HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: Coping With Loss

Hayden Hollingsworth

The only constant in life is change; nothing stays the same.  Sometimes the rate of change is so slow as to be imperceptible.  Other times it is cataclysmic and life in changed forever in the blink of an eye.

The possibility of the latter can keep us unsettled, the former can be denied because of its lack of immediacy.  In either case it will happen and the end result often seems to be loss.

Loss can take many forms some of which can be ameliorated by anticipatory preparation but others we are powerless to change.  I recently saw a birthday card which declared the recipient had done everything right: exercise, weight control, moderation in all things then the inside delivered the truthful message: You got old anyway.

Aging is one of the biggest changes that we will face, provided we avoid an early demise.  Our culture is geared toward denial of aging.  We spend billions of dollars in trying to ward off the ravages of getting old, but it is a fool’s errand; barring an early disaster the losses that occur with aging are as inevitable as an incoming tide.

That being said, what are we to do?  Nothing is going to change the ultimate result but perhaps there are a few things that might make the trip to the end less onerous.

The loss of physical abilities is one of the first to be noticed.  Stairs become steeper and longer, print becomes smaller, memory becomes shorter, people speak too softly, body parts that have silently functioned for decades begin to complain.

There are obvious aids for some of these, but eventually, they will win out.  The immediate danger is that we will deny they are happening rather than acknowledge their presence and try to find adaptations.

Acceptance is an important first step in dealing with loss.  We have all heard the expression, “It is what it is.”  Younger folk brush that off as sophistry but unless the senior citizens deal with it, loss of functional ability can eventually lead to disaster.

One of the sobering aspects of loss of physical ability is observing it in others.  It is sad to see this happening to friends and loved ones and most of us are quicker to recognize that than we are to admit it about ourselves.

You can see where this is leading: we are all going to suffer the same loss . . . loss of our lives.

Woody Allen once said, “Americans believe death is optional.”  Not so . . . and for good reason; think of earth with 50 billion inhabitants! Those in their “twilight years” seldom have a week pass when a friend, an acquaintance or, worst of all, a loved one dies; accepting that loss is the most grievous of all.

To vastly oversimplify, many losses are unavoidable and irreversible.  Andre Dubus, a prize winning poet and writer, suffered many catastrophic losses in his life, the worst being hit by a speeding car while aiding a victim in a roadside accident.  He never walked again but reconfigured his life in a remarkable way.

He chronicles his response to his many losses in Broken Vessels, a book well worth reading.  He closes it with a remarkable statement: We receive and we lose . . . we must try to achieve gratitude and with that gratitude embrace with our whole hearts whatever of life that remains after each loss.

Nothing can remove memories of the past, even the prospect of a future that is truncated.  Being grateful for what we have experienced can soften the reality of what lies ahead. Hard as it may be to do, an attitude of gratitude is a blessing that eases the pain of loss.

Given the inevitability of what the future holds it’s worth expending energy in reliving the joys of earlier days and carrying that forward in our minds.

Hayden Hollingsworth