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Farewell, So Long, Sayonora…

Loss. I’ve written of it already; of loss and the power of an embrace. This continues those thoughts, but down a different path.

I’ve lost a lot of friends in the last year. No, not as it implies – they are all alive and well and living wonderful lives. Yes, certainly the prevalent use of loss is associated with death. And – truth be told, I’ve literally lost friends in the woods; found them eventually, but for 30 or 40 minutes, we were in different places out of sight and sound and I had literally lost my friends!

But my loss has been of those leaving work. In most businesses when you leave employment, you can simply walk right back inside the next day and say hi or whatever to everyone. Not mine though. See, I work in a defense plant; gates, fences, barbed wire, armed guards – the whole nine yards. Badged entry only. And when you leave employment, you leave that precious pass – the badge – behind. And without, none shall pass. Period. Work there 45 years, retire and come back the following Monday? No entry granted. It’s really that simple. There are 4500 people inside that fence line and once that badge has been surrendered, you’ll not see them again.

Oh sure; there are some you will see again here and there over time; retirement parties and so forth. But for the most part, work friends are just that – friends at work. Rarely do those friendships extend to one’s personal life; certainly sometimes, but not often. Case in point, I made a friend at work 40 years ago; we were inseparable every day. He came to my wedding (one of, I think, five or six people grandparents included!) and we did a lot of things together. But then came the dark years when 4 out of 5 people lost their job, and he was amongst the four’s while I stayed. And we lost touch. Happily, thanks to LinkedIn, someone in his family “found me” and sent me a message asking if I was “that Bob Wolff” and indeed I was. So he and I reconnected after almost 25 years of being “lost”. That was two years ago. We still text each other “good morning” every single day. Lost and found; the exception.

People retire, or take another job, and they leave the confines of our fenced community. And usually they might as well have left the planet because it’s as if they fell off the face of the earth. Yeah, I know: there’s email, there’s Skype, there’s Facebook, there’s phones, and a million other means of communication. And for some really special friends, you both try, for a while. But go a week, or two, of life and then try to tell your friend everything that happened that made you laugh or cry, that made you sad or glad, that piqued your interest, etc. Fit all those things, all that living, into an email. Unless you’re a prolific writer and can pound out missives daily, it just becomes so hard to express all those daily feelings into a weekly email. And even if you can write prolifically, very few can read monster emails; they can easily become junk mail after a while.

Facebook is the closest; especially for people who use it freely. They post regularly and put up pictures of their daily life – what they did or where they went that weekend, parties, Sunday backyard play, etc. They post jokes and puns that make them laugh; articles that make them think and they find interesting, moments in time that they consider noteworthy. You get a regular glimpse of them almost daily and you can still be a part of their life, albeit vicariously. And that prolongs the connection. But even at that, it’s not the same. The loss is lessened but not eliminated.

As I once stated in a previous writing, loss is inevitable, inevitably. And while the final loss can be devastating, so can the simple loss of someone still living leaving your daily life. Down the hall, across town, on the other side of the world – loss is loss.

So how do we reconcile that? Because most all of the time when this occurs, it is cause for celebration and happiness. Retirement, promotion, new job for a better life – all good things for which to be happy. And we often struggle to reconcile the joy we feel for our friend’s good fortune with the sadness we feel the exact moment when we hear the news. And that can actually cloud the final few days or weeks as one friend may allow the pangs of sadness to override the expectation of joy the other has. We mourn; surely not as in the final loss, but we mourn. And that surely dampens the ability to celebrate another’s good fortune, which in turn, can reflect to the one leaving as insensitive or uncaring.

The answer is that we need to communicate our feelings, honestly and openly. Make sure the other one knows how you feel and that they will be missed and that makes you sad. But make sure that they know that you are genuinely glad for their good fortune and that you support them and wish them well. Simply, as so much else in life, seek the balance. Don’t wrap yourself in the weight of sad or negative emotions a let yourself get pulled under; you may miss out on the final chance to celebrate a friend about to leave your life.

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