This post is inspired by a Writing 101 prompt. The instructions are to write about loss, and make the post the first of a three part series. The subsequent parts of the series will follow in the next couple of weeks.
The word “loss” is one of those that has many different definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary gives nine to choose from, and even those are further subdivided. That’s a lot of options to choose from when it comes to talking about loss. In this post we’ll explore a few of them, in no particular order.
A person, thing, or amount lost
When I was a young girl I took ballet classes. A friend of mine was in the same ballet class, and because we lived near to one another our parents would take it in turns as to who would collect us from ballet classes and take us to our homes.
Sometimes when my friend’s dad collected us from class he would take us to a small department store that was nearby and we would go to the coffee shop for drinks and some sweet, sticky thing to eat. Whenever this happened my friend and I would race ahead, giggling like the little girls we were, and hide among the racks of ladies clothes by the coffee shop. It was a silly, childish game we played, and he would always find us quickly and take us on for our treat.
On one occasion he did not find us quickly. When our giggles died out we felt as if we must have been hiding for hours. We peered out from between floral skirts to see if he was waiting nearby and trying to trick us, but he was not there. We soon decided to come out and look around to see if we could find him. No luck.
We began to feel worried. I think we must have only been about four years old, and it seemed to us that if we hadn’t been found yet then we would never, ever be found. We’d be lost in the ladies department forever!
Luckily one of us had the bright idea to tell someone that we were lost. We went back down the stairs and found a member of staff. Just as we started trying to explain to her what had happened, a voice called my friend’s name. We turned around and there he was. We weren’t lost any more! We wouldn’t have to work in the coffee shop to earn our keep!
That was the last time we played that game.
Being deprived by death, separation, estrangement
All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.
I’ve been very lucky in my life thus far in that I’ve had little experience of familial death. During my lifetime the only deaths were of my maternal grandmother’s parents. My great-grandfather died when I was very young, too young to remember him. My great-grandmother, on the other hand, died when I was fifteen.
Losing my great-grandmother was a painful experience. She had lived a long life, dying just a couple of years short of her hundredth birthday. For the last few years of her life she had lived with her daughter, my grandmother, who took care of her full-time. Towards the end she became confused, and sometimes didn’t seem to recognise us or truly understand what was going on.
It was still a shock when it happened though. I came downstairs in the morning, ready to go to school, and my mum told me. My first instinct was to comfort my mum – she’d lost her grandmother, after all. It took a moment for my own grief to truly kick in. We didn’t go to school that day.
I’d never been to a funeral before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. My grandmother asked that people not where black, so I wore a purple dress. There were lots of tears. Family members that I’d never known to cry were crying. Grief was shared. I don’t remember a lot about the service – words were spoken, a poem read. The usual things, I suppose.
What I do remember is the cat. As I understand it, cats are not a usual feature at funerals. Nonetheless, early on in the service a little cat appeared. She was tortie-and-white and came and sat on my lap, which meant I wasn’t able to stand up when everyone else did. She stayed with me throughout the service, purring the whole time.
Afterwards everyone said how much Nin, as we called my grandmother, would have liked the cat being there. It seemed right, somehow.
Failure to take advantage or make good use (time, opportunity)
I like to be organised. I like to be on time for things, and I like to make good use of my time. But for all that I like it, I’m not always very good at it.
In an effort to make good use of my time, I use a large variety of productivity tools. I have a planner in which I keep track of appointments and classes, things that have to happen at particular times. On some occasions I have tried making myself a timetable for my day, with everything planned out almost to the second, but I found that to be a bit too restrictive.
As well as my planner I have calendars. Several of them. There is one on the noticeboard in the kitchen on which housework is written. It reminds me that today I must do the laundry, or water the aloe vera, or scrub the shower. There’s a week-to-view calendar in the hallway which keeps track of appointments, birthdays and other special dates. When we weigh Elvis to monitor his diet, we write the weight on that calendar so that we can flick back through the weeks and see how it is going. We have a third calendar in the bedroom, which isn’t used for anything. It’s just there. I also track various things on my phone/in my browser using Google calendar.
In the past I have tried keeping to-do lists, but it didn’t work too well for me. I would end up with scraps of paper scattered around the place, and without the lists I couldn’t always remember what it was that needed to be done. Now my to-do lists are kept on the computer, in places specifically for that purpose.
I use HabitRPG for my day-to-day needs, and have found the gamification aspect very engaging. For my more extensive to-do needs I was previously using Any.do, initially on my phone and then in my browser. More recently I’ve started phasing out Any.do and am instead using the Abstract Spoon ToDo list software. That has certainly increased my productivity – I love being able to prioritise things, order them, see what needs to be done today, tomorrow or by the end of next week. It’s like it was made with me in mind! Sure, it’s a little bit buggy at times, but it lets me see my to-dos on a calendar, with filtering and colours!
I can easily see how an outsider might think that I’m being excessive. Perhaps even obsessive. What can I say, I’m a bit weird at times. But I like it, and it helps me. And that’s what counts.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
The nursery rhyme “For Want of a Nail” immediately came to my mind when thinking of loss in terms of want or lack. The rhyme itself may not have “loss” in it, but it is easier to see how it fits in – because of the loss of a nail, the shoe was lost.
I like this rhyme for a number of reasons. It’s simple and yet complex. It has a simple form, easy repetition and rhyme pattern. The message it has is an important one, though. Small things can have big consequences.
That is, in my opinion, something that we should all remember. The rhyme may talk about the negative consequences of small things, but small things can also bring about positive changes. Things that you might not even have thought about.
I recently did a social psychology course on Coursera. The final assignment of the course was a day of compassion. Every one of the thousands of participants was asked to dedicate a day to being compassionate in any way they chose, big or small.
Compassion doesn’t have to be about changing the world. Small things can change a world – the world of one person. Taking a few minutes out of your day to speak with your elderly neighbour, saying “thank you” when you’re given your coffee-to-go, helping the harried professional pick up the papers they dropped. The little things you do, whether it’s holding the door, helping someone with their bags, or even just giving them a smile, can really make a difference to their day.
And compassion is exponential. The person you help is more likely to help someone else, and the person they help is more likely to do the same. Compassion and kindness is passed on. If we are all compassionate, the little things can become big things. Is it really so unbelievable that a smile can change the world?
After all, a nail could bring down a kingdom.
There we have it. A selection of things that came to mind when I considered some of the different meanings of loss. This has turned into a long post, I know. If you read through all of it, then thank you! Maybe you’d like to let me know in the comments below that you succeeded in making your way through my monstrosity of a post.
What does loss mean to you? Did any of the definitions mentioned above jump out at you and make you think of something in particular?