Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The unbearable weight of loss


Amidst coverage of disasters like those in Myanmar and China, an occasional image of a grief-stricken mother airs. Whether the mourner is thousands of miles away or here at home, we cannot remain untouched by such an image. "What if," my maternal part cries out.

In our own town I have seen so much loss that it is sometimes hard to open the paper. I think anyone who has lived here a while recognizes most of the faces that have appeared recently in the obituaries. Maybe it is because we all know each other fairly well in the Wood River Valley or because we are simply in an accelerated time of loss, but I find myself and others shaking our heads in disbelief as someone we have known, if only briefly, has gone from us.

I truly do not recall seeing such large numbers of the deceased. Gary Hunt's sad passing was the latest, though I always fear that even in this edition of the paper, there may be some other horrible news. I can't imagine the grief that Gary's family and close friends are experiencing. They will be surrounded by the loving generosity of this community, surely, but the lonely hours in the middle of the night must be almost unbearable.

On a different level, just two days ago I had to put down Olivia, my 11-year-old mixed terrier, found abandoned outside of the animal shelter on a cold November night in 1998. Many of you may remember her as part of the team of two dogs who spent much of their lives greeting patrons at Gallery Oscar (named for the naughty Jack Russell who died at the age of 10 just three years ago.) Just yesterday I laughed at the recollection of how we altered their names. Oscar, who was notoriously dog-napped from my car in Twin Falls, was found 10 days later in Rupert, so a friend suggested that he be called Oscar de la Rupert. When we later adopted Olivia, she naturally became Olivia de Hagerman. Thank god for happy memories in the midst of my melancholy! Shortly after Gallery Oscar closed, so did adorable Oscar, whose passing I also noted in a column. Maybe only dog lovers can understand the ways in which they entwine themselves in our hearts and leave such gaps when they die.

I hope you may forgive my penchant for conveying personal things in this venue; that is how I always seem to write. The column I had prepared for this week will wait while I grapple with the issues that have hit this home and, in much more serious fashion, the homes of those left behind outside of my little world.

So I am confronting, once again, the consequences of love. A friend reminded me, upon learning of Olivia's passing, that we mourn because we love, that if we didn't care, then maybe we wouldn't experience such sadness. Of course, we wouldn't experience life, either. Every time we adopt a puppy we open ourselves to the reality that we will probably outlive that little creature. Being open to love is willingly accepting the chance of pain. I know even in my in my own romantic life of the risks one takes in opting for love in any form: Willingly or inadvertently, often those we love abandon us.

So how do we deal with the pain of our own loss or of the losses others experience? As I start healing with a tiny step, a BLT—my version of comfort food—I am brought back to that much more serious question. I wish I had the answer. I have always thought that if something happened to one of my daughters I would want to sleep for a long time—just opt out. But I have seen the strength and courage of other mothers who have, indeed, experienced the nightmare no parent ever wants to face. Somehow they have been able to put one foot in front of the other and continue to lead lives of worth and character. How do they bear the unbearable? For some, it is because of their faith; for some, the existence of other children to care for; for some, perhaps, just the kind of deep fortitude and acceptance that I cannot imagine. So I raise my metaphorical glass to those who survive, to our community for surrounding them with love, and, yes, to life, with all its possibilities for redemption and recovery.

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