By: Emily Algar, Regular Contributor
“At the temple there is a poem called ‘Loss’ carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it." -Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Loss. It comes in many shapes and sizes, with differing levels of intensity. We all respond to it differently and none are correct or incorrect. You don’t need to justify your grief or why what you’re grieving for is important to you. Loss is loss. A loss of a loved one, a relationship, a four legged friend are typical and conventional reasons to grieve but what about the loss of a job, of a house, of your favourite band or actor, or even the loss of what once was. Do these not count? They are different to be sure, and the wounds inflicted will vary as will the time it takes them to heal. Some will leave permanent scars, others will fade overtime and some will disappear without a trace. But that shouldn’t mean that one person’s experience of loss outflanks someone else’s.
Loss is not a competition.
I write these words on the day that Robin Williams died. I did not know him personally and neither did the millions who are grieving for him all over the world, but that doesn’t make their loss any less important or any less real than someone who is grieving a death of a loved one. Maybe Robin Williams gave you hope during the difficult times in your life, maybe he made you and your friends laugh, or maybe Mrs Doubtfire was your family’s staple Christmas movie. To be honest it doesn’t really matter, because something in what he did touched millions and made them feel less alone, and that in itself is a reason to grieve.
Loss is personal yet so inherently universal because we all experience it in one form or another.
In mid June, in the midst of birthdays and graduations, my Grandmother died. She was 90 and died in a nursing home. She was spunky, rebellious and naughty; she grew up behind an aerodrome during the Second World War where she fell in love with a Polish fighter pilot; she loved seafood, Elizabeth Arden perfume and tailoured suits. But more importantly she taught me the lesson that doing what you loved was more important than what anyone thought of you.
I would like to say that my Grandmother and me parted ways on good terms but sadly I hadn’t spoken to her for two years when she died. That in itself was a further loss to me. The relationship we once had, disintegrated in the course of a week – either through her sheer pig headedness or her choice to give up on life. Either way, I was grieving for her even before she died.
A grandparent’s death tends to be viewed as a justifiable loss, i.e., you are given permission to cry and fall apart over it. Most people can relate to it and are therefore more adequately equipped to sympathise with you and your current emotional state. It makes sense. It doesn’t tend to evoke confusion like other forms of loss.
Loss will look different on each of us.
The beginning of this month saw my all time favourite musical duo, The Civil Wars, officially part ways. The duo had been on an indefinite hiatus since 2012. Rumours swirled as to what could have brought this seemingly in-sync duo of friends to such a tragic stalemate. Their second album was released in 2013 for which only one band member did promotion; another Grammy was won, which the other band member accepted. It was emotionally exhausting, watching these two immensely talented musicians, and once such good friends who could finish each other’s sentences, unable to speak to one another or be in the same room.
Then the spark went out as quickly as it had been ignited. I am, quite frankly beside myself. I always thought that whatever unseen hand, fate or destiny, had brought them together, would have guided them back to one another. In the words of Joy Williams, “sadly life doesn’t often go the way you plan it”, which is exactly how I have viewed the break up. As soon as I heard the news I went to my room, turned on my record player and played all their music back to back. I just sat there, taking it all in, wondering how something so beautiful, honest and unique could be no more.
For me, my feelings of loss over The Civil Wars, is just as real as the loss I feel over my Grandmother’s passing. You will probably ask how I can possibly compare the role my Grandmother played in my life with a band that was only in my life for a limited amount of time, and that I never even saw live. My answer to you; I’m not comparing the two but I can’t explain it either. They both meant the world to me for however long they existed and they will always share a place in my heart.
Loss is not there to be judged.
Music for me is a spiritual experience. I can’t begin to explain it but the music The Civil Wars created touched me as deeply as the connection my Grandmother and I had. It’s different but the same. And there is not a soul on earth who I need to justify this to.
It's important to remember to be compassionate and open-minded when you're dealing with loss, whether that loss is yours or belongs to someone else.
- The next time you encounter a friend dealing with loss, practice engaged listening: Let her talk and share, don't try and jump in with your own experiences, use your body language (eye contact etc...) to make her feel seen, heard, and understood.
Emily Algar is an International Relations graduate who has just completed her Masters in International Security. She lives in a small town in Oxfordshire, UK where she writes, listens to music and walks her dogs. Since completing her studies, Emily is trying to figure out where she fits in the world and until she does, she is enjoying the ride.
image via sweetmodesty.com