The Paradox of Loss

March 21, 2017

Nick Stoneman shares a personal reflection on how grief and loss can offer us new ways to look at our lives.

Mann looking through a jalousie on a sunny day

Not so long ago I lost a very good friend to her fight with cancer. I say “fight” I suppose because that is what we all say when the unwelcome intrudes and tries to take over, when one is struggling to survive day after day. And then, when the one engaged in the fight passes, she loses, we lose, and the cancer chalks up another victory.

But is it that simple? No. Grief lingers. It is insidious. It comes and goes as it wants. It surfaces when you least expect it. It knows no sense of reason and has no simple cure. Time heals? I suppose, especially as I get older. The memories will slip more easily, but until that time, it just plain hurts.

But, there is another side to it all, a side that maybe needs more consideration. Therein lies the paradox. Through loss, we learn. Through pain, we question, seek, yearn – and grow. Through absence we strive to understand and we learn more deeply about our appreciation and love.

I lost a friend, a close friend, but in thinking about her, in remembering her and all of her complexities and remarkable abilities, I am able to appreciate her now even more in her absence than when she was with us. And that is sad but it is, I believe, a condition we all face.

Perhaps it is because in relationships we are always dealing in the present, in the matter at hand, in whatever is next. When there is no next, there is depth, there is reflection, there is learning and there is the prospect of a deeper, albeit very different, relationship.

My friend, when she received the final bad news from her caring and compassionate doctor, told me despondently, in words that belie her normal eloquence, “It just sucks.” Succinct. Direct. Uncompromising. That is death.

Yes, we must mourn. Our humanity yearns for it. But we must do more – for ourselves, for those we lose, for the world around us. We must embrace the paradox of death by having it create birth – the birth of a commitment to being connected to those around us, the birth of a willingness to tell someone how much you care about them, the birth of a desire to celebrate the successes of others – while they are with us. Imagine a world where we each practiced all this – what a special place it would be.

I believe that my friend would “get it”, and, were she in my place, would share the paradox and all that it teaches us all the more clearly – and with all the more vigor. Just by virtue of knowing what she would do, she is, yet again teaching, guiding, and, most importantly, inspiring me – which is certainly the paradox of loss at its best.

Yes, I have come to know that even in her death, her friendship remains an influence in my life – and for that I am truly grateful. And it is through acting upon her influence and living the paradox that I believe I will find my way, and our friendship most assuredly will endure, as well.