always talked about wanting to live to see the year 2000. He didn’t get to do that. He didn’t get to meet my son, a boy he would have loved and celebrated and with whom he would have found great commonality. 

It feels strange, sometimes, to think back to the days when my dad was alive. I was so close to him, and I relied on him for his wisdom and knowing and for his emotional support when I was struggling with the dramas that we create for ourselves in adolescence and early adulthood. He always knew the right words to say to help me get a perspective on my often self-imposed suffering. He understood what was important in life, and he tried to help me see it.

I remember accompanying him to a radiation treatment when he was fighting lung cancer, in the summer of 1986. Watching him take off his shirt and lie under that big machine, I saw him as vulnerable for the first time in my life. His body looked so small and frail. I knew, in that moment, that it would only be a matter of time before he left us, and the thought of losing him was almost too much for my heart to bear.

We didn’t get that time to ponder the loss of my husband. He died at the age of 63, and witnessing his sudden death was a trauma of its own that has complicated our grief journeys. One moment, his strong presence was a source of comfort and solace for us, and the next moment, he was gone.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by all these pockets of loss.

When I was on retreat, I walked, most mornings, to the old church down the road, and strolled amongst the graves of the people who once lived in the village nearby. I love graveyards. I am a storyteller, and I love to read the short stories of peoples’ lives and deaths, etched so poignantly into the stone.

There were graves of infants and children, of brothers and sisters, and graves of husbands who died, and their wives, buried next to them, twenty years later. At the turn of the century, five children fell through broken ice on a pond near the village, and all of them drowned. Each day, I would trace my finger along the names of those children. Eight years old. Ten years old. Nineteen. Sixteen. Twenty.

I found comfort there, sitting among the graves. It helped me, not to minimise my losses, or discount them, but to remember that others had experienced so much loss, too. It helped me to remember that loss is inevitable, and that the only way to protect ourselves from it is to hide from love, and from life, to harden, to build a wall between ourselves and others, to shrivel up inside.

As painful as I find them, these pockets of loss are important, and necessary. They mean that I am still soft, and alive, and that my heart remains open to the world that unfolds around me.

There is so much pain. And so much beauty.

As much as it hurts, I am grateful for these pockets of loss. I am grateful to have known my dad, so full of humour and wisdom, to have known my nephew, that chubby, ginger haired boy, to have lived all those years with my mother, my sister, my sister in law. To have known Gavin, Stan’s son, who died two weeks before Stan. To have lived those short, sweet, three years with my husband.

To have known him. To have known them all.

To have loved. 


Showing 7 reactions

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  • commented 2015-10-04 14:55:16 -0700
    Thank you for writing and sharing your stories, Tricia. Getting to know your loved one through your eyes never grows old. You bring so much to life. Even those in the graveyard are reimagined through your perspective. Thank you, thank you.
  • commented 2015-10-02 14:57:08 -0700
    You said it well, Tricia. The only way not to suffer loss is not to love, and that’s too steep price to pay.
  • commented 2015-09-30 14:18:31 -0700
    Thank you all for your kind comments. I love the image, Flo, of having a choice between the ‘empty pocket’ or wrapping love’s coat around us. Sharon, it is so good to hear that you would have loved your husband and married him, even knowing that you would lose him. I have felt that way about Stan. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss knowing him, even though his sudden death has hurt so much. It was worth it just to have spent some time in his presence. Thank you to Stephanie and to Elaine, fellow grief-writers. I gain so much from reading your work and communicating with you in this way. x
  • commented 2015-09-30 05:42:44 -0700
    Thank you. Those pockets of loss no longer surprise me. I take them as reminders of all the love there is in my life and in the world. Thank you, Tricia. I’m sharing this one on FB today.
  • commented 2015-09-29 04:52:26 -0700
    “As much as it hurts, I am grateful for these pockets of loss”. I like your imagery that these are pockets, not the whole coat. I can still wrap love’s coat around me. When I am insistent that it be HIS love, all I see is this glaringly empty pocket. When I engage with the larger community, be they people, or those who exist beyond my sight, spirit only now, I take love’s coat, wrap it round, and breathe in its warmth. It has been so hard to change my focus to the coat. Reading your posts help. I am contemplative by nature. Even when I shore myself with solitude, I have my choice: notice the pocket, or note the coat.
  • commented 2015-09-28 18:14:42 -0700
    “…loss is inevitable, and that the only way to protect ourselves from it is to hide from love, and from life, to harden, to build a wall between ourselves and others, to shrivel up inside.” I considered doing that after my husband died 16 months ago at 59. His death left such an enormous hole in my heart that I didn’t know how I could carry on! Since then I’ve decided that is too high a price to pay. If I’d known Brian was going to die at 59, I would still have loved him and married him. I expect we’d have had an even better time than we did, would have ignored more of the little annoyances and would have had a great life together even knowing it would ultimately be too short. Thank you, Tricia – so many of your posts resonate with me especially since we’re near the same age and are at similar places in our grief journey.
  • commented 2015-09-28 07:46:19 -0700
    Oh Tricia. Your writing always touches me so deeply. We all go about our lives as best we can, in the background that Knowing that so many others have been touched by loss and grief as well…and as you said the only alternative to protect ourselves from more is to shrivel up inside, which is no practical alternative at all, at least for those of us who see the beauty in the world…thank you again. Hugs.