The ineluctable peril when writing about loss is that it has been done. A fresh take on a multi-billion-year phenomenon is rare. Yet, here goes nothing, or more fittingly, the absence of something.
My Co-, well, Religionists? Practitioners? Whichever. They speak about impermanence, that change is a constant. Physicists, as a lot, tend to agree. Yet cannot the same be said of change in the specific form of loss?
All of us face loss in one form or another. Loss of youth, of innocence, (eventually) of life. These are the mortal locks of human existence.
The challenge is understanding, within the limits of knowledge, perceptions, and physical abilities, how to deal with loss. Railing against it is a popular option, as is mourning. Acceptance is much harder to embrace, depending on the type and severity of loss. For there is always hope, sometimes rational, oft times not, that what was lost can be found once again. This might be a form of hope and/or a manifestation of self-delusion.
Case in point, I “lost” my Dad in 2016. Yet, in a truer sense of the word, he was lost to me before I was even born. He served in Vietnam and, from what I am told, it took a horrific toll on his psyche. Those who knew him said he did not truly “return” home insofar as the Jack Booms who resided in Metro Detroit in the late 1960s and afterwards was not the same Jack Booms who lived there prior to being shipped off to Indo-China.
The Jack Booms that I knew was one who was struggling, with varying degrees of success, with several maladies that fell under the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) umbrella. And his “remedies” were rarely helpful and frequently self-administered. These behaviors, of course, helped expedite his separation and eventual divorce from my Mom, with both events occurring in the latter half of the Carter Administration. But I digress.
By the time he passed, I had (for the most part) accepted his lack of presence in my life. Frankly, I was surprised to be contacted and told that he was in failing health. I had anticipated that I would simply hear from someone, one day, who would be the bearer of the news that “Your father died.” As it turned out, I had about four months, at the very end, from when I learned of his deteriorating condition to when he “shuffled off his mortal coil.”
But in a way, as we had extremely limited contact from 1982 to 2016, his loss was accounted for, it was “baked into the cake” to use that horrid cliché.
That said, I heard he became a different person…more thoughtful and compassionate. I am not certain precisely what caused this change in him, but I understand that his presence in the lives of others was warmly greeted. He helped others as they faced their own losses, and was a true friend to them.
The more challenging losses, in my estimation, are those that are self-inflicted. The loss of a relationship (friendship or otherwise) through neglect, or gross stupidity come to mind. And not knowing how, or if, such losses can be repaired can cause the mind to fold in on itself. Wondering. Anguishing. Hoping. At times, doing our best to heal the wound. Yet some solutions may be forever unobtainable, no matter how quickly or bravely we race into the breach. Sometimes, we create the circumstances that are beyond our control.
Kierkegaard wrote, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Of course, Jay Gatsby said, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” On the whole, Kierkegaard had a better handle on reality, although both the man and the character died young.
In any event, when considering loss and its impact, it would be wonderful to be able to go back and undo what was done…or at least to fast forward past the pain to see how it is resolved. Yet time moves, in this universe at least, at its own pace and in its own direction, regardless of our motives, feelings, and actions.
All we can do as sentient beings is to live and learn, and to appreciate both. And to hope that mindful words and deeds can help us avoid potential losses, and help us deal with actual ones.
So, to Dad, I would say, “Thank you” for the lesson on loss. It is probably the best counsel you ever imparted. And it is appreciated, truly.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.