It was the evening we pulled our life out of storage to discover the year had dampened it all with mildew. Box upon box wearing a sweet fragrance of “closed-up cabin.”
It was the night my little climber moved out of her crib. Too many thumps, bumps and wails crackling through the baby monitor – the crib had to go. It was 11pm, a fantastic hour for relocating children.
It was the hour my Dad called to tell me that GiGi, his mom, had passed away. My last grandparent had departed this world.
Earlier, at dinner, we had all shared our high/low of the day. Apparently, my low was premature.
Over the next 48 hours, we setup Sydney in new sleeping arrangements (which she spit back in our faces with four nights of cutting molars), we cycled every garment, stuffed animal, linen and plastic toy through special washes to rid of mildew odor and we packed our family of five for my Grandma’s funeral.
I began the process of saying goodbye to my Grandma, but, almost instantly, I felt weary of getting too sad. I knew friends who’d recently buried children and young parents, little kids who were losing moms and dads, marriages that were ending, jobs and homes being taken away. Did I have the right to really mourn?
I caught myself rationalizing out the sadness. She was 94. She had been fairly healthy and when her health took a turn, she went quickly. She had lived a full life, a beautiful life. She hoped for her long-awaited reunion with her husband who’d passed 18 years earlier. And she was now coming face to face with her Jesus.
I found myself saying “it’s sad, but…” which turns out to be a terrible way to grieve. I was denying myself entry to the sad places. I was locking up pain and marking the door “at least.” I was taking loss and comparing it with what it could’ve otherwise been.
What may have seemed to be a lap on the thankfulness track was me running from loss altogether.
As silly as it may sound, I noticed a similar attitude as I was sniff-testing our goods. The dampness did a number on our stuff. Even Monopoly Junior sustained life-threatening injuries. Desperate for a contained staging area, I stuffed every washable item into the shower. We would be doing mildew washes for weeks. I wanted to complain. I wanted to blame. I wanted compensation.
But, quickly, I thought “this is nothing compared to the flooding that has happened all over our country and the world.” This wasn’t our day-to-day bare necessities. This was our B-list stuff – what we lived without for a year. Our winter clothes, our extras, our decor, our “somedays.” If you’d ask me what was in there, I’d have had to think long and hard before answering. I couldn’t lament this loss. It was “nothing compared to…”
And even in our little parenting pickle – the one we’d already been in twice before – I found myself fighting out the emotion. This was just our girl growing up. We had a healthy tot who could climb. We’d had two years of contained sleeping arrangements. This was no loss. This was just life. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on.
But, I’m learning there is a dangerous shortcut I’m prone to take. The one that discounts pain, short-circuits emotion, avoids loss. Compares one to another as if loss was a contest and didn’t count unless it was the most tragic.
Some time ago, a friend tossed me the line “pain is pain.” She was encouraging me to share my hurts with others, even when I knew they had lived through obvious tragedy. Then, like a good friend, I turned around and paid someone an hourly fee to tell me what my friend had told me for free. He put it this way:
We all compare to Eden.
My pain and loss isn’t compared with others’ pain and loss and then if it comes out “ahead,” it deserves emotion and attention. My pain and loss compares with Eden, the perfect world we were created to live in and then banished from when the first humans decided to trust themselves instead of God. When I experience life and it’s less than Eden, that’s pain. That’s loss. It hurts regardless of how it measures up to the pain and loss of those around me. That’s an unstable, uncalibrated, unusable scale by which pain and loss wasn’t meant to be measured.
Pain is pain. Loss is loss.
Thankfulness and perspective are needed. But,they don’t replace grief. Loss is big piece of life and it deserves true, honest emotion.
Even “just” the loss of a season of a childhood, moving from one stage to another. Losing freedom that comes with containment. Losing dependence in the name of independence. Losing moments as they become memories. Parenting is one loss after another. One gain after another, too. But gain comes through loss. Loss deserves true, honest emotion. Loss compares to Eden.
Even”just” the loss of material things, the excess that I as an American, middle-class, 30-something possess. Losing the preparedness of having the kids’ “next size” clothes because I purchased ahead on clearance or at yard sales. Losing tangible remnants of my childhood. Losing beloved home decor. It’ll all burn someday, but today I’d hoped to use it and enjoy it. It was still sentimental, valuable, functional, desirable. More loss. Loss deserves true, honest emotion. Loss compares to Eden.
Even “just” the loss of an aging grandparent, having been given more years than most get. Losing my eldest friend. Losing my spunky, sharp, tell-it-like-it-is Grandma. Losing my first-hand connection to all the generations before her. Losing her smiles, her hugs, her voice, her phrases, her strength, her talents, her personality. She was one-of-a-kind and whether we had lost her young or lost her old, we lost her and loss is loss is loss is loss is loss.
We don’t compare our loss to one another. We all compare to Eden.