September 15, 2016

Learning to Fall: What the Coming Season can Teach us about Loss.

A photo posted by Αιμιλία (@g.aimilia) on

What was the last thing you lost?

It might have been small: misplaced keys, dropped crockery or an accidentally deleted text.

Or maybe it was something bigger: a bad investment, or person you loved, or faith.

I lose things often. It’s a habit that’s stayed with me from childhood, when I seemed to be constantly trailing items from my schoolbag. It’s a side effect, I tell myself, of a rich internal world. I wander into reveries, get lost in my imagination and whatever’s in my hand is gone.

Most recently I lost my phone. Before that a favourite hat. There’s a thread of sunglasses and keys, misplaced and dropped, running through my life. Some I still remember so vividly: my beloved Birkenstocks left on a boat in Cambodia, over a decade ago. Our family cat, who never returned home.

You’d think I’d be used to it—and yet for most of my life, losing stuff has been the hardest thing to handle. The lurch in my stomach when I realized I couldn’t find something; the frantic scramble to retrieve it.

Sometimes I was lucky; the heirloom necklace I left on the train, shortly after my beloved great aunt had given it to me, was located with a helpful train guard.

However, the decade-long friendship that dissolved in a shameful whirl of missed messages, deleted social media accounts and lost numbers was not so easily retrieved. I added it to the tally of things I’d lost but couldn’t let go of, a faint sense of shame lingering long after any physical trace remained.

Reframing loss.

The act of losing something might be instant, but coming to terms with it takes longer. A big thing that’s shifted for me in recent years is both accepting that as true and attempting to put it into practice. Giving myself time and space to grieve for things passed—both big and small—and to recognize that they will take their own time to leave my psyche.

I live on a tiny farm in the middle of a beautiful countryside, and as summer begins to slide away, even in these last golden weeks, I’ve started noticing what we’re losing.

Daylight for one, as the sunset creeps a little earlier each day, encroaching on the day like wavelets of an incoming tide, lapping against my toes. Green ferns turning crisp and gold, joining the grasses which dried and faded long ago.

Soon the leaves of the oaks and planes will join them.

I will weave them into the tapestry of things that haven’t stayed with us this year.

The chickens taken by the fox, the novel I haven’t got around to finishing, the card that says “I’m Sorry, This Sucks” waiting to be posted.

The season of remembrance.

We’re entering Autumn—or Fall, which feels like an apter name for the time of year when loss is honored. Harvest, after all, is a celebration of the fruits we’re taking from the place they’ve grown. In the UK, “Remembrance Sunday” teaches us not to forget the losses of war, of life and of innocence. Sometimes loss is inevitable when we take a certain track.

Thanksgiving is the polar opposite of loss—and yet, in friends missing from the table and in still longed-for freedoms, we see its mirror image. The ghost of what we are not grateful for, the opposite of having.

As the trees lose their leaves, we begin to move towards winter, and all the ghostly costumes and cheery pumpkin skulls in the world won’t keep that shiver from our spines.

Autumn shows us loss isn’t something to be brushed aside or glossed over. Loss takes as long as gaining, and is just as beautiful and rich a process. Leaves become compost; pain becomes wisdom.

Paradoxically, the things we leave behind become our gains. They remind us of the preciousness of each moment and the fragility of it. What can remain is only in our hearts, being open; our memories, richer; our willingness to love again, unbound.

Learning to love loss.

Take a pen and write down 10 things you’ve lost this year, big or small. Don’t overthink it, just get them down.

Now, look at them one by one. Take a few minutes to let each one soak in—and for each one, ask yourself this question:

How present is this loss in my life? To what extent am I still carrying, energetically, this thing I have lost?

There’s no right or wrong here; no rule-book about how long it will take to release that feeling. Just be still, and let yourself become aware of where you are with each loss.

In what way is this loss a gift? What has losing this brought me?

It might be simply a space—an opportunity to replace the old with the new—wisdom, compassion or a lesson about what to do.

In the soft mulch of gratitude, what we leave behind begins to compost; to become rich food for further growth.

Over the next few months, we’ll wrap up warm and draw our loved ones close.

And miraculously, in Spring, we will begin again.


Author: Madeleine Forbes

Image: Instagram @g.aimilia

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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Madeleine Forbes