I know loss.
There is a unique kind of panic that takes hold when you think you have lost something. I am intimately familiar with it. Just today, after running two errands, I came home and was planning to move my receipts from wallet to checkbook when I discovered my wallet was not to be found. First, I removed everything from my bag. I put everything back and repeated the procedure. Still, no wallet. I went out to the car and looked under the seats, between the seats and on the ground. I went inside to do another walk through, thinking maybe I mistakenly placed it on the counter with the groceries. I called the grocery store and asked if any wallets had been returned. While I was on hold, I was thinking I would have to thank my friend who sent me an email urging me to xerox the contents of my wallet for just such an occasion. I took her suggestion. But where did I put the copy? Customer service returned to the line. No wallets today. Try back later. I went back out to the car. I did find the missing lighter knob, but the wallet was not there.
I stood absolutely still and visualized every thing I could recall since removing my debit card to buy gift cards at ....... then I knew. It was in a small brown-handled bag containing the Starbucks gift cards. Before any wild conclusions are cast, this has been a lifelong condition, in no way associated with my age and dwindling mental capacity. I feel like I try so hard to keep inventory of the things most important to me that I sometimes, inadvertently, crowd out their location with my anxiety about losing them. My car keys, my iPhone, my wallet, they are all at a high risk of being misplaced.
I did, once, put my keys down to pick up and consider an item for purchase. This, after having shopped in T. J Maxx for an hour. The moment I realized the mistake came when I went out to the car. The sick feeling in my stomach competed with the I-can-fix-anything me. In such instances, I feel like I am calculating the best way to resolve the problem (on that occasion, my husband was out of town and my children didn’t drive) while reenacting my actions from the last time I could remember holding the errant item. The enormity of locating a set of five keys on a silver key ring in a store that size was daunting. What worked was what I continually strive to practice. Detachment. I will find my keys. I won’t find my keys. Whatever happens, my keys still exist. That calmed me. I stood stock still, shopping bags mounded at my feet. I envisioned my meandering path through the store until I reached the register. An image came to me that I was no longer carrying the keys when I was in the Children’s department. I was still carrying them when I was looking at Housewares. I gathered up my purchases and headed to the Housewares aisles where I suspected I may have laid them down.
Tucked innocuously between a glass platter and a crystal bowl, my keys sat waiting for me.
Of course, losing people is on a scale exponentially more distressing. I have, in my lifetime, found myself looking for lost people on numerous occasions. My aging godfather went missing one evening on Martha’s Vineyard. He was going to buy milk and didn’t come home. A huge search party was mobilized that November night. Despite the best efforts of his family and scads of volunteers, we didn’t find him before he died of exposure. My father-in-law, who lived with us for two years before he was debilitated by dementia went missing several times. The first few times, he knew it and was terrified. Another time, he left our house before we did one morning and hitch-hiked to his daycare center nine miles away. Later, when he arrived at the day care center he was puzzled by the brouhaha. He said he was getting to school and didn’t understand why people were concerned. My son, Charles, was prone to disappearing acts when he was a toddler. The police were involved only twice. Good news, we laugh about those times now. At the time, I swore I would have grey hair before he was five. Twelve years ago, my husband’s beloved cousin was lost at sea. The turmoil around that sea-faring tragedy can still, even ten years later, bring me to tears at times unexpected and certainly, unbidden.
Loss can come in forms corporal as well as intangible. It can bring you to your knees or slowly eat away at your spirit. Our reactions to loss are often not about the matter at hand. However, we can displace our emotions only so long until they intrude on daily living in ways that may surprise you. That is because there is a cumulative nature to letting go of people. places and things that can cause an apparently sane person to become inconsolably distraught over something seemingly benign. For example, two weeks after my mother died, I went to the grocery store to buy laundry soap. I smelled every one on all the shelves. I studied labels and I compared prices. I was in the aisle for well over thirty minutes, but I couldn’t seem to decide which one to bring home. Finally, I turned to a woman who looked like she might be accepting and said, “I wonder if you could help me. My mother died recently and I can’t choose laundry soap. I have been here half an hour and I think I may be stuck here forever.” I laughed embarrassedly. She said, “I am sorry about your mother. Why don’t you buy this one? This is the one I use.” I reached up and took the one she was pointing to and put it in my basket.
“Thanks,” I said, “I know this was kind of pathetic. I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t worry about it. I couldn’t leave Walmart when my mother died.”
We smiled at the flicker of understanding that passed between us. Loss. It happens to us all.