Loss As Teacher

//Loss As Teacher

Loss As Teacher

Loss is a great teacher, yes? When you lose a loved one, through death or some other means, or you lose a beloved object, through destruction or some other means, you experience pain. The knee-jerk reaction to pain is to run, far and fast, because, well, it hurts. Great spiritual teachings, though, suggest doing the opposite. Running from, or rejecting pain – physical or mental – causes tension, which exacerbates pain. Even if you do a really good job of banishing pain to the furthest reaches of a physical body, it will lurk, waiting, for the appropriate moment to reclaim the spotlight.

In The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer allocates a whole chapter to pain, which starts as follows:

“One of the essential requirements for true spiritual growth and deep personal transformation is coming to peace with pain. No expansion or evolution can take place without change, and periods of change are not always comfortable. Change involves challenging what is familiar to us and daring to question our traditional needs for safety, comfort, and control. This is often perceived as a painful experience.”

I watch my three-year-old granddaughter Simone play, and I see how, from a very young age, we identify people and objects as ours – “my moma, my popa, my blankie, my shobel”. We grow older, though, and must come to terms with the fact that the whole damn mess of it is on loan. It’s the trade-off, isn’t it, for the grand opportunity to experience a physical body?

We learned last week, through Singer, that at the core of our very being is a Self, a Self that is aware of awareness. A non-judging, unafraid witness to all of the events – or sh*t – that happens in your life. My Self is aware that I have a birthday approaching: 57. Almost six, count ‘em, six decades on the planet! Birthdays are a good time to reflect, and I do, on the seven-year-old me, the 17-year-old me, the 27-year-old me and so on . . . all of them very different versions of me. The whole time there has been a constant companion, a Self, a calm and consciousness witness, to the thoughts, emotions and world coming through my senses.

Ten years ago, when that Self turned 47, it was gifted the magic of dragonflies, as follows, from an excerpt of Long Climb Back:


Prior to losing loved ones, I didn’t give much consideration to dragonflies. In Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul, a book Don and Tina gave me after Mom died, I read a touching tale about them called, “I’m Okay, Mom and Dad”.

Lark Whittemore Ricklefs tells how she’d been to the funeral of a church member. The priest told a story about a group of water bugs and how they’d noticed other water bugs climb up a lily pad and disappear. Where could they have gone? They made a vow to one another that if this ever happened to one of them they would come back down and explain.

A short time later, one of the water bugs climbed up the lily pad and as it sat there, four wings sprouted on its back and its body took on an iridescent sheen. Testing out its new wings, the dragonfly remembered its promise, but try as it might, its wings would not allow it to penetrate the surface of the water. The dragonfly realized that even if he could return, the others wouldn’t recognize him. He then knew they’d have to wait for their turn.

Ricklefs shared this story with her daughter when she got home. “Mom, that’s really beautiful!” Jen exclaimed with tears running down her cheeks.

Two days later, Jen said an early-morning goodbye to her mother and set off for work at a distant lake resort. Her mother would be joining her that night.

Several hours later Ricklefs received the horrifying news that her daughter had been involved in a head-on collision. Jen died later that night.

At the end of that week, after viewing the accident scene, a distraught Ricklefs asked her husband to take her to a greenhouse so she could immerse herself in beauty before having to face other grieving family members. As she stood staring at a rose, a large dragonfly appeared and landed within arm’s length of her. “Jenny is telling us that she’s okay,” she told her husband and they studied the dragonfly for a long time.

Two weeks later, Ricklefs’ husband ran into the house and told her to come outside. Hundreds of dragonflies were flying in front of their house and between it and the neighbours’. Never before had she seen so many dragonflies in town.

I’d read this story to Hugh and it prompted him to suggest Jetanne purchase a special Mother’s Day gift to mark my first one without Mom. “Just wait till you see what Tan has for you,” he said, his eyes glistening. When I opened the small box that Sunday, I found a sparkly dragonfly lapel pin inside and looked up to see both of their expectant, smiling faces.


It is the day after my first birthday without Hugh. Turning 47 bothers me because now I am older than him, a thing I’ve never been. Since we were both born in the same year, it was always him reaching an age in June, then me in July. Him, then me. Him, then me, year after year. Hugh stuck at 46 is weird.

I’m in my Jazzercise studio preparing for my 7 p.m. class. I remember the garbage bin is still out at the road, so I leave Tina in the entranceway to greet students and wander down the driveway in the sun that dapples through the maples. I’m wheeling the bin back when I notice things – huge, black things – darting in the air to the right of the house above Hugh’s barbecue, which has sat dormant since his departure. I leave the bin in the driveway to go closer, get a better look.

Dragonflies. At least 30 of them. Huge. Each as big as a fist. They are incapable of graceful flight. They zip, sporadically, this way, that way, making z-like patterns in the air. Busy. I don’t want to stop looking at them, for fear they’ll disappear, but time is passing and class will start soon. I run to get Tina and they are still there when we get back. Tina knows the dragonfly story from the book as I’ve shared it with many of my friends. “I’m getting goose bumps,” she says, showing me her forearms, rubbing her hands over them. We study their jerky motions for a while, and I look beyond them, to the sky, wondering if Hugh is watching us somehow. Then we reluctantly leave.

I follow Tina back to the studio, wondering: How much grief can a person be expected to contain? All that which can fill up the entire body – from the toes to the nose, from the fingers to the rib cage, from the top of the head to the edges of the heart. But no more! The body is finite, but the spirit is infinite. Spirit cannot be physically injured because it is intangible. It can slip away and hide from pain because it is as light as a feather, sailing on a summer breeze. Which reminds me of that Pauline Johnson poem I used to recite to Hugh, “Summer, summer that came drifting through, fate’s hand to me to you.”

Light and airy, happy as a dragonfly dancing in the sun, as sunny as a summer day, as optimistic as sunrise, sunset, as pleasant as a dream of angels. That is my spirit. That which will go on when my body fails, my heart stops and my brain ceases.

And it is that spirit of Hugh that I must hold onto, for it will never go. It is everywhere and nowhere. It can’t be stolen from me.

I teach class and my spirit soars, beyond my activated fingers and extended toes, to comingle with Hugh’s dragonflies above his neglected barbecue. I dance. I am energized. I feel magical.

When class is over, I hang up my sweaty mic, turn down the music and picture the huge cottage project I’ve been working on with Deb in Grand Bend. We work, we walk, we talk, she colors, work, walk, talk, color. She paints my black and white existence the most exotic colors, some I don’t even know: ochre, viridian, cadmium. The color gives meaning. She’s been calling our work something, she loves labeling things. Transforming things. Something from nothing? Something from something? The Dragonfly Inn. A place to fly away to.


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