I spend my days caring for people who are living with loss. Sometimes its the loss of an identity as a healthy person. Sometimes its the loss of a long life expectancy. Sometimes its the loss of a breast. The loss of estrogen. The loss of energy, vitality. The loss of long, sexy hair that trails to the small of a back. The loss of trust, the loss of a belief that everything will be okay.
I don’t know what it feels like to have breast cancer, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a mother to a dying child when I worked in pediatric bone marrow transplant, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a homeless, chemically dependent and mentally ill AIDS patient when I was a med-surg nurse in a county hospital. But life has a funny way making us let go, and let go, and let go some more, and after all this letting go we turn to other humans, who murmur yes, I understand what its like to see the most precious dreams fly away, I have felt the texture of the walls and the weight of the thick black air of a world of darkness, and I have come out on the other side. I have always enjoyed my patients, but I’m a different kind of nurse now. Its subtle, probably not noticeable. But there is a slight shift in the air, a longer gaze in which I say without words I can better understand you.
Sadly, loss breaks a few of us and there are casualties along the way, but more often than not, it simply destroys that which no longer fits. We need the heartbreak in order to open up more fully. And with this miracle of the human spirit we can then weave together the threads of our sorrows with those of others. We bond. We make a web of connection, and it captures the joy and blessings of this bizarre, difficult, beautiful world. The details of our individual suffering is always unique, but in the collective experience of loss, we turn to each other with a soft and courageous stare and say I may not know, but I understand.