How loss connects all of us together
Last week brought forth many memories of Memorial Day from growing up. My family and I would go from our home in Auburn, Wash., the hour or so up to the Everett area. We would stop at three or four cemeteries every year, and put freshly cut flowers at gravesites of family members.
It was a long process. We would save up sturdy coffee cans and other containers throughout the year to put on all the gravesites. We would gather rocks a few days ahead of time, and put those in the car, too, so the cans would be weighed down. And we would cut flowers — lilacs, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and others — that were growing in our yard.
As well as putting flowers out, we would trim up all the headstones. We’d brush away the lawnmower clippings from graves of people gone long before I was born. We’d scrape dirt off, and sometimes pull up grass that was overgrowing some of them. And we went to a mausoleum, as well, where some relatives were buried.
This was a way that my family tied its present to its past. It’s one way that we remembered we did not create ourselves out of nothing — but we came from somewhere. We connected in those times through our mutual loss.
Loss is one of the greatest things that connect us as human beings. We have all lost someone. Whether we have been close to them or not, someone who has touched our lives has died.
In the midst of a nation and world so sharply divided, I think it is good and helpful to remember this. Our families, friends, and neighbors all have lost someone. We may not have known that person, but they still mattered to people close to us.
And at the same, those with different political beliefs, people in other countries, people of other religions — even people we consider enemies — have all lost someone, too. That may be a more difficult idea to entertain.
All people have experienced the deep and powerful nature of loss. Our loss is not the same, but we all are the same in our experience of loss.
We may find ourselves, on any given day, more or less affected by the loss we have experienced in life. Often I don’t show how it affects me, which I think is true of other people as well. And yet I know that even years-old grief can come back, seemingly randomly, and affect my mood, my appetite, and my sleep.
In those times, I find myself needing to offer myself grace and patience. I find that fairly easy, because I know what I’ve experienced and the connection to my loved one. But I find myself not always extending the same grace and patience to people who may be experiencing the same sort of thing — because I don’t know their story.
And so I find myself struggling and striving to offer grace and patience to all — those near and far, those like me and not, those I’m supposed to be friends with and those I’m not supposed to befriend. People we consider terrible, or wonderful, all deserve this grace and patience. And I can relate to them all, because loss has become part of me as well. Political junkie or neophyte, ultra-one way or the other, adhering to faith or not, young and old, rich and poor — we have a strange and simple and powerful connection to each other.
We are all different, and at times quite untethered to our fellow humans. And yet we are connected, we are bound, by our common experience of loss.
Will Johnson is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Glendive. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.