loss as loss, not as lesson

Loss as loss, not as lesson

Maybe it springs from our own deep need to protect ourselves when we know we cannot.

When a tragedy happens of some kind, especially the loss of a son or friend to a kind of accidental death, it is our nature to jump to working at meaning-making. When someone is lost to old age, or even long-term illness, there are many bedside conversations that make space for meaning to be made.

I am sorry for this.
I want you to know this.
I wish we had this.
I want us to do this.

You mean this to me.
You taught me this.
You are loved.

But when an accident happens, or a sudden death, or a suicide, or a crime…
There is no time for words to fill the space.
No hands touching hands.
No way to know they know.

And so we end up stuck on this side of the sleep, trying our damnedest to make sense of the whole thing. We look into every question we could possibly ask to make meaning, and there is none to be found. Often those closest to the loss are stuck spinning in the losing itself, until they can solve it, keep it from having ever happened, get those last words in.

Which of course, proves meaningless as well.

And then there are the onlookers among us, tucking our children in at night, kissing our spouse, patting our buddies on the back, and wondering what we would ever do if we were to lose them.

That’s when we find ourselves making the loss a lesson, as if that makes it worth happening. As if it protects us from it happening to us or those we love. We begin to talk about how “it has taught us …”

And there is an illusion to our nature of doing this that suggests there is meaning as long as we learn something from it. If we make a tragic loss a lesson, it won’t be meaningless anymore.

But I don’t want my dead son, spouse, buddy to be a lesson; I want them to be my son, spouse, buddy. We want lives to be meaningful, not deaths. We want to say their names and images of life, not tragedy, to be conjured up. And when they are gone, especially when I didn’t have time to make meaning with them, I want to grieve. And I want them to be remembered for what their lives taught others, not their meaningless, untimely, horribly tragic death.

The meaning is in remembering who they were.
The grief is in losing them to begin with.

The loss is a loss.
It is not things as they should be.
It is before all things are made new.

There is, however, meaning in remembering.
And grief is not our enemy, but a sign that we have hearts full of love and woven with connection.
In our caring for the greiving, may we, like our God, be close to those whose hearts are breaking.

Breaking hearts are not a lesson; they are breaking hearts.
And they, in themselves, are worth all the world.

Pine Tree Dr.

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10 thoughts on “loss as loss, not as lesson

  1. A very thought provoking post. It is through tragedy that we realize the fragility of life. A sudden loss can open our eyes to things we would not usually notice…it can also close our eyes as well.

    God bless,

    • Most Hopeful says:

      Thanks Michael. I’m pondering more with the notion still of how the tragedies others experience are often stolen from them, and used by others for something else. When my grandfather dies from old age, it remains my story and family’s story of a life well lived. When a friend dies in a car wreck, it becomes a news story, a water cooler story…so we learn in both cases of grief. But one can harm, and one can heal.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Michael.

  2. Thomas M says:

    Well put. Christians are the worse at refashioning pain until it fits into a tidy box called good. Even with its worse sort: death itself. Death is never good. It is the enemy. And it never makes sense.

    • Most Hopeful says:

      Thanks, Thomas. I love that we are hardwired to make meaning. I think it is part of who and how we are made as icons of God’s image. And at the same time, we can’t make meaning of something that is evil. It is, simply, meaningless. And when we do try to make meaning of it, we often alienate those grieving. The church is bad at this. It is also, though, often the best at being there no matter what. Our love relationship with the church is much like our family. We love and hate it, but we are related, and we can’t get out of it.

      Thanks for your words.

  3. Alison North says:

    it is my worst nightmare to be stuck in a conversation & hearing someone try to wordily make a meaning of my grief. i want a friend to come, hug me.. and say… i love you here. where you are hurting.. if there are things learned, well then, great. but loss is loss. timely words, brother.

  4. […] light of many comments, public and private, about my previous post “Loss as loss, not as lesson”, I thought perhaps now is the time to  share a little bit about what I’ve been learning […]

  5. Rayna says:

    I recently was led to this verse: “Our soul is exceedingly filled
    with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.” Ps 123:4 So many people have been kind to us, and we have been overwhelmed with love at times. But, recently, there have been one or two “well intentioned” pseudo friends who have begun to murmur “it’s been more than a year – isn’t it time to get over your loss?” “You should get out more and grieve less.” These people really think that they are helping us with their scorn and contempt. When we tell them, “You are being hurtful, not helpful,” they look blankly & reply, “We’re just trying to help” – as if that lessens the hurt & makes the scorn & contempt acceptable.

    • Most Hopeful says:

      You are not alone, Rayna. I hear words like yours from families upon families struggling with sudden death…as if “over a year” makes 18 years of raising a son move on by. Part of the opportunity I hope these writings can be is that of helping people know what is and isn’t helpful…and what the cost of our words are…even when “we’re just trying to help.”

      I’d be honored if you would guest post on the blog, giving some insights you’ve learned that others can use to better love on those who are grieving. If you are interested, let me know. If not, don’t think another thing about it.

      And thanks for your ongoing gracefulness, you and Hugh both, in those of us who speak and help poorly because we don’t know better. We are all, no doubt, learning how to better grieve together.


      • Rayna says:

        We can, perhaps, all learn to grieve better. I would be glad to get my thoughts together and post something about what is helpful & what is not.

  6. […] View the original post and comments from March 12, 2012 […]

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