The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
So many things seem filled with the intent
To be lost that their loss is no disaster.”
~Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”
For my husband’s funeral, held in New York City in June 2007, I had an actor friend, Blair Brown, read Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”
Blair noted that I had selected this poem and that I had “impeccable literary taste.”
A woman asked me later if my maiden name was Bishop, thinking I had written the poem. But she lives in Connecticut, where I was living then, and the women have no time for poetry, what with driving their children to and fro, fro and to, in their Suburbans.
My snarkier side thought, “This is why we never should have left New York City. I have zero in common with anyone in Connecticut.”
This same woman asked me in 2005, when Gregory, eleven-year-old Lili, and I were headed to Rome for February break, while most families were off to the Caribbean to work on their tans, why we chose Rome.
“Since we left New York,” I explained, “I like to go to cities for our vacations. You know, the shot of culture. Plus, I hate the beach.”
“Rome is a city?” was her response.
This is a true story.
It is also true that I hate the beach, even more since Gregory died at the age of fifty-six from melanoma. He grew up in Rhode Island and was of Swedish heritage and had pale skin and blue eyes. He spent his childhood on the beach and his adulthood on the golf course.
Five years later, the Connecticut women continue to work on their tans, in the Caribbean in the winter and Nantucket (where else?) in the summer.
I look at them, amazed.
Don’t they get it? Didn’t they watch Gregory die a horrible death from skin cancer? Yes, skin cancer kills.
But I digress.
My daughter has just gone to college, leaving me alone, a widow and now an empty nester. Being a widow is hard enough, but add to that, no child to care for, and I am lost. I return to Elizabeth Bishop often. Her command to “lose something every day,” resonates. Since losing Gregory, losing other things – objects – means nothing. I have mastered the art of losing. When Lili lost her cellphone, I said, “Don’t worry. These things happen. Cellphones seem programmed to be lost. We can get another.” I am not rich. I cannot afford to buy cellphone after cellphone, and I don’t want my only child to be careless. I explain that there are losses that don’t really matter at all, given all we have lost.
Soon after Gregory’s death, I sold the house he designed, unable to live there without him. Lili grieves for the loss of the house her architect father built — just for her, he’d say. But we survived. It did not bring disaster. We bought a smaller house, a bungalow from the 1930s, close to friends.
I have practiced “losing farther, losing faster” and have become quite good at it. Since Gregory’s death, many of the couple friends we were close to disappeared from my life. I was upset, but then it came to me that they couldn’t face being with me without Gregory, especially the men who were his partners at an architecture firm based in New York City. Too many reminders. I miss these friends, but it’s not a disaster.
But now, with Lili gone, I cannot remain in the bungalow we shared. I will spend more time in the studio apartment in New York City I bought last year, returning to my favorite place on earth – the Upper West Side, where I lived from 1982 to 2002. I cannot bear the emptiness of the house, the utter silence, with Lili gone; I have not really mastered the art of losing. “Write it!” Elizabeth Bishop commands. But I cannot.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Elizabeth Titus has been a journalist, English teacher, advertising executive, communications director (15 years at American Express, and writer. She is studying at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute and has appeared in Msmagazine.com, MORE.com, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Skidmore Scope, and IthacaLit and will soon appear in Narrative, The Feathered Flounder, and Talking Writing.