The art of losing

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (From ‘One Art’, Elizabeth Bishop)

Elizabeth Bishop’s view of losing is different from mine.  I think the art of losing is hard to master.   It takes time, practice, energy, and acceptance of the loss – whether it be a trivial or a non-trivial one.

The other day a friend lost her glove.  It was the first thing she said to me when we met.  She thought she’d lost it somewhere in the vicinity of where we were meeting.   She’d had to wait a bit for me to arrive and had taken a short walk to pass the time.  We retraced her steps, all the while she musing on the fact that she’d had the gloves several years, they were a favourite pair, they were leather, one glove would be useless.  The walk took about 10 minutes and we didn’t find the glove.   She finally said she’d have to give up and we started to walk towards our destination.   Then she changed her mind, she thought we should go back to the station she’d come out of.  There in the corner was the lost glove.   Her pleasure in finding it was a delight to witness.  It was the vicarious experience of myself in similar situations of finding a lost object. 

It’s only the start of February, but so far, I have lost:  one front door key on a key-fob I like, one almost full loyalty card for a place where if I get nine stamps (one per visit) I get the next purchase half price, one small exercise resistance band, one ear-ring.   After giving up on all of them, after a few days all but the door key surfaced in one way or another. 

The loyalty card I spotted five days after losing it, iced to the pavement several streets away, but on a route I often take.  The resistance band – I bought a new one after a week – but my grand-daughter appeared with the original from her foray under the table (I’d looked but clearly not in the place where it was).   The one ear-ring I realised I must have got caught up in my key-chain and flicked out when I pulled out my keys.  I went back, two days after the loss, to the point on the footpath where I usually pull out my keys in preparation to door-opening, raked over the piled-up leaves there and found the ear-ring – huge joy. 

These kinds of careless losses, caused by my inattention for the most part, are infuriating to me and I give myself a very hard time over them.  I have a mantra of ‘don’t put it down, put it away’, and a range of strategies that I use to minimise losing stuff that I then spend far too long looking for and getting angry with myself for losing in the first place.  I don’t know why I get so het up about things which are essentially trivial.

Oddly, the less trivial losses I am better at dealing with.  During the week I was taking Bereavement Care training and one of the exercises was to list our losses (in a life-line sense).  We were given a two-column sheet – ‘major’ in one column and ‘minor’ in the other.  I balked at this linear approach and then rejected it. 

The losses of my life are not a linear progression, but a series of eddies and swirls that re-pattern and re-appear at unexpected intervals.  I remember years after my husband died, I totally unexpectedly burst into tears, on hearing a song he’d liked being played.  It was a completely out of the blue experience. 

I’ve had other non-trivial losses through my life, including (in no order):  other bereavements, losing touch with friends, several job losses through redundancies, a marriage breakdown, miscarriage, theft and burglaries.

Those with me on the bereavement care course had experienced similar types of losses, and as we started to discuss them, we talked about the emotions, feelings and experiences the losses gave rise to.  People mentioned loss of identity, loss of their dreams, loss of an anticipated future, loss of support, loss of being needed, loss of self-esteem, loss of confidence, loss of role, all leading to transitions in their lives. 

Transitions can be very hard to handle, and loss through bereavement brings a transition.  What I have noticed is that in bereavement loss the focus seems to be on the ‘stages of grief’.  On the course, for example, we were offered the Colin Murray-Parkes model.

I wonder whether discussions on the transitions it inevitably brings about would be helpful.  During my organisational life I used to reference the work of William Bridges.  His book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes  formed the bedrock of many of the ‘Change Management’ programmes I designed and facilitated.   It’s a book with insights, suggestions, and good sense on transitions.   It offers a model that ‘identifies the three stages an individual experiences during change: Ending What Currently Is, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.’ 

Recognising that any non-trivial loss brings a form of transition and learning some ways of handling transitions, might lead to a positive new beginning and healing of the pain.   (Listen to the Van Morrison on what can happen when the healing has begun).

Do you agree with Elizabeth Bishop that the art of losing isn’t hard to master?   Does non-trivial loss herald a life transition?  Let me know.


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