The Grief Club: The Secret to Getting
Through All Kinds of Change
by Melody Beattie.
Courtesy of Hazelden Publishing
Destined to Change:
When Dreams Die
My friend Andy called one day. Andy was my skydiving instructor. We used to be roommates until I moved out of the Blue Sky Lodge in Lake Elsinore, California, and back to the beach. Andy still lived there with his girlfriend and some other skydivers who rented from me. I kept my room but didn’t go there much anymore.
“Airspeed called,” he said. “They want me to try out for their team.” Airspeed is a national and world competition skydiving team.
“That’s great,” I said.
“What if I make it?” he asked. “They say I probably will. That means I lose living here and my job. I’m finally comfortable. I’m ahead on my bills. I’m even saving money. My life is stable. Team life means going back to starving and barely surviving again.”
“Five years ago, you would have given anything for that phone call. Competing on a world team was your dream!” I said. “Now you don’t know if you should do it? Are you crazy? That’s what you’ve wanted to do since we met. It’s what life has been getting you ready for all along.”
“I’d have to move,” he said. “I just bought a new car, and I’ll have to sell that. I’ll have to cut way back.”
“You’re good at cutting back,” I said. “You do it well. In the end, what do you want to say you did—chose security or went for your dream?”
Andy didn’t have to answer. We both knew what he’d say.
Forgetting our dreams is easy. We get a vision. We’re so excited. We give it a try, but it doesn’t happen right away, or it doesn’t happen how and when we think it should. So we get into the grind of doing something else. What’s the use? we think. My dream isn’t going to happen. It was just some foolish notion. We’re so enthusiastic in the beginning. We know what we want. But we’re not ready for it. We don’t know that, but life does.
We start learning, growing, changing. We don’t know that we’re doing the prep work. We think life is throwing us a bone or telling us we can’t have our dream. Times passes, and then one day our dreams become so distant we don’t remember them anymore. We forgot what we wanted so badly and why.
Destiny is sneaky. It creeps up on us when we’re not looking. Sometimes we’re staring at our problems so hard we forget they’re part of our destiny too. We might forget our dreams, but our dreams don’t forget us. Dreams are life’s way of showing us what our destiny is.
In many stories, I’ve changed people’s names to protect their privacy. Some people said, “I want you to use my real name.” Lori Yearwood is one. A seasoned newspaper reporter, Lori knows that slight changes (name, job, age, city of residence) weaken a story. What follows is Lori’s story of coming to grips with her dreams and her destiny. It’s for anyone in the I Got So Caught Up in the Grind I Forgot My Dreams and I’m Not Sure I Deserve Them Club. It’s about forgetting that problems and setbacks all weave into our destiny. It’s about remembering how precious dreams are.
“Horsey, Daddy! Horsey!” four-year-old Lori screams, pointing out the car window.
“Yes, honey, it’s a horse,” her father says.
“Please can I see the horse?” Lori begs. Most children like animals. They learn animal sounds and names—moo says the cow, oink says the pig. But from the time she could talk, Lori and horses? That’s passion. It’s obsession. It’s a love affair. Vernon Yearwood-Drayton pulls the car to the side of the road and lets Lori pet the horse.
Lori grew up. She became a reporter, and as soon as she had enough money, she bought her first horse. Buying this horse was about more than getting something she loves. Lori shopped for her horse a few months after her father’s death. Her dad had endured a long bout with brain cancer. Lori had cared for him until the end. She missed him.
When her parents separated, she lived with her dad. She and her dad were close. It broke her heart when he died. Lori’s gift to herself after his death was to buy a horse. She didn’t have firm ideas about what she wanted other than the horse’s name had to start with V, for Vernon—her dad’s name.
Meaning is important. Certain things such as religious objects or holidays have universal meaning. En masse, we agree that something means a particular thing. But the meaning we attach to life events is personal. It doesn’t matter if something means anything to anyone else. What matters is what an event or experience means to us. We can go through horrendous struggles if there’s meaning to what we endure.
A friend who runs an import/export business was looking for new products, and he asked my opinion about which ones I liked. I looked at the necklaces and other items in his line. “Find items with meaning attached to them,” I said. “That’s what people like.”
Lori wanted the name of her horse to mean that the horse was connected to her dad. “Don’t get your hopes up,” a woman told Lori. “I’ve been around horses for years, and I’ve never met a horse yet whose name starts with V.”
Lori drove to a stable with horses for sale. The woman who worked there walked Lori to the pasture. A white stallion immediately pranced over to Lori and kissed her on the nose.
“What’s his or her name?” Lori asked.
“His name is Vashka,” the woman said.
From the day Lori met Vashka, he became living, prancing proof of her father Vernon’s undying love—a tender gesture from the other side.
“I quit!” Lori said politely but firmly, handing in her resignation. She held an enviable job as a reporter for the Miami Herald. She was in a good position for any writer; she was making a decent income doing something she loved. The problem was it wasn’t her dream. She wanted to teach inner-city children to write. She wanted to do freelance writing from home. But she didn’t want just a house; she wanted to live on a ranch with her horse. This was her dream since she was a child.
It wasn’t work or duty to make the hour-and-a-half round-trip drive to the stables. It was a privilege to spend time with her horse. Lori cheerfully, gratefully, joyfully visited Vashka every day unless she was sick or out of town on business or visiting her mom. Lori was aware she was going through a time of transformation and change in her life.
It wasn’t only her father’s death, quitting her job, and getting a horse. Her relationship with her mom was changing too. Lori was beginning to see that just as she wrote stories for a living, she told herself stories about her life, about what happened to her and why.
“I’ve got to get out of here or I’ll go insane!” her mom screams at her dad. “I cannot stay here with you another hour.”
But who’s going to help me shave my legs? thirteen-year-old Lori wonders, watching her mom drive away. After a while, her mom’s outbursts and disappearances don’t surprise Lori anymore. But they still hurt. Why doesn’t she love me? Lori wonders. What did I do wrong?
For so many years, Lori told herself the story that her mother abandoned her because she didn’t love her. It’s truth, not fiction, Lori thought. Over the years, however, with a therapist’s help, Lori began to edit that story. Mom was having a nervous breakdown. She didn’t get along with my dad. It wasn’t about me. My mom left because she had to, to survive. My mom loves me now and she always has. Any good writer knows that good stories are made in the editing and rewriting—not in the first draft.
It’s easy to feel like a victim. Most of us feel powerless about many things. We are. We can’t stop someone from dying unless we execute a successful rescue attempt. We can’t change other people. But do we have some power? Can we alter what happens to us by what we believe and the meaning we attach to events? Many people say yes, we can.
Scientists and quantum physicists say that we change something (or someone) by the simple act of observing. Looking at something interacts with and changes what or who we’re looking at. We can change what people see when they look at us by what we believe about ourselves.
We each have a magic wand that can change us and impact the world. It’s called our power. People say we own our power, but power isn’t something we own. It’s something we step into, grow into, breathe into. Power is a force in the universe we align with. We don’t pick it up like a club. We can write and rewrite stories that create self-esteem and the knowledge that we are loved. Even in worst-case scenarios where we weren’t loved or we lost our self-esteem, we can write a new story or another ending.
Dear Melody: I’m working on a book about finding my power. I’d like to interview you and other women I admire to hear what you have to say about power. Thank you for considering my request. Lori Yearwood.
I get many reader requests, but this one caught my attention. Then the request to interview me for the book turned into a request from Lori to also interview me for a story for O, The Oprah Magazine.
“I’d like to spend a few days with you. Tag along and see how you live your life,” Lori said.
We attended a seminar by the Dalai Lama in Pasadena. The next day Lori and I went to the drop zone. Lori put on a jumpsuit, and we both jumped out of the plane. Lori made her first tandem skydive.
After that, Lori and I became friends. Right before September 11, 2001, she was passing through town, and I invited her to stay with me for a few days.
We’re in my living room. Lori is saying something. I’m used to this feeling by now when I’m around her. It pulls on my energy. It wants something from me, something I don’t have to give. I raise my hands in exasperation. “I don’t have your power Lori,” I yell. “You do!”
“Oh,” she says, and stops pulling.
Over the coming weeks and months, Lori began to believe in herself. I saw the change in her before she did. Her father’s death was the first in a sequence of events. It had a domino effect. She found Vashka, quit her job at the newspaper, then started a nonprofit business called Storytellers Ink. She began teaching inner-city kids—the tough ones, the ones with pain in their eyes and clenched fists—how to tap into their power by writing instead of fighting.
Her business generated interest. Newspapers were writing about her. Other schools across the nation inquired about her program. Children were writing stories about their experience, strength, and hope. People wanted Lori’s program in their communities and schools.
Storytellers Ink was expanding, but Lori kept tripping over obstacles. Eventually, she found herself spending more time supervising employees and talking to the accountant than doing what she loved— teaching children how to write from their hearts and find their power.
The domino effect that started with Vernon’s death was good, but something was missing. Lori wanted her ranch. She wanted to live there with horses. Dreams are funny living things. Do we find them or do they find us? And having our dreams come true is rarely what we expect. Dreams should come with labels: Caution. Unexpected territory ahead.
Lori and her friend Rachel finished loading the RV, then they herded Lori’s two horses into the trailer attached to the rear. Two weeks before the move, Lori bought another horse, a miniature named Harley. Harley is slightly bigger than a dog. Again, it was love at first sight. “Horse owners know instantly when the bond is there and that horse is the right one for them,” Lori explains. “I love both horses, Vashka and Harley. They love each other. They’re fun horses. Harley likes to untie people’s shoelaces. Vashka makes it clear that he’s the boss.”
Lori can live anywhere and do her business—Storytellers Ink and her writing. Her first choice for a ranch was Northern California, but that’s too expensive. Across the border in a lush green valley in Oregon, Lori found a three-bedroom, three-bath house on three-and-a-half acres that she could afford. Perfect for me and the horses, Lori thought. They’ll eat grass while I write books.
The house was in good shape; it passed the inspection. That meant Lori could take her time building a barn and fixing the property. Rachel, a friend from Miami, wanted to get out of the city too. She loves horses. Rachel and Lori decided to move together and be roommates. Lori would buy the house; Rachel would help with chores. Together they’d make the dream work.
Lori pulled out of her driveway and took one last look at the Miami house that had been home for so long. In one week, she’d be living her dream. “I knew living with Rachel was a mistake from the beginning,” Lori admitted later. “The truth is that it was such a big move I was afraid to do it alone.
“The trip was an omen, a nightmare from the day we hit the road,” Lori said. She bought bad gas. The RV broke down. The horse trailer unhitched and rolled away. You can’t check into a Super 8 with two horses. Most motels won’t let you in with a dog. “They have horse motels around the country,” Lori explains. “They’re like RV parks, only you can let your horses walk around, eat, and sleep in a stall.” But when the RV broke down, there wasn’t a horse motel in sight.
“Rachel and I were at a restaurant wondering what we were going to do when a woman appeared out of nowhere. She overheard us. She invited us to stay at her ranch while the RV got fixed. She was like an angel,” Lori said. “She fed us and gave us and the horses a safe place to stay.”
After the RV was up and running, Lori and Rachel fought through storms and a tornado. By the time they reached New Mexico, Vashka’s legs were swelling badly. Lori had to stop. No more traveling until Vashka healed. It was too dangerous. It was an Indiana Jones–style adventure. Every time a problem appeared, a solution did too—eventually, anyway.
Rachel had planned on buying a horse in Oregon, but when she met Sunny at a horse motel one night, Rachel knew she had to have him. Lori and Rachel squeezed, pushed, and crammed, but they couldn’t fit Sunny in the trailer with Harley and Vashka. Rachel would have to send for Sunny later.
“That trip was a sign,” Lori said. “A trip that should have taken a week took twenty-eight days.” It was only the beginning of everything turning upside down, around, and over. From the day she left Miami, and for the next two years, everything in Lori’s dream happened wrong. “I thought moving would be like living in the city, only I’d have the same life on a ranch,” Lori said.
“Instead, everything about my life changed. It was nothing like what I thought it would be. Taking care of two horses was overwhelming. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t have a clue. I knew Rachel and I living together wouldn’t work. I used her for a security blanket. I had to apologize for that later. I knew my nonprofit business was having problems. But I had no idea that the rest of my life would unfold the way it did. I was shocked and surprised,” she said. “I still am.”
We associate grief with death, unwanted change, tragedy. But all change brings loss. We let go of the old to make space for the new. There’s comfort in going to the same grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants. Each community has its own feel. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling when familiar routines change. It’s even upsetting when something very minor happens, like the receptionist quitting at the dentist office we’ve been going to for ten years. No matter what we say, we’re not prepared for change.
Living our dream rarely feels the way we imagine it will. How can new parents prepare for the ways a child will change their lives? After living with a partner for years, people say marriage still unexpectedly alters the relationship. Our expectations of what it will feel like to be successful, have our own business, or get that job or promotion can be monumentally different from how these things play out.
At Lori’s ranch in Oregon, before the end of the first two weeks the underground sewage backed up through the bathtubs. There were massive hidden problems with the septic system. Laws protecting home buyers ensured that Lori didn’t have to pay. But it was a nightmare to live with and fix.
When Lori’s furniture arrived, most of it was broken. Then the moving company immediately went out of business. Lori couldn’t collect on damages even though she had bought insurance. Then Storytellers Ink collapsed. Lori had no income. She started living off her savings. She found three part-time jobs teaching writing. After a while, life with Rachel became intolerable. Rachel left, leaving Lori with Sunny (the horse Rachel bought on the trip).
Now Lori had three horses—two she bonded with and loves and one that’s like a foster child. Lori was on her own financially and doing all the upkeep at the ranch. She couldn’t find a spare minute to write. It wasn’t the sewage, cleaning horse poop, brushing the horses, cleaning the stalls, tending the land, grocery shopping, house cleaning, or worrying about the bills that finally got to her. What consumed and dominated Lori’s life were the horses. All three became seriously ill.
“Some of it was diet,” Lori explained. “I’d never kept horses. I thought they could live on grass and carrots. Wrong! That’s a sugar-filled diet. They couldn’t digest it. It made them sick. So I’m living on three-and-a-half acres of lush grass, and I’ve got to keep the horses away from it! Plus, the horses are emotionally stressed to the max by the move, the change in environment, and the change in the land and climate.
Horses are sensitive, like people. In addition to having problems with their digestive tracts, which is serious and life-threatening, the horses began having problems with their feet. Shoeing horses is bad for them,” Lori explained. “It cuts their lifespan in half. There’s division about that in the horse world, but it’s what I know to be true. Horses live twice as long if they’re barefoot and their feet are cared for properly.”
Horses that aren’t shod need to be trimmed, a process that involves the cutting back, shaping, and guiding of the foot’s growth. Lori had an expert trimmer in Miami. “It took me a while to catch on, but the trimmer I found in Oregon was butchering their feet,” Lori said. “I took it for granted all trimmers knew what they were doing, but that’s not true. There are many styles of trimming. The style this trimmer was using didn’t work on my horses. It really hurt them—badly.” She didn’t notice the damage at first.
“Then beautiful, stately Vashka began spending most of his life lying down. That’s a bad sign for a horse. I was so worried about Vashka that I didn’t pay attention to Harley. By the time I noticed, Harley was so fat from living on grass and carrots he looked like a fat pumpkin with feet.”
Next Sunny got sick. “One horse would start to get better, then another one would become ill. It was so bad for a while I wondered if I had Munchausen by proxy,” Lori joked. (Munchausen syndrome is a disorder where a person pretends to be sick to receive medical attention. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a disorder where a person fabricates—or even causes—disease or illness in his or her child in order to receive medical attention, procedures, and treatment for the child.)
Lori had been Daddy’s little girl all her life. If she needed anything, she called her father, and he instantly made it better. Now he was gone and she was living in the middle of nowhere, isolated and alone.
Lori was exhausted. It took twelve to fourteen hours each day to take care of the sick horses and the ranch. “Nobody understood what I was going through,” Lori said. “Nobody got it. Even I wasn’t sure what was happening. Every day I’d wake up and say, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening. This is not happening the way it should. This is wrong.’ I was convinced that this was all a big mistake. And the guilt! I thought I was being punished for everything I’d ever done wrong.”
“Once I’d lied to my father,” Lori confessed. “I said I needed a loan to pay off my taxes. Then I used the money for something else. I felt guilty about that. I felt guilty about everything I’d ever done wrong. I believed that my life falling apart meant I was being punished and getting exactly what I deserved. Who was I to think I had any right to live my dream?”
It’s common, natural, and normal to believe we’re being punished when we lose something or someone we love—or when things go wrong—even if intellectually we know different. A friend’s mother was dying of cancer. She pulled her daughter aside. “The cancer is God’s way of punishing me for not being a good mother,” she said. Her daughter just looked at her. “What am I supposed to do with that?” she asked.
“I forgave you the instant you got sick, Mom,” she said. “And despite what happened when I was a child, I turned out fine. I’m happy, successful. You’re not being punished. You’re sick because you’re sick.” The guilt that comes with grief feels real, but it’s not. It’s a nasty, biting, stinging, and painful side effect of grief.
Lori couldn’t take it anymore. She looked at her life, the ranch, the sick horses, and the bank account running dry. Something had to change. The something that changed was her. She surrendered. Instead of waking up each day saying, “This isn’t supposed to be happening,” Lori started saying, “Okay, God, have it Your way.” She pushed away the guilt. She rolled up her sleeves. “I’m going to make this work,” she said. “I deserve my dream.”
When we stop resisting, we stop fighting ourselves. We become partners instead of enemies with life.
Lori changed the horses’ diet. She built a barn. She fenced the yard in and kept the horses away from the grass. She connected with a group of people in the horse world in Oregon. She met people in online forums, other people struggling to learn how to care for their horses. She still hadn’t found a good trimmer, so she took an intensive course and began trimming the horses herself. “It was a disaster,” Lori said. “I didn’t do a good job. Harley’s feet were bleeding. I felt so guilty I swore I’d never trim again.” So she found another trimmer.
The next trimmer did worse than Lori at trimming the horses’ feet. After a few months, the new trimmer had Harley’s feet so inflamed he was kneeling to eat. The online vet told Lori that all she needed to do was alter her trimming style slightly. When she saw what bad shape the horses’ feet were in from the new trimmer, Lori decided to tackle trimming again with the vet’s help.
“Every day I woke up and consciously surrendered,” Lori said. “I’d say to God, ‘Just show me what You want me to do.’ I also began the practice of gratitude.” Lori found five to ten things each day to be grateful for—including the things she didn’t like, the things she was resisting. She willed herself into acceptance. Acceptance turned to moments of joy. Gratitude for everything as it is in our lives is the key to surrender. Surrender is the key to life.
For two years, Lori walked blindfolded through the dark. Slowly, she saw how much she’d changed. She was doing chores she never imagined she could. She was learning how to trim and how to maintain healthy horses. People began bringing their horses to her. With her online vet’s help, Lori began teaching other horse owners what she’d learned. She was able to send people to reliable resources in the horse world.
By surrendering, Lori aligned with her purpose. What she used to think were accidents, mistakes, and problems became an important part of her destiny. She realized there was a reason—a purpose—for everything that happened and that life was unfolding as it should.
“At first it was confusing,” Lori said. “One person said do this, another said do that. One vet had me spending every waking hour taking care of the horses.” Lori began to see that if she didn’t adopt a moderate approach, she and her horses would starve. She had to have time to work. Lori learned the importance of balance. She’s learning and relearning to trust herself and to listen to her horses about what they need.
Lori’s mother bought a cottage and a plot of land next to Lori’s ranch. In the beginning, Lori was chasing her losses—trying to get what she didn’t get from her mom when she was a child. That didn’t work. What worked was Lori forming a relationship with her mom based on who they both are now.
“You can go through anything—any amount of suffering—if you know there’s a reason for it. Then even the most depleting days don’t hurt. Well they do, but they don’t,” Lori says. “It helps when you know there’s a reason for the pain.”
The horses that were barely surviving are now on the road to thriving. Lori is too. She’s not the same person she was. “It doesn’t occur to me to think, Oh, it’s Friday night—why don’t I have a date? I’m too exhausted to go out.” She’s letting her dream work even though it doesn’t feel the way she thought it would.
Recently she sent me this message:
It keeps coming to me to tell you what a wonderful day I had—truly a euphoric one. This is what I did:
- Picked up old hay.
- Cleaned all the water and feed buckets with salt.
- Talked to my Internet vet about how to trim Vashka.
- Then had a great time with Sunny. Today is his birthday.Since I had that heart-to-heart talk with him about being a foster child versus being chosen like Vashka or Harley, our relationship changed. He nickered for me this morning (a content sound horses make comparable to a cat purring), if you can believe it. His heart is opening to me and mine to him. I can feel it.
- Cleaned the barns, stalls, and tack room.
- Picked up old sticks in the forest, stuff from the flooding.
I’m really happy. My definition of accomplishment has changed. It comes from me, not from the outside world, although I’m still working to make it with my writing. Also I’m going to buy a chainsaw to finish off the tree stumps in the woods. I can do so many things I never thought I could. It’s empowering.
Lori isn’t a city girl anymore. She’s not Daddy’s little girl. She’s a grown woman taking care of herself, a ranch, and three horses. Her body is fit, lean, and strong. Even if the horses aren’t perfectly healthy, she can accept where they are in this moment. She knows they’re healing. “I have to let go a little and realize they’re horses; they’re not people,” she says. Whether she’s lying in the field breathing in sync with Vashka or smiling because Harley untied her shoes, Lori knows that everything she’s been through is worthwhile.
A year ago she would have told you she was going through life alone and unguided. Now she knows she’s being led. It was her destiny to be transformed. It was what life had in mind all along. “Caring for these beautiful creatures is an honor and a gift,” she says. It hurts to risk having dreams. What if they don’t work? The death of dreams is as painful as the death of someone we love. But living without dreams is a living death.
Lori didn’t find her power. It found her.
This is a story about Lori and horses, but it’s a story about more than that. This can be a cruel world. Lori took care of her dad until he died. My skydiver friend Andy was the one who walked in and found his brother’s dead body when they were teenagers, and his older brother had killed himself by shooting himself in the head. It can be really ugly here. I don’t know why it’s that way. Maybe someday when we’re face-to-face with God, He’ll tell us. Until then it’s a mystery.
We have dreams. We dream about keeping our parents around for a long time. We dream about watching our child grow up, get married, see what he does for a living. I know Shane would have been a great dad. We have dreams when we commit to a partner or get married of our marriage lasting happily forever—and maybe having a houseful of children.
Sometimes our dreams are simpler. We dream—plan on—being healthy, being able to walk without crutches or a wheelchair. And those basic dreams about life get shattered, ripped apart. Or we dream of having a mom and dad who love us for who we are, and they don’t. For whatever reason, destiny sees fit to rip our dreams away and we don’t get a say. No matter how much power people tell us we have, we can’t do a thing about it.
But there’s one thing we can do. It doesn’t make the ugliness disappear, but it helps. We can bury the old dreams and have the courage to find new ones, whether it’s to live with our horses or open our heart and love again or care enough to write a book that helps people heal instead of pounding out empty words. If and when those dreams die, we can let them slip away and have the courage to find new ones again.
It’s not being loyal to the person we love and buried or to that family we wanted when we keep ourselves miserable, unhappy, and living in pain. We might think it keeps us connected to them if we walk around hurting, but that’s not so. As much as we’d sometimes like to not be here, we might end up living for a long time.
It won’t make our loved ones happy to see us walking around hurting and living without dreams. If it were the other way around, we’d want the people we love to be happy. We’d want them to go on with their lives and make the best lives that they can.
There’s something we can do to make our world a more beautiful place. Go for the gold. Let God plant the seeds of dreams in our hearts and see what destiny grows.
There are 9.2 million horses in the United States. Two million people own horses.
The horse industry has a direct U.S. economic effect of $39 billion annually.
Of all horse owners in the United States, 34 percent have annual household incomes of less than $50,000, 28 percent have incomes over $100,000, and 46 percent have incomes between $25,000 and $75,000.
More than 70 percent of horse owners live in communities of 50,000 or fewer.
There are horses in every state, and 45 states have at least 20,000 horses each.
There were 31,276 members of the United States Parachute Association in 2005.
In 2005, 2,177,007 skydives were made. In those skydives, 922 people were injured and 27 people died.
Eight million people suffer through the death of someone in their immediate family in one year, including 800,000 widows and widowers. Of people under 25, 400,000 suffer from the death of a loved one.
Sources: The American Horse Council, the United States Parachute Association, and the National Mental Health Association
1. Find meaning in your life and value the meaning you find. Review Your Master List of Losses. What did you learn from each one? What did each mean to you? Do you believe there’s purpose and value in what you’re going through right now? Can you at least be open to seeing what that purpose is? Are you resisting the daily experiences in your life, telling yourself that what’s happening is a mistake, that it’s wrong? In Victor Frankl’s books and the therapy he invented—logotherapy—he talks about the absolute importance of finding meaning in our losses, our suffering, and in our lives. We can endure tremendous pain and suffering if we believe there is meaning to what we’re going through. On the other hand, if we think we’re suffering for no reason or good purpose, even small losses can become unbearable.
Ask God (or the Higher Power of your understanding) to show you the meaning in your losses. Ask your losses to show you the meaning. Grapple with this part of your healing until you find meaning in your pain. It doesn’t matter what it means to someone else—it’s the meaning you derive that matters.
One woman was in a bicycling accident. It shredded her lips and parts of her face and sent her into a severe depression. She was a beautiful woman; she still is. Several reconstructive surgeries have repaired the damage, but for the longest time, it bothered her because when she tries to use her mouth to smile, her lips don’t form a smile. Instead, her mouth oddly quivers. The damage to the nerves was severe. “This was the worst loss I’d been through in my life,” she said. “I felt like God was picking on me, punishing me. I felt like God had pulled the rug out from under me. “
“Slowly I began to understand. We don’t smile with our mouths. We smile from deep inside of ourselves; a smile is the feeling we have in our hearts toward the person we’re greeting. A smile comes from our eyes, from our hearts, from our soul. I began to practice expressing a smile using all of me—not just my lips. When I began to learn that, I slowly came through my depression. I found meaning in my loss.”
Now when you greet this woman, you wouldn’t guess that her lips don’t actually form a smile. You’d swear she was smiling using her mouth, but her smile is actually coming from her heart. Allow your losses to mean something to you.
2. Practice gratitude daily. Make it part of your regular routine. If possible, find a gratitude partner. Otherwise do it by yourself. Each day, make a list of at least five things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—only the things you think are good or blessings. Start looking at everything—every single thing that happens in your day—as something to be grateful for even if you don’t feel that way.
Be grateful for the problems, the things you think are mistakes, the things you don’t like. I call it nonresistance gratitude. Be thankful for that unpleasant way you feel. Be thankful for the depression, the confusion, the anger. You don’t have to feel grateful. You can will gratitude. The gratitude will eventually become real. Make a commitment to do this for forty days. After forty days, you might not want to stop. Let life and destiny transform you.
3. Are you telling yourself a story about something that happened in your life, and the way you’re telling the story hurts? Does the end of your story leave you feeling victimized, with low self-worth, and feeling unloved? Go through your Master List of Losses. Become aware of the story you’re telling yourself about what you’ve lost. Is it possible that you could change your story and have a happier ending—an ending that leaves you aligning with your power and purpose instead of being a victim?
4. Be a helper (when giving feels right to you). I’m not suggesting we rescue the world or put ourselves in dangerous situations. That’s being codependent. Be smart. Be safe. But God needs us to help people. In your prayer and meditation time, ask God to use you as an instrument of love.
5. Do you have a dream? Did you have a dream that you forgot? Ask God to help you remember your dream. Ask for the courage to dream and to help make your dreams come true.
6. Bury dead dreams. Remember to include dreams that died on your Master List of Losses. Grieving the loss of old dreams is a good way to make space for the new.
7. Get rid of grief guilt. Go over your Master List of Losses. Which losses make you feel guilty—like you deserved them, caused them, or did something wrong? Do you feel like any of those losses are punishment? Be honest. Are you ready to let go of your guilt? Ask God to forgive you and help you forgive yourself. Every day for one month, each time you look in the mirror, look directly into your eyes and say, “I forgive you.” If you’re still feeling guilty at the end of the first month, repeat this exercise until you’re guilt free. You deserve to be at peace.
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