So much is lost over the course of a lifetime; socks, keys, that receipt from the garden center. (I could swear I put it in my backpack.) Then of course that basic sense of security we’ve lately seen slip farther and farther from our grasp. Over time we lose friends, pets, family members, illusions, capacities.
My mother used to say, “Dear Saint Anthony, come around. Something’s lost and it’s gotta be found.” Weirdly, she always said it with such an unconcerned tone, as if she and the patron saint of lost things sat together at the kitchen table discussing commonplace issues over tea. Where do the lost ones go? I remember as a child that kids would say to each other, “Get lost!” Now it seems a such a grievous thing to say.
In just the past few weeks it seems everyone I know has lost someone very dear. Someone who was part of them. The emptiness left behind catches the wind and grief finds us all in time. My friend Merijane used to say, “Every loss is every loss.” That was before we lost her. Now I know what she meant. It’s not that every loss is the same. If that was true it might get easier eventually. It doesn’t. None is diminished by another. No matter the number, no matter the depth, each is felt keenly. It’s that over time the losses tend to gang up on us. They accrete, they accumulate. Still, with every loss we return to the deep well, the place where we store our collection of losses, the place where we collect our grief. We don’t like to visit the well because it’s so dark down there and sometimes it takes so long to climb out.
Fall is the time of year when the well seems to overflow. When the accumulation of losses seems so much closer to the surface. They say that the blossoms of spring convey a lesson in impermanence. But it’s fall when we really hear the haunting song. We all know the words. And still somehow we we find there are none.
The depth of this season is in acknowledging the losses. They insinuate themselves into our dreams, not to be denied. Like strands of spirit, each bringing its own memories, its own significance, its own ability to connect to our fear. Everything and everyone we’ve lost insists on coming forward and being greeted with the proper respect.
This time of the ever-thinning veil we talk about has its beauty though. Isn’t it only the normal way of things, even as it always seems so lonely in that well? This has its place. Things die in fall. “Things fall apart.” Things and people come to their ending and merge with everything that’s come before. It’s only natural. (Why do we say that? Why do we diminish something natural by adding the word, “only?”) Every past loss opens the door, accompanies the next one, shows them the way and then leaves with more than they brought. Every guest takes a gift just as every guest brings some memento you find in your house after they go.
Some years ago I met a neuroscientist. She taught me a thing or two about pain. (I know, sounds like a country song.) It turns out that when you experience a new type of pain in part of your body, it’s a lot like cutting a path through the woods. The first time it’s all uncharted territory and the nerve cells have to blaze a brand new trail. After that it becomes easier each time and the pain stimulus hits the brain more and more quickly. Not to mention the tension response that makes the pain harder to bear. We get that awful and scary, “Oh no!” feeling. We know what’s coming. We try to brace ourselves but it still hurts. That dark monster appears at our door, “Trick or treat!” Her cackling laughter repels us but we have to let her in. We have to face her and be gracious. Whatever it is she came for, she knows that somehow we have it to give.
It is natural and right to celebrate this season of darkening, of loss, with its falling leaves and exquisite golden light. It’s good that we comfort ourselves with the bright warmth of company. It’s right that we bring out photos of our loved ones who have gone, create a little altar for them, light candles for them, and surround their images with flowers and silly dancing skeletons. Their presence in our dreams and their imprints on our lives deserve to be honored in the graveyard spaces we keep tucked away for them. The season of loss shifts finally and gives way to winter’s rest and the promise of a new year. So we ready ourselves for the haunting as we make a brief visit to the well and then move on.