Lessons in Living and Losing

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

This past month I lost a cherished member of my fur family. While the first of its kind, it wasn’t my first encounter with grief and certainly won’t be my last. In some ways, I wish I could shield myself from the pain that accompanies the loss of those we love. Whether sudden or long-anticipated, such absences cut right to the core. We recall our fondest memories in an effort to preserve the life that was and move through our days with a renewed sense of reverence for their simplest moments.

Like a child with an insatiable curiosity, we see the world with fresh eyes. We begin to notice that the things to which we cling most tightly are those we’d be better served by releasing: our insecurity and envy; our failures and regrets; our need for order and control when life continually abides by rules of disorder and entropy.

We recognize more acutely that the belongings which fill our homes, however sacred, are not the keys to lasting happiness. Instead, it’s the relationships that inspired their acquisition and the personal connections that are reinforced each time we use them that bring repeated joy: when we read to our children; when we cook dinner for a friend; when we curl up in a blanket that transports us to the places we love.

We grow in patience, newly aware that our time on earth is limited.

Rushing around in a frenzy of motion doesn’t help us reach our destinations any sooner. Instead, it deprives us of the exchanges that make our days memorable: with the old man who lives down the street; with the person sitting across from us on the train; with the familiar face behind the counter at our favorite coffee shop.

We reevaluate what matters and learn to distinguish it from what we’re told will bring our lives meaning. We begin to understand that our existence is enriched by technology, not defined by it. We realize that faster isn’t always better and newer isn’t always necessary. We remember that our value doesn’t fluctuate with our number of likes or growth in followers but is rooted in our inner wholeness.

We hold on tighter to the ones we love as we loosen our grip on a desire to change them. We free ourselves from the constraints of what’s perfect and shift our focus to what’s right before us: a loyal companion; a listening ear; a smile that soothes us; a voice that steadies us.

We stop comparing: our experience, our income, our education, our accomplishments. We come to see how much we have in common despite our differences, awakened to our shared humanity, defeats, longings, and shortcomings.

There’s a softening that takes place, as if the world around us slows down ever so slightly so we can take it all in. We’re at once older and wiser, youthful and innocent.

As we move through the heartache, we witness the powerful ways it strengthens us, imbuing us with a deeper knowledge of what we’re capable of and what we’ve overcome. We see that living with intention isn’t a fleeting endeavor but a full-time job.

We acknowledge that the lessons death imparts are only as valuable as the degree to which we absorb them. We welcome the heavy emotions they carry and embrace their release. We shed our old skin and prepare for the new.

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