Beyond the Shame of Change, Adversity, and Grief

Nothing is forever, as the saying goes. And it seems true in terms of human experience. Change is inevitable. You can’t please all the people all the time. Time will tell. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But, of course, you can’t judge a book by its cover because the grass is always greener on the other side. Also, that thing about picking your friend’s nose.

I am clearly not above the occasional inspirational bracelet.

Just not that one about everything happening for a reason. I’ll concede that there are certainly arguments for cause and effect — in fact, very much so, which is essential understanding when it comes to actually dealing with the issues that are thrust upon us in spite of our best efforts and desires. To suggest that everything happens for a reason is immensely wrongheaded and, even with the best of intentions, is ultimately unhelpful.

This does raise the issue — when suffering or change of any sort occurs — of how one is to cope if there is no purpose behind the suffering or change. But individual purpose and a reason for something to happen are two entirely separate issues. We construct purpose in our lives. We are capable of coming through adversity stronger or happier than we were before, or perhaps merely changed for neither better or worse, but somehow evolved. Purpose, like morality, is a chosen perspective rooted in our personal compass. How we derive these things for ourselves is dependent upon many factors, both internal and external, influenced by culture, society, family, and our own experiences. Sometimes we must dig deep within to conjure an objective to guide us.

And all of that is okay. It’s part of living. Accepting this and moving through the process can be liberating, especially when there is so much pressure to assume that somehow all of this has been deliberately dropped upon you by unseen forces in order to teach you a lesson or force you to find strength you did not know you had or otherwise punish you for being less than you should have been. The implicit victim-blaming in well-intentioned consolatory words might gouge fresh wounds deeper; understanding the blindness from which they come and the absolute untruth of those words may dull their impact, but it takes a dedicated embrace of the reality that sometimes shit happens, it just happens, to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Because, yes, there can be a light at the end, dark as the tunnel might be. That light may not be the salvation we are hoping for, it may require picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and facing our fears and otherwise hobbling through the quagmire of doubt and uncertainty and self-loathing that inevitably plagues us all. It may not even be a particularly bright light, or a warm one, and trundle on as we might, there is a chance the end of the tunnel will never be reached, the light never embraced, but we can still forge our way toward it and in so doing focus our lives around the purpose we create.

This is what I call living. It is life, the process of being in our bodies, moving from Point A to Point B, traversing time and space and filling our emotional wells.

That seems like a pretty good place to end.

And yet, here comes the twist.

Overcome with grief, saddled with obligations for which you are ill-prepared and angered by, left alone to drown when all you desire is to float away in peace, you are left with the burning, unyielding, possibly unanswerable question: who is responsible?

Not, “who is responsible for dumping this mess on my shoulders?” but, “who is responsible for solving this problem that I have been saddled with?”

Who, indeed.

If you have suddenly become a caregiver and had your world upended by some catastrophe, your spouse or child or parent abruptly helpless and no one else in line to prevent the obligation from falling to you, forcing you to abandon the path you had imagined you were on, how does that not render you resentful, bitter, or depressed? And the suppressed urge to flee, to simply walk off, hide, to be someone else entirely, gives way to guilt, gives way to the despair of self-immolation, creates a perpetual trap that prevents you from shirking your responsibility while fostering ever greater levels of animosity toward, if not the person, the situation for which you now feel entirely responsible.

But acting on this responsibility out of guilt will leave no room for happiness.

Certainly, it must be difficult to find happiness in a role that we never wanted to play. And if not from guilt, it might be difficult to find where the responsibility we feel we must honor could come from. And this is where one must look away from guilt to find a desire for that responsibility. Not to be a martyr, but because there is something greater coming out of the experience, something personal and fulfilling — but it is okay, and I cannot stress this enough, it is okay if the desire is simply not there.

One thing that people are often not afforded by their friends or family or society or whomever, is the acceptance of it being all right for them not wanting the hand they were dealt, not being okay with it, and not being willing to suck it up and do the right thing. Because, really, at the end of the day, who decides what the right thing is?

Ultimately, regardless of whatever artificial social code you or I or anyone else subscribes to, what is “right” is decided by the individual. What is “right” for you might not be “right” for me. What is “right” for my spouse or my child may differ dramatically from what is “right” for myself, and we all need to acknowledge this and be understanding when an abrupt new burden lands on someone. For no reason other than it did. We cannot judge other people for not wanting to be in the position of responsibility. And we should not judge ourselves if we are thrust into that position against our will.

This is not a call to abandon others in need or to shirk legal responsibilities or to ditch those who had been dependent upon us. But it is a call to dig deeper — not because “you got this!” or “if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger” or “time heals all wounds,” but because deeper down is where you either find meaning for yourself or the solution to move on. It is where your passion for life resides, perhaps crushed by pressure from that burning lump of coal into a small diamond, cold but still beautiful and with the potential to cut a new path. Find a way to mine that diamond and cherish it.

When we admit to ourselves that it is okay to be angry, to be sad, even to be resentful, and we accept these emotions as normal, we can embrace our situation and let go of the guilt for feeling that way. We can accept what is and our place in it. And we can choose how to move forward in a positive manner. It doesn’t require abandoning someone who cannot care for herself; it doesn’t require a disappearing act; it doesn’t require faking it until you make it. But it does require that you, me, anyone stuck in grief or pinned down by heavy burdens, focuses through that passion, refracting whatever resulting rainbow onto some new purpose.

And that is what I call living. It is life, the process of being in our bodies, moving from Point A to Point B, traversing time and space and filling our emotional wells. But we cannot fill the well if we don’t find the source. So dig deep. And don’t be afraid to dig deeper, because that is where the best diamonds are found.


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If any relevant clichés or platitudes were left out of the post above, please feel free to add them in the comments section below.

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