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Practicing Loss

Posted 4/26/2014

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  "Practicing loss" is such a marvelous concept and such beautiful language. Thank you, Susan Gubar. I will eventually get to the link to her remarkable essay, but I am so taken by the image that I can't get there quite yet. One could posit that all of life is about practicing loss, each one a building block for the eventual loss of all we know by death. There is the famous quote from Dylan Thomas: "After the first death, there is no other" which must be expressing a similar sentiment.

  For me, the first death was my dear friend Louise when we were 19. She and I had been inseparable at 9 and 10 and 11, those years when your best friend fills your world. She died of an aneurysm while a sophomore at Pomona College, and I will never forget receiving the phone call from her father. In those days, receiving a long distance phone call was unusual, and the reason for this call felt completely other worldly and impossible. How could it be? Prior to Louise's death, I had lost grandparents, but they had seemed old and, although surely sad, even as I child, i understood their deaths to be the natural order of the world. Louise's was not.

  That loss was followed by many deaths of friends in Vietnam and then the death of my beloved father when I was 29. From my father's death, I have probably never recovered, although, clearly, I have compensated and moved through life without paralysing grief. With my work, there has been much sorrow, and, like all of you, my own cancers have brought losses and changes and none have been improvements.

  The concept of "practicing loss" is brilliant. Just about everything in life gets easier with practice, so one could hope that managing loss or grief would, too. Unfortunately, I don't think that is necessarily true. What is true is that you learn that you will live through it--and that is exactly the problem with practicing for the final loss when you won't.

Here is the start of this remarkable piece of writing, and then a link. Please read it.

Living With Cancer: Practicing Loss

At times when I consider my losses, I feel like a loser in the battle against self-pity. Like many diseases,
cancer has everything to do with loss: of a breast or a leg, of a chunk of liver or lung, of continence, of mental
capacity, of life itself.
My losses, like those of most people, vary in scope. The biggest is the loss of physical autonomy. I must
rely on all sorts of equipment and medicine to keep me going. Then there is the big loss of my teaching job.
Enforced retirement isolates me from the intellectual community that had sustained me throughout my life.
The smaller losses of my hair and of not being able to feel my feet sometimes loom larger than they should.
But why be a downer? Who wants to wallow? To take my mind off my woes, it is always possible to think
of someone worse off. As I child, I was told how lucky I was compared with the starving children in China.
Now I mourn violence against women in Congo. Yet it feels meanspirited to buck oneself up with the misery of
others, not an attractive option.
Neither can I bear to become a Pollyanna, counting the manifold blessings of loving family and friends, of
reading near a window overlooking a beech tree, of a cardinal at the bird feeder. I realize that I should
subscribe to the idea of abundant recompense, of looking on the bright side, of the glass half full, of the silver
lining, but it can elude me. What I need then is something more stringent or even mordant.



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