When tragedy strikes, it is easy to begin to feel like life is unfair. “I never knew this would happen and if I did I would have done things differently,” Christy says as she recently received news of her father’s diagnoses of a rare form of progressive cancer. “I’m not ready for him to die – there is just too much I haven’t experienced – too much I have missed out on all these years.” Soaked with tears and preparing for the worst – she quietly says, “I have to be strong now and that is the hardest thing to do when faced with this news.”
“I would have never expected the worse to happen to me when I was kidnapped and almost killed by someone I barely knew,” Says Leeann. Leeann chooses to view herself as a survivor and not a victim; despite the unfortunate things that happened. “Overcoming kidnapping and the assault was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced in my life,” especially when all she wanted to do was close herself off to the world and close up after the tragedy. “I felt alone since there was no one I knew that had gone through something so tragic, but what I came to realize was that I wasn’t alone – my faith in God brought me to an understanding about things I didn’t understand,” says Leeann as she speaks out about how she continues to persevere through it all to help others like herself, cope and find hope.
Just like Christy and Leann, tragedies can begin by narrowing our vision and make things seem dimmer and more distant. When unthinkable evil happens or life just feels unfair, it’s as if the lights are dimmed around you. Darkness slowly creeps into our minds and confusion begins to take over our thinking. Narrow vision settles in and it can cause us to begin to compare our lives to others – leaving us feel that life is just unfair. It may seem like looking through a pair of binoculars backwards when you compare your life to someone else. When you flip the binoculars around they become a simple microscope that can magnify small objects and be deemed useful. But holding them backwards makes the binoculars useless when walking down a pathway. When people are going through tragedy they can often find themselves looking at small pieces of life, as if they were looking through binoculars backwards. Their field of view is extremely limited and pathways don’t seem so clear. Seeing life’s difficulties in clear perspective is like having a good pair of binoculars – but numbing your feelings in hopes that it will all go away, is like garbage sitting in your hall closet: it soon makes the entire house stink and creates more problems.
Grief is a natural response to tragedy and deals with processing the loss. Often times the emotional suffering you feel often causes the most intense feeling of grief. Any tragedy can cause grief, including:
– A relationship breakup
– Loss of health
– A miscarriage or stillborn
– Death of a pet
– Death of a loved one
– Losing a job
– Loss of financial stability
– Loss of a childish dream
– A loved one’s serious illness
– Loss of safety after a trauma
– Loss of a friendship
– Assault, rape, traumatic experience
The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief one may feel; however, subtle losses can lead to grief. Tragedy has no favorites and often comes suddenly – with or without signs and usually encompasses terrible events that follow. Those experiencing catastrophe can often interpret and feel pain differently – and that is okay.
I am here to tell you that you are not alone – amongst the billions of people on the earth there are many that can tell you that they have had similar, if not the same feelings when dealing with pain – the truth is, we all deal with things differently. It is okay to feel your pain and to process it. It’s okay to cry and connect with your feelings. Masking them will only hinder your process of grief and prolong the needed time for recovering.
If you stay out of touch with our pain, you won’t deal with things – and consequently things get worse. “My life felt like a tornado that came flying in at a crazy speed, lifting me up and tossing me – leaving me with nothing but emptiness and sadness,” says Leeann. At the age of 19 she was kidnapped, assaulted, and almost killed by the hands of someone she barely knew. Counselors and psychologists diagnosed Leeann with depression, post traumatic stress disorder and began prescribing multitudes of pills to help her numb the pain and ease the thoughts she was having. Fast forward nearly 9 years later and as she says, “I was a zombie the entire time, I never dealt with the pain that I was feeling and I realized I was only masking it. It wasn’t until I began flushing the pills down the toilet and made the decision to deal with the pain instead, that I began to live my life. Freedom and peace followed.”
We are given tears for a reason – it’s okay to cry and is a natural body response. If you have ever dealt with an injury – you should understand that if you don’t deal with the injury immediately, then flesh wounds would get infected and broken arms would never be set. The same goes for grief – the natural response serves as an appropriate “temporary” response. It is only temporary and as you choose to face the pain you will only gain. You will gain wisdom, understanding and great compassion for others. If we choose to stay out of touch with our pain and not deal with our injury – then we would never function normally and live with emotional jolts.
Avoiding pain can have terrible and worse consequences in the long run. Avoiding grief doesn’t make it go away. Many people facing such tragedies can ask – “Why did this happen to me?” and feel like life just isn’t fair. One thing we need is a good perspective. The word unfair suggests that things just don’t make sense. There is often confusion and turmoil in one’s heart. The ugly thing that happened has no easy answer. When life is unfair, it can impact how we see things. Finding good out of the bad is often hard to see – the reflection in the mirror can have a cloudy perspective.
Leann chose to take the bad and turn it good, “as I began to process my pain, I realized that there were others like me, who hadn’t dealt with their pain. I ran into an older woman in her 50’s, after I shared my story, she began crying on my shoulder and told me that she had never dealt with the pain – or told anyone of being raped as a child.” Leann realized that she could become the vessel that helps others overcome – or at least recognize their hidden pain. There are support groups and people who have been down similar roads and are dealing with similar things. “I am a survivor, not a victim. I came to realize that true evil does exist and pain is real; though, because of knowing I am wiser today. I can help children learn to recognize warning signs, educate them on what to do in a tragedy to protect themselves and help others through the process of learning to deal with tragedy when it strikes.” She goes on to conclude, “I was naive to the world – and now I realize things I never knew existed. I am empathetic not just sympathetic toward suffering now – and have a great sense of compassion toward others as a result.”
Sometimes it is through the pain that we begin to understand who we are and find our true purpose in life. Like Leeann, she came to realize her true potential out of the pain. You too can feel freedom and create epic victories.
When tragedy strikes it is normal to begin to feel depressed for long periods of time, feel the need to isolate yourself from others and feel lonely – this is all a natural process of dealing with pain.
Pain can come from loosing a loved one, being hurt physically/mentally by someone else, breaking up a relationship, learning of a new health diagnosis (your or a loved one’s), etc. They all deal with similar paths and stages of grief. I will briefly touch on these, so you come to recognize that the pain is a natural process. Please note that these can happen out-of-order. There is no “normal” timetable for grieving.
– Shock and denial: First you may feel a numbed disbelief, deny the reality and avoid the pain. Shock gives you an emotional protection and is a natural response. You may feel overwhelmed all at once and it may last for weeks.
– Pain and guilt: As shock wears off it is then often replaced with suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain and not hide it or mask it. Do not escape and avoid it through the use of drugs or alcohol. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you wish you would have done differently, or things you did or didn’t do. Life might feel chaotic and scary during this phase, but it will pass.
– Anger and bargaining: Frustration often gives way to anger. You may begin to lash out and lay unwanted blame on someone else. Control your feelings and remember that what you say will affect and possibly damage relationships around you. Your bottled up emotions will need to be released and it is okay to join a religious group, support group or take up exercise and meditation to help you cope. You may ask, “Why me?” and rail against fate. You may also begin to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair. Remember that through the suffering gifts and answers to life are given.
– Depression, reflection and loneliness: Just when many people may think that you should just move on with your life, a long period of sad reflection would likely overtake you. This is a normal stage and you should not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement is helpful to you during this stage of grieving. Surround yourself with encouraging and positive people who are likely to uplift you and not bring you down further. During this time you will come to realize the true magnitude of your loss and it may depress you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, feel scared, reflect on things you should have done differently, reflect on things you did and focus on memories of the past. You may have feelings of emptiness or despair.
– The upward turn: As you start to adjust to your new life, your life will become a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms will lesson and your “depression” will begin to lift slightly. You will begin to replace the past memories (whether good or bad) with new ones. The weight will begin to lift.
– Reconstruction and working through: As you begin to function better your mind will begin to work better. You will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstruct yourself and your life without help. You will begin to feel that you are a better person because of your wiliness to move on and more forward.
– Acceptance and hope: During this last stage you will learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced
– you will come to grips with the ‘new’ you. The old you that existed before this tragedy will feel like a poor reflection in a mirror. You will find a way to move forward and creating new memories will help you.
You will start to look forward and plan things for the future. Eventually you will begin to look at the past without pain and sadness. The wrenching pain will be gone and you will once again participate in life with meaning and purpose. Great joy, victories and happiness will follow.
You can’t know today all the roles you will be playing. You can’t preview the years in the future you will live. You have all the resources to go there though – the power to choose and the courage to win. Every event (including the unfair moments) and all the years up to this one have ripened your wisdom and given you the tools to live victoriously. Deep inside you is the promise within you – the purpose and vision for your future.
Embrace the blessings and live life victoriously!