“Quiet little deaths”: dealing with impending loss

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete, currently in training for major surgery


The quiet “little deaths”
of everyday existence
are mourned as much as those
of resounding magnitude,
for grief makes no comparisons nor judgements
and has no understanding
of degree.

These words are the foreword to a small book called To Heal Again: towards serenity and the resolution of grief, by poet and family counselor, Rusty Berkus. The paperback cover, mystical pictures and vivid colours would lead you, perhaps, to think it is a child’s picture book, but it is not. It is a book to help adults along the road to emotional healing.

I don’t remember when I first got this book, but I remember well that I have used it many times. I have cried at each page as I grieved over my parents’ gentle deaths, both age appropriate in their nineties, and over the untimely deaths of cherished friends in their fifties.

In my life, I find that grief is not restricted to the death of loved ones. As the foreword says, “the quiet ‘little deaths’ of everyday life” can, and do, cause grief. Twenty-nine years ago, I had a lumpectomy, and lost part of my breast. Mine was a very small loss, compared to many of my friends who lost whole, or both, breasts. But ‘grief makes no comparisons’ and my breast cancer ‘thrivor’ friends and I have shared how we feel about our losses, as if the losses were equal. Every loss is personal and each of us experiences healing in our own way. For me, healing often happens through paddling, camping, hiking, and laughing, treasuring and valuing each moment.

Twenty-one years ago, I was hit by a car and sustained a broken leg, just below my knee. I did not lose my leg, but I lost the confident, painless functioning of my knee. Although I have healed physically, better than what was predicted at the time, I continue to experience discomfort and awkwardness with every move, and the constant imperfect functioning is an ever-present reminder of my need for an on-going daily meditation for healing and acceptance. My meditation also contains gratitude that the injury wasn’t worse.

Now, in ten days time, I am going to lose another part of my body. A stealthy intruder has encamped in my lung and must be removed. Clever trespasser that he is though, he has found a hidden valley, not accessible to the surgeon’s skill, so both his stronghold, and the surrounding valleys will be removed. In medical speak, that is my entire Right Lower lobe. Additionally, another tumour in my Right Upper lobe will be removed by a ‘wedge’. Balanced with my loss, I keep reminding myself, is my gain – lose 25% of my lung; gain (hopefully) 25 years on my life!

This loss will not be as visible to me as the loss from the lumpectomy, nor so functionally immediate as the broken leg, but I am, nevertheless, losing a part of my body. My cognitive mind knows that this is for my own future good, that I will be in the care of excellent health care professionals, and that this is just an uncomfortable detour on my life path. Yet I feel deeply the pain of an impending loss. It is a silent sorrow, to match a ‘quiet little death,’ and I am sad.

I "sit in the shadow of sorrow
seeking, searching
for the magic
that will make the pain
go away"

Peggy has her own photoblog, the F-stops here, where she posts a photograph every day.

2 thoughts on ““Quiet little deaths”: dealing with impending loss

  1. Beautifully said, Peggy - such a thoughtful and inspiring essay. I love the concept of mourning the "quiet little deaths" of everyday life, but especially those little deaths associated with any diagnosis threatening that image. These don't show up on x-rays or blood tests or MRI results, nor do they leave any physical scars that our doctors can see.

    Thanks for this reminder to all health care providers to appreciate the too-often invisible psychosocial fallout that affects healing and future outcomes for their patients.

  2. Pegs, in the midst of sorrow and grief over this so-called "little death." you are still able to express yourself with such eloquence and allow those many of us who love you, to walk with you on this journey. I just want to accompany you with as much strength and grace as you always demonstrate, no matter what the challenge.


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