We experience loss on many levels — broken relationships, severed business ties, and failed friendships are just a few examples of people’s withdrawing presence. We forget that just as things come so, too, must they go. But rarely are we ready to lose someone suddenly. This, the most painful type of loss, is that sharp sting of abrupt departure. Though intrinsically hard, we must remember that loss also carries a radiant gain.
My aunt was always a somewhat distant family member, but she made her presence felt nonetheless. As a child, I became a giggly mess every time a package postmarked “Sweden” arrived in the mail: a large brown box brimming with toys, transporting familial love halfway across the world. It was all a little girl could ask for. I often wondered why my aunt chose to live in Sweden, but when she visited on holidays my curiosity diminished amid her endless hugs and innocent jokes. They say that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. Mama Mona, as I called her, smelled of hand sanitizer and suppressed pain.
About seven years ago, Mama Mona announced her decision to relocate to the states. We were overjoyed. The prodigal son would return home. She was gifted with an apartment to make her move as comfortable as possible. For several blissful months, Mama Mona participated in our lives in full force. My mother shared morning walks with her dear sister, my father engaged in philosophy with his sister-in-law, and I cooked delicious vegan dinners with my aunt. To my small but love-laden family, the reunion was a dream come true.
We patronized a Greek restaurant on the night of my birthday. Spanakopitas and dolmathakia adorned our table as red wine was poured in abundance. I raised my glass and expressed my gratitude for another year of life and for the presence of my loved ones, especially my new-found aunt. I toasted to Mama Mona, the beaming woman sitting across from me, the beautiful, blue-eyed stranger whom in reality I knew nothing about. We shared the same nose, same middle name, same obsessive love of writing. Common was our bloodline, but our destiny foreign.
Mama Mona vanished the next day. A handwritten note was left in her apartment, which she had transferred in my name unbeknownst to anyone. Her scribbles revealed that she had made a terrible mistake and could not adjust to life here. We should not attempt to contact her again, she wrote. I stepped into what was now my condo and loss suddenly dawned on me. There was the familiar scent of hand sanitizer and suppressed pain — lingering, haunting, the only traces of my aunt left behind in her frenzy to leave.
I never heard from Mama Mona again and perhaps I never will. But her fleeting presence in my life taught me how to deal with loss. I came to understand these seven profound principles of losing someone I loved:
Loss is never easy. Whether it comes suddenly or allows for time to prepare, loss is one of the most difficult elements of life. But accepting this truth and choosing to face the challenge valiantly can ease the losing burden. Loss should not be seen as a tragedy in which you are helpless, but as a bold undertaking from which you can evolve and improve.
Acceptance comes in time. Don’t expect to accept loss immediately; its reality sets in in precious time. You may not yet comprehend the reason behind your loss, but time will surely reveal it. Remember that after any loss comes a greater reward and this fact alone should set the foundation of your acceptance.
Forgive to detach. To forgive is to detach — from negative experiences and hurtful memories. Forgive whomever you’ve lost, whether your separation was on good or bad terms. Release any lingering bitterness or pent up emotions from your being so as to free yourself from the energy of the past.
Understand the other side. I’ve reflected many times on my aunt’s motives for leaving and only came to one conclusion: I would have to trust that what she wrote in her note was the truth. Considering the true intentions of the other side helps you gain a deeper understanding of your loss overall. It also reminds you not to take so personally the actions of others. Put aside your emotions and place yourself in the other person’s shoes for just a moment.
Seek a final note of closure. Seeking a final note of closure grants peace of mind. Do your part by attempting one last communication, whether it’s by sending a quick note or simply wishing someone well on their journey. After you’ve exerted a final bout of energy, turn in a new direction knowing you did what you could.
Don’t regret anything. We tend to carry the burden of loss on our shoulders. But in doing so we worsen our struggle: regret adds to the magnitude of loss because it evokes self-blame. When we disassociate ourselves from the “what ifs,” we can cut our ties to painful past experiences. Breathe deeply and reassure yourself that nothing was your fault. Exhale slowly and shun the pressure of regret from your mind and body.
Don’t push the will of the universe. We naturally want to regain the things or people we’ve lost. But there’s a fine line between doing your part and pushing fate. And there is greater value in doing less versus too much. If you feel you’ve already done everything to prevent your loss, retreat to a place of inactivity and let the universe work its rounds. If it’s towards your higher good, what was lost will be returned to you. Have the wisdom to accept the things you can’t control so that they can’t control you.
An inevitable function of life, loss never comes easy. But if we can decipher its grand purpose and forgive anyone who has hurt us, we can conquer loss and come to see the hidden gain gleaming through it.
To Mama Mona,
For more by Alexandra Harra, click here.
To connect with Alexandra Harra on Facebook, click here.
For more on loss, click here.