• Shana Ritter

Loss and Light

Tomorrow is my oldest brother’s birthday. It will be the first he is not here to celebrate with us. He died in May, sinking under the weight of Alzheimer’s. He left us with our own buoyant memories of him, as well as the immeasurable space of his absence.

Space doesn’t fill back up I’ve found. Porous beings that we are, we carry the holes around with us. They momentarily fill; with the sighs we exhale, with glances of light, with memory’s shadow, but more often than not it is a space that maintains it own solitary nature; loss.

As time passes we choose to fill that absence with stone or light. Loss, and its companion grief, are often portrayed as weights, stones we hoist and carry with us. But I think of that loss we carry as the intermingling of the light and shadow we inhabit. Or maybe it’s the shadow and light that inhabit us.

When I walk in the summer woods around my home I’m struck by the play of sunlight and dark. It’s another dimension deep in under the trees, alternating layers of light and shadow, ground and air, birdsong and silence. Dappled light shifts with the breeze, the hour, the tilt of my head. It all changes moment by moment. This is the passage of loss, the geography of grief. A landscape that maps itself.

Over a year ago I wrote that Alzheimer’s had taken my brother from a geography of Northwestern city streets with a background of mountains and sea, to a geography that was unmappable, unchartered, the very ground full of sudden shifts. Like the karst landscape where I live, his surroundings became a place where sinkholes unexpectedly appeared revealing caverns. Eventually those sinkholes, his landscape of changing ground without the guideposts of memory’s familiar signs swallowed him.

I miss him. I miss our phone conversation, I miss our visits, I miss knowing he is there, My brother was a solid path for me and now that path is gone. In its place the loss of him shifts my world with shadow and fills it again with light. I am more sharply aware of the beauty around me. Thinking of gravity, thinking of flight I take measure of the ground.

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