Losing and Being Lost
The other day, my daughter rushed through the door after a long first day of school and dance team practice, looking concerned. “I lost my phone,” she stammered.
The next morning, my husband contacted me to let me know that a co-worker had lost his wife.
Two losses. Not the same thing at all.
It has always confounded me that we use the word “lost” to refer to a misplaced object and to someone’s death. What could these two experiences have in common? Certainly not enough to warrant our utilizing the same word to describe them.
English can be maddening in its flexibilty. We can love the color red and love our child. We can want a new book or we can be in want of sufficient finances to maintain our subsistence.
When I come upon words that lack precision, I always think of dogs. Specifically, I picture a Chihuahua sitting next to a Great Dane. Although these two differ greatly in terms of their size, they have enough in common with one another to both belong to the genus canis.
Could loss function in the same way -- as a tiny word that describes a variety of events that differ from one another only in scale? Is there anything similar between my daughter losing her phone overnight and a friend losing his wife?
At first glance, I think not. My daughter’s phone was eventually found. A wife who has died will never be found. And if we had not located the phone, we could have replaced it easily. Obviously, a deceased loved one can never be replaced.
Maybe, though, there is something that connects these two losses with one another. Perhaps when we say we have lost something, what we are actually doing is not describing the event of loss as much as we are naming its effect on us.
For the 12 hours before my daughter’s phone was recovered, she felt lost. It was not a overarching sensation, but it was there -- the sense that she did not know quite what to do with herself. She had come to rely on this one device to connect with friends, check homework assignments, play games, answer complicated questions in a matter of seconds, and so many other functions.
In many ways, it was my daughter who was lost, not her phone.
And the same might be said of our loved ones when they pass. Most of us immediately experience a feeling of being lost; and for some of us, that sensation remains indefinitely. Sitting with bereaved people, we can witness their lostness. We do not try to locate them, because that is not feasible in this new world in which they find themselves.
Death dislocates us. Someone with whom we have built a life, someone woven into the fabric of each of our days, is gone. No retrieval is possible. No proof of their location will ever be presented.
But the dead are not lost, really.