It’s a scene that was played out so many times during my marriage. I would be scratching around trying to find something, and Evelyn would ask in her gentle, Scottish accent, ‘What have you lost?’ The answer would usually be something like my pen / car keys / glasses. Then we would hunt together until the lost object was found.
Recently I lost my letter opener. Made of bamboo, and decorated in tribal art forms, it wasn’t valuable but full of sentimental attachment from our time in Borneo. Jenny, my cleaner, and I searched the house for it, but it has never been found. It is lost. My best guess is that it went in the bin along with envelopes that had been opened and were no longer needed. A sad end for a treasured object.
But ‘What have you lost?’ is a good question in these days of lockdown and restriction. All of us have lost something. Indeed, most of us have suffered multiple losses. We may be acutely aware of them, or we may not yet have realised. We may be shielding ourselves from the reality of loss, because all loss involves grief, and grief is painful. Sometimes we press on regardless, choosing not to face the pain. But unfaced pain needs a place to go, and if we press it down inside of us it will stay there unresolved and waiting it’s time to erupt.
It seems far better to face the pain of loss, to “walk into the way of my sadness” (Ruth Hayley Barton). It takes courage, I know, but it is in these deep places where we meet God. Remember the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt 5:4).’ It can seem like an age, I know, before we feel any sense of healing, but with time it will come. We may weep for a ‘night’, but joy will come in the ‘morning’ (Psalm 30:5).
When talking recently about my own losses, I was asked, ‘What would you say to someone you were mentoring in a similar position to yourself?’ A good question. I said something like this:
1. Be kind to yourself.
2. Remember you are only human and what you are feeling is perfectly normal.
3. Remember the words my mother used to say, ‘This too shall pass.’
4. Ask for help. Who is there who will listen to you? Grief is a story that needs to be told, again and again. It is a burden that needs to be lightened, and the more we tell it the lighter it becomes.
5. Have a good cry, often. Let the pain out. Don’t be ashamed of tears, they are healing. Express your anger or frustration, especially with God. He can take it.
6. Find some strategies to help you through when the pain is acutest – for example, find friends to talk to when you are most lonely. Not for serious talk, but for fun and lightness and normality.
7. Keep a sense of perspective. Yes it hurts like crazy at the moment, but it will get better. It is not the end of the world.
Well, now to practice what I preach.