With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.
~Wayne W. Dyer
The quote above probably causes most of us a good bit of consternation. It’s a tough either/or situation. Okay, so I might be able to drag myself out of having a pity party with some situations, but treating something truly awful as a gift? I have struggled with this more than once, beginning with my father’s death when I was sixteen.
I think timing is a big factor in tragic situations, such as the unthinkable loss of a child. One must have time and space, sometimes years, to absorb such a heart-wrenching loss. And yet…we’ve all seen stories of loved ones who used the illness or death of a child or other family member to galvanize themselves into action—to start a non-profit or other campaign to help other families facing a similar illness or to reform gun control or to alert others to the dangers of drinking and driving. Choosing to take such actions certainly becomes a gift to countless others, and I think it becomes a gift to the loved ones as well, in that it allows the family members to move forward, to turn their loss into something positive and not remain stuck in the past. Continue reading
In that inevitable, excruciatingly human moment, we are offered a powerful choice. This choice is perhaps one of the most vitally important choices we will ever make, and it determines the course of our lives from that moment forward. The choice is this: Will we interpret this loss as so unjust, unfair, and devastating that we feel punished, angry, forever and fatally wounded– or, as our heart, torn apart, bleeds its anguish of sheer, wordless grief, will we somehow feel this loss as an opportunity to become more tender, more open, more passionately alive, more grateful for what remains?
~Wayne Muller, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
And because all lives are hard and difficult to understand, you acknowledge the slipperiness of those who died—they got out. You hold onto them because it can be so appalling here, until you can’t hold on anymore, because you’re not holding on to anything after a while. Either they had a Get out of Jail Free card or they became part of the bigger natural order of things. You can’t tether them to earth anymore, because the thread has grown too fine. All you can do is say, “I get it: You are somewhere else now. But little flecks of you remain, like mica in rock, which glint and say: It was all true.”
~Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
~Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.
~Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I’ve been in this place before, and I know exactly what Anne Lamott means when she says “I just had to lie in the mud…grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” There were people who wanted me to “get help”—which was code for drugs to dull the pain—and I stood and listened while people tried to tell me that I shouldn’t still be feeling what I was feeling. But I believed then, and I believe now, something that I once heard Oprah express beautifully on one of her shows, “When someone says something to you about how long you’re taking to get over a loss, just remember, it’s different for everybody—tell them it takes as long as it takes.”
I don’t discount the benefits of antidepressants in certain situations, and yes, there are people who wallow in their grief to the point that it takes over their lives and becomes who they are. However, I think we as a society have become increasingly uncomfortable with uncomfortable feelings. We want to “fix” them and make them go away, in spite of the fact that those feelings are often the very means by which we grow and deepen as human beings and by which we become more truly ourselves.
People who don’t resist grief, who let it flow through them, come out more resilient on the other side. They are less afraid of loss, more able to soften the pain of those around them, and quicker to appreciate whatever happiness life brings. Ironically, it is those who have accepted the most terrible grief who are capable of the greatest joy.
~Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star