I understand what it’s like to have to accept the unacceptable. As many of my readers know, my son David died in an accident eight years ago and life as I knew it came to an abrupt end. But even before that fateful day, I had experienced many less horrific but still challenging situations.
Some of these involved the illness and death of close family members and friends. Some related to managing a child’s chronic condition and special needs. And there were other kinds of losses that shattered my vision of what I thought life would be like.
These are life transitions, as you know something is ending and a new reality is beginning. The fact that the transition is forced upon you in a most unwelcome way means you cannot possibly embrace this change. Yet, here you are in the midst of a profound shift and you can’t quite figure out how to proceed.
Here’s what I’ve learned: meaningful transitions are possible no matter how unwelcome they may be! We humans are resilient beings who, with support, can learn to navigate unspeakable difficulty and ultimately build joyful (though different) lives.
Looking back at all of my unwelcome transitions, I recognize a consistent practice that has always benefitted me: telling my story. With each challenge, I felt a need to give voice to my experience to help make it real. Since I happen to be a writer, journaling came naturally to me.
Example: Telling My Story by Writing
I wrote to chronicle what was happening, my observations, and what it meant to me. Sometimes it didn’t matter whether or not these were read; it was the expression that was important. Sometimes I sent my journal entries to select others. Each time I wrote, I felt somehow unburdened. I also felt a sense of accomplishment at having documented my personal experience. Some people use blogs for this purpose and I think it’s a great way to tell your story if you’re comfortable posting in a public space.
Example: Telling My Story by Talking
I also needed to talk about my journey. I talked to friends, relatives, and my therapist (yes, therapists do have therapists!). It wasn’t incessant talking, but rather the kind of supportive processing that happens when people care about each other. As I told my story, I felt validated in just being listened to. Even though there are some losses no one can understand unless they’ve been through them, I could feel my listeners’ care and compassion. This meant the world to me and was part of my healing.
Example: Telling My Story by creating
I also at various times created scrapbooks, photo albums, and collages that conveyed certain aspects of a given story. I know others who paint, make jewelry, and write music to communicate their experience. There really is no limit to the creative ways we can express ourselves and they’re all helpful. I find creativity to be satisfying and healing, and I highly recommend it.
I hope this brief discussion of story-telling will spark your own ideas for expressing your life journey. Some people start to write, speak, and/or create as soon as they’re aware of an unwelcome transition. Others need time to absorb the shock and find some measure of equilibrium. You’ll know when you’re ready. Do you have other ideas for recording your experience? Let’s keep the conversation going!
Wishing you peace and healing,
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Essays on Grief Resilience