The last ones standing: the price of life and love

Today, as I walk my dog through the neighborhood, I see the world through a lens of loss. The next door neighbor lost her husband about 9 months ago. The neighbor down the street lost her son a year ago December and then her husband the following January.

It is only a bit below freezing but another neighbor and I agree that it feels much colder with the wind whipping and clouds hovering. She’s a widow, too, like my other neighbors.

When I turn the corner I see the house where two women, a daughter and her mother, died in a fire.

And then, there’s the news on my phone. A voice mail from the Cancer Support Center about one of our group who is very ill. A Facebook post about a friend’s daughter, who is alive only because of machines, so that her last wish—to be an organ donor—can be fulfilled.

Life is brutal. I don’t believe in a sentient creator, but on days like today I feel great anger towards the universe. It feels cruel. I want to shake my fist at something and yell. I want someone to blame.

Most days I know it’s just a random throw of the dice. Since my mom died in 1992, however, I feel differently about others’ grief. I know what it feels like, so their grief seems more real. The mix of loss and helplessness, devastation and loneliness, the ache in a vestigial limb, is overwhelming.

If we’re lucky we have a lot to lose. We find love, make families, form connections, depend on each other. Losing these is terrible, but the alternative of never having them is too awful to imagine.

We are left behind, left standing. The thing about grief—for me at least—is its loneliness. No one can make it better. No one can share that burden. You might suffer parallel grief, but I don’t think you can bear it for another person.

As you get older, you lose more and more, and surviving feels like the worse end of the bargain. Especially when it’s a child. I read, several months ago in the New York Times, an article about people over 50 losing adult children. Many elderly folks say that it’s a trauma they never get over.

I spent a bit of the afternoon with my daughter and the baby for whom she’s a nanny. He has this low chuckle and a sly little smile. He’s making dozens of sounds, some that mimic words and some that just make you laugh. He’s curious, crawling at a clip toward all that he wants.

He makes me remember that life and love are worth the price. Instead of shaking my fist at relentless clouds and wind, I open my hand so that this little guy can take a piece of cookie.

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Filed under: Cancer, Grief, Uncategorized

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