It is heart-breaking to cope with loss and we must be compassionate with ourselves learning to accept our pain. We can soften this by acknowledging the nature of impermanence in our lives. We will experience gain and loss. Material things, experiences and people will come into our lives but will also leave us. Relationships change, thriving businesses go down and successful careers come to an end.
One of my childhood friends has always loved flying and went on to become a Captain flying large passenger aircraft but with the pandemic abruptly lost his job. The loss of the earnings, prestige and his passion was devastating, and I was at a loss as to what to say to him. Just like that, his career was over.
I discovered this real-life experience by the German novelist, Franz Kafka, that took place in the early 1900s. Kafka is better known for his darker surreal works rather than the uplifting tale below.
Franz was taking his morning stroll through the park when he encountered a young girl crying bitterly. When he asked her what was wrong, she explained that she had lost her doll. Despite helping her look for it, their efforts were fruitless. Franz arranged to meet her the next day to continue the search. The next day, Franz found a letter tucked in the tree from the doll. It said ‘Please do not mourn me. I have gone on a trip to see the world and will write to you of my adventures’. The girl was comforted and looked forward to hearing about her doll’s exciting travels in exotic locations.
For the next few days, Franz wrote letters from the doll and shared the adventures with the little girl leaving her enthralled.
Finally, Franz told the little girl that he had found her doll. The girl stared at it and said, ‘It does not look like my doll at all’. Franz smiled and handed her a letter from the doll which said, ‘My travels have changed me’. The little girl smiled and hugged the doll. It remained her faithful companion throughout her childhood.
Many years later, the grown-up girl was moving the doll on her bedroom shelf and discovered a little note sewed into the doll’s dress. It read ‘Everything that you love, you will eventually lose. But in the end, love will return in a different form’.
According to the physiologist, Tara Brach, this story tends to appeal to both young and old listeners.
It teaches us 3 important lessons.
Lesson 1– Grief and loss is ubiquitous to our human experience including children. In this story, losing a doll was painful for the little girl and she could not escape the experience.
Loss can arise due to the death of a family member, divorce, a beloved pet, children leaving home, loss of an unborn child, the end of a friendship, retirement, unemployment, confronting the limitations of our children and parents, aging and the change in our health and appearance.
Instead of feeling ashamed and isolated, we must remember that this impermanence is something we share with all other living creatures and this realisation should soften the pain.
Lesson 2– Show compassion. It would have been easy for Kafka to dismiss the child’s tears and purchase another doll. Instead, he accepted the little girl’s anguish and invested time in composing letters from the doll to ease her pain.
This gift of time and effort was a demonstration of love as he put as much effort into writing the doll’s letters as his defining classic works such as ‘The Metamorphosis ‘or ‘The Castle’. This relationship he developed with the little girl showed her he cared for her and helped heal her pain.
Lesson 3- Be open to what you lost coming back in a different form. The little girl accepted the new doll and loved it just as much as the original. Very often, we cling to the past and live with regret. We must approach life with hope and the determination to make our lives better.
Instead of blaming ourselves or others, we should accept the loss and open our hearts in order to appreciate what we lost returning in a different form.
In the case of my friend, he has just accepted a new job as a cargo pilot. Vastly different from his old position and a lot less glamorous.
However, once again, he will be doing what he really loves and soaring through the sky.