I have always been fascinated by how people deal with loss and adversity. I am continuously inspired by those who can go beyond their pain and live engaged, productive and meaningful lives. Therein lies the challenge: how to rebuild a live filled with meaning and joy despite loss and pain.
Since we all know that inherent in life and the human condition is loss, the key is not in how to get through life without any pain, but rather, when pain and suffering come knocking on our door, how do we respond to it? Do we succumb and become bitter, remaining stuck in the victimhood of circumstance; or do we become better, recreating a new version of life while weaving the loss into the fibers of our life’s tapestry?
Viktor Frankl, renowned psychiatrist who went through numerous concentration camps, author of the important and timeless book, Man’s Search for Meaning, famously wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
When facing my own personal loss, the loss of the “perfect baby,” as my child was born with neurological disabilities, my grief centered around the perennial and existential question of Why. Why was my daughter born like this? Why did this bad thing happen to me?
My year of therapy allowed me the space to thrash around in my attempt to comprehend a basically non-comprehensible fluky circumstance. The big Why question shifted and eventually morphed into the How and What questions, the answerable ones, the ones that would put me on the map towards resumed emotional stability. These questions became my compass in driving me forward in accepting and reformatting my new normal of family life.
How do we cope and adjust, how do we reconnect with new dreams, how do we re-purpose our life; what baby steps can we take, what goals can we set, what values continue to be important? These are the more beneficial questions to pursue, questions that will help us in carrying on and moving us towards (some form of) eventual healing.
Working through my grief and shifting my focus of questions helped me begin to respond differently to a loss that at the time felt devastating.
Going through the grief work is crucial to getting us to a point where we can choose how we will respond and begin to reconfigure our lives. The heavy weight of grief diminishes and we become freer to connect to our new reality. The sadness begins to take more of a backseat and the (harsh) reality of our current life moves to the forefront. We’re in a position to let go of our old hopes and dreams and begin to attach to new ones.
We regain our footing and go from there, an explorer and novice treading lightly and oftentimes fearfully at a new kind of life.
Harriet Cabelly is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity. Purchase a copy of the book at https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692859012/