Little by little we let go of loss but never of love. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
Loss can bring us to our knees in a moment’s time or slowly simmer within us like a watched pot that never boils. Either way it remains. We allow it to become a part of us even after it leaves a gaping hole in our heart. I have experienced quite a bit of loss in the last couple of months with the death of several family members and friends, but loss doesn’t only come in the form of death.
My dad was the youngest of eleven children, and while he was one of the first to go at the age of fifty-four, he always said that when the older siblings began to pass away it would be much loss at a rapid rate given their proximity in age. He was right. We appear to have reached that point. Some have gone, others have slowed down. Either way loss remains.
Loss of a lifetime of moments that are now just memories. Loss of the identity of our large family. With eleven siblings, all married, most with children, you can only imagine what Thanksgiving and Christmas looked like at our house. The thing is, it looked much like any Saturday or Sunday or random Tuesday evening for that matter. We were as tight knit as they come, and often answered the door to a school friend or neighbor who immediately apologized for interrupting our party.
“It’s not a party. It’s just my family,” I’d say.
Often followed by, “Come in. Join us.”
We were loud. We were musical. We loved to cook meals large enough for an army because as many mouths as there were to feed, for a family of Cuban immigrants it was a luxury to have leftovers. There was always room at the table for “one more.”
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. I do know that my cousins and I were as much raised by our own parents as our aunts, uncles, and grandparents. So, when my aunt and uncle recently passed away, each felt like the loss of another parent. Those remaining face health issues, have slowed down enough to need assistance for the most basic of needs. Where once they were our strength, they now lean on us to take a step. Where once they were our guiding light, they now look to us to light the way. Where once they carried us, we now carry them. And, where once they made sure we were taken care of, they now rely on us to care for them.
It’s a strange reversal of roles, and I’m fully aware that many adults my age are facing the same challenges with their own parents. And yet, this feels like the loss of multiple parents. I was twenty-two years old when I lost my dad, and it was the greatest loss of my lifetime…until now. Those who by extension also played a parental role in my life seem to be slipping away like pearls from a broken string, never to be restrung again. Now, we sit and share the stories of our childhood, the recollection of a time we carry with us like clouds ushering a storm of emotions we simultaneously welcome and shield ourselves from.
The memories comfort, the bond of grief for those left behind brings us closer together, and the stories shared soothe in a way that must please our authors. They were our once upon a time. They laid the foundation for the family they built, and it is now up to us to keep the structure standing, to continue the legacy they leave in us. May our laughter cross spiritual realms to reach them. May they smile down on us as we fill our table with those who nourish our very souls. And, when the notes of an old Cuban salsa float across the room, may we learn to dance with the limp.