Friday, June 10, 2016

Loss



Some things stick in our minds and never leave us. When in the midst of my panic attack, my friend Nikki Westby, a cognitive behavioral therapist, said something that had never occurred to me, and which hit me like a ton of bricks:

"From the moment we are born, we begin to experience loss."

Blink. Blink.

I've pondered those words for almost two years now, and the fruit has been profound.

It now makes perfect sense to me that every pain in life, every suffering we endure whether physical or mental or emotional, is connected to some kind of loss.

Loss of childhood.
Loss of youth.
Loss of innocence.
Loss of friendship.
Loss of a romance.
Loss of companionship.
Loss of a loved one.
Loss of a parent.
Loss of a sibling.
Loss of a spouse.
Loss of a child.
Loss of a job.
Loss of a community.
Loss of prosperity.
Loss of security.
Loss of health.
Loss of abilities.
Loss of pets.
Loss of homes.
Loss of expectations.
Loss of an intact family.
Loss of good looks and beauty.
Loss of memories.
Loss of material possessions.
Loss of autonomy.
Loss of one's good reputation.
Loss of identity.
Loss of homeland.
Loss of physical comfort.
Loss of mental acuity.
Loss of dreams. 

And on and on and on.

Ultimately and inevitably, it all culminates in the loss of life itself.

In the western world, we tend to live as if death will never come for us, and we blot it out of our minds by seeking as much pleasure and material comfort as we can. We avoid suffering at all costs. But when we train so hard and condition ourselves so thoroughly for a pain-free existence, we are unprepared, shocked, and even indignant when loss does come our way. It was not, after all, a part of our carefully laid plans.

But no matter how fiercely committed we are to maintaining strict control of our lives, the losses will keep coming, and they will never let up. The more we fight and claw to hold on to the things that cannot ultimately stay in our grasp, the more we compound our pain, suffering, confusion, and angst. The longer we live, the more losses we will endure, and if we have not understood and accepted what God is doing for us, we risk becoming more and more anxious and fearful, perhaps even falling into despair.

What, then, do we do?

The way I see it, we should view every loss for what it is: Our loving Father detaching us from the things of this world, a world which is passing away, so that we might attach to Him. He only allows us to lose something in order to gain something greater. 

Detachment from the world = Attachment to God. 

For a while now, I've been all about the concept of total surrender, abandonment to a God who loves us and can be trusted. Surrender does not mean passivity, as of course we may and should fight disease, disaster, injustice, sin, corruption, and every kind of moral and physical evil while we are here. Fight the good fight every day, for sure, but do so with a proper understanding of holy detachment, and the realization that every earthly loss really is a step toward Heaven. 

When we truly trust the Lord, we no longer live in fear of losses that are beyond our control. The pain of the loss will still be felt, even searingly, but the fear and anxiety that precede and accompany that loss will be replaced with an interior peace, and yes, as the saints tell us, even supernatural, unimaginable joy. 

Back to Nikki's words, then: The image of a newborn baby beginning a lifetime of loss is no longer jarring or tragic, but hopeful. Each loss is a detachment that marks a human life's journey all the way to the Beatific Vision, the end for which we were made. 

From the perspective of Heaven, our loss is gain. And all is well. 







27 comments:

  1. What about the loss of a child?

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  2. Beth, absolutely. Loss of a loved one encompasses that, but I should make that clear in the post (I will edit).

    All human beings, all creatures, must be let go of to get to God. That does not mean that we don't love them and would even die for them. It simply means that they are not really "ours", they are God's. They also cannot be made into idols set above God. I remember learning that as a young mom.... that many young moms (including myself) almost set up our children as idols, and that we were more attached to them, more in love with them, than God himself. They are the gifts, but He is the gift-giver. We cannot place the gifts, even the gift of children, above the Giver.

    We must even be willing to let our children go if that is required of us.

    My friend Karen Pullano, who lost two of her ten children, writes about the peace she has even in her profound losses. I consider her a saint on earth. She writes at godversations and she's on my blog roll, if anyone is interested in her profound thoughts.

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  3. I just added a few more, including loss of parent, loss of spouse, loss of sibling, loss of child. These are such profound losses, and often the hardest to bear, esp. children. The good news is that there is every hope that we will not suffer the loss of the people we love forever, as we will be reunited in eternity, never to be separated again. Assuming all of us and our loved ones die in the friendship of God and have not chosen eternal separation from Him.

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  4. Maybe I've made idols of my kids unintentionally, I'm not sure. But the loss of one of my kids is my biggest fear and causes me so much anxiety. I just cannot imagine how people get through that without a major crisis of faith.

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    1. Because it's not the natural order of things, to bury a child - that's one reason.

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  5. Beth, as a mother I totally understand! But remember that even death itself is not part of the "natural order of things" from the beginning. Death is very unnatural for the human, as it separates body from soul. Everything from the fall on forward is distorted… Loss of a child is every mother's biggest fear I believe. We have to go past it and ask ourselves why we fear so much.

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  6. Leila, this is very powerful. I was thinking of you yesterday, thinking about emailing you to ask for your prayers for me on this very subject. Amazing to read your words today. Thank you.

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  7. Shane, I am humbled, and I am also very honored to pray for you. Consider it done!

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    1. Leila, thank you. It means a great deal to me.

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  8. Beth, one more thing about the fear of losing a child. Years ago, I was full of anxiety about the idea of it. Just the idea would terrorize me. When I miscarried a child (what would have been our 7th child at the time), I sorrowed and mourned, but I had incredible peace about it. The weird thing was this realization I had that God was very gentle with me, and was teaching me something. He knew what my greatest fear was, and he let me experience a loss of a child in the most gentle way (for me personally, and I'm not speaking for anyone else, a miscarriage is an easier way to lose a child than to lose a child I've already met face-to-face and have known and loved for years). He let me experience this loss of a child and yet gave me a peace in the sorrow and tears. That was pivotal for me. I understood that there could be peace in the midst of pain, and in saying good-bye (for a time) to a child. Part of me wondered if the miscarriage was a gentle preparation for a greater loss later on, and that is clearly something I don't know. But I do know that I can trust God with whatever comes, because He is a gentle, loving God, who is not trying to stick it to me. He is trying to get me to come ever closer to Him all the time.

    It's late, and I hope that was coherent.

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  9. I worry about losing a child, but I worry more about losing my husband. He has made an idol of our kids (especially my son). Any ideas about how to help someone else come to holy detachment?

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  10. Cheech, I'm not sure there is an answer for that. The best you can do (and the only thing we are called to do) is to become a saint yourself, and that peace and joy will radiate to others, who will want it as well. Sometimes (most times?) we have to learn to detach the hard way. Many of us will not let go of our idols (whatever they are) until we start to get very harmed. There is no peace there, and no joy. So, we learn through very hard lessons. But it helps to remember that God will do what he has to do to call us to him, and we can trust him! Hopefully, each soul will eventually respond to God's grace.

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  11. Beth B, Leila posted this on the anniversary of my sister's death (June 10, 1974). As you know, losing my sister as a child contributed to my fear of losing a child. If it happened to my parents, why couldn't it happen to me? The answer of course is that it could. I talked to my kids about it yesterday, urging them (and my husband and me) to always be loving and grateful towards each other, because we never know when a death may occur.

    I know that God will be with me in any suffering I endure, even if it be the loss of a child. That's how I'm able to have peace. He will make good come of it.

    So much good has come from my writing my book that includes the story of my sister's death, and even from the event itself. Here's one amazing example. Last summer I received a letter from a woman in Montana who was a stranger. She had bought my book. On reading about the accident, she realized that she had witnessed it as a child. Her family had been driving down the opposite side of the highway. Since so many others stopped and they had an appointment, they drove on, but could not forget the incident. She said that she not only saw the car roll over, she saw my sister get thrown from the car. Later they read all about it in the smalltown paper. Her uncle was so moved by my parents' peace and trust that he later entered the Catholic Church. I wonder how many other stories there are like this that we will never know until Heaven.

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  12. Connie, oh my gosh! That is absolutely amazing! God is so good to have shown just a glimpse of the fruits of what the world can only understand as a tragedy! I am just stunned. And so happy for you to know this. What a blessing.... And God rest your sweet sister's soul.

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  13. Connie's book, by the way, is Trusting God with St. Therese and it is excellent! I highly recommend it!

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  14. When you lose whatever you fear losing most, you may experience incredible peace afterwards. That at least has been my experience.

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  15. Thanks, Connie and Leila, I actually read your book, Trusting God with St Therese a few months ago. It was excellent! I know logically so much is out of my control - look at these shootings that happen such as the one in Orlando. It reminds us of how fragile life is. But then when I hear of these events, it worsens my anxiety about my kids. I guess I just can't wrap my mind around burying a child and finding peace in that situation. I imagine I would always be tormented.

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  16. Well, I quoted this in my book, Beth, so you've heard it before, but it's a favorite passage of mine. Corrie Ten Boom, whose family hid Jews from the Nazis and subsequently were imprisoned, wrote about a childhood incident in The Hiding Place. She had experienced death for the first time and was frightened. Her wise father asked her to think about what happened when the two of them traveled to Amsterdam by train. Mr. Ten Boom did not give Corrie her ticket until it was just time to board. Likewise, God gives us the grace right when we need it, not far ahead of time. We have to trust that when suffering and loss come, the grace to bear them will also come.

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  17. Connie, yes! We must trust that he will. It's one of those things that we will understand when we "get there", so to speak.

    And Sarah, YES! That is exactly right! When you have experienced your worst fear, there is nothing left to fear. It's freedom and joy at that point. :)

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  18. Connie, that is such a grace. I can't believe that! My husband recently had a truck with a trailer that was out of control right in front of him on the DE Memorial Bridge the other day. It was a close call and I was talking about your accident. Your book left such an impression on me. I can't tell you how God has continued my healing in trust since then.

    And Leila, you didn't ask, but I would love to add loss of identity to the list.

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    1. Great to hear that about your journey of trust, Michelle. And happy that your husband is okay.

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  19. I don't fear my children dying as much as I fear them suffering physical pain. I fear being mental or physical torture, like some of our beloved saints were. And even more, I fear my children facing some sort of torture/kidnapping etc. How would one feel at peace in the midst of such an completely helpless experience? I cannot imagine. I only see an example with Mary witnessing the Passion of Christ. How her heart must have been pierced.

    Great post, as usual, Leila :)

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    1. *being subject to mental or physical torture,...

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  20. Connie-what an amazing story!

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  21. There are some of us who experience loss earlier than others and in more traumatic ways which can compromise our mental health. Having dealt with traumatic loss since birth and especially around the age of 4 I have become accustomed to it. What has helped me deal with loss including loss of a parent at a young age, loss of innocence at a young age and loss of a child (through miscarriage) has been my faith in Christ. I went through so many years of anguish before turning to God. What has been such a saving grace for me is Mass, confession, spiritual direction and therapy. With all of those tools I have been able to attach myself to Christ more and more. There will always be struggle this side of Heaven but God wants to draw us closer to Him in it. Thank you for this post Leila! It is affirming so many things God is doing in my life right now!

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  22. Kat, yes! The secret of peace and joy, the secret of the universe. You have it! Trust in Christ is the key to all. He can be trusted! :D

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