"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." ~ Viktor Frankl
It seems sort of irreverent to write on the topic of "life's difficulties," given the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school last week. There isn't a single difficulty that I have experienced in my lifetime that couldn't, at its' root, be fixed. I am obviously grief stricken for all of those involved in the shooting and I, like you, have felt, at times, pretty darn helpless.
So I wanted to try and tackle what we can do to help others and ourselves with "life's major difficulties." Over the past few days, I have read many articles on this subject and have taken bits and pieces I found to be particularly helpful and created an action plan below.
*For the sake of this article, I have focused my ideas around the death of a loved one, but these suggestions can be molded and applied to any of life's major difficulties.
What I know for sure is that our helplessness doesn't serve us , it doesn't serve our families or our communities and it really doesn't serve those who need our help the most. We need to be strong and active in our compassion, care and comfort, and by doing so we can be of service to those in need. In turn, by working with these ideas, you make actually find your own road to self-healing.
To be of service, we must come from a place of strength. It's easy to get captivated by the drama of whatever has unfolded, but, again, that does no good. We need to be vigilant about cultivating and sharing our own light. As they say in the safety instructions on a plane, put on your own air mask first and then you can help others.
- Cultivate joy in everyday moments. Find small things to be happy about. Make a list, read the list, add to the list, refer to the list when feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness or grief seem to over take you.
- Express gratitude for everything you have. Don't take what you have for granted. Even if it's the health and well being of your child. Don't apologize for the love you have, celebrate it. A quote by several survivors of tragedies similar to Newtown said, "As you honor what you have, you honor what I've lost."
- Do not feel guilty about or be afraid to express your joy. Do not think, "If I let my guard down, something bad is bound to happen." Returning to joy after a tragedy can be very scary and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. But every time you allow yourself joy, you build that muscle of hope. And if that joy becomes more a part of who you are, when bad things happen, and they will happen, you are stronger.
- Meditate and Pray. Find time each day to do both. There is such comfort and healing in the silence of meditation and such power in affirmative prayer.
When someone you love is faced with one of life's major difficulties, one of the best things you can do for them is to help build a mental, emotional and physical cocoon of sorts; a place where they know they can go to seek comfort, love, peace and refuge. The cocoon should be "built" by you and should look something like this:
- Unconditional, non-judgmental love and support as long as they need it, even years later.
- Availability: to listen, to run errands, to babysit, to deliver meals, whatever is needed.
- Acceptance: of their moods, their tears, their anger, their vulnerability. You cannot take away their pain, but you can share it and make them feel less alone.
- Allowance: of talking about their difficulty, as much or as little as they like.
- Attention: to everyone effected; husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters.
- Ask: How are you really doing? Be vulnerable enough to let your genuine care and concern show. Cry with them, hold them, give them permission to let it out.
- Say that you are sorry.
- Extend invitations: (and continue to do so) but be wholly understanding if they don't accept, or cancel at the last minute or don't respond at all.
- Take the time: send personal notes or make a donation to a charity. Write the dates of the birth and the death on your calendar and be a vigilant friend on those days.
- Offer prayer.
One of the most loving (if not the most loving thing) we can do for someone in need, is to simply be present with them in their mourning. This can be very, very difficult to do, and it can be healing beyond your ability to comprehend it. It is the truest gift you can give someone.
One last piece of advice that I was gifted this morning that I really wanted to include in this piece is about how we can work to prevent tragedies like this in the future. Information is empowerment and I want to share all I have.
Beyond school safety, gun control and dealing better with mental health issues in our youth, a friend pointed out to me that parents always seem to be the very last to suspect anything off about their children.
She suggested, and I fully agree, that something missing in our society at large is the idea that we need to cultivate relationships with other adults for our children. I need to seek out other adults that I know, love and trust and I need to foster relationships with them and my children, so that my children have an adult to talk with who is not me.
As they grow older, no matter how beautiful and perfect I imagine my relationship with them to be, I am most likely one of the very last people they will come to if they are having major problems. If we have chosen adults that they know, love and trust, who can be there for them, no questions asked, we stand a better chance of stopping a tragedy before it happens.
My heart, my prayers, my love and light travel with you as you read these words. I extend it out to all those directly effected by the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings. I hope that in my words, you have found some comfort, some direction, some hope. We are all in this together.