The cloudy twilight sky was an eerie smoky orange. It felt otherworldly and matched my mood. I’ve had a spate of challenges and losses of late.
I clicked on a video of Margaret Manning on Sixty and Me. She was talking about an “Aging Beautifully” deck of cards she’s created. She held up a few and read the titles, obviously excited by this new venture. Then she held up one with a woman and lion in bold colors. It read, “Stay Courageous.”
I needed to hear those words.
My 28 koi fish, ranging in age from 7 – 20 years old, all died in one night two weeks ago. A confluence of circumstances created the tragedy.
The fish were in a frenzy of mating as they do this time of year. They splashed and flipped around in the pond, the males pushing on the females to release their eggs.
The fish use up most of their energy and need all the oxygen the pump provides on this occasion. Sadly, the pump died that night. No one could have known this would happen. It was no one’s fault.
I was in Bangkok on a visa run, and my partner was deeply asleep and didn’t hear the sudden silence. When he woke up, all 28 beautiful big fish had perished due to the lack of oxygen.
Sitting in a Bangkok coffee shop, my back to the other patrons, I wept for an hour as the reality sunk in that I would return to an empty pond, my fish friends gone forever.
Since the fish died, we’ve had a broken computer, continuing electrical problems, and worst – a long time friend’s cancer metastasized.
I’m usually a happy positive person and ready to take on challenges that come my way. But this set of happenings really laid me low. It felt like it was all just too much.
And then, “Stay Courageous.”
Thank you, Margaret, those words are my guiding light right now. I am using them to pull myself from the muck and face these challenges.
Feel the Feelings
How do we pull ourselves out of the muck, out of grief? For starters, facing what we’re really feeling is the only way out.
While it’s tempting to deny what’s happening and put on a happy face, that only prolongs the grief. If we stuff these feelings, they will eventually surface. And we might not like how that happens.
Doing this is like a dance. You want to go with the rhythm and not fight against it. Feel whatever is coming up for you, but at the same time, don’t wallow in it. This is, of course, is easier said than done.
It takes practice. You walk the razor’s edge as you feel it, but you don’t analyze it. You follow it and see where it rests in your body.
I’ve found that allowing the feelings, sitting with them with an open, curious mind, changes them. Stuffing them inflates them and gives them power.
Thinking of what you could have done so the situation wouldn’t have happened, along with thoughts of what you should have done, only stalls healing.
Accepting what is and that you can’t do anything about it is the goal here. Rehashing the situation over and over with a stream of ‘if onlys’ brings more suffering.
Move Your Body
Your heart hurts and you feel a heaviness that seems to weld you to the ground – or worse, the sofa. Shake that off and move. If you can, move outside and feel the air on your skin. Go for a walk with a friend who will let you be just who you are in the moment.
If it’s too wintery where you are, put on some dance music and move in the house or go to the gym. Go with a friend if possible.
By allowing the feelings, as well as moving your body, you start to change the very energy that’s trapped in you. This doesn’t happen overnight but in increments, so trust and remind yourself that everything changes, including how you’re feeling.
Talk to a Trusted Friend
Find a trusted friend – one who will allow you to just talk about what you are feeling without trying to fix things.
Grief has its own lifecycle. It will go on its own if we don’t feed it with unnecessary analysis and thinking. At the same time, you want it to naturally wind down and go its way. Again, this is a delicate undertaking – allowing but not fueling.
Do Something for Someone Else
As hard as it is to pull yourself off the ‘couch’, just do it. Getting out of your own way and helping others, even in little ways, can ease some of the distress. You start to see things from a different perspective.
Giving generates joy and gratitude. Take a friend to lunch, give flowers to an elderly person, or simply compliment people, like the cashier at the grocery store.
Gratitude is medicine for an aching heart. As bad as things feel, we can find at least one thing to be grateful for. Breathe in that gratitude, feel it wash through your body and settle in your heart. Try to make this a daily practice.
Gratitude helped me when I was in the doldrums of caring for my husband who had Alzheimer’s for 14 years. Sometimes being a caregiver was overwhelming. I discovered other ways to manage the stress of caregiving. You can read about it in my book Piece by Piece: Love in the Land of Alzheimer’s.
Pick and Choose
All of these ideas might not work for you so pick and choose what does. You will probably come up with your own techniques to get yourself out of the muck.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to “Stay Courageous.”
When tragedy strikes, what’s your first response? What do you do to handle the grief? How do you stay courageous in the hard times? Please share with our readers what works for you.