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Navigating Our Unwieldy Losses

Personal Perspective: Grief is a multitasking endeavor. Be kind to yourself.

Key points

  • There is no "right" way to deal with grief and/or loss.
  • Loss has the potential to sharpen our awareness and to help us realize that we are not alone.
  • While it's not natural to simply "move on" from loss, we can move forward.
  • While it might seem counterintuitive, we can and do experience multiple conflicting emotions at the same time.
Chris Prange-Morgan
Source: Chris Prange-Morgan

Father’s Day weekend began with the paramedics in our living room. I knew something was off when my 80-something-year-old dad walked in the door, confused, disoriented, and vomiting. After a five-day hospitalization with what was diagnosed as sepsis, I was thankful we caught it early and that he could return home with my 70-something-year-old mother—obviously distraught and reeling from the whole ordeal.

This summer has been brutal. It still feels like I’m coming up for air. A planned surgery for our son on June 13th was quickly followed by the double-whammy of my dad and mother-in-law both ending up in the hospital the same weekend. Like so many other people in the sandwich generation, my husband and I toggle between playing out worst-case scenarios, carving in quality time with those we love, and hoping for optimal outcomes for our aging parents. We know that time is fleeting.

Within the same week, our beloved 13-year-old cat Oscar began to stop eating. What we first thought was a bad reaction to all the paramedic hullabaloo in our living room was eventually diagnosed as a GI lymphoma. Our hearts ached as we transitioned from palliative medications to kitty hospice. In his final days, Oscar sprawled between my daughter and son at their computers on the dining room table, reaching out his paw as if to say, “I really love you two, but I have to leave you.”

Oscar’s blinky-eyed affection permeated our home for so many years. He was my comfort buddy as I recovered in a hospital bed in the living room for three months and in the subsequent years before eventually losing my leg below the knee. Saying goodbye to him felt like waving farewell to a wise old sage who saw into my soul. His final months were punctuated by my driving back and forth from Wisconsin to Illinois to finish up a several-month frustrating process of obtaining a new prosthetic leg.

Life has been heavy and hard.

The new kitten we brought home from the Humane Society in the past few weeks reminds me of the societal tendency to continue to grasp for fun and levity while navigating anticipatory and ongoing grief. And while our cute, little grey-and-white Poppy has certainly brightened our lives, she hasn’t replaced our wise Oscar—nor has she buoyed up the onslaught of the years ahead, preparing for the additional losses of our daughter as she leaves for college, our parents as they age, or the realities that our lives will change in big, huge ways.

In her book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, Susan Cain suggests: “Whatever pain you can’t get rid of, make it your creative offering.” 1 Pain from our losses can ignite creative, dynamic endeavors that we can offer to the world in the form of music, writing, art, acts of service, or whatever draws us out of our misery into the collective ether.

Echoing what feels like sacred, holy ground as I talk with hospitalized patients, I’m acutely aware that these deep, honest, real states of longing unite us at our core. Like an auger into our being, loss—loss of abilities, loss of dreams, loss of loved ones, and the like—has the potential to sharpen our awareness that we’re not alone.

I feel this dynamic strongly whenever I’m in a room or on an outing with other amputees, as people share their stories of what happened to them and how they’ve endured. Without exception, each time I walk away from these experiences, I feel validated, grateful, and whole—not because I’ve miraculously grown my leg back, but because I’ve connected with amazing folks on levels I never would have imagined.

It’s true that many folks appear to have “overcome” their limb loss and have gone on to do great things. People have poured their energies into running marathons, doing TED talks, writing books, and other great feats. But we shouldn’t pretend that grief and loss just disappear. As Cain continues to assert, “No matter how much your culture tells you to smile, it’s not human to simply move on.” 2

But this doesn’t mean that we can’t move forward.

While the bittersweet nature of life unites us, it also has the potential to deepen our relationships and make them become more authentic.

Cain quotes Nora McInerny, a widow and author of the books Terrible, Thanks for Asking and No Happy Endings: “What can we do other than try to remind one another that some things can’t be fixed, and not all wounds are meant to heal? We need each other to remember, to help each other remember that grief is this multitasking emotion. You can and will be sad, and happy; you’ll be grieving, and able to love in the same year or week, the same breath.” 3,4

Our cat, Nina, is still looking for Oscar. Widowed spouses can mourn for decades, and some die of takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome)5. Many of those who have suffered limb loss continue to complain of phantom pains. My children who joined our family through adoption will never not wonder about their birth parents. Our bodies continue to harbor our losses despite our intentions to move forward, and I think they’re reminding us that we need each other.

There is no right way to navigate our unwieldy losses. But we can be kind to ourselves as we give ourselves the permission to multitask with our feelings as we reach in the dark for a dawning new day.


[1] Cain, Susan. Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Crown, Penguin Random House. New York. 2022.

[2] Cain, Susan. Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Crown, Penguin Random House. New York. 2022

[3] Cain, Susan. Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Crown, Penguin Random House. New York. 2022

[4] McInerney, Nora (Website) Terrible, Thanks For Asking.


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