The Anatomy of Loss

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Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines loss as “the failure to keep or to continue to have something.” It also defines loss as “the experience of having something taken from you or destroyed”. Clearly, loss is not only defined in different ways between individuals, but between diverse cultures, and it can vary greatly over vast stretches of time. And how we each respond to loss is distinctly unique from individual to individual.

For me, loss has always been a phenomenon that is both simultaneously real and ethereal. There is this mystifying duality I must confess I’ve never understood very well. In my world there is the abstract, and then there is the concrete, where boundaries of loss are simultaneously sharp and porous, delineated and amorphous, here and there. It reminds me of floating bubbles – in your hand one moment and gone the next.

The last half of the twentieth century has slowly changed how we perceive and experience loss. Loss through death has been made less visible, less personal and less accessible for family members. New medical technologies, combined with society’s demand for cure and medicine’s promise to extend life, have collectively, perhaps even unwittingly, conspired to push loss into the remotest corners of our lives. We find it much harder to touch, talk about, and have some measure of control over what is an everyday possibility and occurrence. Loss as one of the most defining moment in our lives, and yet we are left chained to a culture of silence. This new reality does not represent the historical reality of our society, of any society. The chains are contemporary, and they are of our own making. My best guess is that we must all work together to discover the key that will unlock this silence.

In her final moments, my mother was a floating bubble. I knew it was a matter of time before she would simply disappear before my eyes. I could see it coming, yet I couldn’t wrap my grieving brain around it. I trailed her every move, I tracked her every breath. I kept talking to her and combing her hair while my brother sang ever so tenderly into her ear. I knew her bubble would not last much longer, yet I kept chasing it around the room. I also knew the world would fracture and swallow me up once she drew her last breath, and it did for a while, a long while. Knowing I could not continue to hold onto someone I loved more than life, I slowly realized that loss is not always bad thing to experience, or even a bad feeling to sustain. Loss has its own complex beauty, and it allows me to fill the void that once inhabited my mother’s beautiful bubble. In my heart, she still floats.


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