Within three years of turning 50 I lost both of my parents, I was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer, the kids moved away, I had to have surgery on my foot and learn to walk again and I lost a job that I loved.
Sometimes loss is expected, sometimes it's even welcomed, but most of the time loss is accompanied with grief.
Around the time I approached the 50-year mark, my life began an era of enormous loss. First my father passed after a long illness. Three months after, on Valentine's Day, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Because I worked in healthcare at the time I had access to the resources I needed to make a decision with which I would be comfortable. My surgery took place in early May, less than a week from my 49th birthday. Because it was caught early I was never afraid of the cancer. I was more concerned about the side effects of treatment. I continue to deal with those side effects to this day.
Five months after my surgery my mother suffered a stroke from which she never recovered. My family initially held some hope. However we had to say goodbye to her eight days after her stroke.
Loss hurts. But loss is not failure. We all deal with and handle it in different ways. Some deal by simply not handling it. Others either deal with loss poorly or simply don't know how to deal with it.
Thankfully in my case, luck came with some of my losses. I had access to grief counseling. Surgery cured my cancer and I did not need follow-up radiation or chemotherapy.
"Grief is like a photograph," my grief counselor told me. If you take a bright, vibrant, sharp photograph and seal it away in a photo album on a shelf away from the light, every time you go back to that photograph it will stay as bright, vibrant and sharp. However, if you take that same photograph, handle it, leave it out on display, share it with others, expose it to light, eventually it will fade. This resonated with me because I'm a photographer. This taught me to share my grief, talk to others, and be open about the loss. Like the photograph the grief has faded. It will never disappear -- nor should it -- but it has diminished.
As I continue to age, loss remains a companion. Over the years I've lost more dear friends and other family members. My body is showing signs of wear and age. A recent flood in my neighborhood forced me to give up many possessions. But at the same time I've gained a fresh appreciation for life. I continue to meet new people and make new friends. I recognize how lucky I am to have these friends in my life -- and I tell them so.
Loss, like aging, leaves scars. Some are displayed outwardly for others to see -- whether from injury, surgery, wrinkles, sagging, and so on. These combine with the scars we hold internally -- within our heart and with our memories. Grief leaves holes in our heart. Some days the hole feels huge. On other days the hole is smaller and has moved, but the hole is always there.
From an early age as boys and men we are told to be strong, not let our emotions show, and be a rock for others. During times of loss and grief I think about a quote attributed to Hermann Hesse: "Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go."
In the end if I can look back and say I've maintained balance, I know I have been lucky. Balance means I've had a successful life. The rock on which I've balanced my life are my friends, my family, and the support of my beautiful wife.
Learning to let go helped me deal with and survive the many losses in my life. It has also opened my eyes and heart to the many possibilities for growth and gain in the years I have remaining.
With any luck, life is a balance of loss and gain. Loss is a mixed bag to say the least. Survival means recognizing loss, accepting the loss, and effectively dealing with the loss. Hopefully over time we can deal with loss gracefully, and if not thrive, eventually be a little stronger in the end.