The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

23 May 2017

Of loss and the uncertainty of knowing

I lost someone last week.

‘Lost.’We use such euphemisms in an attempt to sanitize the reality of death, and as a buffer from the pain of absence.

But ‘lost’ is a good word to use when a person dies because it happens to be true. The loved ones, the survivors, the ones left behind feel lost in the wake of death. The emptiness that remains feels like loss, an absence, like phantom limb pain. I still feel the gap where my dad belongs in my life, and missing him is definitely loss.

There is also the loss of all that a person was, in life: their creativity, their being, their giving, their presence in other people’s lives, how they impact the world around them in simple ways or profound. If any of you think you are insignificant and inconsequential, just think about how many lives you touch just by being. I promise you, the loss of you would be felt.

The person I lost wasn’t a family member, a friend, or a work colleague, and yet I am left grappling with what his death means to me. He has been in my life for over twenty years, part of the soundtrack of my days since college, a frequent companion during road trips, the beautiful voice piped through speakers and headphones. He wrote lyrics that spoke of pain, anger, searching, love, redemption, and plain old fun. Poets have a way of taking up a place in the heart, speaking your truth in a way you couldn’t with your own words. Poetry set to rock music is no less powerful, or personal.

I didn’t know him beyond what he shared with us through his music. I’m not devastated as at the death of a friend. What I am is very very sad at the loss of creative talent. I am aware of a new gap where he used to be, a definite absence of something, someone, I liked very much. There will be no new songs, no anticipated albums, no surprising new collaborations, no happy discoveries of concert clips, no further interview discussions of life and music. I am so very sad for his children, his wife, bandmates, and friends. I am sorry for the loss they will now carry through the rest of their lives.

Chris Cornell might be a name you know now because you’ve heard the news of his death and all the speculation as to the cause. It was probably suicide. That is a jarring, shocking word, isn’t it? It may have been suicide resulting from the horrifying side effects of an anti-anxiety medication. That is jarring and shocking, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the days since the news came out: to what extent is a person responsible for their actions when there are extenuating circumstances such as faulty brain chemistry or misfiring medication? Do we believe that a person always, no matter what, is able to make a free choice? Do we think that is true even if a person is in the grip of deep depression, severe anxiety, delusion, or paranoia? Is our understanding of the brain and all its complexity comprehensive enough to know that with certainty?

If it is true, if Chris took his own life because in a lucid moment he truly believed death was his only option - perhaps even planning it over a period of time - it is tragic. It is tragic because if he had been able to wait until the morning, spoken with his kids, had an uplifting interaction with a random stranger in the hotel elevator, or written the beginnings of a promising new song, he might have decided to carry on for one more day, then one more after that. And if it is true that the workings of his brain in that moment made it impossible for him to think clearly about the consequences of what he was about to do, how utterly horrifying to think of a life extinguished like that.

I don’t know which scenario is true. I do know that I’m at a loss as to how to think of this beyond “It’s so sad.  I am so sad.”

I lost someone, and I’m so sad.

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