The Language of Loss

I have but few words for you today. I’m tired.

 

Someone I love lost someone she loves a few days ago in a terrible tragedy. The kind your brain comprehends as your eyes read the words, but your heart pushes away and says, “No. Not this. No.”

 

I’m so sorry, I say. What can I do for you?

 

At my annual physical the doctor asks me, Do you feel safe? She means at home. Yes, of course. I am safe, I say. But inside, I cry. We are, none of us, safe. There, but for grace, we fall.

  ~

 

Sundays are my long run days. I amble out, go easy, go long, eventually reaching the beach and several trailheads that take me through fields and forest before dropping me onto another beach, where again I climb the trails and roads toward home.

 

But this morning, I think better of it. I wake with a sore throat, a stuffed nose, an aching head. If I’m coming down with something, shouldn’t I stay in, rest, read the good book I started the night before? Shouldn’t I be writing?

 

I (almost) never get sick, so when I do, it feels like a failure of character, rather than of body. Maybe I am a little under the weather. But really, I think I’m heartsick.

 

The sunrise calls my bluff. Calls me out with the promise of peace. Renewal. The forest offers refuge where I can let tears fall. For my friend and the sadness and pain of her lost love. For our vulnerability.

 

If you are feeling vulnerable, I write for you. I know the pain is unbearable; it is too much for one person alone. You do not have to bear it alone. You are loved. You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change. When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) The National Suicide Prevention Hotline; if you are not in the United States, this website can help you locate a crisis hotline: International Association for Suicide Prevention I know you do not want to die, you just can’t see any way out. You just want some peace. I promise you, peace awaits you, here, now, and there are so many people available to help you reach it. Hang on. Call.

 

If you have lost a loved one, you are not alone. You are not to blame. Your dear friend, family member, partner did not want to hurt you. They were in deep, deep pain from an illness that was beyond your reach. Their death is not your shame. You are not responsible. You are loved. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) The National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It is there for you, too.

 

I’m at the end of my words now. Today I give my mind permission to rest.  I captured these moments of beauty and renewal on my run this morning. This place of peace. This place of safety.

 

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Benediction by Kent Haruf

BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holt, Colorado – a blunt-edged town on the eastern edge of Colorado’s high and dry plains – where time ticks like the cooling engine of car. Storms build in billowing clouds on the horizon, summers grind through with breathless heat, winters drive ice and snow from across the flat middle of the country. It is as it has always been. It seems so little changes in this quiet, gently ticking community, but one moment it’s the 1960’s, the next it’s the new millennium, and you find yourself at the edges of your life.

So it must seem to Dad Lewis, on octogenarian who has just been told his future is measured in weeks. When he wipes a shirtsleeve across the Holt’s dusty surface and peers in, he sees a world so very different from the one he shaped when he was a young husband, growing a new business, a daughter and a son. The new preacher, banished from Denver for speaking out for a gay colleague, is hardly the model for atonement he expected as he waits to be ushered into the next life; the daughter of his neighbor, once a fresh and bright teacher, has returned a retired spinster; “the War” refers not to sandy beaches on France’s Atlantic coast or even jungles in Southeast Asia, but to barren mountains in Afghanistan and vast deserts in the Middle East. His children moved on long ago. His wife is an old woman.

But in this brief interlude between learning his long life is ending and taking his last breath, Dad Lewis has an opportunity to make one last impression before he returns as he came: from nothing into nothing. What will his Benediction be?

This is less a story than a series of vignettes about regret and compassion. Kent Haruf rarely grants redemption to his characters, just as life itself doles out redemption in meager dribs, offering only enough grace to keep us going until our time plays out.

Kent Haruf is a master of the understatement. He is a sublime observer, less a storyteller than a whispering carney offering glimpses into the circus of life. His narratives are quiet, moving to a gentle rhythm. At first glance, they can seem as dry and simple as the flat, square towns on Colorado’s eastern border where his stories are set. You think you have taken it all in, standing there on the edge by the feed store, looking straight down 6th avenue to the water tower that rises like at sentinel on the other end of town. But as Lyle, the preacher-turned-pariah, learns during his midnight rambles down silent streets, what is really there is rarely what you see.

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