“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss.
Just a few days ago at work, one of our medical directors described the experience of patients when they are given bad medical news. She talked to us about transition, challenge, and loss. Then, as part of an exercise for all of us who were sitting in the meeting, she asked us to write down all of the things and people most meaningful to us. On small slips of paper, I jotted down names first, then all the rest. Finally, the medical director asked this question: “What do you enjoy doing every day?”
I created a list in my head and the items on it ran a gamut from the trivial, such as driving to Starbucks for a morning iced coffee, to the vital, such as checking in with family members. After writing each onto a small piece of paper, the doctor then asked us to reach over to the person immediately to our left and, without looking, take away one of their slips of paper. This symbolic gesture was to demonstrate the loss that such patients feel when they are given difficult medical news. I saw the reactions of my colleagues and understood the point of the exercise. Their expressions showed just how challenging it can be to have something meaningful taken away. And by the sheer loss of control. Imagine my great relief when the person next to me removed the piece of paper that said “drive to Starbucks for coffee”. What a relief! Something so small, so minor.
But then, it slowly began to sink in. This “trivial” daily activity suddenly did not feel so trivial to me. I understood that my daily routine would be gone. I wondered: why can I no longer drive? Will I miss the friendly and familiar faces in the coffee shop? It was a trivial loss but suddenly it did not feel so trivial.
And then there is the matter of my mom who is in a nursing home. The pandemic has exacerbated the isolation and loneliness she has felt, especially during those many months when her family was not permitted to visit. Last night, I sat at the edge of her bed while she reminisced. She does this a lot, only this time, instead of talking about my dad or her sisters, she talked about “all the little things I took for granted.” She remembered sitting on the back porch of our childhood home at night, under the stars, and after her sons were asleep. She told me about her life as a dental hygienist and the many patients she got to know through the years. She remembered cooking Sunday meals for her family. We talked about sitting in the family room watching the Friday night lineup of sitcoms. The trivial things.
I have touted the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal on these pages before and I am convinced of the benefits. But this most recent experience of considering loss has greatly enhanced my appreciation for all of the “trivial” things in my life. I have been thinking about sudden loss. What if I could no longer take a walk at Bird Park with my camera and photograph the changing seasons? What if listening to my favorite musical artists while taking a long drive was no longer possible? What if having a chance to sit on the beach and stare out at the incoming waves was suddenly gone? What if my ability to feel the worn texture of my weathered leather work bag became impossible? What if…?
I am sure I take for granted a million different things in my life. Things I don’t typically think much about and which seem utterly trivial, but which I would surely miss if they were suddenly gone. Reflecting on loss has helped me to be more grateful in the moment. It has helped me to feel more appreciative, to be more connected to my life.
Everything in life is a gift and we all have received blessings. Some are incredibly obvious. Some are surprisingly subtle. Reflect on your life. Think about how you would feel if someone, or something, was suddenly gone. Think about your daily routines. What brings you joy? What would you miss?