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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 7-21-23 – Valuing Those We Have Lost

“When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ― John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

Last week, while strolling through social media, I saw a picture of a friend I had made in January at a recovery event. A man around my age, he had a bright personality and kindness in his eyes. He hung out with a group of us at the conference. Being right around the same age, we hit it off. After the event, I would see him post words of encouragement to people in recovery on social media. We had a few email and phone call exchanges, mostly about efforts to find support for people he was working with. I looked forward to the next event we may break bread with some of the others in our little circle. It was more than a bit of a shock that the post was a person grieving his loss and sharing some of the stories of what a really great man he had been. I quickly went to his social media page, which was filling up with similar sentiments and well wishes for his wife, family and friends. He was a good man, too soon gone from our lives.

I am not sure why this one hit me harder than others. Loss, of course, is part of the human experience. If one lives long enough, life is defined by loss. A 100-year-old `person has essentially lost every single person that they ever knew from bygone eras. It is in the realm of human experience to know that your life closes a chapter on a time and place that is only then available to younger people through what has been recorded. I think about this when considering WWII vets. I have had the good fortune to have heard live accounts of events such as the air war over Britain and Normandy from people who were there, fighting for the allied cause. There are so very few WWII vets alive. Within the next few years, it will not be possible to understand what happened from that time in any direct manner. Likewise at some point in the future, the world of now will be only recoded history. Such is the human experience.

The loss of family and friends, which in early life is the exception, becomes much more common place as we age. I suppose there is a tendency to normalize loss even as we deeply grieve those who have left us as Owen did his mother above. Love is the lasting connection. The closer we are to people the more memories we hold. We remember those we love until we ourselves meet our end. In this way, they are only lost when the last person who loved them also passes.

This all may seem quite morbid for some readers, but it is also true that many of us are no strangers to loss even in early chapters of our own lives. Over the last decade or so, at least once a week and far too often daily someone in my circle of acquaintances experiences a loss as a result of the addiction epidemic. For me personally, I have lost far more people I have cared about to addiction related death than every other causation combined. Every one a little history book, many with chapters incomplete. As Abraham Lincoln once noted, those with this affliction are often some of the most creative and brightest among us, the truth of which ring on as true from his time over a hundred years ago to ours.

Last week, as I was mulling the loss of my new friend, a friend in Nashville was sharing how he had just found out he also lost a friend. A loss from addiction. He was in a process I know all too well. Wondering if it could have ended any differently while in the same breath considering the lottery win in his own life that shifted from pain and death to recovery and life. The sense of there but for the grace, go I. He noted how very gifted his friend was and wished that he had found recovery and not an early death in a homeless encampment. Without even speaking with my friend, I know that he sees himself in such scenarios as I do myself. There is no doubt to me that my life would have ended, probably in a similarly tragic and senseless way long ago had recovery not found me. One facet that makes this a gratitude post.

This day and every day, I live in remembrance of those who I have known and lost. Some were close, some distant friends, some I barely knew. To me it is the only course of action available. I try and do so in ways that not only honor the memory of their lives, but in ways that may help others to have fulfilling existences. I am grateful for the opportunity to live another day and in another way than I once did. This is the gift that had been given to me. And as the John Irving quote above notes, all those I have ever known live on within me, often poignantly. They leave a hole. I would add we can pass on the thing we miss or value in some way to some other person as part of our own healing. Things like kindness and compassion. I can become mired in grief or live in ways that honor each of those who have touched my life. The choice today is mine (and yours). That I have that choice is a matter of deep gratitude.

What are you grateful for today?

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