Some years are marked by tremendous challenge and heartbreak.
This year, some people very close to me experienced unthinkable losses.
My friend Suzanne lost her 22 year old daughter to a heart attack, only to lose her daughter’s best friend to the same cause a few months later.
My friend Laurie was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer, and has been bravely undergoing surgery and chemotherapy treatment.
My Mom has been on a journey of mourning for my Bonus Dad Larry, who passed away in February.
Many friends have struggled with finances, with loss, divorce and addiction.
And just this past Friday, my friend Sophfronia had the unimaginable happen at her son’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Her son survived. Her godson did not.
Witnessing all these things happening is absolutely overwhelming.
How can any of us go on with so much heartbreak around us?
Will things ever be normal again?
The road to healing from heartbreak
For those who have gone through tremendous loss, their lives will never be the same. But that does not mean that they will never see beauty, feel love and create meaningful things in their life. They will create a new normal that can still include joy, at the same time that they integrate loss and sadness into the fabric of their life story.
These four things have helped me to overcome challenges and heartbreak.
- Fall apart
As soon as I heard about what happened in Connecticut last Friday, I was sickened and shaking. I felt the same thing when I heard of the death of my friend Suzanne’s daughter Teal. When terrible things happen, feel them. Cry. Hug someone. Grieve. It is perfectly natural to not want to get right back to business when terrible things happen. Express the emotion.
- Honor what you have
As a parent last Friday, it felt so conflicting to hug and squeeze my own kids while I knew that there were parents on the other side of the country who were in agony because they would not see their kids again.Author Brené Brown, quoting from her amazing new book Daring Greatly, said this in a recent blog post:
“When I asked people who had survived tragedy how we can cultivate and show more compassion for people who are suffering, the answer was always the same: Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take what you have for granted–celebrate it. Don’t apologize for your healthy parents or your great relationship. Be grateful and share your gratitude with others.
One quote that I heard over and over was simply: “When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”
- Never forget, but choose to create a new future .
While in the midst of a huge, painful challenge, it is impossible to imagine a new future. You want to slug anyone who suggests that “everything happens for a reason.” The meaning to be made from any negative experience belongs to the person affected. It may never make sense, to you or to them.Yet over and over again, I have seen people rise from huge heartbreak and build a new life. My client Sarah has been working on an amazing fair trade project with Rwandan artisans, called Songa Designs. If you know anything about Rwandan history in the 1990s, you know that it is filled with unimaginable terror and genocide. Yet tremendous beauty exists in the art and economy being built by Rwandan people today. In the words of Abe Cajudo, who produced Songa Designs current Indiegogo campaign:”So much growth and beauty in that country that needs to be shared and celebrated, not hidden behind what Google and History has branded it. Let’s change the world’s perception of Rwanda FOR GOOD!”
We can learn from those who have witnessed the worst of humanity and still choose to build the best for humanity.
- Be held, and hold others.
My husband’s older brother was killed when he was 18. When I have talked about it with his Mom, mixed with tears and pain, she always tells stories about the people who were so strong for her and held her closely when she was overcome with grief. And I have seen her be strong for others who have experienced their own losses. We never know when we will be the one who does not have the strength to go on, and needs to surrender to the arms of our loved ones and community members. There is no shame in surrendering, and there is great valor in holding others in times of unbearable grief.
I sincerely hope that challenge or tragedy has not visited you or your family this year. But if it has, know that you are not alone. We see you, we feel you, and when and only when you are ready, we will help you create a new normal worth living.
Big hugs and many blessings from my family to yours this holiday season.