Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wrangling Loss

There are so many kinds of loss. Although we take great measures to prevent loss, it is in fact part of the human experience. We lose keys, we lose money, we lose teeth, we lose our minds, and the worst of all is losing someone we love. But is it the worst?

It's a matter of perspective. Loss is loss. I'm not saying that the loss of a kitten is in the same realm of a mother losing a child- but to that person in that moment- it is, it is loss. Loss can be profound, earth shattering like a lava eruption. It can be cold, swift and ever flowing like a mountain river. It can ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean.  And sometimes it hides and jumps out at you like a sneaky little bastard.

It is May. May is brain tumor awareness month. I say this every May because although it is highly relevant and obvious to me, it may not be to everyone. I also lost both my dad and brother in the month of May, to brain tumors.  My dad's birthday, also May. Anniversaries and birthdays are really hard when you have lost someone you love. BUT you expect these days to be hard, you prepare for it. You plan to call in sick, or be extra busy at work, or to go to dinner with friends- whatever that year's mood may be. My mom and I made a tradition of it. We would take the day off if it was a week day- or days and go up to Rocky Mountain National Park when we felt like being near them. One year we went to New Mexico. Or was it Albuquerque? I don't remember, I just remember it was southwestern-y. Which is funny because just about everything from CO to CA is pretty southwestern-y. But that is the comfortable fuzz of loss- how your mind protects your heart and vice versa. I was also a teen and wanted to pretty much be anywhere but where I was and where I was felt like a great big snuggly blanket of heartache.

Sometimes you just need the companionable presence of someone who understands how your heart has been ripped out, trampled on then scattered around the world to be given back to you at the most inopportune moments. That is the part of loss that often surprises people. It still to this day surprises me. Everyone deals with loss in their own way and of course there is no right or wrong. It is personal, it is individual. There are those who open their scabs for the world to see, over and over and over. Be gentle with them, as they are in a personal hell. Many never make it out. Not everyone can participate in loss for the same amount of time. It's like sprinting vs marathon. To make it out is a choice and it is a hard one. It doesn't mean you forget, it doesn't mean you stop hurting or loving the ones who are gone. It just means you chose to do what has to be done.  You chose to live despite the loss, but never completely without it. There are those who throw themselves into work, charity, life, living for the ones that are not here to do the living.  And there are those who work really hard to be normal when life has given them anything but.

My mom and I had several knock down, drag out fights after my dad died. He was our buffer. We were both dealing in completely different ways and as happens in loss, we scratched at each others wounds just to feel something other than pain of loss and an easy out is anger. It happens. Sometimes when you are mired in pain, it is toughest to see outside of your own loss. You don't WANT to see outside your loss- because it is so uniquely yours. How could anyone else's loss be more profound than that? After many years I have learned to understand her side better as I became a wife and then as a mother. I respect that she ever got out of bed after losing Bob. I respect that she went back to work and she took care of me and my dad. I understand how she could put up with me despite my complete moodiness and my need to luxuriate in the reminders. And that was not easy for her.  I understand how hard it must have been for her to send me off to college, her nest suddenly becoming completely and utterly empty while I took steps to make my own. Yet she kept going. There was no foundation with their names or support group to carry her through. Just sheer will and love of their memories. Love of me.  Because in our hearts we know it would absolutely destroy both Bob and Dad to know how profoundly their loss affected us. Even though many may never know, it is a part of us.

Sometimes in crowds I see someone who reminds me of dad. And that tight grip on my chest almost takes my breath away. Those moments are when one of those pieces of my heart finds it's way home. And you never know when it will happen. Looking at Phillip's hands that remind me so much of Bob's. A book or a store with the name Bob in the title. Or a piece of trash on the side of the road. One man's trash, is another's treasure.

a buffer. 
My dad worked for an industrial floor care company. When we were little, we would go to work with him on weekends to give mom a break. If we were lucky- we could get to ride around on the massive buffers that looked like mini zamboni's. They all had fun names like Wrangler or Colt, Pony or Charger. Usually we sat in the break room and watched cartoons or acted ridiculously and stapled ourselves to things. One year in high school I got to go with him to CU Boulder and watch his schpiel right there in the gym off of Folsom Field. Every now and again during my years studying there would I see one of the machines. Years later that piece was returned when I turned in my cap and gown in the very building. The floor still worn, yet buffed nicely.
Not this floor- but not too far. Get it? "Buffed Nicely"

I haven't seen one of the machines in years. I think the last time was at Tripler during the hell of Lily's treatment and I remember mom saying it was dad reminding me he was looking out for me. So today was an average day, I dropped the girls off and let my mind wander for the 12 minute drive home. I was 3 minutes into the drive and thinking about how loss never goes away and how I wished I was in Colorado this May because I really feel far from Dad and Bob. And I shit you not- I look up and see this sitting on the side of the road.

After pulling over and having a moment- as well as scaring a friend who saw me pull over... I again accepted that the universe works in mysteriously trashy ways and memories can sneak up on you like a broken down buffer stuffed with a toilet seat on a back road to your kids' school. And even though I wrangle the feelings of loss on a daily basis- some days you just have to feel them and then buff them away. 

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)