We have a choice how we respond to difficult events. I’ve talked with many people who were diagnosed with cancer. Some let the diagnosis define them and played the “C card” whenever they had the opportunity: “This is who I am – I have cancer,” expecting sympathy or privilege they otherwise might not receive. Others let it destroy them – meaning once they had the diagnosis, they became the victim, helpless and defeated. Yet others found a way through treatment and recovery, developed coping strategies, and found purpose and meaning in a wide range of activities and relationships.
Our choices, though, are our choices and cannot be forced upon us by someone else. I remember a few years back a friend confided that she was worried about her son who was considering divorce. She very emphatically told me “I’m scheduling him for counseling.” I had to laugh and told her, “That’s not really the way that works. You can’t schedule an appointment and make him go to counseling. It’s something he must do himself for himself, if he so chooses. He has to choose how he’s handling this.” He could choose to let the situation label and define him: “I’m divorced.” He could choose to let it destroy him by becoming clinically depressed, or he could choose to grow through the experience. (He chose the latter.)
Coping with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult of life’s challenges. We can let it define us by holding onto our grief and never re-engaging in life. Or we can let it destroy us. One of the primary myths about grief recovery is that “Grief always brings a family together.” It doesn’t. As family members grieve in different ways, it makes communication and understanding one another challenging. Divorce is prevalent in families following the death of a child, for example, as well as rifts and hurt feelings that never heal. How we respond to crises also impacts others. Murray Bowen’s family systems theory outlines how one family member’s behavior, responses, and choices affect the entire family. We can’t control another’s reactions or responses, only our own, which can in turn, impact those around us.
Those who let grief (related to any life event) define or destroy them get stuck in their grief by demanding to know the answer to “Why did this happen?” Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, “Life is not fair. The wrong people get sick and the wrong people get robbed and the wrong people get killed in wars and accidents.” We want to know why a tragedy happened. We want an answer. Rabbi Kushner suggests that rather than wanting an answer to the question, ”Why did this happen?” a better question to ask would be, “Now that this has happened, how will I respond?”
I love James Baraz’ quote about living in the present moment because it’s about how we choose to live life: “Enjoying the pleasant, without holding on when it changes (which it will). Being with the unpleasant, without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
We get to choose how to respond. So, rather than asking “Why did this happen?” we need to ask, “Will I let this define me, destroy me or strengthen me?”
Join us the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:00 PM (MST) for a discussion related to this Blog. Request a Zoom link below, to join the discussion.
SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
Receive Blog Post Updates
We respect your privacy. No Spam