Lessons From a Lifetime of Loss

When you are blessed to have lived a long time, the losses pile up. (I’m now the same age as my father when he died. Wow!) 

My first loss was my paternal grandfather when I was 11 years old. It sticks in my memory because I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral (too stressful for a kid –I still resent it, but understand the times). His home was my city-boy annual vacation in the country, and that stopped cold.

Sometime ago my other three grandparents died, and my oldest son’s role was to be a comfort to my parents. That was OK because the “memory talks” were healing for me, too.

My dad was ill for a while before he died, and there were some goodbye talks between us. Sometimes I still tear up when I use the tools he loved and I inherited.

A beloved long-time friend, Sally, died after her second bout with cancer, and my wife Tricia and I spent the final 48 hours by her bedside.

I was very fond of my father- and mother-in-law, and grieved along with my wife when they died. A brother-in-law died at 50, after three months in hospice care in our home, where the whole family gathered daily.

My most recent loss was my mother. She died three years ago at the age of 102. Mother was a very special woman in the lives of many. She was the most nurturing, non-judgmental, outer directed person I have ever known. She was my life-long source of unconditional love. And now she’s gone, except in my head and heart.

It’s a strange feeling to know that my longest link to life, going back to her carrying me in her womb, is no longer with me. When they brought me to her just after I was born she said, “My goodness he’s ugly!” It’s one of my favorite stories from her. Her life was hard at times, but she never lost her sense of humor – I miss her greatly.

Mom’s legacy is not only with me in my head, but in a wonderful album of her life. My wife interviewed her several times when she turned 100 and created this album with photos, poems from high school friends, dance cards, love notes from Dad, and quotes and stories from the interviews. All of the family members now have a copy of the album – my brother, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren and the great great grandchildren. An annual walk through the album brings her into my present life.

My grief journey has had many forks in the road. Each loss has been special in some way, and has broadened my perspective on life. We do survive, we do grow softer and wiser, we do embrace every day as special, we do cherish those around us, we are happy… Writing this, I do have a sense of sadness as well as a sense of joy in the memories it has surfaced. I’m grateful for the contributions these people have made to my life.

I’ve cried a lot, cussed some, been angry, been confused… and my reaction to each loss has been different every time. The losses do pile up the longer you live, and the opportunity to turn those losses into gains in compassion, love, peace and joy also pile up and can be turned outward to others.

Perhaps what I’ve learned most from each individual I’ve lost is that what we contribute to make the lives of others better, is what really counts.

One Comment:

  1. Alisha said on May 19, 2010 at 8:39 pm ... #

    Bill, your words always touch my heart, and these really reached out to me today: “We do survive, we do grow softer and wiser, we do embrace every day as special, we do cherish those around us, we are happy… ” I only hope to grow into my older years with the grace, dignity, compassion, and love that you have. You set such a wonderful example for me of how to truly live all the years of my life. Thank you.

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