November will mark a year. Frankly, I’m dreading it. If you don’t know my story, in the last 11 months, I have lost my sister, a parent, and my two best friends (my Grandma and my dog of 14 years). Broken hearted does not even seem to be appropriate: shattered. But I am slowly but surely finding my way. Recently I have reflected over things I would want to share with someone starting their own journey with loss and tragedy. If my experience encourages or helps one person, it’s worth sharing.
1. Start each day with a gratitude list. It seems counter intuitive as you experience loss or navigate tragedy, but yet it is a daily practice that will help you get out of bed. It is so important to inventory and recognize the good still in your life when all you feel is bad. It may start very basic:
Tooth brush ✔️
Fresh water ✔️
But practicing gratitude will help foster a mindset that will keep you out of the depths.
2. Let people help you. Not only for your sake but also for theirs. Most people want to help. Do you both a favor and let them. Maybe at the beginning it’s basic- making meals, funeral arrangements, feeding your dogs, picking up dry cleaning…then later on maybe it’s the friend you call for a 30 minute meltdown. This journey is so much more bearable when you accept and appreciate the kindness others want to extend.
3. Although, it’s important to accept the help of others, go ahead and recognize that nobody can fix this. Grief is a lonely journey. Nobody experiences it the same. Even those experiencing the same losses won’t experience it the same. That’s what makes it so lonely. Nobody can take your pain away-a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, a boyfriend- they cannot make it all better even though they would like to. This is a walk with you and God. There will be people cheering for you, but they cannot take the steps for you. This is YOUR journey. As soon as you come to ownership of that, it almost helps you to stay the course.
4. On the topic of journey… stay away from “comparisons”. Life is not fair. I’m not a real big believer in good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people (read the book of Job). Tragedy does not discriminate . The “why me” question is really just a sure ticket to the depths. Some will seem to have easier journeys and others will seem to have harder ones, frankly it doesn’t matter- because that’s their journey, not yours. Stay focused on your course. It’s going to trip you up more to be looking at others paths than focusing on your own. We frankly won’t get answers to some of your questions this side of Heaven.
5. This is strange but it was helpful: I studied stories of human resiliency. I spent a lot of time reading or watching documentaries of the Holocaust, child soldiers in Sierra Leone and ALS patients. It is amazing what the human spirit can witness and endure, yet overcome. It kept things in perspective for me. It also reinforced that although I had no control over my circumstances, I did have control over my attitude. So much of how this would play out in effecting the rest of my life depends upon my attitude. When you feel helpless because of your situation, you are not. You have a choice on how to play the cards you’re dealt.
6. This one is tough, but a reality: People will judge you . They will talk about you behind your back. Criticize how you are (or not) moving forward. Minimize it. Yes that’s actually a thing that happens when people are on very painful journeys. They don’t get it!!! Or at least the entirety of it. Because if they did (God forbid) they would be cheering not criticizing. So move on. Let them have their thoughts and opinions. It reflects more on their character than yours. You only have so much energy and time for maintaining relationships- invest in those that have deeper empathy for what your going through.
7. But on the above point. It’s not a free for all for destructive behaviors and hurting others. You don’t just get to become a P.O.S. because your life got hard. Destructive behaviors will only delay the healing process and will drive away those that genuinely want to help. And trust me, you will need help. Don’t push those people away. You cannot control the circumstances that left you devastated , but you still have absolute control on how you act, speak and choose to move forward
8. Do things that feed you soul. For me it was spending time with my animals. I appreciated the fact they kept their expectations real low and provided a consistency to my life. I also very much enjoyed manual labor tasks: working in the yard, painting fence, little crafting projects. It would take my mind off things and give me a sense of accomplishment once I was done.
9. Set a goal. Run a 5k. Win a barrel race. Learn a new skill. SOMETHING to work towards that gets you out of bed when all you really want to do is to stay in it and hide out. Tomorrow’s can be hard, so find something to keep you going and looking forward to.
10. Lastly but most importantly: find purpose to your pain. I believe our purpose is closely tied to our experiences. How can you help others that might be in a similar situation? The easiest way to feel good: DO GOOD.