“The pain of watching the contraction of a life once influential and strategic, falling into a vague netherworld of confusion, pain and isolation was tangible for me.”
— Jill Birt
So it was; an observation of the starkest reality—a wife observing her at-one-time serene, venerated and creative husband fold into an ever-embracing abyss—the subtle yet horrendous slide into the strangling hands of the nemesis, cancer; how can “tangible” and the experience of ambiguous loss coexist conceptually, I wondered?
But to see it as it unfolded before her eyes—an inescapable reality of the cruellest kind—could be none other than tangible.
The passage of deterioration as reconciled by a loved one as they watch on—like paint drying or grass growing—as their dear one passes from one steady state of comparative normalcy to a fraction of the same thing, is sure. It is a definite thing that, despite an emotional denial, has a sure outcome; just like we’re all destined to die once.
Yet, without warning those disdaining milestones arrive. The footprints of degeneration leave their imprint on our eyes, within our minds, polarising our hearts—in another detestable reminder of what is coming.
Touching the awkward tangibility of loss is a brave move, yet so inevitable we count ourselves no hero—indeed, we’d do anything to shun those cheering our bravery; especially if this slide we witness were to arrest itself and miraculously reverse.
But alas, it won’t. Most medical miracles—in the longest run of things—do not arrive and we’re left to wrangle with an enigma and that is life.
These sorts of experiences of ambiguous loss—a loss made worse by the fact that it’s not strictly a loss... yet—in some terms, a partial or incomplete loss—do require us to get into the sandbox of reality and consider the senses as its sand runs through our fingers. We have no choice. This is so tangible it’s not funny—it’s never more serious.
And yet this ‘curse’ of not being able to escape such a dastardly reality translates into a blessing! All God wants from any of us is to wrangle with our realities in as perfect an honesty as we can muster; and practice makes us better. God’s got the best ahead of us, somehow.
Loss is so tangible that we are forced to face reality. From such a horrible place, however, as we bravely tackle our reality, God gifts us the character to endure it. And endurance is not all we gain; accepting reality is like getting the keys to the city of life. We may find life takes on a new dimension after loss—after the passage of sufficient time. But we will always miss the one who (or the reality that) has gone.
Dedicated to the enduring memory of Peter Birt.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Jill Birt, “Ambiguous Grief: A Carer’s Journey” in The Advocate (Perth, Western Australia, Baptist Churches of Western Australia, May 2013 edition, available here), pages 8-9.