A year and a half ago I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life (not an overstatement). Because of various and sundry life changes that I won’t detail here, I had to make one huge domino fall in order for the others to follow suit. I had to re-home my two beloved dogs, Sebastian and Pepper. It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart still. But a combined 140 pounds of dog wasn’t conducive to apartment living. It would not have been easy for me, and it would not have been fair to them.
A lightning-strike solution presented itself with ease and grace, and I believe that their move to a new home (complete with huge backyard and a loving person) was directed by the universe. But, damn, the loss. The horrendous, endless sense of loss. And because it was ultimately a decision, the questioning. The horrendous, endless questioning.
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. I think a lot of people do during the holidays. The older I get, the more loss I have experienced, of course. There is an invisible line I crossed which no one told me about where the brain is more occupied with memories than with planning. And memories are the currency of loss.
Memories and 70’s music. When I’m feeling all the feels, I tend to run toward them for a warm embrace rather than trying to avoid them. So today I’ve been basking in the feeling of loss while listening to Carole King (“You’re So Far Away”), Elton John (“This is Your Song”), John Denver (“Rocky Mountain High”), and James Taylor (just about any song). The music of that era seems to have been centered around chords and chord progressions that evoke loss — it’s that sweet, happy-sad sound that gives a sense of meaning even to lyrics like “I want to make it with you.”
Memories are the savings account of emotion. Sometimes they bring a deep and indescribable pain, but they are the evidence of a life well lived. For me, they hold my dad, my grandparents, old loves, college memories, moments — those moments that would seem insignificant to anyone else but which hold deep meaning for me. Those people who meant something to me, and even I can’t explain it. Facebook friends I never actually met who died, and their death ripped a hole right through me. Celebrities, yes, celebrities whose passing feels like a loss for the planet. That person I haven’t seen in 30 years who still shows up in my thoughts now and then.
New Year’s Eve is a natural time for taking this journey into yesterday with all its joys and sorrows. With all its loss.
I am learning to reframe loss in three significant ways.
First, I am choosing gratitude in place of grief. I miss my father so deeply some days that it feels like I can’t breathe. But, I have found that I can shift the feeling from devastation to appreciation if I stop and say, “I’m so grateful you were my dad.”
Second, I am only giving yesterday a limited amount of emotional space. I’m grateful for my memories, but when they start to dominate my internal conversation, I consciously focus on tomorrow and plans and hopes and dreams and possibilities.
Third, I just look at Buddy. My pup is, without a doubt, the best decision I made in 2016. That, too, is not an overstatement. I’ve had lots of animals in my life, but I’m not sure any being has brought me so much joy. Babies always win over loss.
Actually, there is a fourth thing I do — I change the Pandora station. Carole King is good for purging, but Abba is good for happy.
“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen . . .”