A few days before Christmas, a friend from junior high lost her husband suddenly. My first thought was life is fragile. I thought a lot about the idea of life being fragile and, while it is true life is unpredictable, it is also resilient. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park says, “Life find a way.” We find a way.
The uncertainty in the first few days after a devastating loss, we may wonder how the world keeps turning. How do people keep doing regular things like getting groceries or watching a TV program when the world has gone completely sideways for you. “Don’t they know this huge tragedy has happened?” It seems completely disconnected.
An emotional tragedy is similar to a physical one when it comes to healing. When a client came to see me after losing her child to cancer, I said the experience was akin to free falling from 30 thousand feet. No one would ever expect you to fully recover from that kind of physical injury. You would be completely broken. You’d spend months in hospital and rehabilitation. You would be forever changed not just from the injury but also from the recovery itself.
The same is true with an emotional loss. You have to relearn how to be in the world in a completely different way. A world where your loved one no longer exists in physical form. Where do you even begin. It’s as if you have to learn your whole life all over again without your arms. Everything is different.
Be strong is one of the myths of grief recovery. People say, “Be strong” when sometimes all you can be is a big snotty ball of mess. However, it is in that kind of vulnerability where you can find your strength. It takes strength to wake up the day after a loss. It takes strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It takes strength to move through the thick fog of uncertainty. You are strong. You keep going…somehow.
As unimaginable as it seems in the beginning, one day you feel a flutter. Is that happy? At first you may stuff it down. How can I dishonour the memory of my lost loved one by moving on? How can I ever feel happy again? But we do move through. As with any form of rehabilitation, if you keep showing up in your life, doing the work, being there for yourself and your family, the healing process begins. Where someone may get stuck is expecting to get back to normal. There’s no such thing.
Relationships change us. The cost of great love is deep grief. Loss of that magnitude is what Ram Dass calls fierce grace. It is an opportunity to come face to face with who we are. How we move through tragedy changes us. We decide how. That doesn’t mean that everything we feel will be sunshine and positivity. It is more about authenticity – despair is an honest response. Let it in. Hold it. It’s hard. Healing is painful. The journey may be long. Travel only one step at a time and cross the bridges only as you get to them.
I’ve gotten through a lot living by the words “today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). We get through each day, one step at a time, by trusting our self and our strength. We may not know how exactly, but we can trust that life will find a way.
“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength.” Napoléon Bonaparte.