Losses big and losses small

I think it is time to admit that 2010 is not off to a stellar beginning for many, many people. I tried to deny it during the year’s first wobbly, deep-frozen days when recuperating from the holiday season seemed to be the order of things, but it is now the middle of January and I have been staggered by the losses we all have experienced, large and small.

Truth be told, I haven’t been able to properly digest the Haitian earthquake. On the same day of the disaster, my cousin passed away, leaving behind two young daughters and her husband.  A few days earlier, she underwent surgery for a worsening, genetic heart condition, but all signs pointed to a full recovery. There was, though, a complication, a complication her body, which had never been fair to her throughout her life, could not recover from, and despite heroic efforts from her team of doctors she didn’t survive.  And I have been profoundly sad, ever since.

To write, to say that I am profoundly sad, also means I need to say that I am also totally okay. Perhaps it is the mark of true adulthood to recognize the difference between sadness and grief, because I am not grief-stricken like I have been after other losses. I am cognizant that the people for whom Sarah’s passing most strongly affects are her daughters, her husband, her parents and close friends. She and I only grew to know each other in adulthood, since my mother’s side of the family tends to not get along well, to put the nicest possible spin on it. Thanks to email and facebook and various chat functions I talked with her frequently. We traded recipes, explored family geneaology, visited in person when it was feasible. I still can’t log onto facebook without the deadening realization that she’s not there.

And so, I have been sad, and I walked and worked through my sadness until Friday when I awoke with raging sinuses and a raw throat, and then I slept for two days. During this minor fugue state of mine, I’ve been aware of Haiti – I’ve watched the nightly news, I’ve read online, I’ve looked at S. and said “We have to send money” to which he, of course, agreed. The magnitude of the destruction, though – the sheer horror of the situation – I don’t think it’s fully reached me because every time I see pictures or read stories I am immediately reminded of Sarah, and her daughters, and how sad I am.

One of the things that has been bothering me recently is the way bloggers and tweeters and social media mavens have been treating death. Don’t get me wrong – I think the existence and use of these tools is incredibly helpful, especially in a situation like Haiti -but I’ve also noticed a weird dissonance cropping up.  When the actress Britney Murphy died last month, one celebrity blogger who I won’t name put a big picture of her up on his blog and scrawled “Peace Out, Brit” across her face. This is just one example of what I find the appalling treatment of death across these mediums – Ashton Kutcher tweeting some insipid sympathy for her family and fans, as though a friend’s passing doesn’t warrant even fully spelled out words.  I don’t often get all intellectual about the meaning of social media – there is nothing worse than a blogger extemporizing about blogging or someone tweeting about twitter – but I do wonder in the fast-paced nature of the mediums are chipping away at our humanity a tiny bit.

It is probably a bit dramatic to think January is going to set the tone for the entire year, that is 2010 is going to be a difficult year just when, collectively, we need a good year, a happy year, a year full of light and laughter, but it is something I half believe.

Today, I’ve had moments of lightness interspersed with sadness. I took a lovely walk with my dog and S. – I had a wonderful cup of lemon tea. I am looking forward to spending time with my brother and his wife tonight. I am paying more attention to the international news , absorbing more of it instead of allowing the images and articles to skip across my consciousness before leaving it altogether. I am thinking buy sympathy cards and start thinking about what the girls might need from you and investigate local efforts for Haiti.

I know I won’t continue to feel as sad as I’ve felt these last several days, and for that I am grateful.  But I don’t regret the sadness for a minute because I understand its value. Loss, on whatever scale, reminds us to live our lives fully, to appreciate our loved ones and the privilege we experience, it reminds us to appreciate a perfectly brewed cup of tea, a call from our parents, a hug from a spouse. I believe my life has been lessened by the loss of Sarah, but it has also put proverbial things in perspective – grumbling about my job, complaining about finances – quickly ceased in the face of this news.

Of course, we will all continue to move forward. Sarah’s widow and their daughters will find a way to eventually put one foot in front of the other. Someday, the wreckage of Haiti will be put to right again – it is what we do, as humans – we move forward despite sadness, despite loss, despite despair. It’s that movement that unites us, I think, in many ways – much more so, really, than tweeting and blogging and facebook status updates. I love all of those forums, but in the face of loss they seem insignificant, shallow – they seem less than.

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13 Responses to Losses big and losses small

  1. inthemainstream says:

    Sending you Internet hugs until I next see you. [hugs]

  2. lilalia says:

    Please know that you and Sarah’s family are in my thoughts tonight. May Sarah’s daughters and husband find strenght and support from family during this time. All the very best.

  3. I am really sorry for your loss. I hope that you and your extended family will be able to help Sarah’s family get through these early, awful days.

    I would agree that social media are insignificant in the face of loss – one reason why I’ve been avoiding reading their take on Haiti.

  4. litlove says:

    How very sad indeed for your family and as you say, grief is natural and right. There’s no need to fight it – I hope your family is in a position to share it together, to cherish memories and find comfort in love recollected.

    I read about 2010 (Chinese horoscopes – oddly accurate, I often find) that it’s a year of tumult and confusion, but also a year for holding focus and pushing through. I hope that proves to be right.

  5. Smithereens says:

    So sorry to hear these bad news! It takes time to absorb all these events, there’s only so much you can do. You have to take care of yourself too, so that sadness doesn’t overcome you. All the best.

  6. lyndseyjenkins says:

    I have started to write this several times but everything I type sounds trite. I just wanted to say how sad this must be for your family and that it sounds like you are dealing with your sorrow so well. I thought this was an amazingly brave and honest post – exactly the opposite of the shallow faux grief you so rightly point out. With very best wishes.

  7. shoreacres says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and for your sorrow. But the phrase you used – one foot in front of the other – is exactly right. That’s how we do it, all of us. No matter what the grief, no matter how unbearable, one step at a time we carry us from it.

    My best to you and those you love in the days ahead.

  8. Katie says:

    Beautiful post. Very sorry for your loss. Grief, empathy and a respect for human life are universal emotions and society is in deep trouble if we become numb to them. You are a very compassionate person, C, and that is one of the best things about you!

  9. Gumbomum says:

    What a very sad thing to have happen. Much love to you and the family.

  10. Stefanie says:

    I am so sorry about Sarah. My sympathies to you and her husband and daughters.

  11. Courtney says:

    A – aw, thank you!
    Lilalia – thank you for your thoughts! I feel them.
    Char- I’ve been avoiding the social media discussion on Haiti as well – it lessens it, decreases its significance.
    Litlove – I like that description of 2010 – it at once validates what I already feel while giving me hope.
    smithereens – time is a great healer. I am looking forward to its magic one of these days.
    Lindsey – firstly, welcome! Thanks so much for your kind words – they really mean a lot to me.
    Shoreacres – sometimes it worries me how well putting one foot in front of the other works. Already I feel distanced from her passing ,in a way.
    Katie – what an incredibly kind thing to say. I have to admit knowing you deepens those traits, I think!
    gumbomum – ((Hugs))
    Stefanie – thank you so much.

  12. teadevotee says:

    I have been reading you for a while, but not commented – I really enjoy your blog 🙂

  13. pvreader says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your cousin’s too-young death, and the news from Haiti is horrible. However, I am holding out hope for 2010, as it is only January. 2009 was a horrible year for me (maybe not for others, so I might be being selfish), and I cannot bear to think that 2010 will be more of the same.

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