The Joy of Loss

Tamborine Mountain

It’s hard to believe “everything happens for a reason” when you lose something, someone or some part of yourself. It’s been almost four years (four years!) since I lost all my belongings in Christchurch’s 22 February earthquake. For the most part, I’ve accepted the loss and learned to live with the reality of it. But sometimes it’s not okay and I’m taken down in a landslide of emotion.

It sounds silly and even insensitive to say I grieve my stuff, but that does not make it any less true. The things we accumulate through life, hold on to and treasure, become physical evidence and reminders of ourselves. It’s crazy that our identity can be so tied to what we own; that a book, piece of clothing or photograph tells a story about who we are. There is a gap in the story of my life now – a big, gaping black hole of nothingness – and try as I might, I will never be able to comprehend how that’s possible. One day, my stuff was there. The next day it was gone.

I was living in a beautiful historic terrace house with the owner. The house was their pride and joy – they had spent years making it magazine-worthy. Then the earthquake rendered it unsafe and inaccessible. The owner, heartbroken, watched bulldozers tear it down. I only found out it had been demolished four days later. By then, every trace of me had been hauled off to the dump in the back of a truck.

Most days, I feel only compassion for the owner. How it must hurt to witness the demolition of your life. How the loss of all those pretty things they invested in, defined themselves by, must have wounded the very core of them. It’s understandable that they have never been able to acknowledge that what happened to them happened to me as well, and therefore have never seen reason to apologise for not telling me in advance that the house was going to be demolished.

Its understandable and yet, anger flashes like lightning through me sometimes when I think about it. But what can I do with that feeling? I could demand they acknowledge their part in my suffering, but they are still suffering too much themselves to be able to carry my pain like I want them to. I could host a pity party and pin blame on everyone else; get drunk on being a victim. I could bury my grief like evidence to a crime and deny its existence.

Because every time I am struck again by the incomprehensible-ness of my loss, I have to find a response to the same one question “How will you transform this sorrow into something joy-filled?”

The answer to this makes whether you believe in fate, the power of the universe, God’s guiding hand, unimportant. We all have the power to take our suffering and make something amazing out of it. We all mourn losses, we all get stuck in swamps of sadness, we all travel through seemingly never-ending tunnels of darkness – it’s what you and I do with the wisdom our pain gifts us that counts.

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