How to Overcome Tragedy and Loss
At the age of 31, I lost my husband, Garfield. His death was sudden and unexpected. He came home from work one day. Complained of a pain in his abdomen. We rushed him to the hospital. What followed was the unthinkable—only 3 hours spent in the ER and I was rushed out of the rescuscitation room held up by two nurses as he took his last breath. I remember watching as a nurse knelt with both knees in his chest trying to resuscitate him. I had given birth to our second child only eight weeks prior. I was still healing from the stitches of childbirth. For the moments that followed all we knew was that he had internal bleeding and went into cardiac arrest. For one whole year – I had to wait for the results of an autopsy that showed an illness so rare – many doctors have never seen it – it was reserved for the rarest of men – Pheo-cromo-cytoma. Up to that point – none of the doctors I spoke to afterwards had ever seen a living case of it.
For the many months that followed, and at many times since, I faced my worst fears head on – that somehow I would be left in this world all alone. I faced the numbness of grief – the stark realization that I was now a widow at 31.
Garfield’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and caring for a broken heart. But I also learned that there are hidden gifts in grief – that are waiting to be found. I realized that life was short – too short to be lived without a purpose. That I needed to be the best version of myself for my two kids and for the world around me.
You too will almost certainly face grief and adversity. Loss and grief comes in many forms – there’s loss of careers or the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything. There’s loss through miscarriages – the unborn child that does not make it into this world. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships or marriages that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself.
Psychologist Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s—Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence—that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.
The first P is Permanence – this refers to the belief that negative events and/or their causes are permanent, even when evidence, logic, and past experience indicate that they are probably temporary.
After Garfield died, it seemed like the pain would never end. One friend tried to illustrate the transition from full blown grief to full recovery to me by using the bus illustration. She said right now you’re not ready to get back on the bus with us yet. You will just wave to us as the bus passes by. The bus was a symbol for work, careers, the rat race and all the worldly pursuits we engage in to push our lives ahead. She then said – one day you will smile at us on the bus as it passes by – illustrating that I was slowly transitioning to be able to smile and understand their pursuits on the bus of life again. When you’re ready – you will be able to get back on the bus with us again.
At that point – I couldn’t see myself getting back on that bus – not even smiling at it. But I can tell you today that I’m back on that bus – and I’m in the driver’s seat. Everything in life is temporary – your grief won’t last forever.
The second P is Pervasiveness – which refers to the tendency to generalize so that negative features of one situation are thought to extend to others as well (“I’m stupid” vs. “I failed a math test” or “nobody likes me” vs. “Janet didn’t invite me to her party”).
Grief can indeed cause ripple effects on careers, childcare and friendships. The loss of a partner often has severe negative financial consequences, especially for younger women. So many single mothers—and fathers—struggle to make ends meet or have jobs that don’t allow them the time they need to care for their children. In many cases, the consequences of young widowhood means potentially being set back by a decade or more with regards to careers and finances – depending on how pervasive the effects are and the ability to bounce back.
Engaging in rewarding pursuits that you love – through going back to work or school, starting a business or pursuing a hobby will help to limit the pervasive nature of grief to have negative consequences in your life.
The Third P is Personalization, where one tends to attribute negative events to one’s own flaws or to outside circumstances or other people. While it is important to take responsibility for one’s mistakes, persons suffering from learned helplessness tend to blame themselves for everything, a tendency associated with grief and is more commonly referred to as survivor’s guilt.
After Garfield died, I blamed myself – did I miss the signs! I blamed his doctors – Why didn’t they catch this earlier! I asked his family doctors, my son’s pediatrician, the coroner, any medical professional that could honestly tell me why we didn’t catch this. All of them agreed – most doctors have never seen a real case of this illness much less diagnose it. It was mostly seen in textbooks.
After poring through medical records – and doing my own research – I had to accept that I could not have prevented his death – that if it was God’s will – there was nothing anyone could do.
Live the Life You Really Want.
I wrote on Soulvana that grief and intuition can channel you to your ultimate purpose in life. Grief and tragedy can literally shock us to our senses. Grief and loss can provide an opportunity to really turn things around.
Think of your situation of tragedy and grief as an opportunity or even a “gift.”
There are hidden Gifts in Grief – Try to find them…They are waiting to be found.- Keisha Blair, Co-founder, Aspire-Canada