Forward Living: Love, loss and the time for goodbyes

They say that death comes in threes. I’ve never given much credence to this superstition; however, I may revisit my thinking. I said goodbye to three good friends over the last year. One was a shocker — the kind of loss that seems unreal, so much so that I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The other, a lovely staff member whose death was expected; but are we ever prepared? The third was an old friend who was part of my life in another place and time.

By the time we reach a certain age, most of us have experienced loss. When we think of loss, we usually relate it to the death of a loved one. Loss is a universal theme that encompasses a much broader spectrum. We are always letting go and saying goodbye. Although I have suffered major losses, it’s still not my strong point — and never was. The tendency to hang tight and keep everything the same is inherent in most people. Yet, if we examine our lives, we’re always reaching endings.

I had a doll that I loved and cherished. Rachael played a significant role in my life. She was privy to my childhood secrets, anxieties and joys. As I grew older, having Rachael was seriously uncool. She was the last to be relegated to my toy chest, which housed much of my childhood.

Those of us who marry bid a fond fare-thee-well to our fancy-free life. Back then, we married young and were called to be adults, sometimes much too soon. We held on to our immature and impossible expectations, shaking them in the face of reality. We learned that we can’t argue with reality and let go.

When our kids arrive, we say goodbye to our youth in earnest. We are accountable for another life. What parents didn’t watch their kids sleep, terrified that if not vigilant their child would stop breathing? Our children become the center of our universe. We fret about a myriad of things that only parents can conjure up. (I was and still am the mama lion.) Reluctance to part with our kids on their first day of school is universal. This event is the first step in letting our kids out from under our sheltering wings.

We miraculously pass through our kids’ teenage years; now it’s off to college or the military. My parenting skills backfired: I prided myself in educating my sons to be independent. I read that good parents should become progressively obsolete. My kids listened to me (on that particular issue) and settled on the West Coast. Hmm — not too sure about that obsolete thing!

Our children hopefully carve out lives of their own; as parents we sit on the sidelines. Our roles have changed from major players to cheerleaders. This is where the empty-nest syndrome kicks in. We feel a loss; parenting is what we did.

We arrive at a place where we say goodbye to our parents, spouse or significant others in our lives. These irrevocable losses leave an indelible mark.

Sometimes we say goodbye to friendships. We didn’t see it coming, but phone calls stop, birthdays go unacknowledged and confidences are still held as a distant reminder of another time. We may be tempted to reconnect, but wonder what we would say. We let it be, realizing that we’ve already said goodbye.

Sometimes we need to cut toxic folks loose; sadly, it may include some family members. The toxicity that they spew poisons our peace of mind.

Every ending has built within it a new beginning, and this is where joy begins. We cannot love deeply without being vulnerable to loss. As we mature, we gain a deeper perspective and grow into wisdom. The good times become sweeter; the goodbye times still hurt like hell.

The lesson is clear: Joy and heartache are strange bedfellows, but bedfellows nevertheless. It’s called the human condition, folks — the fullness of life.

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.