How loss affects who we are

“Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.” Rumi

The way things so abruptly change

 

When someone dear to us dies, it’s a tragedy. Time slows down. Proportions change. It’s debilitating. Nothing seems as it was. Suddenly, something you cannot, could not have controlled, dictates the tone of your life. Colors change, and you suddenly notice things you’ve never seen before. Things appear to be different, and you know not how. It is indescribable. 

A vast vacuum opens just around you, and you walk with it about your day as if you can ignore it, but you can’t. Then there’s pain, physical pain, exhaustion. 

Grief takes energy, boundless energy. 

Things as they are don’t make sense anymore. You find yourself sinking into memories, deep and with attention, as if things happened yesterday, even though they took place years ago. You turn things in your mind. You breathe in deeply, you sigh, you cry.

Suddenly it all seems to have been so fortunate and unattended, miraculous even at times. That life, gone, the people, the movement, the attention, the care, was it so, as you imagine? Who knows, it’s gone now. So much of it is gone, ungraspable anymore. Yet the sentiment remains, and you can be with it in memory of the person physically lost to you. 

Grieving is highly personal.

 

When I lost my big brother Tal, I was five years old. My whole life changed. I wasn’t aware of how it changed at the time. Today, when I look back on my life, I think it happened when I was so young; I cannot imagine life otherwise. Always the odd one out, the one left on her own, the lonely child and all that goes with it. Children don’t like being different. But I was different; there was no choice about the matter until much later in life. 

When you’re a child, though, you get used to being different when you can’t help it. My brother died when I was 5; I think somewhere between eight and fifteen years of age, I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Between the age of five and ten, I still harbored the illusion that maybe life could turn somehow miraculously in my favor, and I’ll be like anyone else.

When I finally gave that up, this is where I started becoming me. 

In any case, I can attest that grief is a highly personal thing. All national attempts to make it stately, again and again, year after year, have utterly failed with me. My relationship with my brother has always been a very intimate private matter of a delicate and intricate love relationship that now, on this planet, only I know. 

I lost a dear friend last week. We were not in too much contact in the past 20 years, but her memory and who she was for me when we were close remains so alive and strong in my mind and heart. For this whole day, I’ve been utterly and entirely elsewhere. In a different time and space, in the past, and perhaps also in a possible future. 

Reality made its best to disturb me, but I had no fighting power, and surely but tenderly, her presence and the presence of our time together kept me going. Strangely and beautifully, it gave me the power to proceed. It gave me an awkward new strength to be complete with what I was doing. No taking for granted as we usually do. Being as I am with what comes. Precisely as I am, not more, nor less.

The gifts of the departed

 

Years later, you realize the gifts given to you by the departed. It takes time. You stop what you’re doing, listen to your feelings, and re-assess with awe and deep gratitude. The question arises: what is important now? The answer comes clearer than before. Life seems to be “less” than it was, but your vision is clear. You understand things you could not see before. You breathe and sigh again, going about your life with the gifts you were given that have no name yet.

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