A Personal Journey Through Loss to Happiness

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new" - Socrates

Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end" - Robin Sharma

Almost a year ago I posted a blog entitled “This Too Will Change.”  After weeks of what seemed like constant disappointing events in my life, it was meant to share some coping and maintaining happiness through turmoil strategies.  Afterwards, I decided to show myself a bit of self-compassion and take the summer off from anything non-essential including blogging.  Just when I felt ready to jump back in, the wheel (more like hurricane) of change started spinning again.  This time in the form of not just disappointing, but much bigger, life-changing events.  I guess the few months before had been a primer to get me ready for the really big stuff.  Amongst the normal stresses of life there were two particular events that absolutely tested my ability to choose happiness which I’d like to share.

Norwegians and Time Steal Family!

The first was a joyous, positive, happy occurrence….for them.  I have a wonderfully close relationship with my sons.  Growing up in Australia, they all lived with me until they completed university (just how it’s done there). When we moved back to America, the two who came along lived with me here as well while they got established.  The first moved out almost two years ago.  One day while I was working overseas the week before Thanksgiving, the other called me.  He told me he was getting married….the next day……to a woman from Norway……who I’d never met…..who would be living with us when I returned.  So that happened.

It’s actually quite beautiful and has turned out remarkably well.  They are blissfully happy and have now too moved into their own place.  Nothing but good news in this story and yet somehow it didn’t (and sometimes still doesn’t) FEEL good to me.  I have never been an empty nester in my life.  I got married straight out of college and have had at least one son with me ever since.  AND they even took my dog (OK she's technically his, but still).

The second event was far less joyous and positive.  During the same time period, I experienced a major health scare with my mom.  I know many daughters have difficult relationships with their moms, but I am lucky to say I am not one of them.  On the contrary, my mother has always been my biggest advocate in supporting me to be everything I could be, my safe place to land if those lofty ideals didn’t quite work out, and my biggest inspiration and role model of a loving, caring, good person.  But she is also 95 years old now.  While I cannot imagine life without her, this health scare made me face the reality that I have to, because even though she is still physically with us, in many ways she is already gone.

Post Apocalyptic Happiness 

Two very different changes - one positive, one not so much.  The commonalities were that I could not stop them, I could not change them and they were both life changing to me in some difficult and sad ways.  They left me feeling a bit lost, disrupted, worried, very sad and helpless to fix the grief I was experiencing over the loss of my life as I knew it.  Throw in feeling tremendously guilty for feeling anything but happiness in the face of ordinary changes in an otherwise very blessed life and you’ve got the complete picture.  Time to practice what I preach and choose happiness in my new world.  The practices that were most helpful were once again those of acceptance, gratitude and self-compassion.

Acceptance.  Everything changes and holding on/resisting can only bring heartache.  (That’s not to say accepting things that CAN BE affected is necessary - cheers to those who work and advocate and protest things they know can and should be changed).  If  inevitable - a new normal, the grey hairs of life that cannot be prevented - resisting change, wishing it was not the case, or worrying about it will never make it revert. Just like no amount of rumination about the past can change it and no amount of worry about the future can control it, resisting inevitable change - wishing it wasn’t so - can only trap one in the sadness and grief and make it harder and more painful to go through.  I now embrace my new life, look for silver linings and make it the best new normal it can be.  I focus on the pride and happiness I feel seeing my children on their own paths.  I recognize the gift my mom has been to this world and try to capture her legacy while making our remaining time together full of love.  AND I’ve become “MY” dog’s daycare human.

Gratitude.  When change takes things we cherish away, it’s a great practice to remember the things we cherish that remain.  My children may no longer live under my roof, but I’m incredibly thankful they are all healthy, productive, good people who are killing it finding their own happiness. And how many people are so blessed to have a beloved parent for even a minute, never mind until they are in their nineties.  I’m thankful my mom’s warmth, lessons and spirit will always be with me and hopefully passed on to my children.  Finally, I’m thankful for the room my new life provides to enrich my relationships with others and pursue things I’ve always wanted to do - like get back to blogging.

Self-compassion.  Finally, quieting the inner critic and replacing it with understanding and support for one’s self can help in coping with sad change.  Rather than feeling guilty and masking the sadness when change is difficult, try self-kindness. Think of how you treat others - the things you say and do - when someone you care about goes through difficult times.  Yet, we tend to be much harsher and critical about negative feelings we experience ourselves.  Be as understanding, comforting and supportive to yourself as you are to others in the same contexts to help the healing process. Major changes in one’s life can hurt.  It is understandable and part of the human experience.  We are allowed to grieve our losses as long as we don’t allow that grief to become a fixture resulting in long-term unhappiness.  Feel the sadness, embrace the grief, give it some time, then move on to make the new next chapter as happy as it can be.

Change is constant.  No matter how perfect we try to make our lives, they will still change. The good news is that no matter how HOW DIFFICULT life might become, this too will pass. Sometimes the change is minor, sometimes annoying, and sometimes even life-changing, disruptive, painful and sad.

Uninvited change gives us two choices -  resist and let it bring continued sadness and grief, or find ways to cope and choose happiness in the new normal.  In the meantime, acceptance., gratitude, self compassion and relating with friends can get us through anything.  Oh, and become the daycare provider for the dog.….

 

 
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