It’s taken me an extra week to write the following. I tried several times to write a meaningful blog and came up short. I tried to “mail it in” but for me the word blog is not an excuse for saying something even if it’s nothing. I hope today, finally I have said something…
Recently I heard of a person in morning who experienced the additional loss of a parent. I am sure you know others who endure multiple tragedies and wonder how they can keep going, what’s next, and oh yea, thank God, it’s not me. We want to believe that God doesn’t give us anymore than we can handle, and that God is fair but sometimes his idea of fairness just doesn’t match up with mine. After working for decades in the helping profession, there are some people who experience multiple tragedies beyond the normal experience. I wondered not at their poor coping skills, but at their resiliency. They were surviving.
It is important to look at the tense change in two verbs in this next sentence, “Jesus said, blessed are those who morn for they will be comforted.” People who are morning will be comforted. When I am morning, I cannot imagine what will be. I am caught up in my present hurt. The future does not exist. That’s why the part about being comforted doesn’t always help those who morn.
A friend of mine told me that stop drop and roll was not on his mind when he was once on fire. He was not thinking when he ran into the lake. He was reacting. Under duress that’s what we do – we react. We lash out or we withdraw to kill the pain. No one wants to hurt.
But what about the other use of “are” in “blessed are those.” That, I believe is the real help. That is where I take comfort. Jesus is blessing me, not just will bless me. After all, how can I believe the future when my future has just been ripped from underneath of me? When I accept that I am blessed, well, I am.
On board a Coast Guard boat one time the Commander asked me about returning his crew to duty who just experienced a mass tragedy at sea. I recommended he do so but warned that another crisis within a short period of time could reignite what they are currently experiencing and possibly cause a setback. Ultimately, he decided correctly the benefit of restoring his crew was worth the risk of harm and returned to sea.
I found in my military years the people who experienced unresolved crisis before combat often returned home to become embroiled in another crisis. I termed it “the sandwich effect,” and believe it is predictor of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When someone breaks a bone, the fracture heals, and that spot is harder than before due to the calcium. However, if it is not given the chance to properly heal, it becomes vulnerable.
Emotional trauma is much the same. Grief, when dealt with can become a point of strength that helps us deal with the next tragedy. In my life, dealing with the death of my parents, friends, and coworkers helped me deal with the death of my son. Each event, more tragic than the next was a set back for sure. But each event helped build calcium because they were faced.
However, there are those that experience multiple loss, who are profoundly shaken and for who the promise of being comforted just does not seem to be enough. What about them? Comparing our loss to others who have lost more does not help. I remember a friend telling me about the losses he was dealing with to let me know that everyone experiences loss. It didn’t help. He just didn’t get it that in the middle of profound grief I couldn’t relate to his loss. And any comparison came up short and pointed to the realization that he just did not understand my grief. He understood his coping. He wanted to help, and so I gracefully moved the discussion and kept him as a friend.
So future promises don’t help. Other’s past experiences don’t help. Is there a third option? Yea, but it hurts.
Acceptance. Simply recognizing we hurt. Recognize it isn’t fair. Recognize we don’t have an answer. Recognize we are the only one who really gets it. Recognize people do care but that only goes so far. Recognize the reality, and the reality is – it sucks. Recognize we are not in control.
I lived in minor fear for the next year after Aaron died that I would be revisited with another loss. It scared me. When a friend died of cancer, I felt it deeply. Maybe more deeply than I would have. But what I found was that was a mixed bag. My level of empathy was more profound. I was more sensitive, but I think I was more in touch with reality. I was authentic.
Acceptance is scary. It is like an alcoholic who states he is powerless to solve his addiction by himself and turns to his higher power. We don’t want to do that, do we? Our pride is the problem. It’s easy to pick out the prideful worker. His feet don’t quite touch the ground as he tells you about his success. Even his problems are a success. He lacks authenticity. He is not the hero who dies once – he is the coward who dies a thousand deaths.
Regardless of your belief in Mother Mary, the song “Let It Be” resonates because we know it is so. Doing nothing is doing something. Letting it be does not mean doing nothing, it does not mean letting it go, it means taking on the pain. Knowing someday it will be counted as gain may not help in the moment and knowing that someday you will be comforted may not seem believable. But letting it be does mean accepting the belief that right now, in your pain you are Okay. (I just don’t know the right word here. It’s not Okay or fine, certainly not good or great).
Maybe Jesus had the right word – blessed. You are blessed.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist who lost his son in a tragic motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. Look forward to his upcoming posts, quiz, and book, “When Sunday Smiled.” Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about prolonged grief.