By Craig Dresang, Executive Director, Yolo Hospice
Originally published in The Davis Enterprise
Elizabeth Drozd was a gorgeous 31-year-old who loved to laugh. Her parents called her their blue-eyed angel. She was a teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend. She was also my sister-in-law. The year before my partner and I moved to Northern California, Liz had suddenly and quite unexpectedly died of a pulmonary embolism. She was gone in a second. There will never be words to describe the loss of her presence in our lives.
Loss comes in many forms. There is loss of a job, marriage, trust, independence, health, security, or friendship. But no loss is the same as the profound soul-altering loss that results from the death of a child, soulmate, sibling, parent, or loved one. Loss takes other forms as well. It can come slowly, losing pieces of a person, bit by bit, over time. Or, it can come swiftly as it did with Liz.
By the time I was 30, I had already learned more than I wanted to know about loss. Within the span of three years, five of the most central people in my life had died. I was caregiver for two of them. One of those individuals was my mom, who had just turned 60. I remember, just hours after her death, sitting in my parents’ living room staring at her gold hoop earrings, turquoise ring, and tube of ruby lipstick on the coffee table. She had placed them there a few days before, as if to say “I’ll be right back,” or maybe “I’m not really gone.” In the hours after her death, the room was filled with a poignant mixture of her presence and her absence all at once. At the time, the only lesson I could understand from loss is that it is an inevitable part of being alive.
A well-known Quaker author and activist, Parker Palmer, likens death, and the lessons gleaned from it, to winter. Describing this cold season in the upper Midwest, he says, “Winter here is a demanding season. It is a season when death’s victory can seem supreme: few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy. And yet the rigors of winter, like the diminishments of autumn, are accompanied by amazing gifts. For me, the greatest gift comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare, and first snow is yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.”
For years, I referred to the 90s as the decade of death. But what I eventually came to realize is that grief and loss changed me in many good ways, and there are treasured lessons for each person who journeys through their grief. Though the lessons are different for each person, I thought I’d share a few gems that I uncovered during my own clarifying journey.
- Painful Loss often sprouts into meaningful transformation.
- An inner resiliency shows up when you need it most.
- There is no cure for grief, only growth.
- Live now. Act now. Don’t believe people when they say, “It’s never too late.” This is sometimes true, but not always.
- Don’t live in fear. Put a halt to anything that will stop you from living. No fear. Be free.
Most of us are not prepared for the long journey of grief. It can be devastating, frightening and often lonely. Our community is fortunate to house one of the region’s most tenured bereavement programs. In fact, the quality and scope of our program at Yolo Hospice is a source of pride for the organization. I encourage anyone who is struggling with loss to reach out and access the support that’s here for you.