When I was a teenager, my parents went through a long, drawn-out divorce after a short and ugly marriage. I was fifteen when it started and grieving the loss of the family as I had known it, as well as suddenly being thrust from the role of "child" to "woman of the house."
In the midst of that, a wise aunt told me, "You're going to be able to help so many people because of what you're going through."
At the time, I simply got angrier that I had to go through that crap for the purpose of helping others. It wasn't fair! (And not what she meant, by the way.)
But now, I am SO glad she told me that. Because you know what? She was right. And if she hadn't told me that, I may not have taken the opportunities that presented themselves that enabled me to use that horrible experience for the good--both in other people's lives and my own.
Aside from allowing me to encourage other children of divorced families, that early testing ground changed me. It helped me realized that I could survive bad things happening to me. It laid the groundwork for surviving future losses with resilience, even when the losses were unthinkable.
Have you noticed this in your own life? With each loss you survive, you realize what you are capable of surviving?
Bitter or Better?
I have spoken to several people lately who have also experienced hard losses in their life--marriages, children, parents, faith, jobs, and more. Some of them have become gentler, stronger, more resilient, and more open as they worked through their grief. Others have become harder, more brittle, and more closed to relationships. I wondered what it was that makes such a difference in how grief shapes us.
I have decided it is what we choose to focus on.
If we go through loss and continue to focus on regret, how unfair it is, how we didn't deserve to have this happen to us (or maybe that we did, which may or may not be true), that this is all someone else'e fault, what we coulda/woulda/shoulda done to prevent it, and continually spiral inwards, then we develop a hard outer shell. Like a snail, we carry the burden of our grief around on our backs for all to see, using it to protect the softness inside that is so easily wounded. But that shell is brittle. It keeps others out. And it is utterly, completely selfish.
However, if we go through a loss looking outwards, suddenly made aware by our own suffering of how others are also suffering, and do what we can to help them, we find that our hearts are larger than they have ever been before.
Our networks expand. We make new friends. We find that there is still hope and goodness in the world. We have purpose and love in our lives. We become a butterfly, pollinating the flowers with joy, enjoying the beauty and sweetness the world has to offer us even while others enjoy the beauty we have to offer them.
Does this open us up to be hurt again? Absolutely. Are we always going to get it right? Nope.
Sometimes, in the process of striving for something better--better health, better relationships, better choices--we make mistakes.
Sometimes the results of choices we make is not what we expected or hoped for, even if the right choice was made.
Sometimes, things get a lot harder before they get better.
The Choice is Yours
Even when it is really hard, when we've stuck our foot in our mouths again or we have hurt someone we cared about or been rejected, that is no reason to become a snail. Use the lesson you learned from your loss--you have wounds, and so do the people you are in relationship with. You survived that by opening your heart, and you will survive this by doing the same. And if you are someone who has a snail shell--it is never too late to shed that shell and become a butterfly.
Be aware of the world. Be involved. Instead of demanding that the world remunerate you for your "undeserved losses", look outwards and see what needs you can fill.
In doing so, you will be surprised how your own soul heals.
And you will help so many people because of what you went through.