Just 2 weeks ago I was talking to some friends about how life will never be the same again. We need to be looking instead of back, I said. This was precipitated by hearing the news that two other friends had recently suffered the sudden, unexpected loss of their beloved dogs. Both of these friends regarded their dogs as children and their losses were devastating. I felt a deep sadness too and found myself realizing that with age comes increasing loss.
So just a bit about my 2 friends. Jane lost Deva less than a month after she was diagnosed with liver cancer. Heidi lost Cindy when a tumour in her spleen ruptured sending her into an instant coma. Both dogs were only around 7 or 8 years old so still with a lot more living to have been done.
I lost my dad also to cancer at around the same time 9 years ago, on 5 March 2011. Two of my own beloved dogs also succumbed to cancer. I currently have a close friend with terminal disease. But this is not about cancer or death, and it’s also not about the corona virus. This is about living for the future and not pre-occupying oneself with the past. It may be obvious and come naturally to some people but I am confident that many others struggle. If I’m honest, I sometimes have a longing for the “good old days”.
The journey of life
So why will life never be the same again? Why is it so important to look forward and not back?
Life is full of losses…I’m sorry but it’s true. These start in infancy and continue all the way through life until we die. Not only that but the number of losses increase with the passage of time. In fact, we even seem to lose time itself as we grow older and each year becomes a smaller percentage of our entire life. Remember how long a whole year was until our next birthday when we were kids? And how quickly that next birthday comes around now that we’re older?
When we’re children we lose friends due to relocations. And teachers due to academic progression. Even fantastical beliefs in tooth fairies, santa claus and the like. We reach adolescence and we lose our childhood innocence. Then our clear skin. And of course our ability to manage our emotions in a controlled manner. For many, adolescence is a time they lose their loving relationships with their parents.
The next phase
We finish school, which brings the loss of the everyday structure that we had for the past 12 years. Then the loss of more friends as everyone pursues different paths. Many lose the luxury of total dependence on their parents. We may study further or we may go straight into the world of work. Either way we are expected to be more independent and less reliant on our parents. We lose long, carefree holidays with “working holidays” becoming the order of the day for students. Short breaks for those that go straight to work. Our identities are in limbo…are we still kids or are we adults? Around late adolescence / early adulthood our first romantic relationship might end. We may lose a loved one to death for the first time.
After entering the working world we will lose colleagues. And clients. Business deals and investments. We may lose jobs and financial security. As we grow older we lose physical fitness and general health. Our endurance to stay up late is lost. Some people lose the ability to sleep through the night. We lose our shape, our wrinkle free skin, our libido, and sometimes our teeth. Losses of loved ones increase…family, friends and pets. There are times during which we will experience a loss of hope and confidence. In extreme cases, even the will to live is lost. I’m afraid to say that never before have suicide rates been as high in the world as they are today.
(Right now I have lost at least 50% of my income generating work due to circumstances that are entirely beyond my control. And I have lost my freedom to move around my community, my country and the world. But this is temporary and therefore not my focus here…just saying).
I have often found myself thinking back to good times in my life and feeling sad, a sense of loss. For me, my years at university were particularly wonderful. Risky but wonderful! To this day my mum asks why I felt the need to go head first on a toboggan down the Jamie steps at UCT?! “For the fun of it mum” is my usual reply. Should I not rather view that time of my life as a gain rather than something I have lost? I had it, it was wonderful, it was time to move on. I must be grateful, yes?
Another example. A few years ago I decided to put myself through a month of detoxification after a particularly social period in my life. My self-imposed programme included refraining from eating certain food stuffs and drinking all alcohol, and limiting caffeine. Drinking 2 litres of water per day was a new addition. I made it through the month somewhat surprisingly without too much difficulty.
I then decided to return to being a little more accommodating of a variety of food stuffs and to continue with 2 litres of water. However, I decided to continue refraining from drinking alcohol for a while longer. For a period of time I found myself feeling a bit down especially on weekends and at the end of a busy day. I also found that some people interacted with me a bit differently at social gatherings as I suppose I did with them. I realise now that I was experiencing a sense of loss. But then again, as with my days at university, was it not that I had gained? All those wonderful, carefree times with friends around a bottle of wine or two with much hilarity, laughter and some letting down of the hair. Now it was time to move on…to a different future but one that can be just as good, even better.
Dealing with loss
I think we need to try to apply the same type of thought processes when we lose people and pets. It’s only because of the gains we have had that we experience the grief when they’re gone. It is true that without these loved ones, life will never be the same again. But, in the future we will continue to have more gains and this needs to be our focus during the challenging times.
Isn’t the creator of human beings very clever? I remember when I was an adolescent thinking that being as old as even 30 must be terribly depressing! I can recall on the train on my way to UCT in 1985, Forever Young by the band Alphaville was a hit. My friends and I played it on repeat for most of the trip. I said to my friends…”Imagine how depressing it will be when we are 30!” I remember feeling sorry for my parents when they stayed at home and watched television on a Saturday night. And when they didn’t want to go to live concerts or music festivals anymore. When watching the big game on television was more fun than going to the stadium. But you see, that’s what’s happened to me.
I now look at the youngsters getting ready to go out on a Saturday night at 10pm and guess what? I feel sorry for them as I am getting into my pyjamas and slippers, settling down for another episode of Law and Order Special Victims Unit. You see, we were made to get older and when it happens, we need to be OK with it and I think I am finally realising this.
We’re in it together
A final thought for the day. I feel that this corona virus has brought a sense of togetherness to our country and the world. I say this despite the few out there who still feel entitled to a greater share of toilet paper than they actually need. There is a feeling of comfort that comes with a feeling of togetherness…of not being alone. And guess what? Growing older and losing things along the way happens to every single person on the planet. Life cannot ever be the same as it used to be so look forward to what the future may bring and be grateful for what the past has provided.
Take care and keep good distance.