Stages of Loss
STAGES OF LOSS
Things are only things, right? Misplacing an inanimate article is not nearly as bad having your dog wander off or, God forbid, not knowing where your child is. But, depending on what you’ve lost, losing a “thing” can be pretty devastating.
While packing for a three-day vacation recently, I made what in retrospect seemed to be some very bad choices. Rather than take my purse, I decided to put certain essential items in a small wallet. These items were: my driver’s license (in the event I needed to show ID at some point), my house key (so I could get back in when I got home), my car key (why I thought I needed this item is a mystery to me since my daughter, Rebekkah, was driving and my car was staying home), and an expensive cross my daughter had given to me one Mother’s Day, to be worn one day and then replaced in the wallet. Oh, and one more thing—three one-hundred dollar bills. I put this wallet, with all its valuable contents, into a small bag that I carried with me everywhere I went.
I obsessed about this stupid wallet the entire vacation, constantly thrusting my hand into the bag to make sure it had not mysteriously disappeared. Several times on Friday and Saturday I was sent into a total panic when I did not feel the wallet and we were obliged to stop somewhere and rifle through the bag. When the last one-hundred dollar bill was broken, I handed the change to Rebekkah, explaining that I was sick of worrying about losing it. So on Saturday night, the wallet contained only my keys, the cross, and my driver’s license. Sunday morning, I experienced the first stage of loss.
STAGE ONE: THE REALIZATION :This stage is not too bad. It usually begins with a mild question: “Hmm, I wonder where I laid that wallet down.” I reached this stage Sunday morning in the motel room. The pitch black hotel room. With my daughter and grandson asleep in the next bed. An hour before the alarm was set to go off.
At Stage One, no panic is felt because the options are endless. It could be on the dresser, on the vanity, it could be in the bag, or even on the floor. Stage One does not entail movement, only thought. Stage One is bearable because the item is not lost, not really, you just can’t put your finger on where it is. It bothered me a little that I didn’t know where the wallet was, but I decided I’d find it when the others woke up.
STAGE TWO: THE INITIAL SEARCH: This is usually done without anyone else’s knowledge. You don’t want to let others know you’ve done such a stupid thing as losing your wallet. I went through Stage Two after the others woke up and I was able to turn on a light. They didn’t pay much attention to me as they were busy showering, dressing and looking for their own items to pack. It is at the end of this stage that slight panic sets in. You’ve looked in all the obvious places and it wasn’t there. The panic is not too great, though, because you only looked for a few minutes. There’s still plenty of time to find it.
STAGE THREE: SHARING: It is at this stage that you finally have to admit that you have lost something. What little panic you felt in Stage Two is abated somewhat because now you have assistance in searching for it. During this stage you expect to hear at any moment those three wonderful words: “Here it is.” This is often the final stage, because someone finds the missing item and life goes on. Because we were in a small hotel room (as opposed to a whole house) and there were three of us looking, this stage was rather brief.
STAGE FOUR: TEARING THE PLACE APART: This stage begins with the realization that you have looked in all the obvious places and the item is still missing. A more extensive search is necessary. In my wallet example, we removed all the bedclothes and pulled the furniture away from the wall. The smallest family member, in this case Trey, is obliged to crawl under beds, couches, etc. When all family members simply stare at each other with a frustrated look on their face, you know this stage has ended. There is simply nowhere else to look.
STAGE FIVE: BACKTRACKING: At this point, everyone sits down to think. Where was the item last seen? Since the hotel key was in the wallet and we were in the hotel room, I must have had the wallet in my hand while when we got out of the car. We all remembered my taking the key out of the wallet and handing it to Trey, who was still young enough to think using the key was fun. This stage exemplifies the most mysterious aspect of losing something. While backtracking, you remember every little detail except the most important one: what you did with the wallet. I remember the souvenirs I had in my hand, I remember handing the key to Trey, I remember it being difficult to get out of the car because my hands were so full, I remember entering the hotel room, but I don’t remember anything about the wallet.
During this stage you sometimes think of someplace it could be that you haven’t looked yet. (Wait a minute, I had my coat on, maybe it’s in the pockets.) We came to the decision that maybe the wallet had dropped in the car when I got out of it. Since the car was a mess anyway, we decided to clean it and we would find the wallet. But we didn’t. The car was cleaner that it had been in months, but the wallet was still missing. Backtracking proved futile and it was time to leave.
STAGE SIX: OBSESSING: This stage occurs when you come to the realization that the item is truly missing, not simply misplaced. We had searched the web for a Catholic church in the same town as the motel room and had found one that was absolutely gorgeous. It was to be our last stop before heading home. I tried to enjoy the beautiful church, the inspiring sermon, but my thoughts kept wandering to the missing wallet. I replayed the night before over and over again in my mind, but it was as if the memory cells that contained that essential piece of information had been erased from my brain. The Obsessing stage is usually futile, because you are simply rehashing the same information you came up with during the Backtracking stage, but you can’t seem to help yourself. Eventually, you tire of obsessing and segue into the next stage.
SEVENTH STAGE: ACCEPTANCE: Well, they’re gone. My cross, my keys, and my driver’s license are gone. This stage is characterized by the realization that life will go on without these items and that some of them can be replaced. You have reached the point where you are sick of thinking about it, sick of looking for it, and it is just time to move on.
This stage can be very painful, depending upon the nature of the loss. It was while driving home that I reached this stage. A trip to the DMV will solve the driver’s license problem, I told myself, and I have spare keys at home. But the cross, the one I wore at least five days out of seven, a Mother’s Day present that I was inordinately proud of, well, that can’t be replaced. It’s gone forever.
It is during this stage that you console yourself that things could have been worse. I could have lost the wallet at the beginning of the trip, when it contained all our money…at least I have a spare car key, as having a new one made is expensive…I’m coming home without my wallet, much better than coming home without Trey or Rebekkah…the cross is only a thing, and the other items are easily replaced…these are the kind of things that go through your mind during this stage.
This is the final stage, the one that lays to rest the whole “I have lost something” issue. Life goes on once this stage has been reached. The cross has taken its place with other items I have lost in the past, simply a story to be related to friends, who then relate their own “I lost something” stories. And someday, when I get to heaven, and God says “And do you have any questions, child?” I will say: Remember that wallet I lost—where exactly was it?