Who can measure loss? It is not a number. How many children did you lose…how many people in your family were killed by the wave that day? Is the death of one beloved child less quantifiable a loss than that of a mother who has lost three? Its surely not a comfort to the parent of the one to know that ‘you didn’t lose three’. Or to hear that at least both your parents didn’t die, just one. That certainly gives no solace to 'T' who was separated from her mother and swept out to sea. And then clung to a floating log and was saved. And then woke to see her dead mother being carried past in a sheet.
No. Loss is not a number. Its an ache. A physical pain. A longing. That cannot be appeased. Its why 'M' carries the clothes of his dead children in a bag around his waist. Everywhere he goes. The clothes Maryanne was wearing when her little body was found. The outfit baby Aliki was wearing the day before the tsunami. Carefully washed and folded.
Its why 'L' spent Christmas crying. Remembering last year when she gave her dad a ham. His favourite. And chocolates to her mother. And they chuckled about having to share their treats.
Loss is not just about the dead. Its about mourning the peace we will never feel again. Will Junior L ever again be able to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean breaking against the reef? Yes Oselani will go fishing again. But will he ever rid himself of the dread? The slight edge of panic if the wind whips up a few stormy waves? Will fathers ever stop punishing themselves, wondering – if only I had held him a little tighter, if only I had run a little faster – would my child be with me today?
Loss can do funny things to us. Will we now hug our children closer before they leave for school. Because we are mindful of other children. Whos mothers sent them to school and they didn’t come back? Will we pause before chastising an unruly student? Because we remember that one little boy, the incredibly naughty one, who wore us weary with his antics – who could not outrun the wave on his way to school? Will we practice a little more patience. With an aged parent. A demanding elder. A bossy mother in law. Because so many others wish they could have those days those moments back. When they had something to complain about with their elders.
Loss bites. It’s a hard thing. Loss gives. But its oh so painful to receive.