The Art of Losing
One of my favourite poems is by Elizabeth Bishop called One Art. It talks about loss and how we start off losing small things like keys and such and eventually move on to losing bigger things like the names of places and people. I absolutely love this poem.
Last Friday I had dinner with a friend who I hadn’t seen in well over a year. We talked about how hard it is to hold on to old friendships when things change. For me, marriage and a baby has changed a lot of the dynamics of my life. While I have managed to maintain some friendships, others have been considerably harder and losing them has been even more so.
The thing is, no one ever teaches you how to grieve for lost friendships. We know how to grieve for people we lose, whether we knew them well enough or not. We know how to let go of a past that is no longer ours as our youth slips from our grasp. We can even accept that our lost items are happier with other people who have relieved us of them. The one thing we don’t know how to do is grieve for friendships. I don’t mean the type of friendships that end in a dramatic fashion as the result of a falling out. I mean the very quiet death of missed calls, unanswered texts and ‘see you soons’.
No one teaches how to grieve over friendships that have just grown out of the time and space within which you both exist. It becomes considerably harder to do this when you imagine it’s just the result of other things. Maybe you chalk it up to the busyness of life and say it will be different when things calm down. And then things calm down and its a couple years later and you don’t even remember when that happened.
If you’re hoping I have a magical solution on how to fix it, I don’t. If you think I’m going to tell you it won’t suck, I can’t. The only thing you need to know is that life always goes on. I can tell you however that you should take a moment to acknowledge that the friendship has either ended or isn’t what it used to be and that it’s okay. This one is hard to do. Because when friendships extinguish silently, they don’t let you know they’re dying. It’s like watching a ship in sailing off. One minute it’s there and before you know it, it’s vanished into the horizon even though you could have sworn it was right there.
I think like with everything else that we lose in life, the key is to remember that you’re in the present now. The past makes us nostalgic and sad and the future makes us anxious so the only thing is to focus on the now. And then ultimately, you have to make the call about leaving that light in the lighthouse shining. When the person finally returns to your life, do you want them to have room to do so? Or are you switching off the light and moving on?
I’ll end with Elizabeth Bishop’s last bit from the poem: