On “Missing”

What is missing?

Before bedtime my four year old and I sit and talk about the existential aspects of this life, a little light-hearted habit we’ve developed. She asks about love, about sadness and happiness. She asks about death. I pretend she is a tourist here, studying me and gathering information to bring back to her home planet.

“Love is when you’re in a thunderstorm and you think it’s beautiful.”

She came up with that one on her own one night.

“When you’re dead you can’t breath and you never wake up.”

“When you’re happy you want to run and smile.”

Her people will be pleased with her assessment of this human life. Still, she asked me to define ‘missing’ and I was at a loss. Suddenly I came to believe that defining ‘missing’ was more complicated than the simple thunderstorm definition of love, more involved than dancing joy and more final than breathless death.

Missing is the most tangled of human experiences. It means love. It means sadness. It means some tumultuous inner conversation regarding ourselves and our realities. It means the utter haunting of connection. It’s longing. It’s remorseful memories and regretful thoughts. It’s reminiscence.

Missing, is all of it.

I tie missing with love as I tie my ability to love and be loved with my capacity to miss and be missed. They are the same. For what is adoration without longing? And this is not merely a function of romantic ideals. Missing in death and missing in distance are part of it too. It’s the simple act of wishing someone or even some thing, were as it was before.

Last week I completed 3.5 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer. It was easy, I felt. I was tired in the afternoons. I was anxious, but for the most part, I made every attempt to host the front of a person who tackled it in jest and strength.

I returned to normal life quickly. I worked. I took on everything I could at home and I made resolutions. I would do better after all this. I filled my calendar, professionally and socially, and went about life as I waited for the follow up appointment in which we would learn my prognosis. It was no big deal, and I handled it.

Then, one day, I was in the car alone, driving to visit a friend. Suddenly, out of nowhere really, it occurred to me that I had just finished treatment for cancer. For the first time since I was diagnosed, I cried. Sure, I had moments before then, but each time my tears were displaced. I cried because I felt like a burden to my family and friends. I cried because, to me, the worst part of being in treatment was not being able to be there for people I loved.

This was different. These were tears of exhaustion and release. It felt like a near miss. It felt like driving and swerving to avoid another car but nearly going over a bridge. It was adrenaline and relief. A near miss.

I laughed at myself. How could I cry now, when it’s all over?

I realized it was the fear of “missing.”

We live with ghosts, the palest reflections of the palest versions of ourselves, walking through walls, haunting memories of the things we can’t let go. Missing is remembering. How we long is an interpretation of our own worth in this world. To miss. To be missed. All else is just a derivative. Love. Death. Happiness. Familiarity. All of it is really missing.

How do I explain this to the four year old child who believes that love is a thunderstorm? I gave her a few ideas:

Missing is when you want to be near someone, and you cannot. Missing is wishing they were close to you.

Missing is when you had something, but then you lost it.

Missing is when you are not complete.

Missing is when you are lost.

Missing is when you hear a thunderstorm and you think it’s beautiful, and you want to hear it again, over and over.

Missing is when something makes you so happy, and you worry it will end.

I sat and explained. She sat and she listened. With soft eyes she looked up at me and said “I’ll miss you when you go.”

A hand on my heart.

“I’ll miss you too.”

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Sara Dorner is a labor representative and community activist living and working in her hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Her two young children keep her busy and make life fun!

46 thoughts on “On “Missing””

  1. I <3 you, Sara.
    Sweet and strong warrior writing about Beauty, Soul, Body, Illness, Death…with such a gentle touch.
    I wish I could sit – I actually sit all the time on my wheelchair… – in front of you and talk just about truth.
    Missing you.

  2. For me it would be Lying. To tell a kid that Lying is “Something you say that you don’t mean to or need to, but say it anyways”.
    And then when you say, “I love you”.
    The kid says back,” Yeah me too”.

    And you realise the little twerp has learned to lie and what’s worse is that you taught him.

  3. Sara, you’ve tackled a difficult topic with grace. The framing device of your daughter is an effective technique to set the stage and your frank, open prose invites us into these most intimate spaces. I’d love to hear more of your 4 year old’s poetic analogies.

  4. “I pretend she is a tourist here, studying me and gathering information to bring back to her home planet.”
    …this line REALLY touched me.

    “Missing is when you hear a thunderstorm and you think it’s beautiful, and you want to hear it again, over and over.”
    …an achingly good tieback to what you had mentioned earlier, and to the main point.

    beautifully written. it hit me where it counts.

  5. Beautiful words… and keep up the casual talks with your daughter. Throughout the years it becomes the most important part of the day when, in the evening, you chat about everything and nothing and because you’ve always been open to discussing these difficult feelings, she will always open up to you later on in case of distress. We had the discussion about death a lot when my daughter was 4, as we lost a lot of close family all at the same time and she said one night, crying:” but I don’t want to be an angel one day!” At that age, she suffered much more than we realized, and we had to manage this feeling of loss, of missing, many years later, out of the blue. Talking and being open is everything.
    All the best of positive and strong vibes to you and your family 🙂

  6. I’m sorry I don’t know you. I wish I did. I’d love to sit and talk with you for hours. Reading you is almost as good. I’ll be praying healing prayers for you and complete recovery. God Bless.

  7. That was truly, truly beautiful! It’s been a while since I’ve read something that made me tear up. I loved how you described your daughter as an alien, I’ve never thought of children that way.

  8. Amazing way of explaining your pain through your journey. It’s amazing how such a simple word can have so much emotion attached to it. You inspire me to keep going with my own battle and I wish you luck on yours.

  9. Something that is not there, something that is the absence of something, is difficult to explain, and difficult to comprehend. Missing is the feeling we get from the projection of something that was onto the future. The most painful thing about missing, is not what concerns the present, but the knowledge that such absence will be prolonged in time, even for a limited amount of time. It’s what gives me the greatest anguish when thinking about the possibility of my death: the weight of it on my wife and my daughter.
    Thank you for your beautiful thoughts, and the beautiful description of your experience!

  10. You seriously hit the nail on the head with this one. You’ve given a name to that nameless, inexplicable ache we all feel at some point. I love it.

  11. Really like this post…. there’s someone I am missing a lot too…. and he’s gone. I can only see him whenever the moon turns big and full…. amazing and wonderful explanation. I have a 5 year old too and I find it hard to explain to her about what happen to her Grandfather Too…

  12. Your words describing your feelings u gng through.. your words touched my heart.. it’s something very deep.. ‘MISSING’ how beautifully you have said about it.. I hope u your cancer disappear. 👍

  13. I just found your blog in this big giant internet world and I am so glad that I did. For just a moment I felt like I was sitting quietly, looking in a window and watching as you shared these moments of your life. Thank you.
    It makes my heart happy to have found your story and congratulations on finishing radiation. You are strong and bold and I can’t wait to read more.

  14. nice take. if i might add-missing is knowing it (whatever/whoever) is still there, as alive and as strong as eagle wings, yet and with a some maddening touch of reality being dragged away from the romanticism of believing it’s still there. its knowing everyone has moved away from it. its being left behind by everything and everyone yet believing there’s no other place you can or want to be.

  15. It indeed is very touchy. The way a simple word ‘missing’ seemed so complicated to be explained to a small kid but how simply the child understood it. May u live longer!!

  16. Wow! This is so inspirational and your daughter is absolutely gorgeous. Your posts have made me definitely pursue my career goal of being a cancer researcher after I finish high school! You are amazing and incredible xx

  17. What you said was felt right to my heart … life is changing her for me my kids are growing grownup I’m changing and oh my you hit missing is what I feel everyday with every definition of what you wrote .hugs to you and you being well . You seem to me like such s beautiful person and keep that bed time ritual with your daughter no matter how old she gets it’s beautiful!

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