“Write about the most precious thing you’ve ever lost.”
Over the last 12 years of my life I’ve become an expert at “complicated grief.” I struggle, I mourn, I attempt to preserve the past only to discover that my efforts push me into the new-ness of the present and the unknowable-ness of the future. I thrash around and cry, just to be led back to the only workable solution in the moment– which is to be still and endure (or enjoy) the ride.
There are times when I feel as if I’m teetering on the edge of a great, overwhelming despair which could swallow up everything I know. Yet I’m not clinically depressed or hopeless. It surprises me every time, but many days I actually find hope in that completely blank, dark space of loss and grief.
It’s like being in a softly lit room… picture a cozy living room with a fireplace and old-fashioned wall sconces with candles, indirect light reflecting from table lamps. It’s safe and okay, despite the shadows cast occasionally as the fire flickers. Then all of a sudden something blackens that space and you can’t see anything. It’s scary and unexpected and you wonder what happened to the room you were just looking at, or who in the world could have that kind of power to extinguish the light or “turn off the sun” (as Alex once requested when he didn’t want to wake up for school one morning).
What would be your first reaction?
Mine had always been to panic, to scream, to put all my energy into finding the cause and a solution so that I could have my light (and my comfort) back. But then I was pushed through so many blackouts and so much loss that my usual response mechanisms kind of broke. After a few episodes of feeling helpless and confused, I just started to *notice* when the lights went out. I had no energy to do anything else at that point. So I rode it out. And I didn’t let myself go spiraling down into the abyss.
Know what happened?
I realized I could still feel the heat of the fireplace. And I gradually became more and more sure that the room was still there. That in itself was comforting. Then I started to ask questions and wonder what else I was supposed to be learning in that blank space. At times my questions still come in the form of irate screams at the unfairness of my circumstances or the heartbreak of a loss. But I’ve become more interactive with that darkened room and I don’t feel it’s so different with the lights out now as I once did.
The most precious thing I ever lost was the conviction that I was in control and could change the things I experienced so they would feel different.
Yes, I can choose how I react to anything in my life. I can manifest lots of good things from yummy cups of sweet coffee, to snuggly animals in my life, to better health and more satisfying relationships. But I am not in control of the things that “turn off the sun” or extinguish the lights in that room.
I could write about lost precious things from a hundred different persectives:
The day my ex-husband threw his wedding band out a second floor window during an argument and how I felt crawling around in the damp leaves and grass the next day searching for that lost precious ring. I even distributed flyers to all our neighbors in the hopes one of them would locate and return it.
The moment when I first read an article about autism and realized that the life I had envisioned was going to be vastly different from that point forward. The loss of the precious dreams I had dreamt from before Alex was born.
I could write about my mother. Her knowing me in the way she did was a precious gift like none other. So powerful for me that I still refuse most days to feel the loss of it, instead remaining firmly rooted in the idea that I will never lose the connection and somehow she still speaks to me through the stillness and dark space.
Many other precious things… my youth, my childhood, the scent of my babies’ hair and how it felt to rock them to sleep undisturbed by outside troubles. Even the trinkets, the pictures, the first home I created…. all precious and lost to me now.
But for whatever reason none of those things are connecting for me…
The most precious thing is still here, it’s the resiliency that comes with complicated grief and loss.
It’s something that, were I a more evenly skilled writer, I could probably explain and describe far more articulately than I’ve done here. I guess for now you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
And the next time the lights go out on you, tell me if you can still feel the warmth of the fireplace.