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“Forget what hurt you in the past, but never forget what it taught you.”
~Shannon L. Alder
I remember years ago, sitting on our front porch with my father where he would sit in the afternoons contemplating life. He was a very opinionated, philosophical man. And by the time he had his second Jack & sprite, he had solved all of the world issues. I absolutely loved these moments with him and miss them so deeply…
This one particular afternoon he told me the story of his life growing up in Otisville, New York. It was a heartbreaking story about being the son of a war veteran who came home a very different man. My father never felt good enough. Then as if that weren’t enough, he was taken to live with an Aunt he felt didn’t want him after his mother died during childbirth. He was devastated. Even as an old man, the sorrow on his face as he spoke said more than his words. Its true the life scars we bear are never far from the surface and for him that day, the pain was still very real even after all the years that had since passed. As he spoke I could tell he was still there, forever trapped in time, reliving every moment. Then suddenly, as if catching himself before falling too deep, he stopped and smiled. He looked at me with a very serious tone and said, “Michele my dear, I’m afraid no one in the world gets out without getting battered and bruised. Remember, no one leaves without a little tragedy sprinkled in there to add flavor to their story. Tragedy doesn’t make you special. Survival! That’s what makes you special.” And with another healthy swig of his Jack and sprite, that was that. Lesson learned.
But my dad was right. In so many ways, life is like a theatrical play. A series of Acts that ebb and flow always weaving our days together in meaningful ways we could have never predicted. Some Acts are full of prosperity, good luck, happiness, laughter… the golden touch. And some Acts are not. While we dread the “full circle” approach to life, the “what goes up must come down” philosophy, it appears that it is in these particular Acts or chapters that we are truly defined.
In the Acts filled with sorrow, loss, illness, disappointment, loneliness or depression we are brought to our knees. We are stilled. We are quiet and introspective. We re-examine our lives. We get back to our core being. We pray.
Ironically, it is during these harsh times that we grow the most. Spiritually. In depth. With empathy and strength. And when we are stilled we tend to listen more and speak less. Yes, despair leaves us feeling death-like but in this weariness, it also forces us to be stagnant, un-moving and dare I say, in some ways even calm?
It is true… we all have a story. What is yours?
The list of potential devastating blows that life can deliver is never ending. However, each scenario can be summed up as a death of some sort. The death of a loved one? The death of a dream? The death of a relationship?
Here are some things to consider when life hurts:
- No two stories can be compared. We all walk a different path. All tragedies matter whether the unthinkable death of a child or the death of a dream. Devastation is devastation. So don’t ever downplay your story in light of another. Life is hard enough without feeling guilty for your suffering when you don’t feel your tragedy is as bad as someone else’s. If it feels like sorrow, then it is sorrow. Denying your pain will only set you back with the healing process.
- Don’t rush yourself to “get over it.” When you’ve hit your personal rock bottom of emotions you need to be the captain of your own ship. Sometimes, we have well-meaning people around us, who are genuinely trying to help us but want us to be back to normal before we are ready. It is so important to grieve when we have been sincerely disappointed in life. You decide how long it’s going to take to emerge into the sunlight again. Embracing this self-nurturing notion returns the power back to you.
- Accepting a “new normal”. The hardest part about “death” and disappointment is how to start over and accept a new “normal”. Change is always hard but contemplating an unexpected, new way of life is even more difficult. It requires fierce determination and a sincere desire to survive the storm. Start with baby steps back into reality. Make it a point to do one thing positive toward your “new normal” everyday. It can be calling a friend for lunch to get you out of the house. It can be signing up for an art class, something you would have never done alone before. Don’t be afraid to do things new or by yourself. This is a new beginning. Embrace the possibilities of new hobbies and people.
- The Replacement of your loss. This sounds harsh by it’s very nature. How could you ever replace the loss of a loved one? Your body will never be the same after the illness, how do you replace that? The dream had been something you’ve pursued your whole life, how do you replace that? Your relationship was everything you ever dreamed of, how could you possibly replace that person? Let’s start with the bitter truth. These situations will never again be duplicated in your life. The people you’ve lost, the particular dream you had, the relationship that’s over, the body you once had….Those chapters are now complete. The question at this point must be: What now? What’s next? How can I fill my well with something else, perhaps something new and exciting, that will fill the void? Can you volunteer at a children’s center? Learn a new trade? Use your skills to teach and encourage someone else with the same dream you had? When you’re ready to emerge from your grief, these are the next-step questions to ask yourself. And then, as weary and battered as you might feel, force yourself to follow through. It is the act of giving back that actually inspires and empowers us to want to live again.
- Try to Be a ‘Big-Picture’ Person. Once the chaos of the storm has calmed down and you begin to see the light again, try to look at life in a “big-picture” context. By this I mean, look at your entire life not just from the vantage point of today. It is important to remind ourselves of past traumas we’ve survived. When you are able to contemplate your life as an overall, beautifully written novel, it becomes more clear that just as in past chapters of turmoil, there were other more beautiful chapters that followed. It helps to give perspective and hope that there are wonderful chapters yet to be written. Beauty for ashes… always.
- You are alone. That just sounds horrible doesn’t it? But it’s true. And unfortunately, the sooner we face that fact the better off we are. No one can fix you or your pain. Some types of pain are meant to be an individual sport. No one else can feel what you are feeling or help you feel less of it. It is a journey we all walk alone on our life paths to round out who we are meant to be. I remember when my mother died. I was beyond devastated. My husband was so kind to me. But as hard as he tried, he could never possibly understand what I was feeling at that time. She was my mother… she was my loss to bear. Ironically, the chapters that we face that are the most chaotic, horrific and emotionally catastrophic are the very chapters where we are at the peak of our “alone-ness”. Some part of life we walk alone…birth, tragedy and death. That’s one of the hard realities of our existence…
- The Gift. No one wants to belong to the “Survivors Club”. We hear cliches about “wearing our scars with pride” etc etc etc. But the truth is, we don’t want the scars, nor do we particularly cherish the painful memories that come with them. But what’s written cannot be unwritten. I suppose it’s true, “acceptance is a beautiful thing”. Some experiences we can look back over with retrospection and agree it was for the best. Other memories will forever leave a stabbing pain in our guts…a dull, pain we simply learn to accept along with our “new normal”. However, the most surprising, unexpected perk of belonging to the “Survivors Club”is… The Gift. How in the world can tragedy that turned our lives inside out, possibly be considered a gift?? It is very simple: Because you are not the same anymore. From the moment of your suffering in the chapter of your life filled with pain and sorrow, you changed. And whether you realize it or not, you have become wiser, more attuned with life, love and others. You are more empathetic because of your scars. You’re more grounded. You’re stronger. Sometimes, the very things that stress our spirits the most are the things that root us and force us into directions we would never have otherwise pursued. I am not against being proud of our cars, I’m just more for being proud of how they affected us.It’s the Gift of who we have become that we should wear as a badge of survivor-ship, not the scars themselves.
In conclusion, life is hard and no one is safe from sorrow and disappointment. But if we are able to dig deep, force ourselves forward even though we are weary and weak we can find a strength we never knew we had…And this strength can lead us into future chapters of happiness we could never have dreamed of.
In the end, it’s all we have isn’t it? Hope for a more beautiful next chapter in our carefully written novels?
I suppose if I’m honest, even as painful as some of the Acts of my life have been, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am who I am because of them. I love harder, laugh with more gusto, enjoy the beauty around me more. Somehow the sky is bluer and the grass is greener than it was before…
Maybe that was His plan all along…
Love, Hugs & God bless you!
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
~Dr. Seuss (My Mother’s favorite quote)
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