Recovering from Loss

Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for part two

It has been almost 17 years since my house burned to the ground, destroying everything I owned. The trauma, so vivid when it occurred—and it remained vivid for years—has faded into a more distant memory. Whatever I lost has been replaced, and I’ve made peace with the loss of those things that couldn’t be replaced. I lost having a familiar world that I had put so much of myself into. I lost having favorite clothes, or comfortable well-broken in shoes. I lost my father’s sport coats that I acquired when he died. I lost all the mementos and keep-sakes from my childhood. And photos—I lost lots of photos. Somehow all of that I have accepted and am no longer grieving.

This got me thinking about all the other losses, accidents, traumas and outright bummers that I have had to deal with through the years: losing several different intimate relationships with women I dearly loved, losing vital people in my life to death, getting fired from a job, badly breaking my leg (twice while skiing) that took a total of four surgeries and three years rehabbing on crutches or a cane, and losing a sizable chunk of my savings when the markets recently got battered.

Sadly, the list continues: Two Januarys ago, a large dog somehow got into my fenced-in mountain backyard and was harassing my 11-month-old sheltie puppy named Pirate. I ran outside and charged the dog in an attempt to protect my little girl—only to witness the animal grabbing my puppy and leaping 40 feet away into a tree, with my puppy in its mouth. It was only then that I realized that it wasn’t a dog that was in my yard, it was a lion, a mountain lion to be precise, and I watched it carry away the puppy I had grown extremely attached to. Only afterwards did I make the connection that I had actually charged a lion—got to within 3 feet of it—and I easily could have jumped between that lion and its prey. The loss of Pirate was gut-wrenching. I was torn apart for months after that, and the incident can still bring tears to my eyes.

We probably all know people who have never recovered from a loss, an injury, a rejection or a setback. It takes enormous inner strength, personal resolve, gumption and a belief in ourselves to rise from the ashes—in my case, literally—to begin anew. So why do some people seem to never recover from a setback or tragedy, while others not only recover, but find a way to thrive and even grow from the adversity they faced?

I have largely recovered from my various traumas, tragedies and bummers. I have rebuilt my mountain home and made it into a place that expresses my spirit and nurtures my soul. My broken leg is healed, and I’m even thinking about getting back on skis once again. (Or maybe I’ll pass on that, I haven’t quite decided.) I have adopted a new sheltie puppy named Dreamer—who I watch like a hawk—and whom I’ve grown extremely close to. I can tell you how I have personally overcome my own adversity and loss: I figure this is my one and only life, and I had better make the very most of it while I can so I won’t be loaded with regrets later on. I have a spirit that just doesn’t want to give up or give in to cynicism, despair, negativity, hopelessness or helplessness.

But clearly a fair number of people never recover from a trauma or a setback. They don’t know how to start over or how to make peace with radically changed circumstances. This year we’ve all gone through setbacks or disappointments. What are the losses you faced this year? How have you had to redefine yourself in one way or another? What events, people, changed circumstances, setbacks or losses do you need to make peace with?

I will address the question of rebirth—of recreating ourselves—in next week’s column.

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