About Cardinal Loss

What is a Cardinal Loss?

Cardinal QuestionsUnfortunately, we all know what loss is. Be it a job, a friend, a lover, or a treasured object, loss is a universal human experience. In one form or another, loss is something we have all encountered. What distinguishes a Cardinal Loss from an ordinary loss is the significance of the loss. If we lose our watch or piece of jewelry, we may be upset, but things can always be replaced. Even if we lose our car or our home, it's still conceivable that we can get a new one. Perhaps even bigger and better than the one we lost.

Cardinal however, pertains to something that is primary in our life. Cardinal refers to the highest most important thing in our lives, and the most important, cardinal element in life is life itself. Without life, even the consideration of loss would not exist for us. A Cardinal Loss is the loss of a life, and human life is something that cannot be restored or replaced.

One of my late husband’s favorite antidotes was, “Whether something is major or minor, depends on, who it’s happening to. If someone else breaks their leg, it’s minor, but if I break mine, well now, that’s major.” That used to make me smile, and it was true for a lot of situations. When it comes to a Cardinal Loss however, this antidote may not be entirely true.

I am aware now that the major-ness involved in the Cardinal Experience is a shared one. When it comes to those we love, our lives are intertwined. We are connected in love, history, blood and countless other ways that we may not even be aware of, until we experience their loss.

Several years ago my husband, Jack and I went for an annual checkup at the doctor’s office. Following the examination, the doctor strongly advised him to have some tests done on his heart. After a heated verbal exchange between the two of them, Jack began buttoning his shirt and told doctor that there was no sense worrying about it. When his time was up, he would be gone and no damned test was going to change that.

“That’s fine!” The doctor slammed the file down on the desk. “So everyone will remember Jack, a real man's man, the kind of guy who’s not afraid to die.” Then he suddenly turned around and pointed at me, “and, what about your wife? What is she going to if you die?”

Jack did not look at me. He just continued buttoning his shirt, “Hard to say Doc.” He looked up at the doctor. “When it happens, I’ll be gone. And, she'll still be here, so I’m not going to worry about it.” As you can imagine, I was furious with him the whole ride home. Why would he not listen to the doctor’s advice and how could he not care about what would happen to me if something happened to him?

To my dismay, Jack did not understand in the least why I was angry. Why should he worry about leaving me behind? After all, he was the one who would be dead, and since I would still be alive, why should he worry? And, what did I have to worry about if he died anyway? I should know that he lived a full life, he had no regrets and heaven was a great place. What was my problem?

Jack never did take the heart test, and I guess he did know his own heart. His heart was one organ that remained miraculously strong throughout it all. And, although I may never completely understand his comments that day, I do understand a little more about what he was trying to say, even if it wasn’t totally correct.

When a cardinal loss occurs to someone close to us, there seems to be little distinction between the major and minor-ness of the event. Death is a cardinal event and regardless of whether it is theirs or ours, everyone connected shares in the cardinality of the loss.

The extent of that connection of course determines the depth of our individual experience. How close we are to the person, how much they were involved in our lives and how much we love them are all factors that determine how deeply this life altering experience touches us.

When Jack died, “the touch” felt more like a thousand pound weight being dropped into the center of my chest. The feeling of loss is still ever present in my life and I continue to have my dense moments. I still shed tears, experience heart palpitations and sleepless nights. Strangely, while the heaviness of that touch has definitely lightened, the depth of that very same touch continues to increase daily. So, how can the constant deepening of this experience possibly be helpful?

When we experience a cardinal loss, it opens the opportunity for a cardinal gain. Fortunately, the cardinal gain is directly proportionate to the cardinal loss. It may be hard to conceive of, especially in times of loss, but the very depth of our pain may well be the very measure of the heights of our gain.

 

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