“I want my life back.  And if it’s not happening now, I want to know when.”  Kenichi Suzuki  
(Chico Harlan, The Washington Post, A14, Sunday, April 14, 2011).
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan hurt and killed countless people, destroyed homes, neighborhoods, and towns.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, a nuclear crisis followed in the wake of the two natural disasters.  Survivors who lived closest to the Fukushima Dalichi nuclear facility were required to immediately evacuate.  Others who lived a bit further from the nuclear facility were told to stay inside.  Others who lived still further out were told they’d be fine.
Kenichi Suzuki, 61, and his family apparently lived on the boundary between the immediately evacuate and stay inside locations.  They grabbed a few belongings and went to Tokyo.  Several weeks later, Suzuki and his son-in-law decided to return to their home to restart their transportation business.  His daughter and 11 year old grandson stayed in Tokyo, too concerned about the health risks to return home.  
Their home town, Minamisoma, had become a ghost town with fewer than one-third of its residents, very few of them children.  Businesses, banks, stores, & more were closed.  Suzuki and his son-in-law are trying to continue their business, although one-third of their full-time employees have moved away and customers are few.  
He wants his life back and has not yet emotionally accepted that is not going to happen.  This is a very natural and normal response to loss.  It’s a form of protesting the current situation and the loss of all that was.  As the article states, mostly what he feels is sadness.   The angry protesting and sadness crowd his awareness, combined probably with fear and other emotions.  (Chico Harlan, The Washington Post, A14, Sunday, April 14, 2011).
In Lament for a Son, Nicholas Woltersoff described his experience after the death of his son as “a sea of sadness.”  Eventually, he wrote, his inner landscape changed such that his sadness was more like islands in the sea rather than the sea itself.  
What I continue to find amazing is the capacity to recreate our lives when we’ve lost the lives we had and valued.  There is no guarantee this will happen.  We’ve all known or heard of people whose wounds from loss remain the sea, who stay withdrawn from life for many years afterward.  There is no guarantee even that someone who has experienced remarkable healing from previous losses will find their way through their current experience of loss.  But the possibility of experiencing deep healing, of recreating our lives, of finding and living with our “new normal”, is always there, beckoning us to move in that direction.  Regardless of what loss – or, more often, what combination of losses – befalls us.
Many of us are impatient when others are trying to find their way through a loss.  Some might be tempted to say to Suzuki, “You’re not going to get your life back.  It’s gone.  Forever.  That’s unfortunate.  But you’ve got to move on and create a new life.”  Ouch.  Rarely is that helpful.  Finding healing, creating – and finding meaning and purpose in – our new normal is a process, a journey.  It takes time and usually includes some fumbling around and muddling through before finding a new normal that is a good fit for us.
A much more helpful and supportive approach would be to ask Suzuki to talk about his life before and his life now and to listen to understand his current experience, thoughts, and feelings from his perspective.  To listen as a companion along his journey, not a teacher or advice-giver.  Just being there with him and listening to him.  That’s what he needs.  It is very likely that the process of telling his story to the newspaper reporters was therapeutic for Suzuki.

Sara Perry

Sara Perry, Mdiv LCSW-C, has been a hospice social worker for more than 20 years in the Gaithersburg, MD, area. She provides support and guidance to people with a life-threatening illness and their families. She occasionally teaches and writes about dying and grieving.

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