Saturday, September 8, 2012

Talking about loss and sorrow

This past summer has been a reminder that life is fragile and that sorrow and loss are ever-present parts of life. I have written several posts about loss during the past several years; it strikes me how we can never really quite come to terms with loss and the grief that accompanies it. It can be the loss of a friend or family member due to illness; I know of several people who have ‘lost’ their spouses to Alzheimer’s disease and to the slow descent into oblivion that accompanies it. The healthy spouses live with a sorrow that they silently carry around with them. Sometimes they are able to talk about their loss; mostly they do not. Others deal with illnesses that may rob them/have robbed them of their mobility and physical freedoms. Others deal with separations and divorce, or the loss of treasured friendships. Most times it is death that takes our loved ones from us. We need only listen to the TV news to know that this happens every day due to crime, war, or tragic accidents (as just happened to my husband’s good friend who drowned last week after falling off his boat); or just the inevitable progression toward old age where again, people we love move into old age, forge the paths they are able to forge through that barren wilderness, before they move on into the world where death takes them physically from us. Learning to let go of those we love is probably the most difficult thing we will ever be asked to do in this life. Wondering if we will ever know happiness again, that question haunts us.

There are other losses that are not spoken about very openly, despite the means for communication that are continually available to us. We as a society seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to truly describing how we feel about losing our jobs, our identities, our pride or self-esteem, about how it feels to be displaced or frozen out of the ‘good company’ at work or in school, or simply ignored by our workplaces and schools. We talk about bullying in society and that it should stop, but it doesn’t. People who are bullied and harassed experience a loss of self-esteem and happiness that is difficult for them to deal with and that may affect them for the rest of their lives, and they may grieve silently for those losses. We are told to deal with constant change in our workplaces, and while most of us adapt to the new changes and patterns, it is neither as fast as management wishes nor as successful as they might hope. ‘Something’s lost but something’s gained, in living every day’, as Joni Mitchell sings. That’s true, but sometimes the gains don’t outweigh the losses. I would argue that it depends upon what is lost and what is gained. Nonetheless, we cannot stand still and we must live in the now. So we are forced to deal with loss and change.

Our sorrows are often right under our surfaces, but we are silent about bringing them to light. I was at a summer party recently, and I met a young woman who told me about her father’s quiet sorrow; he was born in another country and came here to live many years ago, probably as a political refugee. He married and had a family, but he never stopped missing his birth country. For her young age, she was deeply reflective, and her love and understanding for her father were clear. Her description of his sadness was something I could understand viscerally. For I too miss my birth country; it is a tangible feeling of sorrow that I carry around with me, and that I have done a good job of keeping under my surface until now. But I cannot do that any longer. At the same party, I met a fellow expat, who told me that he hated America and that he would never go back there to live. I could never say the same. I love my country the way I love a person—we are intertwined. I couldn’t tell you why it is this way; it just is after many years of living away from my birth country. So I could not understand my fellow expat, although I registered his words and opinions. It made me think of my grandparents who left Italy for America in the early 1900s and who never once returned there, as they could not afford to do so. What must it have been like to know that you would never see your father, mother, or siblings again, unless they followed you to America? Loss and sorrow on both sides. How their sorrows must have defined their lives, especially when their lives took a downturn during the Great Depression when my grandfather lost his pharmacy. I know that their sorrows colored their later lives because my father told me a lot about his family life and how his father suffered. Not all immigrants miss their birth countries; I know several people who have moved from Europe to the USA, who have become successful and who would never move back to their birth countries. But I also know immigrants to the USA who miss their birth countries regardless of their successes. It is an individual thing—how we deal with loss and the sorrows that accompany it. But it is good to talk about it sometimes, because you find out that you are not as alone in this life as you may think.  

No comments:

Post a Comment