My Loss Is My Gain
A couple of decades ago, I remember having lunch with my grandmother and her friends while they exchanged news about their circle: Shirley Bernstein lost an eye to cancer. Helen and Leo lost their house when the bank foreclosed. Bernice Allen lost her driver’s license after “failure to merge” during a driver’s test. Eeny Rubin, Stella Simon, Bebe Walsh—and several other septuagenarians—lost their husbands. “Tch,” they said into their single, cherished, daily martinis. “Tch, tch, tch.”
Inside, I was making a sound a lot closer to “AAAUUUGGHHH!” How could this be the stuff of pleasant lunchtime conversation? Was this all aging had in store for me? Loss upon loss upon loss?
I am still far from the age my grandmother was then, but I am old enough to have started racking up my own losses. Trivial things, like my natural hair color and my ability to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl without barfing. And hugely significant things, like a pregnancy, my dad and my dear friend Harry, both of whom died far too young at age 52, and my health when I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
There was one horrible year when I lost my job, my financial security, my marriage, my ability to stand or even sit upright after a bad health relapse and, with all of that gone, my very identity. I came close, I think, to losing my mind.
As one by one, the trappings of my life were stripped away from me, I learned a thing or two about loss. I learned that loss isn’t unique to any particular stage of life—when you think about it, we’ve all been experiencing loss since we left the safe embrace of our mother’s womb. We’ve lost teeth, toys, friends, state championships, boyfriends, girlfriends—even a chunk of our own childhood, when we move away from home.
The biggest difference between loss then and loss now is that when we’re young, it’s easier for most of us to move on to the next thing, and to see that even in loss, there is gain. We’re forward-thinking. We’re resilient. We’re optimistic.
What if we could still perceive loss with fresh, if not young, eyes? What if we knew in our hearts and in our souls that whether we are 9 or 90, we still have good stuff in store and that there is no loss so great that there isn’t some tiny gift in it?
When I lost my job, I discovered a whole new career. When I lost my health, I found alternative healers and practices that sustain both body and soul. When I lost my marriage, I found out who I was, on my own.
My grandmother and her friends didn’t mention any of this, but I know that when Shirley lost an eye, her other senses grew sharper—and she found she rather liked the rakish look of her eyepatch. When Helen and Leo lost their house, they discovered that adopting a smaller, more sustainable lifestyle was actually a relief. When Bernice could no longer drive, she made friends with the neighbors at the bus stop with whom she had never once passed the time of day. Even the widows found a tiny nugget of gold in the midst of the miasma of grief: self-empowerment, new hobbies, new friends, the freedom to travel or visit extended family.
When a tree “loses” its leaves, does it mourn? True, it will never see those specific leaves again. But stripped down to its essence, the grace and strength of the tree’s trunk and its uniquely arching beauty are revealed. Without losing those leaves, there wouldn’t be room for new ones to grow.
So open your hands, those hands holding on so tightly for fear that you will lose something precious. And see that when you unclench your fists, your hands are open to receive what’s next.