A time of losses and gains

Aug 23, 2019 | 10 comments |

One of my favourite series of books, loved in childhood and which I still return to as ‘comfort reads’ as an adult, is the Little House stories by American author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those books taught me about resilience, cheerfulness in the face of difficulties, and finding a silver lining, no matter how grey the clouds.

In the past few weeks, I’ve returned to the ‘Laura books’ on my keeper shelf and, in particular, to an axiom often uttered by the stalwart Ma Ingalls: “There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

This summer has been punctuated by a succession of losses large and small, all resulting in a profound sense of ‘absence’ from people and things I once took for granted.

As I shared in my last blog post, I’ve said goodbye to my childhood home and it now lives on only in my memory.

And from arriving at that home to discover a new neighbour had removed a shared fence and gate (the latter on my property) with no prior consultation, through to having to deal with nosy and insensitive busybodies, my soul is battered and bruised.

I’m also in the midst of a season of purging, a version of the Swedish death cleaning or decluttering your home whilst you’re still alive, a difficult process since I’m a sentimental person for whom cherished possessions serve as an anchor in an often-uncertain world.

Those physical losses—multiple recycling and charity shop donations–have been mirrored by the almost eight pounds in weight I’ve shed due to a combination of stress and a recent gastrointestinal infection.

Yet, just as losses have loomed large lately, there have been important gains as well and to adapt another Little House phrase, all may be well that ends well.

When my childhood home is sold, I’ll no longer have the considerable worry (and cost) of managing and maintaining a property at a distance.

Despite my angst at the lack of consultation, the neighbour’s fence is the latest in modern (and expensive) design and since they’re agreed to replace the gate, the realtor (estate agent) I’m working with assures me that this upgrade will showcase my property more favourably to potential buyers.

The high school friend who, despite trauma and loss in her own life, made time to see me, was an important reminder of what true friendship means and made a difficult time more bearable.

Mega decluttering is forcing me to assess which possessions mean something important to me and which don’t and only keep those that reflect who I am now—not who I was or never will be.

All the items I’ve sent to charity and recycling will help others and the planet, and the lost body weight is an excellent excuse to indulge in favourite ice cream treats a bit more frequently!

So, although many things have gone wrong in the past weeks, many more have gone right and at points of despair I got encouragement from unexpected sources just when I needed it.

When I sold seven boxes of my late mom’s canning supplies to a woman around my age who’d spotted my online ad, we chatted briefly.

She learned to can from her late mother and now each summer as she harvests garden produce to make jams, jellies, and pickles, she remembers the times she spent with her mom when they chatted about life, as well as preserve making.

As we spoke about what our mothers have meant in our lives, I was connected to both that powerful mother-daughter bond but also something integral to female experience. As women, and as the girls and women did in the Little House books, we share with each other—our losses and our gains, and our joys as well as sorrows.

Before she left, the woman, whom I know only as Christina, gave me a jar of her homemade jam. What Christina doesn’t know is that she gave me much more—time to stop, time to remember, and time to be—and that our chance conversation will have a lasting impact on my life and, by extension, writing.  

Amidst a time of great losses, her little act of kindness is perhaps one of the greatest small gains of all.










  1. Deb

    Jen, your blog made me tear up. I am in the decluttering stage too. And will soon have to deal with childhood homes and many what-to-dos. I love the part about little acts of kindness from strangers and the impact it makes. I read somewhere that every day, one should speak to a stranger. That it raises the happiness level for both the initiator and the one being spoken to. I hope the rest of your summer, going into fall, brings happier times and less stress. If not, go for more ice cream 🙂 Looks yummy!

    • Jen Gilroy

      I’m sorry my post made you ‘tear up,’ Deb, but I also very much appreciate that it touched you. Thank you for reading and leaving such a kind and caring comment. I’m also mindful of your recommendation for more ice cream! 🙂

  2. Susan

    What a brave sad adventure. What you did was very hard. Congratulations on accomplishing it, I need to think about doing some decluttering myself. I worked in a play with Allison Arngrim who played Nellie on Little House on the Prairie. W swapped books. I bought hers. She bought mine. If you ever get a chance, read “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, I highly recommend it. I read it in 2011 and I’m still talking about it and recommending it.

    • Jen Gilroy

      How lovely to ‘see’ you here on my blog, Susan. I appreciate you reading my post and commenting. Thank you for your kind words and also the book recommendation. Alison Arngrim’s book is new to me but I’ve just added it to my ‘must read’ list.

  3. Heidi Vanstone

    Although I’ve not had the same experience of packing up your family home as you have, I have had to say “good-bye” to the house and neighbourhood I grew up in. That house was sold in the early winter of 2018, and I recently drove by it, “just to see”. It was bittersweet, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that another family is now enjoying the spacious house, making dreams together, laughing and loving.
    Well done on your concerted decluttering effort; for me, it’s an ongoing effort. I’m sure the rest of my family is tired of hearing “Is it alright if we give this away?”! Remember to take time for self-care as you continue this journey of “letting go”. xoxoxo

    • Jen Gilroy

      I indeed appreciate that ‘bittersweet’ feeling, Heidi. Thanks for your caring comment and that important reminder about ‘self-care.’ *Hugs*

  4. Linda Carroll

    Jen I really feel for you. Having to go through the same thing with my parents home after losing them both last year I can identify with your feelings. I was born in the house and it was the only house my parents lived in so it held many memories. Not having to regularly trek for four hours on Friday night and back on Sunday, however, is a bonus. Staying in the house when they weren’t there didn’t feel at all right. A lovely couple have moved in and they hope to have and raise a family there which gives a positive feeling to the whole situation. The Little House books are another thing we have in common but sadly, although sentimentality is also a joint characteristic, de-cluttering is not.. It is a skill I need to work on!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Linda. I appreciate your empathy and yes, you certainly can identify with my feelings. How special that such a lovely couple now live in your childhood home and you can picture them making new family memories there. Sending you all the hugs, as well as good wishes for your own de-cluttering! It’s not a skill that is intrinsic to me so I too am working on it! 🙂

  5. Susanna Bavin

    Jen, what an emotional rollercoaster. So much to cope with – both the physical labour involved and the emotional cost. Saying goodbye to a childhood home is always hard, but to be the person who has to do the actual packing up and sorting out of possessions makes it tough in the extreme. I am glad you are able to look on the outcome in a positive way, as items are passed onto others through recycling and charity. As you discovered through your interaction with Christina, it is the “small gains” that can mean so much.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you, Susanna. An ’emotional rollercoaster’ is an apt description for what I went through and indeed to some extent am still experiencing. My unexpected interaction with Christina was so important and also helped me look at things more positively at a time when I was feeling low. I appreciate your kind words and understanding. xx


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