My mother has lost her rings. Against the advice of her six children, she’d developed the habit of wrapping her precious rings in a tissue and hiding the wadded up bundle in a wooden box in her drawer. There were problems with this practice, the most obvious being that her jewelry resembled trash. She also often couldn’t remember where she’d stashed her treasure when she thought she’d put it in the special box, but really hadn’t.
My mother lives in an assisted living facility, and we suspect that her valuables were mistaken for used Kleenex by the housekeeping crew. Unfortunately, my mother kept this loss from us for an unknown number of days, so we couldn’t even go through the trash, as many a parent has done when something important like a child’s retainer has gone into the garbage. Several of us have now searched her room thoroughly: literally, every inch. We hoped in vain that she had simply secured her rings in an exceptionally weird place. More likely, we surmise that she got distracted after disguising them and left the tissue, along with others full of the secretions tissues usually hold, on the counter. She can’t remember any details. We will never know what really happened. We filed a police report, in case of theft. We notified the establishment’s top brass, and checked with the front desk’s lost-and-found, in case the rings do turn up. I actually dreamt that I found them, dangling from a long chain like a hypnotist’s pendulum. At this point, I can only hope that a penniless scavenger finds the rings at the dump, goes to college, and discovers a cure for cancer. I don’t like to think, as a realistic friend opined, that those diamonds would buy a lot of meth.
In retrospect, we should have taken our mother’s rings for safekeeping. It’s just that she’s lost so much in the past few years: a husband, a home, her mobility, and much of her mental acuity, all of which contributed to her identity. Even incapacitated, she loved her rings and enjoyed wearing them, her diamond engagement ring, her wedding band, her eternity ring, all gifts from my dad, all with as much sentimental value as monetary worth. Who were we to take that joy away from her? Now we wish we had. My sister has since stored the rest of our mother’s jewelry in a safe place. The rings, however, are presumed forever lost.
Life is often about loss. We lose things and jobs and homes. We lose loved ones. We lose our perspective. We lose opportunities. We lose hope. We lose our health, our memory, our independence. Losses often measure time for us, ending chapters just as new ones begin. The way we deal with loss, and whether or not we overcome it, colors the quality of our lives and the growth of our spirit.
Natural loss and accidental loss are hard enough on us, but sometimes we must deal with forcible loss, such as when we are victims of theft. My daughter was robbed at gunpoint several years ago. The thieves took her purse, which contained her wallet, phone, and car keys. A cyclist recovered her purse and most of its contents the next morning. But it turned out that she lost far more than cash and credit cards that night: She lost a bit of her self-confidence and her sunny disposition, and a lot of her faith in her fellow humans. For a while, she lost her trust in the basic goodness of others. After this loss, she needed to heal. When our things are stolen from us, we lose a lot more than the things.
But if life is about loss, it is also about its opposite: it’s about discovery. Recall that the amazing experience of grace is about how, to quote the song, “I once was lost, but now am found.” Sometimes we must lose something in order to find something else, something ultimately of more value. In loss we sometimes find what truly matters. I don’t know what my mother might find as a result of losing so many of the things that used to define her: jewelry, social standing, a beautiful home, a quick wit, an enviable life. As my siblings and I watch our mother struggle with the simplest of tasks, and grow forgetful, and need assistance with the messiness of daily life, we may find a tenderness and a compassion for the woman who once mothered us, and whom we must now mother. Awash in the loss, we may find grace.