Typically, our first response is to ask “Why?” “Why did this happen to me?” believing if we can find that answer, we’ll manage the situation better. It’s often the case that we may never know “why” something happened, and dwelling on the “why” can keep us stuck in grief and despair.
Asking “how” something happened is also common, and that can be a useful question. Years ago, I had a ceramic advent wreath I’d made when I was into ceramics. It was beautiful. I placed green candle rings with red berries around each of the four purple candlesticks. It was the third Sunday of Advent, and I lit three candles. I was in a Christmas mood and decided to make a quick last-minute shopping run, unaware the candles were still burning. When I came home, the house was full of smoke, the white walls were blackened, and the rug was ruined underneath the small Advent candle table. If my husband hadn’t gotten home and put out the fire, our entire house would likely be gone. How did that happen? Well, I was focused on too many things – not present – not mindful. I always blew out candles before I left the house – but not this time. And the results could have been disastrous. Asking “How did this happen?” resulted in a change of my behavior: A) From then on, using only jar candles, and B) Always being mindful to blow out a candle when I leave a room – even when I’m still in the house.
I’ve heard many cancer patients ask “How did this happen?” “Was this caused by my diet or exposure to toxic cleaning products?” There’s nothing wrong in changing one’s behavior, like following a healthier diet or paying attention to labels, but I’ve seen many frantically searching for the cause for the disease, which caused additional stress in the process and kept them in a constant state of distress. Sometimes there may be a cause/effect relationship (Agent Orange and lymphoma, for example); however, in many cases, a cause may never be discovered, and the focus remains on the wrong question. A more helpful question is, “Will I let this define me for the rest of my life?” Initially, I believe any loss, any difficult situation, defines us, but it’s a choice, and it takes time to move from an initial, defining moment to a period in time where we feel stronger, sturdier.
How does that happen? It happens by talking to others who’ve been down this road. It happens by taking time to grieve our losses. Adele Rice Nudel in her book, Starting Over, says it best when she talks about feeling all of the feelings of good grieving:
At the outset, it may seem impossible. But you are not alone. Others have been down a similar road. Read about them – talk to them, and remember, it all takes time.
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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.
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