Loss is a part of everyone’s life. It comes in different forms, such as, the passing on of a loved one, repossession of our material belongings, loss of status or relationships ending. How do these losses impact on us? How does the taking away of things we hold dear, things that function as extensions of ourselves affect our sense of self? Working in the field of trauma, loss has become a common concept that I grapple with each day. In trauma literature it is often said that trauma ‘shatters’. It shatters the way one looks at and thinks about the world, others and self. With that shattering, one can also argue comes an additional loss. A loss of a world known, loss of trust and faith in people and most significantly loss of self.
As I reflect, I have lost so much in my young life. Some things I found after many days of searching and some were never regained. The way in which I lost these belongings of mine has been different, as in some cases I did the losing and misplacement; and in other cases, things were taken from me by force, taken without my permission or me even knowing they had been taken. Each time I grieved and hid from the world, because it hurt too much. As a consequence I was not present and never got to be grateful for the people and things that were not gone. I have lost money to carelessness and theft; cell phones and laptop to muggers and burglary; I have lost friends to different locations and time; I have lost family members to life and death; and I have lost boyfriends to betrayals and unrequited love. Each time I thought I would not recover, but I would make more money and find a new boyfriend and so life would go on. For those things and people I have lost forever, slowly I would learn to live without them, even though I still feel the gaps in my life that their presence once filled.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book titled, ‘Life Lessons’ (2000, p.75) said that “we eventually lose everything we have, yet what ultimately matters can never be lost. Our houses, cars, jobs, and money, our youth and even our loved ones are not ours to keep. But realising this truth does not have to sadden us.” I struggled and still struggle with that statement and I read this book about 10 years ago when I had experienced a loss in which I felt overwhelmed with grief. Searching for some understanding of this feeling following my experience of loss, I searched through different books and came across a British novelist, Clive Staples Lewis, who for me captured that overwhelming feeling of my grief in this way “it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” I mean this author captured so much of the grief I felt. He says, “who knew that grief felt like fear”, he continues to talk about the spells where one convinces themselves that they don’t mind the loss; and moments when things make sense, when in the end what you prefer is the agony because it is authentic. The author describes the self-pity and wallowing and laziness that comes with grief and the shame.
When I came across these words, I had lost my grandmother, who was everything to me; my pain was so raw that nothing made sense at all. This loss had split me into thousands of tiny pieces and I did not know how to put myself together. I had lost a sense of self. I was still alive and yet this loss made me feel I had died too. All those emotions and behaviours described by Lewis is what I went through. I don’t know why I felt the sense to write on this subject after all these years, perhaps it was finding Lewis’ book and his words resonating with me, or perhaps it is seeing this kind of loss and grief in and out of my practice. And even though I provide ‘talk therapy’, I know that words cannot capture the loss and grief in the world, others and the self. The feeling of grief and loss is inevitably an experience that is felt and needs to be felt. Another author I came across during my search for comfort and understanding wrote, “It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your planet. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or yours, without moving to hide it, or fade it or fix it.’’ Oriah Montain Dreamer (1995: 35).
It came to me 10 years later that people come and go and we should cherish the moments we have with them. Healing began when I started to remember the good and the bad times that I had with my grandmother, the songs we sang and how we danced to the tune that is life. I am what I am because of her and not only did I find comfort, but I found courage and strength to go on. However, there is something endearing about loss in whatever form it comes, one looks at the ‘what if’s’ or ‘I wish you were here’ moments and even in the ‘they’re not here moments’, still life goes on. I now know that we do not lose things and people all at once, we lose in degrees. I mean, 10 years later I still wish my grandmother’s wisdom on child rearing was around. I am quite certain that I will still lose a lot in my life, because loss is typical of life, but I will not go and hide. I also know that I will be saddened by it, but because of this grief, will in turn forever learn to strive to appreciate each moment I have with the people; time and possessions I have right now. What will you do when loss enters your life?
Written by: Thembisile Masondo