Considering the foolish mistakes and wrong turns I’ve made in my years, I feel I’ve lived a rather charmed life. Far more has gone right than wrong, I’ve learned many lessons along the way and the losses have usually been few and far between. This year, 2017, has been the exception. In this one calendar year, I have lost an aunt, a sister, a brother, too many iconic musicians and a few people on the fringes of my life. They all count.
Loss comes in many forms that can take their toll on the psyche. Loss of a job, a relationship, your sanity, stuff, money and on and on. Much of it is minor while some of it is earth-shaking. There are times when we lose ground on some aspect of our lives and we wonder if we will ever fully recover. We might be satisfied just holding onto what we still have, hoping to not lose further ground. This is not healthy. Fear can creep in, potentially paralyzing us. Before we reach that point, we have the option of finding the gain in the loss.
That is obviously easier said than done. It may even seem insensitive to think that in times of loss of a loved one or times of major catastrophe we should just suck it up and look on the sunny side of life. I’m not suggesting such an approach or an off-handed dismissal of gut wrenching challenges. However, I find the old proverb useful that states “all is grist for the mill.” When we’re faced with these times of adversity, we can curl up into the fetal position and check out until it’s all over or we can step into the fire of self-discovery. We can assimilate what we’re experiencing to our full capacity. We can dive in to help those who are suffering along with us or rise up to recover and mend the tears in relationships or whatever needs mending. Mere reflection in times of trouble can shed light on truths we missed previously. A Chinese proverb expands on this simply and concisely: “The gem cannot be polished without friction.”
There’s also a story told by Jerry Stemkoski which I found in Everyday Greatness. “One early spring day I met an old farmer. It had been a rainy spring, and I commented about how good it must be for the crops to have so much rain early in the season. He replied, ‘No, if the weather is too easy on the crops now, the plants may only grow roots on the surface. If that happens, then a storm could easily destroy the crops. However, if things are not so easy in the beginning, then the plants will have to grow the strong and deep roots they need to get at the water and nourishment down below. If a storm or drought comes, they are more likely to survive.’ Now I look at rough times as an opportunity to put down some roots to help me weather future storms that may come my way.”
The goal, then, is to deal with loss or other adversity in such a way as to meet it head-on as best we can and to grasp what it has to teach us. Mel Schwartz of Psychology Today wrote an article in October of 2011 that discusses this.
“Growth and fundamental levels of change only tend to occur when we are out of our comfort zone. We can refer to this as being far from equilibrium, where certainty and predictability no longer reign supreme. So we might look at the crisis as a blessing in disguise, albeit an unwanted one.
“Steve Jobs might have felt self-defeated and victimized himself after he was fired from Apple many years ago. He chose otherwise. After his dismissal, he grasped crisis by the horns, seeing opportunity where others did not. He went on to lead a small animation company and turn it into the juggernaut that is now Pixar. When The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar in 2006, Jobs immediately became the largest shareholder in Disney. The moral of the story is unwanted change happens; look beyond it and embrace the discomfort.
“The crisis is but a snapshot of a moment in time, and one we’d prefer to avoid. But to achieve self-empowerment requires looking beyond that snapshot and envisioning what door of potential has just flung open.”
When a loved one has departed and leaves a void beyond anything we could have imagined, perhaps we can look into the void and gaze upon the “unfolding potential of change”, as Schwartz puts it. We have reached a turning point and our attention should be on the future. By placing a new activity, an exciting quest or additional friendships into the gap, you increase your chances of finding your continuing destiny that seemed to have ended with a tragic loss.