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Why Is Loss Such a Dirty Word?

In our book, The Infertility Cleanse, I wrote about a blog post on that generated a small controversy.  The blog was about strategies for coping with miscarriage and loss, and it also appeared as the lead story in our monthly newsletter.   To our surprise, several readers wrote in to let us know they felt it was insensitive for us to write about loss in a general email and we should send those sorts of articles only to those women who have experienced a loss.  The heat of a few of the responses took us (well, me as the author of the piece) by surprise.  As someone who has experienced infertility, had many losses and worked for years with women who are trying to conceive, I thought my sensitivity chip was pretty much spot on.

This blogging experience brought me to a deeper meditation on the topic of loss and what a dirty word “loss” has become in our society.  From childhood we learn that winning is the way of the world and that loss is somehow shameful.   For those of us who played sports or competed in academics, we may have learned that you “can’t win them all.” But this lesson was inevitably tied to getting up, brushing off and working harder to win the next challenge.  But some losses aren’t part of a game.  Some are completely out of our control like miscarriage or multiple failed IVFs and can leave us completely without context or coping mechanisms. In such cases the pain of loss becomes blurred with the shame of failure that we haven’t been able  to “brush it off” and win the next challenge.

Over Thanksgiving I spent a week at the home of an out of town friend who had recently experienced an almost unspeakable loss.  Her daughter, a high school student, had committed suicide just before Christmas just three short years ago.  I was nervous about the visit, the rawness of spending a holiday like Thanksgiving in the face of such loss.  Would it be a week of sadness and tragedy?  Would I continually say the wrong thing?  Would I feel guilty that I had my beautiful boys at a time of year that centers around gratitude and joy?

All of the questions mounted in my heart and throat as we got closer to our destination.  I realized I, too, was really uncomfortable with loss.  I didn’t want it around me, I didn’t want it to ruin my holiday and I didn’t want to have to judge myself the way for the way I was feeling…which was stressed out.

But from the moment we walked through the door it was clear this was a very special gathering.  There was true sadness – yes – but there was also a very pure kind of light that we sometimes find when everything has been stripped away and people are simply together, being there for each other and grateful for the opportunity share life.  The strength of my friend and her husband was inspiring. No one “put on a brave face,” tears flowed but stories of their daughter flowed as well.  Laughter rang.  The ladies did yoga and the guys played soccer in the yard.  The meals were delicious and we cooked and ate with relish.  And not for one moment did one soul there take anything for granted.

Our two-day drive home from Colorado was a meditative time for me.  As I reflected on the powerful wave of gratitude that had washed through me the previous week I tried to understand why it felt different from holidays past.  This Thanksgiving, facing my fear of loss meant I had to drop my “conditions:”  I didn’t spend time worrying about things that could go wrong or the bad things could happen at any time to “steal” my happiness away.  How could I do that in the face of such strength and courage?   When we got closer to Illinois, and I passed an exit for Peace Road (that’s the photo above), I had a little epiphany.  This vacation had dissolved just a little bit the patterns of holding, grasping and fearing that often lie just beneath my joy and keep it from being truly radiant.  For several days I felt the lightness of simply being. To be truly present and grateful we must somehow learn not to fear loss.

So epiphanies are insights, not extreme make-overs.  Learning not to fear loss is a life’s work.  It is the work of enlightenment that spiritual teachers like Jesus and the Buddha have been trying to teach for ages.  Tonight before I sleep I will say prayers for health and happiness.  I will do everything in my power to keep my loved ones safe and sound.  I will work hard to make Pulling Down the Moon a good place to be.  That’s a very human thing to do – and I do believe prayers help and our intentions shape our lives.

Yet watching my friend live her loss as pain, but not failure, I have been deeply moved.

Loss is pain, not failure.  Failure is the judgement that we place on our own efforts.  Loss can also reveal courage, strength and love that has not yet known it’s own strength.  And when the fear of loss disappears, the richness of the present moment is revealed.  Somehow I saw this distinction more clearly this weekend.  And that is something for which I am truly thankful.