Some dear loved ones recently experienced the loss of a beloved family member – the kind of loss that takes a while to engage and make peace with, but also the kind of loss that sharpens and cements the beautiful memories one has of the dearly departed.
The passing away of their loved one reminds me of how much I have been thinking about that specific point in the cycle of life. I’ve been directly or indirectly thinking more about loss in the past few weeks since the precious birth of Daya (the only human being who currently ties with Sus for the title of Greatest Person on Earth). I know it’s the fear of losing everything. I guess when one is surrounded by love, the thought of loss is an inevitable background score simply because it serves as a reminder that the future is unknown. Of course, a lot of that unknown consists of yet-to-be-experienced moments of happiness and joy, and we do what we can to ensure that’s the case. But there’s no denying the fact that the loss of loved ones, and pain in general, also exists as a part of that unknown future. Loss is a very real and inevitable part of life.
And all of us deal with loss in different ways, traversing the spectrum of health or lack thereof.
When my younger brother left this world due to a drowning accident almost a dozen years ago, I started off dealing with my loss at a very unhealthy point in the spectrum – by hitting the bottle and deciding to let myself go to waste. He then gave me a bit of a spiritual kick in the ass and got me to chill the fuck out. I finally made my peace with his departure from this world by realizing that my relationship with him had just shifted onto another realm; one with different modes of communication than what I use with my loved ones on earth. The pain still resurfaces from time to time but I’m also much more spiritually grounded now and happier in the loving relationship I share with my dead brother. (Some may call me deluded. Some may even say I’m batshit insane. But I’m fairly sure I’m happier and more loved than those people so it’s all good.)
Now, regardless of what you think about my own personal spiritual shenanigans, I do believe there are some commonalities across the board regarding loss that I think are useful to come to terms with in order to get some peace of mind.
High on that list is the very real fact that it is gut-wrenchingly painful and likely to be that way to some degree or the other for the rest of our lives on this earth. This acceptance of pain is only the first step in a lifelong journey of healing. One of the most important aspects of any healing journey I have found is a certain degree of acceptance of that which we can control and that which we cannot. Pain, especially emotional and spiritual pain, is one of those things that tends to fall into that which we cannot really control, but so desperately want to. I sometimes wonder if an acceptance of the pain of loss is what we wish to avoid when we stay stranded in the dangerous limbo lands of either wishing our loved one would come back or trying to make sense of why they died or both. I know I did that when I lost my brother, and am certain that had I stayed rooted in those modes of thinking I would have been a lot more miserable, and maybe even have blamed him for dying (always a dangerous mindset to fall into).
Another commonality I’ve discovered is that loss is and always will be personal. No matter how much another loved one might have shared in the relationship with the one who just died, the bumpy journey towards making peace with the loss is a solo one (with loved ones close by of course). It often involves long periods of self-reflection in order to find ways to build a relationship with the pain, find some peace of mind, and get spiritually grounded.
There are also going to be special aspects of the relationship to the loved one who passed away that no one else is going to understand…or even be able to hold space for. For instance, with my own experience of loss, there were some who thought that because my younger brother happened to be a cousin and not an actual sibling, it would somehow make the loss less painful. I know that people who have non-human loved ones certainly experience a similar kind of callous thinking from society in general. Should I outlive my feline brothers, which is a likely scenario, there will be people in my life who think that, because they are animals or “pets”, their inevitable passing will be easier to handle compared to the loss of human loved ones. They would not know that I can barely bring myself to think about the day when their time on earth comes to an end because of how painful it is.
That inevitable (and very personal) pain is what brings me to what I believe is the most important commonality regarding the loss of a loved one, human and non-human alike, that all of us share – one that’s been usurped by organized religion and religious fundamentalists. I speak about the spiritual or soulful aspect to loss. Personally, I’m of the opinion that without a liberating way to engage with this element of loss, our healing journey will always be incomplete (or at least a whole lot tougher).
Ever since I started knowingly or unknowingly engaging with the idea of losing a loved one (something I experienced only in early adulthood), I’ve found that those people who have experienced loss but have something spiritual or soulful in their lives tend to make peace with the loss in more resilient ways than those who have experienced loss and don’t have something spiritual to help them with the journey towards healing.
Now the reason I say this is because over the years I found this to be the case even with folks who believed and participated in fundamentalist and patriarchal religious practices – Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and others. I wasn’t quite ready to believe that it was actually because of their messed up religious practices that they had found some measure of peace. Partly, this was because I was a more militant atheist at the time than I am now (I know there’s no god, at least no male one, but I do know that goddesses exist).
However, I realized eventually that it wasn’t their religion, whichever one it was, that was the key to understanding this resiliency to loss (or trauma or violence or any other kind of pain we might face in our lives) but the fact that their beliefs provided some kind of resolution to the soulful aspect of loss. Cutting out the fundamentalism and patriarchy from the spiritual process helped me realize the importance of engaging with the soulful aspect of loss – I didn’t need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater (which is a weird and morbid saying, but whatever).
I am and always have been of the firm belief that a relationship with any loved one is ultimately a bonding at the soul; not because of blood lines, or familial ties, or cultural moorings, or anything else. We love our loved ones and they love us back because there is a spiritual connection between the two individuals. Sometimes that bond is so intense and so powerful that we have soulmates – usually our intimate partners, our children, our best friends, and our non-human family.
Thus, when we lose someone, we experience a spiritual loss, a painful gut punch to the soul. It is an experience that has to be engaged with at that level while reconciling with the pain and the very personal nature of our relationship with the one we have lost. I believe in doing so by reconnecting with my loved one – a soul who underwent a transformation with their physical departure from this earth. The journey can take on different paths for different people, but I think it is the process of reconnection with a departed beloved that constitutes the apex of healing from loss, and also happens to be one of the most beautiful journeys one can take.
Because that reconnection, however it may happen for each individual, reveals in no uncertain terms just how awesome that soul was (and still is), how much joy they brought to our world (and still do), and how brilliantly shone their light, even in times of darkness (and still does).
For the most important realization that occurs with the loss of a loved one is that we can never have too much time with those we love.
And thankfully, love can never die.
This writeup is dedicated to Missy.
Journey onward oh glorious foot cuddler and wise little yapper.
Thank you for the beautiful memories during our brief time together.
And know that my love and I will always be there for your human family.