In his bestseller ‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’ that gave succor to millions, eminent psychiatrist and writer Gordon Livingston poignantly wrote about dealing with loss. Excerpts from the chapter titled ‘Love is never lost, not even in death’:
“I am a parent twice bereaved. In one thirteen-month period I lost my eldest son to suicide and my youngest to leukemia. Grief has taught me many things about the fragility of life and the finality of death. To lose that which means the most to us is a lesson in helplessness and humility and survival. After being stripped of any illusions of control I might have harbored, I had to decide what questions were still worth asking. I quickly realized that the most obvious ones — Why my sons? Why me? — were as pointless as they were inevitable. Any appeal to fairness was absurd.
I was led by my fellow sufferers, those I loved and those who had also endured irredeemable losses, to find reasons to go on. Like all those who mourn I learned an abiding hatred for the word ‘closure’, with its comforting implications that grief is a time-limited process from which we all recover. The idea that I could reach a point when I would no longer miss my children was obscene to me and I dismissed it. I had to accept the reality that I would never be the same person, that some part of my heart, perhaps the best part, had been cut out and buried with my sons. What was left? Now there was a question worth contemplating.
Gregory Peck, in an interview many years after his son’s death, said, “I don’t think of him every day; I think of him every hour of every day.” With time the nature of these thoughts changes, from the lacerating images of illness and dying to softer memories of all that their lives contained.
Grief is a subject I have come to know very well. Indeed it was the subject of my life for a long time. I wrote a book about it, trying to find my way around it. What I learned is that there is no way around it; you just have to go through it. In that journey I experienced hopelessness, contemplated suicide, and learned that I was not alone. Certain that there could be no comfort in words, I came to realize that words, my own and those of others, were all I had to frame my experience, first my despair and finally a fragile belief that my life still had meaning.
Thirteen years later, my sons, though frozen in time, remain a living presence for me. I have, largely, forgiven myself for not being able to save them. I have reconciled myself to growing old without them. They will not, as I once confidently assumed, bury me. I have forsaken my belief in an orderly universe and a just God. But I have not relinquished my love for them nor my longing that, against all reason, I will see them again.
This is what passes for hope: those we have lost evoked in us feelings of love that we didn’t know we were capable of. Those permanent changes are their legacies, their gifts to us. It is our task to transfer that love to those who still need us. In this way we remain faithful to their memories.”
— the harbinger