On the front page of last Saturday’s New York Times, the headline read “As Ebola Ebbs, Focus Turns From Death to Life”. Norimitsu Onishi’s article is about life returning to normal in Liberia, featuring wonderful images of people on the beach, a newborn, a wedding. Smiling faces, normal life. So different from the heartbreaking photos of the disease ravaged scenes we’ve become accustomed to seeing out of West Africa.
The focus turns from death to life. A simple line that strikes me as being a key to healing after loss. Of course this will have a hollow ring to the newly grieving. Moving beyond heartbreak when we are deep in the trenches of sadness feels impossible. We cannot imagine we will ever be able to do anything but focus on the pain of our loss. We wonder if a feeling of normal will ever be ours again. Forget about joy, ever feeling normal again seems inconceivable.
But with time, the focus does turn. I know this to be true. If you’ve tangled with grief but some time has passed hopefully, you do too. I think it’s less a ‘getting over’ but rather, with time, allowing ourselves to look elsewhere. Away from sadness. The thing that happened remains with us forever but the grip on our psyche, our heart, can loosen. Pleasure and even joy are indeed possible. I have experienced this and witnessed it in others. Perhaps it’s this focus shifting from death to life that’s necessary to continue on with our own.
For close to a decade my life was dominated by my husband’s addiction and then, his suicide. Loss felt long and drawn out, even while he was alive but fading away from us. After the violence of his death, my grieving was complicated. Since then, ten years have passed again and now this is mostly a story. Mine (and my daughters because we lived it together) but a story. When I think for long about the painful times I can evoke some tough emotions. I rarely do.
Over the years, many people reacted by saying “I can’t imagine.” but as many have their own tales as terrible or worse than mine. Like the loss of a child. I cannot imagine this – and hate to even write it as if doing so might make the possibility more real. And yet, loving parents lose their children and go on living their lives.They find a way. WE find a way. Us remarkable humans. How the hell do we do that? How do we go on to choose life?
Inspiring stories abound of generosity and purpose born out of loss and grief. Parents who vowed to remember their children by reaching out to others, lending support to others, creating scholarships, foundations. Like the incredible human spirits, rising from the ashes to create something new and good out of loss: the families of Sandy Hook whose children were killed on that hideous day in December 2012.
Our focus turns to life. Maybe it’s as simple as that for those of us without some structure or core of belief. Our losses will only increase with age. What are we to do we do as we lose more and more people (and pets!) we love? How do we continue moving on with our lives even as we know there will be more losses ahead? We turn our focus to life, remember love and continue to love. Love. It’s a start and if we’re lucky, it will be our finish too.