“Grief is the price we pay for love.” Queen Elizabeth II
Over the years, we have commented upon the ironic response to the “happiest time of the year.” We have reflected upon the painful reminiscing over departed loved ones and the loneliness that often accompanies those losses. Seemingly, there is little that can be done about this situation, and writers on the topic of holiday angst typically resort to concepts related to “grief and loss” psychology. Such messages are accurate, realistic but, sadly, not particularly uplifting.
What could possibly be uplifting when considering the death of a parent, spouse or sibling? Or, even more dreadfully, the loss of a small child? On some level, nothing. But let’s try to envision another way of picturing this circumstance.
A common term or skill of my profession is referred to as “reframing.” It simply means to look at the same set of circumstances in a different way. For example, when I was a young high school teacher, I lost my job because of declining enrollment in my school district. As a result, I was forced to seek other employment, and the new occupations I moved into created more opportunities than would have flowed to me as a secondary teacher. I liked being a teacher, but I’ve enjoyed my later careers even more. So, was my “pink slip” a loss or an opportunity? At the time, it was a total loss, and I was worried. (That’s the word men use when they don’t want to admit they are afraid). But eventually, I came to see it as both an opportunity and, much later, a blessing. That is reframing.
But back to losing a loved one. Admittedly, there is only pain at first. But was a beloved spouse a blessing to you? Was a dear sibling an irreplaceable source of support at times in your life? Would you be the adult you are today were it not for a nurturing mother or mentoring dad? Is the immeasurable pain from losing a child not counterbalanced in some way by the beauty and joy that flowed from loving him/her? Perhaps more to the point, would we have wished that they had never been born? I think not.
Regrettably, some of us did not have loving or supportive parents, sibs, or spouses. And as a result, their passing was far less painful. We may have regretted a lack of closeness to those persons during our life, but their passing did not generate the degree of pain that the loss of positive and meaningful others did.
So in the midst of the season that triggers memories like no other, consider the whole of your experience with your departed loved one. Focus on the life you had shared with them rather than the separation that their passing produced. Reframe their passing into a smile of appreciation for the gifts they bestowed in life.
A few weeks, a little five-year-old boy from Michigan, Chad Carr, died of inoperable cancer. As a parent and grandparent, I cannot even type this newsletter without struggling with the tears this very thought brings to me. Because of the notoriety of his family (former coach and player from the University of Michigan football program), many learned of Chad’s illness and have been inspired to generate funding in pursuit of a cure for the disease that took his life. Nothing can be worse than the death of an innocent child, but his loss has spawned humanity and motivation in others to seek a cure for future “Chads.”
We have said before that the universal antidote to depression is activity. My readers understand the metaphor of the “snowman.” It tells us that our thoughts lead to behaviors and that behaviors produce feelings. By reframing our losses into thoughts of appreciation and blessing, we can shift from numbing inactivity to positive action for others.
Homework for the next 30 days:
Thought homework: See the blessing in the life you shared with your departed. The initial intensity of your pain validated the love, wisdom, and support you received from them.
Behavior homework: Reach out to others. Act with love and appreciation. Recognize sad, painful thoughts as an “emotional tack” on your couch that raises you to positive action.
Feelings homework: None here. Your reframed thoughts and helpful activity will automatically yield smiles and grateful remembrances.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” -Annie Lamott