Dealing with Loss

For the past ten years my husband and I have gathered each New Year’s with two other couples who come from out of town.  Originally we got together so that the three of us who were teaching together could work—and also play.  Each year has been a delight.

This year, for a variety of reasons, most likely was the last.  Everything we did I found myself enjoying at a heightened level, wanting to soak in all the goodness and joy.  The loss feels like it leaves a big hole, and I grieve.

Life is full of losses.  Things come and things go.  Some losses—such as the death of a beloved family member, the loss of a home, the destruction of dreams—are very hard, and sometimes even tragic.  As we age and die, everything our egos have held dear, bit by bit, is lost.  So my poignant loss of the New Year’s gathering is an opportunity to learn and practice the art of letting go.  Maybe then the harder losses can be handled with more equanimity than they otherwise would be.

It seems to me that there are several practices that are a part of letting go.  One is gratitude.  Any loss that we grieve—whether originally a treasure or a trial—had in it something that was precious.   Spending time knowing, feeling, remembering what was good lets us take deeper into our cells that joy.  Adding gratitude is a reminder that these good things are from Something or Someone greater than we are, which adds perspective and a bigger picture.

When anger or deep unhappiness comes with the loss, it may help to look at what is going on with, or what is under, these feelings. Forgiveness may be a key practice for letting go. It lets us release the poison we feed on in our anger while thinking to do harm to the other, and frees us to move forward.

Letting go isn’t easy.  Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.  They hadn’t journeyed far before the people began to complain and wish they were back in Egypt.  When Jesus told his disciples he was going to die, they did not like that idea, and when it happened, they were at first at a loss.  But as Jesus’ death opened new possibilities, so our losses can be a door into something new.  May we learn to let go so we can watch for and see the gift that can come in the loss.

Queries:

What is your experience with loss and letting go?

How does faith fit into your practice of letting go?

Prayer:

Loving God, thank you for the blessings that we have known in that which is now gone.  Stand with us and strengthen us as we let go into what is to come.

For further reference:

“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (See Mark 10: 17-21).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (See Revelation 21: 1-5).

Spiritual Gifts of Aging

We recently celebrated what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. During the time she lived in a retirement community a short walk from my house, she taught me about true strength and graceful aging, none of which she told me in words.

In 1967, I married and left home, my sister went to college, and my father died—all within about a month. My mother found her way through all of that loss. She just kept going. At the time I was too tied up in myself to notice. Only after I saw her move here—clearing out on her own a large home and letting go a lifetime of possessions, quietly adjusting to a new community, and flourishing—did I begin to realize what strength she had.

Years later her Parkinson’s disease progressed until she was too unstable to care for herself. Blessed then with a wonderful part-time caregiver, she turned that relationship into a source of joy and flourished still. Before too long she had to renew her driver’s license. When she was unable to pass the test, she simply asked for a government identification card and graciously let the driving go.

Eventually congestive heart failure sent her to the health care wing. Again she recognized and cooperated with the reality of her condition. She let go more possessions and accepted living in only one room, especially once it had a collection of family photos she could see.

During her last months when I visited her she no longer had energy to watch television or follow her beloved March Madness basketball. She simply glowed at having me present. It began to dawn on me how much she did love me, how much she had always loved me even when I hadn’t felt it, how she had given me gift after gift while I was busy with my own life.

Now it’s my turn to be getting older. How will I cope with the diminishments? Can I let go what I have worked hard to develop and collect? Will I choose bitterness and fear or wisdom and grace? Will I live in regret and disappointment, or can it be with joy and love? As my outward body declines will my inward life grow stronger? These are spiritual questions.

Queries:

What story can you tell about loss or diminishment, yours or another’s, and what have you learned?

What are your spiritual resources for coping and flourishing when you are getting older?

Prayer:

Prayerfully review your life, noticing the ups and the downs, and claim the gifts that accompanied both.

For further reflection:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty. . . In God alone it can rejoice. . .(James Nayler’s last words, 1660).