The Subtlety of Loss


One theme of 2017, especially the latter part of the year, must surely be disaster. The hurricanes and fires recently wrought by Mother Nature have overshadowed any political catastrophe we live with daily.

During our five years in Cabo San Lucas we endured many hurricanes, and, because these storms are large in area, a direct hit by the eye was not a requirement for calamity. Successive bands of heavy rain–and the high wind associated with them–played merry hell with, literally, everything. Streets, many of them bare dirt, became impassable either because of detritus or large items blown into the roadway; sometimes, the roads themselves became arroyos. Every structure leaked. The sea would grow angry, mountainous even, and more often than not there would be a tourist drowning or two.

After forming in the Pacific, hurricanes tend to follow a path bending to the north and west. So–knowing our geographical coordinates–we would assiduously monitor the Weather Channel to determine the severity and proximity of any advancing threat.

But by far the worst aspect–as anyone who has endured such storms knows–is the aftermath: The many days until water and electrical service are restored. The bathing in the pool–if you’re lucky. To have a pool, that is. The constant concern with everyone’s well -being, what with live power lines being snaked down and everything a mess.

Walking anywhere is as if through a minefield. Hunkering down as opposed to venturing out. The shortage of just about everything–most of which you haven’t even realized yet. The many calls for water trucks to recharge the pila–that’s “battery” in Spanish, but in this context a water tank.

We were fortunate to have never lost anything during these churning monsters.

In fact, we gained the Kid.

Because you can track a hurricane’s progress, you can decide for yourself how to best be prepared. I first made sure we had the necessities. But I always made a point of it, if we were about to be walloped, to have delicacies stocked for cooking over a Coleman stove. And a war chest of fine beverages. “If we’re going to take it in the shorts,” I used to think, “we’re going to do it swashbuckling.”

It’s amazing what champagne can accomplish.

Now, I’m not making light of hurricanes. You might not be able to get out of one’s way, but you certainly know when one is coming.

Fire, in its suddenness and unpredictability, is a far more terrifying prospect–as we learned firsthand last year. While we didn’t lose quite everything, our son, Alex, did.

Still, we lost plenty. When you lose big or significant things you know it instantly and must somehow come to terms with the loss.

Yet the subtlety of loss is such that you don’t always know what you no longer have–mostly all those quotidian items you spent a lifetime acquiring.

Last month, for instance, I went to change some light bulbs on the kitchen ceiling and was prevented from doing so. Why? Because I don’t have a ladder anymore. And I didn’t know that until the need for it arose.

This comes in waves, as each new need presents itself. Suddenly require a bunch of Allen wrenches, perchance, or your set of drill bits?

It’s also how you relive the catastrophe even years afterwards. A far cry from swashbuckling, right?

I’m finding that grief works a similarly subtle magic. Substitute an image, say, or a memory for that ladder and–presto!–you have the same equation.

The worst thing that ever happened in my life didn’t even happen to me. It was Alex’ passing at the age of 28. He didn’t die in the fire–but it was akin to the miraculous that he escaped it in his quest for a popsicle.

And now I’m of two minds when it comes to seeing him on social media: grateful and grief-stricken. I’m happy to see him again, of course–especially in things fresh to me–and I’m grateful to all those who take the time to relate exactly how impactful Alex was in their lives. This, too, comes in waves, is what I imagine being knifed feels like, and always ends in tears.

To those who have suffered in the most recent–and every–devastating hurricane, and to those who have suffered in the most recent–and every–horrifying fire: I’m not going to extend “thoughts and prayers.” I don’t know what these mean or how to convey them, and at this remove both seem particularly spooky–if not hollow. So I’ll just say this: To everyone, everywhere, who has had loss settled upon them, especially the subtlety of it, I extend the most powerful and honest thing I can–my deepest and most humble empathy.

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