My uncle, Winston, who lived in Trinidad with (most of) the rest of my mum’s family, died last week. It started me thinking quite deeply about the feeling of loss, including when you haven’t seen the other person in a long time. In our case, it had been just over a decade.
The cruel irony of loss
Without endings, our investment in each other and ourselves would have little meaning. Time stretching out before us, we lose the sense of accomplishment, of achievement in our lives. The loss of greats in “the 27 club” is felt more acutely because they did so much with so little. Even our need for intimacy would be lessened, because we wouldn’t worry about whether or not we see someone again – they would always be there, somewhere. And so we need endings. And endings require loss. And the pain of loss can feel worse than any physical pain. These contradictions are simplistic and yet fundamental – much like taking medication to ease the worst of depression can also prevent you from feeling the highs in life. Happiness cannot exist without misery – no good days without at least the occasional bad; no light without contrast.
Entitlement to loss
We found out about my uncle at a late stage, because he wanted to keep his condition hidden from the family. I was angry about that, not only for myself but for my mum, who only found out a week before he passed. For the most part, we’ve moved past that emotion now, not least because it serves no purpose to hold on to. There is no revenge to take, and I am equivocal on what the “right thing to do” should have been. Nonetheless, my sadness and anger spilled onto other parts of my life, like carrying soup at speed in one of those bowls that only make it slosh about more.
There is no telling how you will react to the loss of a thing, a concept, or a person. Having been so lucky as to making it to 33 without losing someone very close to me, my colour palette of loss only maybe extends down to the mid-greys. But to me that might feel horrible. For someone who has experienced a great deal of deep and traumatic losses, they may be left feeling very little at the passing of someone very close. Likewise, they may still be heartbroken. But everyone has a right to grieve for the lost, and while in our darkest moments we might feel like we intrude on another’s right to feel grief – by sharing our experiences we can bring light and joy to the memories and to each other. Loss can contain an element of joy and respect, and the bitter-sweetness comes through acknowledging each other, empathising, and sharing. Never competing, but recognising when someone feels a need to demonstrate the depth of the space that was left behind.
Reminders of mortality
Loss inevitably triggers a sense of finality. My uncle was 69, which is still very young. My own mum turns 76 later in the year, and while her mum still lives (93), it serves as a reminder of the inevitable. Of course, there’s no reason to think that way, at least, not for long periods of time. I prefer to try and use it to motivate me to live the life I want to, and therefore turn it into something positive.
I can only believe that these experiences, while trying, ultimately bring us joy. The joy of remembering only the good about someone, because that’s almost always what lingers – and the joy of knowing that we are here, now, with each other, and funnily enough, as Bon Jovi once sang, that’s a lot.