Modern Loss

Book Notes

Things have been rough as of late.

A while ago, I recognized that what I'm going through is grief, and that I have not given myself a chance to grieve the large number of losses I have had this year. I need to grieve, I need to process a large amount of non-classical loss, and let it go. One doesn't process grief on demand, no matter how much our loved ones or society want us to do so. However, having those who have also grieved, who have also had losses, guide us through the darkness that is grief, hold our hands, and tell us, "this f---ing sucks, it f---ing hurts, and maybe it'll hurt less in the future, maybe it won't, but I need you to know that you aren't the only person experiencing this loss, you have my, your, our permission to grieve," helps in unexplainable ways.

Unfortunately, this is not the book about grief that I needed. It is A book about grief. It is a series of essays from people who have been through loss and grief and have in some measure passed through the pain, who are turning around to reach back and help those just starting the journey. It is a good book about grief, in that it talks a lot about grief as experienced in modern times, about things that aren't "classically" okay to grieve about.

But, again, not the one I needed.

The book originated from a website where people could express their grief and find support. The book is an extension of that website, many of the essays taken from the content of the website. Which is fine, it's a good book if you're a grief voyeur. I am not. I did not enjoy reading about other people's pain. I was/am looking for a book on processing my grief.

Anyone who is able to relate to more than a couple of the essays in this book has had a shit hand dealt to them, and that really sucks.

Not my pain


The summer after I graduated high school, I was at work (in a bookstore, of course), when a personal call came through for me. I thought the call odd, and answered it, to hear Jenn tell me Ben had died. He was on a plane that had crashed the previous day, wind shears, one survivor, not Ben. Telling me at work seemed smart: I walked into the bathroom, cried for a long while, cleaned up, then went back to work, moving as numbly as I could, just needing something, anything, to keep going.

Ben's funeral wasn't so much of a funeral, there was no body to view, as a memorial. I remember being seeming the only person there crying. I couldn't understand why no one else was crying. Half the people there, and not just the boys, didn't have any evidence of having cried at all. Ben's mom at one point mentioned the graduation gift that was still on Ben's bed, unopened.

No one was crying.

For some of us, it was our first introduction to death, and they weren't crying.

I was confused and even more upset.

Three days ago, we began receiving the emails that, oh, god, none of us ever want to receive.

"... becky brought pro into the hospital yesterday and it doesnt look like he will be leaving this time ..."

"... They have found that the disease has progressed more than they realised and he is not doing well. The doctors have estimated that he has about three days ..."

So, here I am, completely stymied, at a loss.

And crying.

This isn't even my pain, and I'm crying.

Crying, because here's the imminent loss of an amazing person. Someone who is quick with the joke, generous with his time, as intense as needed, and just amazing to boot. He's this amazing person, and he's dying and it isn't fair.

It isn't fair to Becky, who is a wonderful person. It isn't fair to his kids. It isn't fair that someone who is good dies of something as stupid as pancreatic cancer. It's their pain, and I can't stop crying.

Biggest problem with growing old


The biggest problem with growing old is having to deal with loss.

Loss doesn't mean just the obvious of the death of friends and family that most people think of when they think of growing old: most people think of the elderly when they think of "growing old." Loss happens much sooner than those twilight years.

Growing old means you have to accept you can't perform athletically where you used to be able to perform. You're that half step slower, the split second off. You have to become crafty, and wiley to compensate for that loss. That is, if the small nagging injuries don't build up to something much worse in the mean while.

You have to deal with the loss of knowledge. All those equations and facts and formulas and processes you learned in school, the techniques and stories and details that you don't use everyday or at least every week on the job or in your passions, they disappear, to be forgotten. You look at your child's homework, recalling when you learned the same things, and think, "I used to know this." You realize you have forgotten more than you currently know, more than you realize.

Loss means the loss of people around you. Not only the loss of death, for that is the biggest of all losses, but rather, the smaller losses of distance when friends move away, or change. Or the losses that occur when a friend moves on to a new phase of life with weddings and children and promotions. The loss can result from a joyous event, but it remains no less a loss.

You have to deal with the loss of childhood. No longer can you just let someone else just take of you. You've made this life you call your own, and you have to deal with the consequences. Each of your actions has consequences, a fact most people try to forget. Every time you have to be an adult and face your life, you are recognizing the loss of those carefree days when someone else provided food, and shelter, and as much love as they were capable of giving. Many people never acknowledge this loss.

And, you have to deal with the loss of your dreams. At some point, you have to wake up from the fog of not thinking, and realize that you haven't achieved your dreams, that this isn't the way you expected life to turn out, that this isn't what you signed up for when you were a kid, hoping, and dreaming and plotting.

And at that moment you have a choice. You can change. You can fight for what you believe in. You can learn to say no. You can learn to say yes. You can become mentally stronger. You can stop worrying about the little details, the pieces of life that others say are important, and focus on the parts you believe are important.

Or, you can choose to accept the loss of your life. If you make this choice, you've already died.