It is a universal human experience to endure losses: moving, divorce, changes in friendships and other relationships, and of course, deaths in our circle, all of which usher in a host of other “secondary losses.”
This is my story of loss…
Just before my fifth birthday, I was officially adopted by my maternal grandfather and step-grandmother. I went from an only child to the youngest sister of five females, all of whom were adults by that time. So I was raised “old school,” very differently from my peers growing up. My Dad was quite strict and we often butted heads when I was a teenager, which of course is not at all uncommon.
Dad became ill when I was in college out of state, and he was on hospice services. The cancer had spread to his brain and totally changed his personality. He was no longer the strong, stoic, certain, and authoritative man I had known. Instead, he was confused, highly emotional and might cry at anything—even the Jerry Springer reruns he had started regularly watching. He died shortly after the start of my junior year of college, when I was 20 years old. I remember getting that phone call. I was fortunate that I attended Agnes Scott College, a small women’s college in Georgia, and they responded with overwhelming support. They even allowed me to turn in papers late and to take tests “whenever [I] felt ready.” My Dad had been so proud of me, the first female in my family to attend college. So I managed to finish somehow. He never got to see me graduate from college, or graduate school either.
Grief changes things at a deep level. After about a year after my Dad died, my boyfriend at the time told me that I “should be over it by now.” People expect you to just go back to being “normal” (whatever that means) or to your “usual self” after some prescribed time. Bereavement leave from most workplaces is about three days or a week, if you’re fortunate to have it at all. But here’s the truth: the death of someone close to you will permanently change you in ways you cannot anticipate. And every death is different because every relationship is different. The death of my Dad profoundly altered the trajectory of my life, and the lives of my family members as well. None of us can or will be the same.
Know that, at times, people will say things that seem incredibly ignorant, disrespectful, ridiculous, or just plain stupid to you, after you’ve suffered a loss. Know also that, believe it or not, most of them are actually trying to be helpful, but don’t know how. Know that you may lose friends—people sometimes seem to think loss is somehow contagious or simply don’t know how to respond. However, you may also gain friends from unlikely sources as well.
Time on its own will not heal. It’s what you do with the time. Finding—and perhaps learning to accept—comfort and support in your community, finding meaning, going through your own journey of grief. Find the pearls of wisdom and gratitude—the gifts!—within profound loss and grief. You won’t recognize this at first. That does take time. Each person’s grief experience is as unique as a fingerprint, with a highly individual timeline and journey.
Know that grief does not end at a particular date and time, though it may change form with time, and subsequent losses can bring it back up far into the future. What you can learn, over time, is resilience, as well as wisdom and experience to help others in their own journeys. You can find and create your own meaning.
This thought occurred to me whilst driving...
Within pressure and change lies awareness, and with it, potential for growth and opportunity. The challenge is learning to accept uncertainty...in essence, to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. (I have had a lot of opportunities for that in my life!)
Change is necessary, neither good nor bad in itself. Any change, almost by definition, lies outside our comfort zone.
As I prepare again to move, this thought occurred to me: "we are all renting space." In the end, none of us actually truly own anything, or any place, no matter how much we paid for them or how attached we feel. We can't take it with us. This is true of houses, cars, all our accumulated "stuff." True, if we "own" things (in a legal/financial sense), it can give us some feeling of control: we can choose what we do with these things, such as passing them on to family or others. In that sense, we are "renting" everything for a given period of time, then eventually someone else "rents" it. And so it goes, on and on.
This thought felt liberating to me, as I go through the purging process prior to each move. It is a unburdening, a releasing of the old and inviting and allowing in the new. The ebb and flow and rhythms of life.
Mental Health Challenges and Concerns Facing Older Adults: THIS AFFECTS US ALL
Some lessons have been learned the hard way. Learn from others, no matter the source. Life is too short to make every mistake yourself. Many people will try to give you advice. Some of it will be more helpful than others, though most (if not all) will be well meaning. You can learn as much from the "successful" people as from the "failures," even if it's what NOT to do. If you ask, most successful people have in fact failed many, many times, but have used those "failures" to their advantage--as learning opportunities. So stop and ask yourself: what is this situation I'm currently facing trying to tell me?
You may have noticed a few ladybugs on this website and may or may not have wondered, why are they there? Well, there's a story behind that. In college, my roommate (and best friend) and I were inundated with ladybugs to our third story dorm room one autumn, because they were attracted to our halogen lamp. We soon declared the ladybug our mascot. Ladybugs are symbols of good fortune and beauty, two things we can all appreciate--and perhaps want more of--in life. Of course, on this site, they are also appropriately sitting atop waves of grain.
My hope for everyone today is that you take time to notice and appreciate the little things around you. The fluttering of a butterfly, a crawling ladybug, the song of a bird, the laughter of a child...whatever it is you notice in your environment that brings a tiny smile to your face. Stop, listen, watch, and breathe deeply, if only for a moment or two. We so often miss these things in our hectic, over-scheduled lives, and I am no exception. But when we stop and focus on the simple joys and beauty in our surroundings, it has a grounding effect that can help to alleviate stress by shifting our focus. Like a mini mental vacation. Give it a try.
Happy Flag Day!