During the past 27 years, I have worked with chemically dependent clients who functioned exclusively in chaos because that is what they knew. I can also proudly say that I have witnessed the success stories of many chemically dependent clients who embraced recovery, because they made a conscious choice to detach themselves from a lifestyle of chaos.
Challenges-A Part of Life
Individuals who come from less dysfunctional circumstances are not immune to experiencing chaos or uncertainty in their lives. After all, life is full of challenges that test the resolve of the human spirit. Life isn’t meant to be a smooth ride anyway. It is expected that challenges will be experienced, among them being: financial struggles due to a loss of job, and conflicts with our children over their school, career and relationship choices. In relatively healthy family systems, these challenges will affect the equilibrium of the household, but it is usually temporary due to the existence of healthy rules and coping skills.
The Challenge of All Challenges
However, there are some challenges that not only affect the equilibrium of individuals in a healthy family system, but tear it asunder. The coping skills and rules that served those persons well previously are now about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
When my daughter Jeannine died at the age of 18 on March 1, 2003, as a result of cancer, the challenges that her death presented to me were unlike any that I had experienced before. The coping skills that I had developed to deal with life’s previous twists and turns initially did not prepare me for dealing very effectively with her death.
Jeannine’s death stripped my core values and beliefs about the progression of life and death and left me emotionally drained and spiritually bankrupt. So my previously developed coping skills were now about as useful as that screen door on a submarine. I experienced chaos that terrified me and rendered me powerless
Eventually, I was able to modify my coping skills to fit a worldview that was radically altered because my daughter pre-deceased me. As I have mentioned in previous articles, it was a long process to get to this point in my journey. I know, however, that there are more lessons to be learned.
One of the things that I have learned from my experience is that death is never truly unexpected, but it is always untimely for those who are left behind. None of us relish the prospect of emotional pain due to the death of a loved one, but it is an inevitable part of the human experience.
Before Jeannine died, I never gave much thought to death, but today I try to use the fact that I will someday die as a motivator to live a more fulfilling life and to help others in the process.
A Reflective Walk
I also learned another lesson during a recent walk that I took around my neighborhood. Even in the most chaotic of circumstances there are some things that remain the same; that can be a source of comfort. In the 28 years since I have lived in my neighborhood, people have come and gone, neighbors have died and other transitions have been experienced. During my walk, I pondered what has remained constant during the past 28 years of suburban life. Here is what I came up with:
- The unmistakable sights and sounds of nature. Every morning I am sure to hear a cacophony of sounds from members of the bird family such as the crow, robin and cardinal. Wild turkeys have walked in front of my house, and rabbits have been frequent visitors. Butterflies have crossed my path, particularly during the times that I missed Jeannine the most. There have of course been the deer sightings. In the latter part of my journey after Jeannine’s death, I have been open to the teachings of my newfound friends in the animal kingdom, which have provided me with some clarity during the most significant challenge of my life. In the tradition of the Lakota Sioux Indian prayer, Mitakuye Oyasin, I will live with all my relations. * I was first exposed to the meaning of this prayer in The Wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, the second book he wrote about his true-life travels with “Dan”, a Lakota Elder. I will also continue to strive to learn from all my relations.
- The serenity of my surroundings. I live on a very quiet street. The only sounds that I here are usually the vehicles of our neighbors, or the vehicles of friends who come to visit. I believe some quietness amidst the chaos resulting from the death of our children can be a welcome respite from our emotional pain. I know that embracing quietness has helped me stay more connected with myself and helped me discover some valuable lessons that have been helpful to me during my journey.
There are many things about ourselves that change when our children die, but as I have discovered, it is sometimes the things that don’t change that can provide us with comfort and rich life lessons.
“The way we see it, the Creator put his lessons everywhere. Built them right into the earth before he even put people here. Our job is to learn those lessons in the place that we were given, and the way to learn those lessons is to sit still and listen.” – From The Wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn
Dave Roberts 2012