When asked to reflect on the losses we have experienced, many of us think of the deaths of people we love. It is true that the death of someone close to us is a major loss, but there are other losses we may not even think about that need to be grieved.
This topic of loss is very real to me these days. In 2003 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and fortunately it affected my life very little until recently. After shoulder surgery last spring I began to have new symptoms. Things I took for granted, like walking and singing, etc., became difficult. I felt as if I had aged 20 years. I lost the ability to do things that were ordinarily easy for me. I had one loss after another and became so sick that I would not have minded if the Lord had taken me. Luckily, with the many prayers of community and friends, the grace of God and a good physician, I have improved a great deal but need to accept that I will experience many more losses in the future.
This experience reminded me of an excellent book by Judith Voigt titled “Necessary Losses.” She focuses on the human need to grieve the losses we experience in our lives in order to become whole persons. In her book she points out the tendency of many people not to reflect on how these experiences have affected their lives. Many of us live in the fast lane and rarely stop long enough to grieve and work through the pain these losses often cause.
Losses can be large or small. Death, divorce, moving, losing a job, breaking off with someone we love are obvious losses. Even changing schools or parishes or the death of a pet are losses. So too is not being able to do things we once did because of poor health or aging.
Some smaller, but not insignificant, losses might be not getting picked for the sports team or the school play or not being asked to the prom or to someone’s birthday party. All of these things can cause pain in varying degrees.
As happy as graduation is for most students, it is also a loss. It means letting go of the familiar and facing a new situation, whether it is a new school or a new job. High school is different from elementary school, college is different from high school and life in the workplace is not like that of a college student.
Transition takes energy and is not always easy — actually, it never is. Letting go is hard. It just doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time and can be very stressful. Ignoring our losses can wear us down. If we don’t grieve well we can never really let go and enter fully into the new phase of our lives.
When we do not grieve our losses we can get stuck in the past and never move ahead. An example would be the first-year student in college who always talks about what she used to do in her high school or the new employee who is always comparing his new job with the one he just left. This is normal when someone is in transition, but it can be unhealthy when it goes on and on because the person can never enter fully into the present. When people neglect their losses and refuse to give up the past they can’t move on with their lives.
Sister Joyce Rupp wrote a book entitled, “Praying Our Goodbyes.” It always reminds me about how important it is to ritualize our losses and to bring God into these situations. In fact, we don’t have to bring God into any part of our lives; we just have to remember that God is already with us in all of our losses and transitions and will continue to be with us, loving us at every moment, in whatever new situation we find ourselves.
As I deal with the progressive nature of Parkinson’s and the resulting losses, especially my independence and having to give up some of my favorite activities, I pray that I continue to trust in the Lord and my faith will remain strong.
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