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On Losing and on Being Lost

I’m misplacing gloves and bank cards, keys and eyeglasses, with more than average frequency.

I am grateful to Anna Freud for writing the essay, “On Losing and on Being Lost.” She’s writing about grief, and the way it manifests itself in our behavior. During WWII she ran the Hampstead War Nurseries, which cared for children who had been orphaned or otherwise left on their own by the war. After the war, recovering from a life-threatening bout of flu and pneumonia, she had leisure to think about her grief for her father, and the way the children in her care had grieved. She noticed she kept losing commonplace objects, like keys and glasses, and saw how similar it was to the way bereaved children had lost hats or gloves. This was at a time of poverty and need, where it was not easy to replace a hat: everyone paid more attention to their small possessions than we do now.

Freud wrote that children who’d been abruptly separated from caregivers – by their death, or a call-up for active duty – were more likely to lose things than were children who’d had time for a meaningful leave-taking. Similarly, children from angry and abusive families were more likely to lose things. Freud speculated that when we are grieving, we feel (inter alia) abandoned and so we abandon in turn, or assume we will be abandoned in turn, not just by other people but by our belongings.

I know this feeling, this feeling of being adrift, unconnected to people or to the material world. I’m doing my best to carry on, but now, 5 months from Courtenay’s death, I still often feel wrenched by grief.

When I went to the Newberry for the Fuller award, I cried most of the evening.  Yes, I was truly moved by the generous praise my friends gave me, but so much of the evening highlighted what I was missing: Courtenay’s constant support for who I am and what I do. Near the end of his life, as he had forgotten many things, he was proud, almost unbearably proud, of me and my work. “I saw how you made those New York publishers pay attention to women,” he would say. “I know what you did.” Of course I keep losing things, my darling one. Of course.

 

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