How to Learn Loss

Percy. He was a gift to me. In so many ways. And proof positive that my parents really cared about me. 

My first dog.

In the home of a coal miner’s family, you didn’t buy a dog. You adopted a stray who showed up at your back door or car door. You took in a puppy from a neighbor dog’s litter. But you didn’t pay hard-earned money for a pet.

So when I was five years old and asked repeatedly for a dog, I had very little hope that I’d actually get one. Too much trouble. Too much mess. Not a necessity.

I was the most surprised person in the world when my Mom and Dad presented me with Percy, a full-blooded beagle, as my gift for my sixth birthday. A dog they had bought for me. I even got to choose his name.

Birthdays were always a big deal in my family. We always had a cake with candles to blow out. And we always received a special gift. Some gifts lasted longer than others. 

Birthdays were always a big deal in my family. We always had a cake with candles to blow out. And we always received a special gift. Some gifts lasted longer than others. 

Percy and I became instant friends. Mom bought me a leash so I could teach him how to walk with me. We chased each other around the yard, always careful to stay away from the street and the alley. I gave him fresh water from the hydrant in the yard and fed him every day. 

A pet that loved me and that I loved.

For two weeks. 

One morning, I went outside to see Percy. We had a spot where we tied him up each evening. Dogs weren’t allowed in the house unless it was snowy or stormy, and then only inside the back porch.

But Percy wasn’t there. I ran inside as fast as I could, yelling to my Mom that I couldn’t find Percy.

We never found him. 

My Dad was sure that someone stole him because he was a pure bred beagle. My Mom was sure that he somehow got loose and then got lost.

Percy was my first lesson in loss. 

Panic that you didn’t do something you should have done or did something you shouldn’t have done. Fear that there was a tragic end involved. Loneliness. Sadness. Tears. An empty place where a living being should be.

More losses followed. Loss is part of life. My Grandma, the first person I ever saw in a casket. My dog Randy who died at the animal hospital. My Uncle Charlie who was murdered. My friend Sally, the first friend I lost to cancer. My high school boyfriend Greg. Then, my Dad. Miss Dranginis, my first creative writing teacher. My husband Gene on our front porch, the first person I ever saw die. My Mom. 

How do we learn about loss? By losing. Sounds so obviously basic, doesn’t it? But the reality is that nothing can really prepare us for the empty space left after a loved one passes away.

We just stand and gape at that empty space. We don’t know what to do. Go around it? Sit in it? Try to fly over it? Pretend it’s not there?

If we’re wise, we walk through that empty space to the other side. And we keep walking.

God teaches us about loss as we live our lives. This never gets easier. I’m here to tell you that. God keeps preparing us for the next loss ahead.

Each time we experience a loss, we have at least two blessings. More empathy for others. More spaces in our lives that only God’s love can fill.

Let God teach you through your losses. The lessons you learn aren’t just for you.

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).