“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” ~ Khalil Gibran
If you live long enough, at some point in your lifetime, you will experience a loss. It may start early in life with the death of a pet, or perhaps having to move away from friends you’ve come to know. We learn, little by little, how to deal with the fact that things are not always tangible. Time goes by, memories fade, we get another puppy and a new best friend—life goes on.
But what about those huge losses that time does not always easily erase? You know the ones I’m talking about–unexpected losses–the ones you didn’t see coming. Perhaps it’s your company closing its doors after 20 years, handing you a pink slip on the way out. Or maybe it’s something that Nature brings to your home like a hurricane or fire. These things are, as many people are prone to dub them, ‘just stuff.’
However, we know that sometimes our losses are not ‘just stuff.’ Sometimes our loss is much bigger than our hearts, minds and souls can handle. Don’t believe me—ask anyone who has lost a child, a spouse or their health. You can’t go to the store and replace these losses. They are life-changing, everlasting and can define a person for the rest of their days.
For me, there were a couple of ‘just stuff’ losses that came into my life (one of those included bidding farewell to the lucrative income that pharmaceutical sales brought me for many years). It’s easier to live with this type of loss—you spend less, you clip coupons, you catch sales. Life goes on.
But then came the losses that have defined me, and will continue to do so, until the day I die. One was the loss of my son, who died at the age of 2 months old. As a mother, you never imagine outliving your child. It’s just not a natural scenario and honestly, you wonder if you’re ever going to move past the grief and sorrow that seems to creep into your everyday moments. You see your other children, laughing and loving as children do, and wonder where your ‘lost child’ would fit into the picture. Sometimes it’s the only face you can see in your mind’s eye.
Another defining loss came to me in the form of breast cancer at the age of 39. I was not prepared for the diagnosis. I was young with a thriving career, a wife and mother with very small children, and didn’t feel sick in any way. While losing my breasts might somewhat fall into the ‘just stuff’ category for some people, choosing a double mastectomy hit me twofold. I was not only losing a part of my body and some of my identity as a woman, I was losing the security of having a healthy body. I quickly realized that no matter how well I’d taken care of myself, sometimes it’s completely out of our hands how things will turn out.
Amazingly, what I’ve learned as I survived these events is that I did not give up, I did not break and I have often been an example to others of what a strong woman is capable of doing, even when she feels beaten down. Just like I found people to lean on when times were tough for me (and trust me—they were), when it was my turn to be strong, I found the right words, gestures and deeds to help others carry on. It might sound cliché but it’s true—there is a definitive cycle to life, and a season to every purpose. Sometimes, we rejoice in the giving, but as survivors and thrivers, we must also learn to rejoice in the taking.