Loss and Its Impact
Every person faces loss throughout their lives but what we take away from it could be the biggest lesson of all.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life. Until recently, losing people I love has been held to a minimum. Like most, my grandparents went first. Each of them is unique and important in my life and central to the person I’ve become.
Yet, I’ve experienced more profound losses over the last year as I’ve never been exposed to before.
Since October 2020, I’ve lost my best friend from childhood, Brian Plummer, and my father. Add in our beloved beagle Beau, who was put down during the COVID lockdown, and the hits keep on coming. And even though it wasn’t someone I knew personally or intimately, the loss of my childhood musical hero Edward Van Halen also had a surprisingly large impact on me.
Each of these people (and dogs) had significant meaning in my life. And, suddenly, they were all gone. As I age, it becomes a reality I deal with more and more. We all do. But what should we learn from it?
Loss isn’t something you don’t understand. We all experience it when relationships end or someone we love dies. My wife lost her sister in a car accident when she was a senior in high school, her mother (my dear mother-in-law Mariyea) to cancer, and her father a few years ago. Her loss, early and often in life, has been profound. Her strength was even more astounding as I watched. Observing my wife deal with and talk about loss helped prepare me for my own. In 25 years, you hope you learn good and helpful things from your partner and I have from her.
In dealing with my own profound grief, I’ve come to learn a few things I hope are useful to others. These are takeaways and lessons I’ve learned from the loss and how they are part of life and make us better people.
Less Grieving and More Gratitude
This is perhaps the best and most profound lesson I learned from my wife and being with her as she has lost so much. With each loss, my wife stressed how she had nothing to say in death she hadn’t already said and expressed to her loved ones before they left us. There was a mutual appreciation for the love between her and her family, and it made the transition and loss a different experience. This gratitude was powerful to observe. Of course she, and I grieved the loss. It’s an important part of the process. By turning that grief into perpetual gratitude for the person, pet, or relationship you’ve lost helps you move on.
I know this has been key for me with the recent loss of my Dad. We hadn’t been particularly close the past several years, and I held some resentment over disagreements in the past. Yet, after he died earlier this month, I came to realize I had much more to appreciate than to grieve over. The loss is large, but I challenge myself to think about appreciating what he showed me by example, where he took me, and what he also taught me not to do. It helps relieve the sense of loss and realize just how much he’s contributed to my life and who I am. The grief to gratitude mentality has helped me immensely these past few weeks.
My sincere hope and goal are to continue to follow my wife’s lead and show more appreciation during the living years and with each loss.
Loss Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
When we lose someone close, or someone we admire, the natural grieving process goes on and eventually ends. Many want to prescribe a certain amount of time to that process which is wrong. While the initial shock and the natural progression through the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross five stages of grief still hold, it’s the longer-term impact of the loss I now think about more.
With my in-laws and my wife’s sister, she does her best to always talk about them - especially so our kids have a sense of “knowing” their departed family members. This can be the food they liked, their favorite Christmas tradition, or just talking about their funny quirks or personality traits. This is incredibly comforting for her and for me to keep them alive through memories. It’s important that when a loved one leaves us physically, we don’t stop making them a part of our lives because they are still and always will be. These positive and happy memories might make you feel the loss at times, but focus on gratitude, yet again, and make sure they live on.
Our Time Is Finite - So Start Living Like It’s Your Last Day
I’m reminded of the great stoic Marcus Aurelius, who said:
You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.
How many times have you heard - and said - “you never know when it’s going to be your time?”
As humans, we don’t like to talk about death even though it’s a vital piece of life and living. Stoics challenged that belief and wrote about how death was a natural progression, and it must always be part of your thoughts when your living.
It’s not. The key lesson is it’s true. We never know when our time will come and it reminds us to stay positive, stay focused on what we’re doing, and live without regrets. Yes, we all fail at doing those things sometimes, but if our own death is part of our positive thinking about how we live, how we treat one another, and how we talk to people, things change, and your appreciation for the here and now increase.
I am still dealing with my loss. The loss of my Dad is fresh. Yet by pushing myself to use these lessons and challenge my own internal dialogue, it’s changing the way I think about it.
Finding healthy ways to reflect and remember those we've lost is an important part of life. It helps us deal with our own mortality and helps those we love to see a new way for when we leave them.
I’ll miss my Dad, to be certain. But my kids will know him and remember him through practicing these in my own life.
We’ll also plant an apple tree in his memory come spring. It’s a fitting tribute for someone who will continue to give me gifts long after he’s left us and I grow old.