I have witnessed loss from an early age. It came into our home through the shrill of the phone, ringing in the middle of the night sounding a deathly alarm with bad news from far away. It came through the whispers of my mother, my poor mother, sobbing into the phone. It came in the rush to book flights back to Pakistan in time for burials in upturned earth, flower-strewn. Later it came more forcefully, pushing itself into our hearts, when it stole my father away. These are things that remain private, but they are also wounds that will forever gape a little too.
This time of year is joyful but there are also these moments of loss. For a while now, the end of each year has brought with it sad news for our family. The passing of another beloved. A hand, from the past, out of reach. A face, bearing the traces of us, turning away. This week brought news like this once more. Another year, another loss. It leaves me cold, that we are receiving the sort of news my parents once received.
It is, I think, the most unwelcome part of being a grown-up; never mind if it is necessary.
Faith helps. And so too does literature. There have been three books by my bedside table for a while now, corners folded, lines underscored, covers creased. My ordinary habit is to return each book that I have read to our shelves in the living room - unless it is but an average read, in which case I leave it out on the brick wall by our front gate for neighbours to help themselves - but for some reason, these three books have stayed by my bed for most of the year. Perhaps I needed them to stay close.
Each one of the books below carries the raw truth of what it is like to lose someone you love, sometimes more than once. Each one puts into words what our throats choke up to say. Each one has survived the unimaginable; the loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of a beloved soulmate. Each strives to make sense of it all, and if not sense, then an acceptance of it in some way.
If you find this time of year hard, but don’t wish to turn to seasonal distraction just yet, these books may offer comfort.
A Life Of My Own by Claire Tomalin
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Chase The Rainbow by Poorna Bell
And yet we carry on, because we must, for there are little eyes that look to us to be lit up.
In days to come we shall pick out a Christmas tree and write out Christmas cards and bake cookies for our neighbours. We shall wrap gifts for teachers and listen to loud, small voices sing about jingle bells.
We shall smile, then, for there are loads we must lighten as we grow.