Losing those we love

When we experience deep loss, going on with life doesn’t mean forgetting the person or being unflinchingly brave. Life lived in forward motion is about paying attention to where you are right now and where it is you think you want to be. You’ll find yourself accelerating at the pace that you need to—not rushing and not languishing.

Lessons learned.

My dad, Gilbert W. Griffith, always impatient to get where he was going, instructed, “When the light turns green, you put your foot on the gas and go.” We took this command literally when he taught us four kids to drive. Dad meant more than keeping our eyes on the traffic signals, but being sixteen, we concentrated on being ready to move a foot to the gas pedal and advance the car onward. We interpreted his words in other ways over the years—remembering one constant: Dad always meant us to keep facing forward, keep accelerating through life, and never slow down until you have to.

Long-decades after those driving lessons, we watched Dad in action against the ALS consuming him at age seventy-five. We witnessed that slowing down does not have to mean stopped or stagnation. 

Until it does.

The older I get, the more I wonder why we tend to live as if we have an endless supply of days ahead of us. We plan our lives forward, thinking tomorrow this will happen or that will fall into place. We forget to embrace every moment of this day, of the one we have right here, right now in front of us.

Dad looking ahead in Oahu 1954

My present moment.

I sit at our dining room table, sliding glass door open, flowers cascading down the hill, hummingbird feeders occasionally hit by the quick-flying sippers. It is a glorious morning and I think: Ah, sunshine for the first time this week. Ah, tomorrow I will do more yard work and enjoy being outside.

But not today because I have word counts to hit and articles to post on Medium and blogs to add to my site. I have responsibilities to keep up on others’ social media—to give back what they give me. I have to. I must. I should.

I forget that right here, right now, is the moment I’m given to live in.

We forget this truth. We remember this truth. We know this is reality, yet we don’t live it.

Our Reality.

My family has gotten slapped with the harsh moving on of life time and again over the last fifteen years.

Days are limited or health is precarious or a job can be here and then gone. Life hits us with these rolls and punches and those infamous highs and lows. The highs are great and we ride them like they’ll last forever, forgetting to learn how to keep going when the blows hit below the belt and knock us down.

We only go around this world once and we never know when we’ll share the last time with someone. My cousin Davey and I were talking on the phone the night before he was killed. We hung up without saying, “I love you,” to each other, which was very unusual. I thought for one moment about calling him back and telling him. I shook my head and thought: “He so knows that.” Do I believe he knew I loved him? Absolutely. Do I still wish I had called him back and told him? Absolutely.

The movement of life.

Throughout our journeys, we’re hit with events that can stall us, causing stagnation, holding us in place for either the equivalent of mere minutes or for long years if we aren’t careful to remember to move. Those occasions forcing progress can be your typical milestones: graduating from high school or college, deciding whether or not to move to a new town for a new job, choosing if now is the time to get married. 

There can be other incidents that aren’t full of such anticipation. When someone you love dies, altering everything—whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness; getting divorced—prompted by you or your spouse, it is still the end of one thing and beginning of another; finding a new career because you got downsized and you have to move on—not because you want to.

Whatever the reasons, throughout our lives circumstances change and the worse reaction we can have is to stall out while the signal dims to yellow, followed by shutting down our engines when the color blares bright red. 

In Germany, I found the traffic signals fascinating as they go red to yellow to green. You’re given a warning before it’s time to take off. In the USA, we sit and wait, often interminably and with dreaded impatience (or is that just me?), until finally the signal flips from frozen-in-my-lane-red to green. Sometimes we’re ill-prepared to switch gears and put our foot back on the gas pedal and go.

Losses can hold us in place.

Moving on after loss is difficult. Getting out of bed every day is hard. It takes effort and resolve and strength. You have to go forward from the perspective that you have no choice but to go on. 

How do you evaluate your life after you’re hit with a loss? Do you think about changes you want to make and then plan how to follow through? Do you follow through? Do you view your relationships in a new light and purge negative people and spend more time with the positive people?

Do you find yourself being kinder and taking more time to tell people you care about that you love them? Do you show them? Do you look at your relationships from a new point of view and realize that they’re worth more effort than you were contributing?

Accelerating forward has to happen.

I heard the phrase, “it’s our new normal,” years ago. The person was talking about continuing life after a tragedy. We can become accustomed to the new version of our life kicking and fighting against it or by letting the circumstances seep into us, altering our progression, holding to the hope that we can keep getting out of bed. 

Movement toward doesn’t mean we “get over” the loss of a loved one.

I will forever miss Davey’s hugs, Jane’s hat panache, Helen’s insightfulness, Mom’s impish grin as she pulled a prank, Dad’s everything, James’s big booming voice, Uncle Jimmy’s face-smothering kisses, Big Uncle Jim’s welcoming smile and multitude of jokes, and Shelly’s love that oozed out of every part of her.

How could I love these people and then stop because they aren’t in my physical world anymore? Impossible. I keep on loving them and keep on talking about them and sharing them with people. The legacies they left behind live on because I want them to.

This is how I get up each morning without going insane from my losses. I hold faith in my heart that I will see these loves again and until them, keep them alive in my heart.

Change happens at traffic lights and all around us.

One friend really dislikes change, loving routine and habits, the same old same old. So she says. But in the dozen years that I’ve known her, she has taken risks (new jobs, no job, stay-at-home job) and stepped into new roles (mother of one, then two, then three). She may not like change, but she is constantly moving, throttle full out, driving her life and taking on new challenges.

Some years ago, I read an insightful book, Anatomy of Motive, by John Douglas, the original FBI behavioral profiler. It’s a difficult read, delving deeply into the dark side of criminals. However, reading it taught me one really important thing: to recognize and strive to understand a person’s motives—including my own. 

If we can dive in and dig around and realize why we are sitting still while the green light of our lives is flickering before us … deciphering what the motive might be that’s causing the hold up in going forward … then we can work to eradicate the impediment. Get that block out of the way and start putting one foot in front of the other again, putting the proper foot on the proper pedal and surging forth.

Or in the case of Gilbert, driving like a rocket out of control in his zest to move on with life even at the end.

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Read: Complain. Contemplate. Celebrate. I’m turning 60!