52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #12: Let Loss Make You Reconsider Things

While I’ve tried to zero in on positive ways to shift focus for this series, sometimes the unexpected, the sad, and the awful can also change the lens in a productive way. This has been on my mind quite a lot these past several weeks as my family has worked through the death of my father-in-law, Vern.

Vern, a lovely man who managed to live for 88 years with the same Norwegian stoicism my husband possesses, declined rapidly over the past year. He became unable to feel comfortable outside his own environment, then became confused within that same environment. People stepped in to help, but it wasn’t enough. When he eventually needed to go into hospice, no one expected him to leave as quickly as he did.  My husband, his two brothers, and our families all managed to be there on Father’s Day to say goodbye before Vern was gone.

That was a gift.

We all know that when someone dies, people generally become kinder for a while. Those who are left in their grief are treated to the gentleness of other people’s respect and condolences. Flowers appear, cards are sent, food is shared. Seemingly small things take on special significance. For example, when we were at the small country cemetery where my mother-in-law already rests, and my husband and his brothers lowered Vern’s ashes into the grave, a song bird seated on the nearby power line erupted into a beautiful avian aria.

That bird, in that moment, is the image that I’m keeping from the entire funeral service. It’s not the expected church service in the church were Vern was a member for something like 50 years. It’s not the number of people who came for the visitation. It’s not the classic church basement luncheon that we had after the service and cemetery visit were concluded. It’s the little bird and the coincidence of his music, the reminder that whatever we’re going through is part of a larger puzzle. Sometimes we need to look beyond the edges of our own pieces.

And, so, in considering loss, I’m also considering what moves in to fill the space. What bits stay in place after someone is permanently gone. And how does this come out in whatever art we make.

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