Last week brought terror and heartache to people across our country, but our collective pain and grief are only a shadow of the pain and grief felt by victims whose lives were directly touched by the tragedies in Boston, MA and West, TX. My heart aches for each of these people and their families … for the way their lives have been forever changed and for the unbelievable pain they face over the next weeks, months, and years as they work through their grief and learn to accept (and adjust to) the changes inflicted on their lives because of their losses. When tragedy and grief devastate you, what do you do?
Archive for the ‘Response to tragedy’ Category
I doubt that anyone would argue with the statement, “Life is an ever-changing, developing story.” Stuff happens to us all the time. We find ourselves in different situations, sometimes unexpected. We meet new people. We go places, and we try new things.
Everything factors into the way we see ourselves and the world around us. We hardly notice certain things while others produce life-altering effects. That’s what I’m talking about here — the life-altering effects — and whatever creates them! So the question is: “What defines your life?”
As I lay in bed last night, trying to go to sleep, a line from John Donne’s famous poem kept racing across my mind: “No man is an island.” His words of so long ago are surely as true today as when he wrote them.
I kept thinking about the tragedy last week in Newtown, CT, especially since just a few of days ago marked the first day of funerals for those who were gunned down. I couldn’t get those families out of my mind … nor the words of the poem.
You’ve just been overwhelmed by a major loss. You feel powerless. You’re in agonizing pain. You don’t know what to do or think. And I’m urging you to choose to grieve. What do I mean?
At first, your pain will spread to nearly everything you see, think, and feel. Your thinking will likely be impaired and unfocused, and your concentration reduced. You won’t be in a position to consider and make logical decisions right away. However, don’t be overly concerned. This fuzzy state of mind will improve.
Your initial state of shock and disbelief is your body’s way of protecting you. Your loss is too difficult to absorb all at once, so your body and mind seem to enter into an ‘autopilot’ state. You’re able to function in a basic way, but at the same time, your body protects you from grasping all that is happening within and around you. Reality will hit soon enough.
Each of us can probably point to certain defining moments in our lives when something happened that changed our course or direction. Maybe it’s an ‘Aha’ moment when suddenly we understood a concept that changed everything for us. Perhaps it’s an achievement such as finally earning an advanced degree, winning a race, or reaching an important personal goal. Positive events such as these can be pivotal in moving us ahead, in charting a new path, or by propelling us to a higher level. Such events may also work to redefine who we are and who we can be as a consequence of our experience.
On the other hand, painful events carry the potential to define our lives, too, and the result can either be positive or negative.
When circumstances and incidents take place that are outside of your control, do you sometimes feel as though you’re a pawn? Do you feel helpless? The truth is that loss is often beyond your control—and grief and loss bring choices—however, you are not powerless.
When grief entered my life, I was so naïve. I had no idea what to expect, and I surely didn’t realize I had choices (or responsibilities) for anything related to the grief that confused and overwhelmed me. However, as time went on, I came to understand that I did have choices to make—and these decisions carried the potential to drive me in completely opposite directions that would affect my future and my outlook on life.
Whether your loss is the death of someone or the end of a relationship, loss of health or mobility, loss of your home or job, loss of your business or your assets, loss of security, or any meaningful loss, you will experience change. How you respond to the change (and this will likely be many kinds of changes)—will determine your future. How you respond sets your course in a positive or harmful way.
Attitude is one of the most powerful tools in your life, possibly the most important one. Your attitude determines how you ‘see’ what happened to you, and it will be a key element in how you respond.
Much, if not most, of what happens in your life is outside of your control. So how will you respond to the majority of events, conditions, and circumstances you face?
Think about it. Life is about learning. When we don’t get it right the first time, we usually get another chance to learn the lesson—and we keep going back to square one until we ‘get it.’
Fourteen years ago, I questioned whether I would ever feel like smiling again—and whether I’d be happy in the future. But now I know it’s true—and not just for me, but for so many others who have been through the pain of grief. If you’re wondering the same thing, I want to reassure you that happiness is not only possible, but likely to happen for you, if that’s the choice you make after loss.
A wonderful friend from a past grief support group, who lost his wife several years ago, suggested that I share my story to encourage others who are disheartened and now facing loss. Regardless of where you are at this moment, know that you are not alone, and many of us have been in the same place—struggling with negative feelings, fears, and uncertainties.
My story of loss happened suddenly, without any warning. I thought everything was just fine. My husband took off on a mountain bike ride—something he frequently did—except this time, he never came home. The instant he died, my entire life changed. I had trouble envisioning any kind of future for myself back then.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about something since March 2, the day that spelled devastation for so many people in Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama. Life can change in an instant. I doubt that anyone who was affected by the deadly tornadoes woke up that Friday morning thinking they (or someone they love) would be hurt, or die, or lose their home later that day—and it would all take place within a matter of seconds.
We just go about living our lives each day. We can’t constantly be thinking about what may happen, or worrying needlessly, because that’s no way to live a happy, fulfilling, and trusting life. At the same time, when tragedy strikes, we are jolted into the reality that much of what happens to us is beyond our control. Terrible, unexplainable things occur every day—and individual lives are affected and changed—sometimes forever.
I’m not writing this message from a distance. The subject hits very close to my heart.