I remember the moment vividly.
His fingers pried open the wallet to find his driver’s licence.
“Here, son. You had better take this. I don’t think I shall be needing it any longer.”
So much of his life was involved with cars - driving, repairing, admiring. And now that was over.
I could only receive the plasticized card in silence. A sacred, though heart-cracking moment.
Moments of loss saturate this past year. Both of my wife’s parents died within three months. A childhood friend of one of our daughter’s succumbed to an inoperable cancer. I became estranged from my son. And we sold the house, which was our home of 32 years to move to a condo.
And now the pandemic brings an end to the old normal.
I do not pretend to be a quick learner about matters of the heart and spirit. Some lessons seem so valuable that I must keep re-learning them.
However, I have learned that no two instances of loss impact the heart and soul in the same manner.
I have also learned that loss is a much more significant part of life than I used to acknowledge. The current of work, consumerism and the pursuit of amusement often carried me past the moments when I needed to stop and honour the moment.
Loss hangs out with grief. As each instance of loss differs, so does each expression of grief. But with loss come grief. No option. The only choice is how deeply and honestly, we acknowledge the pain.
Some grieving I have done well; others not. The level of pain was too high. I simply pushed it down or boxed it up.
The times when I have grieved well are those where rituals of mourning exist.
The death of my parents and of my wife’s parents each had a certain momentum. There was a gathering of the family and a memorial or celebration of life service. Some recognitions and celebrations were small, by the graveside, others overflowed the church and embraced the community. In some profound way, the ritual of mourning helped if only to acknowledge that the loss was significant, the gap left could not be filled, and an appropriate period of grief was normal. A tender spirit and a sluggish body were understood to be part of the process.
When changing residences, we could give thanks for all the memories in the old house, the room to raise five children, places for the grandchildren to scamper, bedrooms enough for guests to stay whenever needed, a large table around which to gather the 18 of the clan. We could leave with gratitude for that which the house provided and for that which we no longer had to worry! Our mourning accompanied the long process of downsizing, dispersing family treasures, stocking the Thrift Store and cleaning out the junk.
But how does one mourn the estrangement from one you love? The wound remains open, a weeping sore.
I have learned that one does not move from loss; we simply bring our loss with us as we move forward. We learn to live with the absence. So, perhaps for my son, part of the ritual of mourning takes the form of a daily remembrance in prayer, a determination to acknowledge the ache while not becoming consumed by it.
And now? The losses generated by this pandemic become terrifying when catalogued. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, unemployed almost instantly. And we know that unemployment can explode in the heart of a person or family, its shock waves toppling structures and relationships.
The physical threat, the confinement, the forced reflection upon the stories and myths upon which much of the consumer economy is based, each can be a life-altering loss.
Perhaps many of these implications needed to be mourned as we often do the death of a loved one. We resuscitate the memories, tell the stories of “back in the day,” name the loss, express gratitude for what we have been given and make our way forward, laying down the anger and worry when we can.