In Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” this is her admission, her announcement, her proclamation. Life is loss… when, what, who will you lose? It’s not a matter of will I lose, but solely when will I lose.
Loss is familiar to me.
One of my first childhood memories is wrapped in death. When I was 4 my aunt took her life and the life of the child inside her, and all I remember of her is in a soft blue dress, sealed away in a stiff coffin. Her absence has marked my life ever since – from the comforting of my cousin in the missingness of her mother to the haunting images of her death. Suicide. At a very young age I saw its impact.
Loss can be tragic.
The next death that marked my life was that of a young friend, innocent and full of life like me, first graders sharing stories on the playground, until the day she took a trip in a fated plane that met the end of revenge from a war bent traitor. We heard the reports and the headlines read, “Korean Airlines Flight Gunned Down.” I remember the flowers lining the stage of the school auditorium and solemn stares taking in the pictures of the lost, giving our memories and fears a place to find solace. Terrorism. It had a face, the face of a precious Korean girl.
Loss can be experienced through a stranger.
I remember her body, crumpled and distorted, lying in a pool of liquid, more red than black. The police were there, covering the body but not before I got a haunting glance. Chatter was all around, Korean ajimas giving their account of what they saw – a housewife, young and formerly vibrant, now gone. I didn’t have to know the details, they lay before my eyes…even in my youth I wept, I knew well the grief that would meet those left behind. Instead, I abandoned my trip to my secret place and ran to find myself in my mothers arms, wrapped up tight, to feel the warm pulse of love.
Loss isn’t always marked by a grave.
Sometimes loss is just the inability to function as before… life changing alterations that you can’t walk away from or turn back time. In the summer of ‘96 this was my reality. I was instructing at a camp, days filled with laughter and sharing love with kids, being Jesus in athletic shorts and Nikes. Nothing could have prepared me for the call, “Robbie has been in an accident. He dove off the shallow shore, and he is paralyzed. His lungs are failing. We don’t know if he will make it.” I remember the smile swallowed up in pain, the urgency to catch my breath and seeming unable. My dear sweet cousin, youngest child of the mother long dead now decomposing in tattered shreds of blue, fighting for his life. The energetic, rambunctious basketball loving 18 year old now unable to move. It was too much to take. I blindly found my way back to my room, screaming out to God to please change this! It remained unchanged, life as he had known it lost… but his soul was saved before finding peace 7 years later, no longer bound by wheels and mechanics but truly free forever.
Loss can be startling.
I can still see her eyes shining and the smile that creased her face in joy as she beheld my swollen belly, just hours before my first child would burst free from her cocoon of flesh. I can still feel the warmth of her hands on my goose-pimpled skin, chills from head to toe, evoked by the power of the prayer she led – to bless this child, to anoint her with calling – words not birthed from a human mouth, but whispered from the lips of the Holy Spirit, claiming her as His own. I remember the yawn of the morning, the silence and sadness that woke me from the dead of sleep, unable to discern why or what until the phone call that announced the end of life. There would never be definitive answers, no known reason why a 23 year old should no longer live, accept that she wasn’t meant to… her eternal Father had called her home, and who could blame Him? She was a treasure.
It wasn’t but a few months later that I attended another funeral of a friend. Aneurism they said. I had spoken with her just hours before – in the years before texts and Facebook, she had called and asked for prayer for her headache that wouldn’t subside. I prayed casually that it would end, but had I known how I might have prayed more fervently, more desperately, but how could anyone know a bad headache would be the symptoms of death. I can picture her golden blonde hair, the way her lips pursed when she was mockingly pouting. She was beautiful. Young. Life-filled no longer alive.
Loss isn’t always death.
Loss can be found in the changing of circumstances, the confines of space, and the passing of seasons. Who you have in your life becomes a revolving door of friends and companions. It bears its pain, but always with gratitude I reflect on what those intersections of lives gave to me – lessons, highlights, and very often transformation. There is grief in loss, no matter what form it takes.
Loss. It bears its marks.
With each of these memories, I relive their lives. And, there are more… more lives that I can only see in the light of recollection. Life is loss. Who? What? When? And, in knowing that, the truth that nothing lasts forever, that in the blink of an eye everything can change, I hold my loved ones closer, stare just a little longer, breathe them in deeper, and make the most of each day I have…moment by moment, day by day… we never know when things will forever change, and like those listed here, I need that lasting picture in my mind to point me back to life – my life, the one I live in this moment that is slowly growing shorter and shorter.