The art of living is a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. Havelock Ellis
I recently had the opportunity to visit with a friend who had lost his wife two years ago. His was a long and rewarding marriage that ended sooner than he had ever imagined. Like most men, my friend probably anticipated that his wife would survive him, rather than the reverse. So his loss was both unexpected and acute. When I asked him how he was doing presently, he responded, “after a year, I decided that I needed to get on with my life. I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any good by holing up in my house and doing nothing.”
Changing the setting, but staying with the same topic, I recently read about a former acquaintance, Butch Jones. Butch is the former head football coach at the University of Tennessee, the University of Cincinnati, and Central Michigan University, where I came to know him while serving as a professor. Butch claimed the ladder of his profession to the top rung. There was nowhere to go, other than retirement or getting fired. Most elite coaches experience the latter and, regrettably, Butch was no exception. The good news about getting fired is that coaches at his level leave with a substantial buyout package. They are free to relax and collect fat paychecks while they look back on their termination. But that wasn’t Coach Jones’ choice. Instead of coasting, he accepted a rather humbling position as a low level assistant at Alabama. Since whatever he makes at this job automatically reduces his payments from the U of Tennessee, Butch is essentially working for free.
So what do these two men have in common – the widower and the recently terminated coach? Each has elected to move forward past grief, loss and disappointment. There was a time when widows were expected to “wear black” for the rest of their lives after their spouse passed. We no longer expect that sexist expectation to be honored by women, and the same principle should be applied to others.
Treatment professionals have come to understand the dynamics of grief and loss in multiple situations, be it death, job loss, or failure of some circumstance. There is no rigid timetable applied to emotional recovery, but we have come to understand that, ultimately, moving on is needed. And failure to do so does become a legitimate, treatable diagnosis and condition.
So what is the healthiest, most viable next step? Honor the past by living in the present and make a contribution to the future. The universal antidote to sadness and loss is ACTIVITY!
Excess of grief for the dead is self-defeating; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not. ~Xenophon