My last post got me thinking a lot about loss and how we deal with it. Loss is a part of life. It surrounds us. It’s always with us. Sometimes it’s expected, and our lives are changed only a little by its impact. At other times, it strikes like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky, shocking us with its randomness and apparent cruelty.
During the past two weeks as recovery crews have dug through mountains of mud looking for the remains of the Oso mudslide victims here in Washington state. We’ve been inundated with images and stories of loss in the media, and how the people of nearby towns of Darrington and Arlington are coping with the enormity of what has happened to their lives.
Similar scenes have played out recently in Midwest towns hit by tornadoes, in Malaysia as families still seek answers to what happened to the Malaysia Air flight, in Chile where thousands were rocked by a huge earthquake. And the list goes on.
The natural human inclination is to fight for a return to normalcy, to get our lives back to some semblance of what they were before loss or tragedy occurred. The people who seem to recover from loss the best and thrive afterward are those who acknowledge the loss, find a way to work through their grief, and fight the hardest to resume a normal life.
They may choose to become activists for a cause as a result—the family of a breast cancer victim establishing a research fund, for example. But it’s the resumption of a “normal” life that I think is important here. Yesterday, for example, the Darrington, WA, high school baseball team had its first game since the Oso mudslide, a sign of life returning to normal despite tragedy (they won 7 to 3).
An inspirational example of this return to normal life is Amy Purdy, the Paralympic snowboarder who’s appearing on “Dancing With the Stars” these days. She lost both legs to meningitis, but has learned to function “normally” with prosthetic legs. Man, can that girl dance! These are the heroic stories that go unsung every day—the person who after being blinded in an accident learns to get around perfectly well without sight; the cancer survivor who returns to her family after beating the disease into remission and takes up where she left off.
That’s not to say we aren’t affected by loss, even after we’ve resumed a normal life. Then the question becomes how we incorporate that loss into our new life. I’ve been wrestling with this question on two fronts recently.
In my first Blake Sanders thriller, Blake is still grieving the loss of his son a year after his son’s suicide. A reader told me he really liked Night Blind, and he liked Blake as a hero, but he said, “You’re not going to make him go through this again, are you? He’ll just be a kick-ass hero from now on, right?”
How long does it take to get over the loss of someone you love? I’ve heard it said that there’s no timetable for grief. It takes as long as it takes. And my thought for Blake has always been that the effects of his loss, while they will diminish over time, will always be with him. In the book I’m working on now (#4), that grief is compounded by post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) due to what he’s endured in the first three books. Too much? Not if I want to create a three-dimensional hero, one who must overcome his own frailties as well as the villainy he faces.
I’ve been confronting personal loss in my life as well, and as things stand now, I can’t envision life ever going back to “normal.” And as I write this, I don’t yet know how I’ll be able to adjust to what the new normal will be. I don’t know how I’ll be able to live with the changes that loss has brought into my life.
When I see the examples all around me of people dealing with loss, I know that it’s going to be a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and pushing onward. Doing that, with gratitude for what I still have, may prove my best course of action.
How have you dealt with loss in your life?
Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.
He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at www.michaelwsherer.com or you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thrillerauthor and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.