In spite of the recent hurricane that (temporarily, I’m sure) dampened its spirit, the character of New Orleans will always celebrate a joyful contempt for everything I hold dear. Like being on time. Or stopping after two glasses of red zinfandel–or after one cheesesteak. I guess that’s why I look forward to the Labor Day New Orleans Jazz Funeral at Bethany Beach, marking the end of another summer season.
The music and the costumes are a celebration of life, set squarely in the context of death and loss. The juxtaposition of the coffin and the colorful attire; the somber pace of the ‘mourners,’ contrasted with the upbeat music; it all got me thinking about the many ways we cope with loss. Whether it’s the devastating demise of a friend or a family member, the rejection and violation associated with the loss of a job or something valuable, or even the death of a beloved pet—we all have a mechanism by which we try to muddle through, and, conceivably, recover from, the sorrow and the seemingly endless sense of emptiness.
Though the old adage insists that ‘time heals all wounds,’ the time your psyche needs to recover is only part of the solution. Indeed, if the loss is the death of a loved one, a part of you will never recover. There’s nothing wrong with that. The sense of never fully recovering is part of how you remain loyal to the person you loved so much. At the same time, room has to be left to go on living, in spite of the loss. And I mean living, not merely existing.
Of course, not all loss involves death. Some losses result from a conscious choice, for example, breaking up a relationship, or taking on a new career; choices that could, potentially, improve one’s life. A sense of loss after making a major change doesn’t mean that your choice was necessarily wrong. It simply means that your psyche, mind and emotions need a chance to ‘catch up’ to the new, altered reality.
Life is full of tradeoffs. Whenever you lose something, you generally gain something as well. There is no ignoring the fact that the loss of a loved one is irretrievable. Yet, even in such a terrible situation, you might discover strengths and perspectives on life you never realized you had. On a less tragic scale, if you lose a pet, you acquire a new one once you’re ready. If you lose the enjoyment of living in the city, you gain the different enjoyment of living by the mountains, in the country, or at the beach.
Recovering from loss means accepting, and getting used to, certain emotions that aren’t comfortable. Along with that acceptance comes the perspective that many of these feelings will eventually go away. Yet, to fully recover, you have to learn to think as well. Think about the tradeoffs and opportunities offered by the new circumstance. If you examine the lives of people who experience tragic loss, you will find that the most resilient among them seized the new opportunities that arose afterwards. They might never stop grieving, but they never stop living, either.
Not all losses are dramatic, tragic and horrible. You might realize, after some months or years, that a friend no longer represents what he or she once meant to you. There’s nothing tragic about this. It might be a little sad, but your friendship, while valuable to you both at one time, just played itself out. Neither of you needs the other any longer. So what? Now you’re both free to go on and pursue other friendships.
The same applies to break-ups of marriages and romantic relationships. You will absolutely survive those losses if you’re prepared to move on and engage in the other experiences that life has to offer.
Many of you reading this are ‘transplants’ to the coastal resort area. No doubt you can think of many things you left behind. But, assuming you wanted to make the move in the first place, you can probably list as many gains as well. Otherwise, why stay?
Aging is a form of loss, too. When you age, you lose many of the physical capacities you took for granted in your younger years. Though you might always miss these capacities, your mind often grows wiser and stronger. Even in their advanced years, people can endure loss while moving on and spending mental time, if nothing else, on the things that interest them–things they might never have had time for in the past.
Though the sound of the jazz band on the boardwalk still resonates in our memory, the summer season of 2005 is gone, and there will never again be one exactly like it. Rejoice in the arrival of autumn, with its own unique set of pleasures and rewards. As with the changing of the seasons, so with all of life.