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My Turn, Jean McCoy: Method of dealing with loss makes difference

By Jean McCoy

The worst year of my life was 2019.

Why do I say that?

• In January 2019, my 94-year-old father died.

• In February 2019, my husband went for a jog and never returned.  His body was found on December 31.

• In August, my 94-year-old mother died.

• In October, one of my dearest and oldest friends died unexpectedly.

•In November, our cat Zoe developed cancer under her tongue. The best thing I could do for her was to put her to sleep.

I kept thinking 2020 would be better, and then one of my best friends died in February.  After that, here comes the pandemic!

All of us experience loss. It may be something as simple as hair loss. Or it could be the loss of a job, loss of a loved one or loss of a pet. 

When I look back on my life prior to 2019, I had deaths in my family — grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. But their deaths were spread out over many years.  I felt sadness and missed them — but these losses in no way come anywhere close to the 2019 year of loss.

All of us deal with loss in different ways. Some rely on their faith to get them through it. Some depend on their friends and relatives to help them. Some need quiet time and privacy.

So how did I make it through 2019 without breakdowns, hospitalizations, incredible sadness and depression? After my husband Rick disappeared, I turned the TV on as soon as I got up. I turned it off the minute I went to bed. I needed to hear voices other than the purring of my cats and the barking of my dogs. I needed support from my loved ones — family, friends, neighbors.  I also needed time alone to work through my grief and sadness. I was raised in a poor but proud family, so there was no way I was going to show emotional breakdown in front of others. I cried in my garden; I cried driving home from Rowan Helping Ministries after I donated Rick’s clothing. Even now, I occasionally shed a few tears, but not often.

When I put Zoe down, I felt incredibly sorry for myself. I cried and felt sadness weighing on my shoulders and taking me down. After a couple of hours of this, I felt terrible.  I said to myself “Jean, stop this!”  I started focusing on how fortunate I really am.

How many children have both parents live to be 94? I felt better but the “sorry for myself” feeling would come back again. It actually took me a while to train my brain to stop the negative thoughts and to instead focus on the many wonderful people and pets I love and the beautiful garden I have.  I guess you can say there are “silver linings” if we make an effort to see them.

I learned to let go of what is not in my control. This is one of the most important positive actions one can do. I learned not to think about “what ifs” because those thoughts are not only unproductive, but they are also destructive. Why? You can’t go back and change anything.

I have learned to enjoy the little things in life — the wagging of my dogs’ tails when they greet me. I have learned to slow down and appreciate the beauty around me.  I have learned to turn the TV off and pick up a book. I have learned to cut three flowers from my garden and make a beautiful arrangement. I have learned to sit on my back porch with a glass of wine and watch the setting sun as it makes sparkles on the leaves of my persimmon tree. I have learned to really stop — and not just hear — but really listen to the birds sing.

Loss is never easy, but how one deals with it can make a positive difference in one’s life. Nothing is guaranteed, so focusing on the little things and enjoying every day I have is life affirming for me.

Why did I feel the need to write this? I’m not sure.

Maybe it is good for me to put it on paper.

But I do hope sharing my experiences will help someone who is going through loss figure out their needs and how to continue to live in both a healthy and positive way.

Jean McCoy lives in Spencer.

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