Yesterday, on Face Book, in a moment of daring madness, I invited a challenge – to write on my blog on any theme proposed. The challenge arrived – OK Ashen! How about the theme of loss, and how to come to terms with it? – this from a friend who experienced severe losses in her life, one that cost her the full use of her legs, and another that took her only child, a teenager who died in the belief that a cheesecake did not contain nuts. Wrong. As it turned out, the death of my friend’s daughter saved innumerable lives since, in that rules for exact food ingredients were introduced. Yet bereavement remains. and it is immensely personal, as well as universal.
Life itself is conditioned by loss, which brings change, often traumatic change, of which death is the most final. It reminds us that our body and personalities are mortal. When I was a child, death seemed fascinating, and unreal. What most affected me were the reactions of people around me. As a young woman, I witnessed the violent death of a friend at a party. What helped at the time was a hallucinatory dialogue with that person. They were dreamlike meetings, enabling my farewell. Frequently, the stress of a sudden change produces prolonged suffering. Studies are being done of brain activities during grief, and certain neuron connections are blocked in people who cannot accept the loss. There is evidence that physical exercise, and touch, eases stress, shown in the cyclically stuck neural pathways in the brain being loosened. Coming to terms with loss is in the end about accepting life, the whole of life.
It is said in every loss there is a gain and in every gain there is a loss … wisdom difficult to fathom when something we have been attached to is taken from us. Metaphorically speaking, the loss could be the cornerstone we had built our future on, or the pole that held our tent upright. It could be the loss of status, home, a relative, our health, a life-time job, the loss of a loved pet, a belief that kept us sane, coherence, freedom, a promise, or simply a handbag.
Once, I remember the sharp jerk in my stomach when I turned round in a supermarket and saw my trolley empty of my handbag. In a flash, the full consequences overwhelmed. My bag is my survival kit, something my grandmother impressed on me, another story. Moreover, I carry every required proof of my identity with me whenever I leave the house. Heart beating wildly, I looked for a store person, when I realised my mistake. In a short moment of absence I had mistaken the trolley. The poignant questions this shock sparked, and the relief, was my gain then. When a handbag serves as container of one’s identity it can symbolise the archetypal mother.
I had a dream the year before my mother fell ill and died shortly after. In the dream she was an image in a mirror. I walked through the mirror to find her, and stepped into her bedroom, sorting her wardrobe, while my father looked on. Soon I was a motherless, which was the beginning of more losses, the death of people very dear to me, and each time it seemed as if a part of me died along. Each time emotions wrecked havoc, from guilt and anger, to melancholy. The most truly debilitating reaction, which I tend to witness in my work, is denial, because what is denied is life itself.
In essence, my losses were qualities I had projected onto a person, a place, an object. Qualities I then had to find inside myself. When this developmental process is engaged with, it could be considered a gain. If I accept change, I can never be the same again. Each loss changed me.
There is simply nothing we can depend on in life And there continue to be new mirrors that reflect yet another bit of us, another object we desire, be it in this life or the next … where your treasure is, there will you heart be also …
Opening to the theme of loss, I could go on – it is also the most pervasive theme in literature, and the most spiritual. Writing has helped me to accept loss in the past. Here is a poem I wrote after miscarrying a child:
To my Unborn Daughter
All is well my child,
when you come next time
transport will be provided,
you’ll be elevated,
and your light touch alone
will make things happen.
there are many ways towards the One,
not all seekers have tender feelings
or sit cross-legged;
some do the sword-dance
or hold a scrap of ice in their hearts.
Like sugar and salt they seem,
different, yet each yearns to dissolve
into the flavour of divine breath.
Love is the message,
but reckon with the power
of fear that hides under love’s habit.
Best imagine the future
whilst you’re off-stage,
but also fully participate,
embody your play, and delight
with your presence.
Learn from fools to be unpredictable,
and move as often as you can
from the middle of each moment.
Empty your heart – nothing matters,
not what you carry, nor what you leave.
Know what this means – you are free,
free to make everything matter.
“Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”
—William Shakespeare, Macbeth