Driving through the mountain west, sun shining on sparkling snow, white contrasting with the grays and reds of mountain rock, I’m captivated.
I’m enchanted by beauty and nature, the privilege of seeing this land that’s so scarcely populated. The footprint of humanity is small here.
This is bliss, this cold December day a time of joy and sweetness.
A year ago I could not have imagined this day, full of light and companionship, easy silences punctuating quiet talk during the drive.
I thought today: if I could have known, a year ago, this day was coming, would it have made a difference? It would have made it easier to work though a hard time of life.
But maybe working through the hard time, with no certainty of good to come, made today possible?
I don’t know, can’t know, exactly what forces sculpted the days and weeks between last year and this. I know a little of the changes that occurred, that made a difference. But I don’t know all.
This is what I do know.
The hard times in life have purpose. Whatever the hardship is, working through it, surviving it, learning from it, gives rich color and depth to time that follows.
I haven’t experienced every sorrow life has to offer, thank God. But I’ve been through some of the fires. The fires taught me no life is immune or safe. Something touches each of us, either directly, or through someone we love.
The hard times taught me patience and perseverance. I learned to let time do some of the work for me.
I learned to face hard truths with honesty.
I learned to forgive myself and others for mistakes.
I learned to value the pain of others because of my pain. When you really understand the hurts and losses of life, your ability to empathize grows exponentially.
Last year was a year of loss, change, upheaval, conflict, depression, uncertainty.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve passed through such a season. Life has handed me other losses, taken my joy for a time.
And that is life. No one is immune.
I’m reminded, afresh, that we all weather seasons, and change.
Each time I’ve experienced a time of darkness, I’ve learned from it. It’s slow at first…whatever knocks you flat, takes you out, leaves you reeling…those forces don’t retreat easily.
Loss, death, illness, tragedy, conflict, displacement…there’s a continuum of pain, and ability to recover.
I couldn’t change the fact of my father’s death. I had to reach acceptance.
I was able to reclaim my marriage. I had to allow time for growth, and perspective, for healing.
This is my path, steps to return to joy.
- Remember to breathe. It’s ok to grieve and to shut down for a time. But you must breathe, you must do a minimum to maintain your physical self, with rest, with food, with action.
- As soon as you can, feed yourself hope. Since the beginning of people, hearts have broken, loss has devoured. You will likely recover, overcome whatever is hurting you. There are lives all around that testify to the power of the human spirit to survive, conquer, thrive. If others can do it, you can too. Tell yourself that. Say it even when you don’t believe it. Say it until you can believe it.
- On days that you can’t do anything positive for yourself, at least do no harm. Don’t make big decisions, don’t rush into anything, don’t burn bridges today that you may need to cross next week.
- Look for the unexpected. Each time I’ve experienced a trough of life, there’ve been good things come to me, unexpected lights to give me a path back to life. The unexpected may be a circumstance, an insight, a new friend…anything. But you have to be open enough to receive. Don’t block help or hope.
- Forgive: yourself, others, mistakes, misunderstandings…get the negatives out. Holding it inside only hurts you. You don’t have to share with anyone else unless you choose. But even talking out loud, ranting in private, will give you release, and let you find the words you need to say. It gets easier with practice. If you can’t say the words, write them. Just get them out one way or another.
- Be kind to yourself. Whatever you can do to soften and soothe and heal, do that. But, don’t take a positive and turn it to a negative…don’t comfort yourself with so much “comfort” food that you gain weight, or run up debt trying to buy your way to happiness. Keep your kindnesses positive.
- Give yourself and the situation time. Lots of time, if you can. Time can’t heal everything. It can’t replace every loss, and it isn’t the cure for all illness. But it can do a lot, if you let it. Practice patience, with yourself, the circumstances, with others.
- Make a promise to yourself. Promise you’ll learn from this, that you’ll be stronger and better for having this experience. Make sure you keep it.
- Use your story. Your story will be a powerful way to connect with others going through a similar experience. And believe me, whatever you’re facing, someone else is facing too. You don’t have to share everything to share something. You’ll find solace and give it too, by opening up, when the time is right. Promise yourself that you’ll do what you can to add light, not dark, because you went through hardship.
- Find something to be grateful for. Even the smallest thing you can name counts. Keep adding to your list. Find a beautiful image, a book, a song, a view, a friend, a pet, to focus on.
- Don’t grow bitter. Bitterness poisons life, and nothing is worth that. If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, honor them by returning to life. If you’re mourning something else in your life, honor yourself by refusing to give up. Know that one way or other, soon or later, you’ll sing again, be joyful again.
- Seek professional help if you can’t find your way. It’s out there, and it will be worth it. Sometimes the best thing we do for ourselves is admit we can’t do it alone. That can be an act of bravery, and your first step away from the dark.
I had professional help this year, and it changed everything. You don’t have to commit to long term counseling or therapy to reap great reward. Sometimes you just need a jump start. Or if you need ongoing help, the sooner you begin, the better.
I’m thankful for the lessons learned and road traveled. And I look for ways to share, to give back. I’ve promised myself that good will come of my journey, and I mean to see that promise come true. It wasn’t my goal in life to be a cautionary tale, but it seems to be my fate.
Well, so be it. We give as we can, and from what we have. If I can help anyone by encouraging with my words, I’m content.