The Balance of Fearing Loss and Finding Hope

from Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch” (2002)

I’ve been sitting with the concept of grief, like an old friend. I make art in its name and try to understand it. Grief sits for me like a model, allowing me to translate it into something I can process. With every brushstroke and pencil scratch, I find it becomes more and more familiar to me.

My Grandmother and I

It’s painful. It’s unbearable and isolating. It makes the fear of loss bubble up within me like sea foam. It is great and awful. How can such a feeling even occupy a space as small as I am, or anyone else? But it does.

It does.

I fear the loss of those I love. I fear it and feel it overwhelm me. As inevitable as the sea crashing on the shore. Do you think the sand knows it is forever changed by the water — washed away, pushed aside, or eroded? Within me, these bits and pieces of experience with the people I love take shape. Experiencing loss reshapes you;

it changes you — for better or for worse.

It’s a fear neither I nor anyone else can out-race, fight, or keep at bay. It’s as real as every fear that ever was or ever will be in any person on this planet. For me, it creeps in, intruding on an idle moment, bringing with it a friend — anxiety. “They’re not here,” Fear says. “They must be hurt or gone or in danger because you didn’t say good night or good luck. Because you were distant or angry or upset.”

But there’s no cause and effect that can prevent or deliver loss to you in this way. No ritual that, if you perform, or fail to, will bring about any such result.

Even if it feels that way.

The only way I can understand why I have this deep-seated fear of losing the people I love is that I already know what it feels like. It’s a sensation that does not bear repeating, though I know it will. It’s inevitable. It’s natural and part of this ongoing cycle of life.

“Fighting it” feels different than fighting any other fear I have.

The way you face fear is to acknowledge it. You need to understand that it is powerful and indirectly represents what you value. If I am afraid of heights, I am not afraid of being high up — I am afraid of the potential consequences. I can climb the highest mountain, acting in direct opposition to my instincts. “You’re so high up, you might make a mistake,” Fear says. “You’ll hurt yourself or cause irreparable damage.” I can be careful and still face my fear directly, like an opponent, to let it know that I can handle it.

But I can’t challenge the fear of loss as directly and I’m not sure I want to. All the same, I can work against parts of it. Fearing loss is fearing the empty parts of a life that had once been so much fuller. There’s no way to recover what has been lost. No way to rewrite it so it hurts less. It is impossible to prevent.

My Uncle and I

While loss cannot be prevented, you can hold whatever or whoever you care about closer than your fear will ask you to push them away. Being paralyzed by the fear of loss is meaningless if it keeps you away from the people you love. It puts you precisely in the position you were afraid of being in — being without that person, missing out on some key experience, feeling isolated and alone.

What I can do, however, is make sure that I fill my life to the brim with love, joy, and experience. Not only that, but also make sure I cherish and appreciate all of it. Instead of seeing only where things are not — where they are lacking — I can be grateful for what is and what was. I can respect and honor whatever has been lost because it held such an important space in my life. I can take whatever is left and let it be the foundation upon which I grow.

I wouldn’t fear loss if I didn’t have something I thought was worth losing.
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