1. Moretti, Jill APRN

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As a nurse psychotherapist, I deal with loss for a living: loss of other, loss of function, loss of dreams, and, ultimately, loss of hope. With my own losses I know I need to grieve them and move on. But with the real and perceived loss of my 16-year-old daughter, who is in Spain for 10 months as a foreign exchange student, my personal study of loss has come into sharper focus.


"It's my 1-month anniversary," she tells us long-distance from Alicante, a beautiful resort city on the Mediterranean Sea. "And I miss you guys." We are ridiculously happy to hear her admit this. We don't tell her how frequently we check for her e-mails, how we share every detail of her adventures with each other as if knowing them somehow preserves her bond with us. She doesn't know that after she boarded the airliner, the three of us remaining stood at the window and wept, unable to leave until her plane was no longer visible.


We know we are not alone in how we feel. Families with young adults called to Iraq and other war-torn parts of the world could admonish us: "Your child is safe. She is happy. She'll come home to you."


We're sensitive to the difference. We feel at times undeserving of the depth of our longing for her. But we remember the incredulous looks of some of our neighbors and friends when we shared with them our daughter's plans. "Ten months? Her entire Junior year? How can you let her go for that long?"


The real question, of course, is how could we not? This is a child who decided long ago to leave the nest early and set about making it happen. Luck, determination, and hard work paid off for her in the form of a Rotary Club scholarship. Winning her first choice, Spain, and doing it on her own made the victory especially gratifying.


My husband and I understand that the thought behind the words, "How can you let her go?" is, Thank God it's not my kid. Parents who do for their children, who line the soccer fields and tennis courts to watch them play from a tender age, have invested a great deal of psychic and physical energy. To abruptly halt the rhythm can leave one feeling disjointed, disgruntled, and more than a little lost.


We were soccer parents for only a short while and often wonder what we would've done if we'd had a budding soccer star who lived for the moment of impact of toe to leather. We don't believe in putting our lives on hold for our children, although to a certain extent that's the definition of parenting. We did put in 6 years with our younger daughter, her violin and Dr Suzuki, but with no illusions of greatness. We hoped for a level playing field in the mathematics arena, which music has been shown to do.


Baby boomer parents are unaccustomed to losing their children, although in previous generations this was not unusual. We have been lulled by immunizations, antibiotics, safety guards, and gates and helmets of all types. Chaperoned dances and parties, and cell phones and curfews, all help us ignore the possibility that some day it might be our child who is lost. Our worst nightmare is reflected back at us from the smiling cherubs of milk cartons-abduction. For that nightmare is to lose without knowing, as a parent, what happened. There is cold comfort in the details.


We had a 5-year-old neighbor die unexpectedly last spring. It was tragic, and the funeral home and church were overflowing as the community honored his passing. It feels right to join neighbors and friends at such a time, and to contribute something to try to ease the pain of stricken family members.


People from our street had gathered in our living room hours after the loss of this little boy. One woman, close to the family, sat pale and agitated, wringing her hands, going over the details of the event. "What are we going to do?" Not as in dinners left on the front porch, or hugs or cards or flowers. We had to do something [horizontal ellipsis] to undo what had gone wrong.


And the community did. The outpouring was, and continues to be, amazing. Wonderful things. But underlying it all is the unspoken acknowledgement: it could have been my child. My child who was lost. We cover that up with activity, with road rallies and fund-raising. If we keep really busy may be we can make it better. Maybe we can pretend it could never happen again.


In so doing, we lose touch with that quiet inner voice that reminds us that anything external that we gain in this life can be lost-spouses, homes, friends, jobs, children. Indeed, the harder we hang on to relationships the more strangled they become. We forget that the greatest gift of love is freedom.


Our blindness to the fact that we are all connected leads us to focus myopically on those close at hand. Our short-ranged vision distorts our view of life. Loss is as integral to life as birth and death. We cannot stave loss off or cushion its blow with things and events. After charity coffers have been replenished and family functions return to the routine, we are left to confront the empty places. They have been waiting patiently for us.


It is in the empty places that, ultimately, we confront our own mortality. The biggest loss of all, death, is but a passage. My brother took this passage at the age of 21 after his car missed a curve and slammed into a tree. Our firstborn took it after contracting Group B streptococci infection during a normal course of labor.


I understand now that relationships are never lost but merely change shape. They and I have engaged in this relationship dance before. My brother and my baby have not left me, and in fact fly to be with me every time I think of them. I look forward to oneness with them and with all souls after my own death.


I'm sure hospice nurses are aware of this psychic connection. They also witness interactions between their patients and the spiritual realm, having honed their intuitive sense and their observational skills. I have shared wonderful stories of this connection in clients with my hospice nursing colleagues.


Despite my own "losses" there are others who take my attention, my care, and my love. There are always others. It is in relation to other people and our environment that we choose to create, moment by moment, who we are. By choosing to be a healer, I have been healed. The challenge is to see the perfection in every moment.


As I write this it seems a long road for those of us in our own small family who feel left behind. But we look forward to a much shorter journey, to take place 9 months from now. From Spain to home.


Jill Moretti, APRN