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Finding Humor in Our Grief

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“And finding something funny – anything – under those painful conditions is good.

If you can laugh even while you feel pain, there’s hope.”

—Linda Richman

In her book, I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Linda Richman tells her story of pain from the losses in her life, first while growing up and then culminating in the loss of her son and working through that tragedy with humor.

 “I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that you and I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. . . no matter what horrible thing has happened; life still offers you humor if you want it.”

It isn’t what happens to us – it’s what we do with it.

Survival. Linda Richman had a crazy mother and a father who died when she was 8. She hated her mom, who had major problems. Linda married early and her marriage was a disaster. She became agoraphobic, fearful of being in crowded places or leaving her home.

Just when Linda was pulling her life together, her son was killed at the age of 29. She went into a tailspin. Her daughter was in pain and she was in pain until one day Linda cracked a joke that broke the pain cycle, released them from it, and changed both their lives.

We may not think we can be as fearless or strong as Linda, but each of us has the capacity to activate humor in some way to help us heal.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22

On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I invited friends and family over for a dinner party. All of us had been grieving in our own way. The intensity of pain had receded, and it was time to come together and just laugh. I wanted to put a happy, positive layer to our memories. So, we toasted to his life and laughed as we shared humorous stories of our times together.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
—Mark Twain

Laughter heals.

Are there really health benefits to laughter, other than feeling good in the moment?

Yes, there are, and it is confirmed not only through scripture and sages of the past, but also from medical research. Unchecked, long-held stresses over time contribute to illness.

Laughter releases hormones that help heal our physical body and strengthens our heart and immune system.

Hearty laughter exercises the heart – lowers blood pressure, gives our lungs a workout, and releases tension in all parts of our body.

Humor is not just fun.

Finding Humor in Our Grief

It is an extremely powerful medicine that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor is a revival, a mini-vacation, a breath of fresh air, a way to cope. Humor can allow the pain to subside for a moment, make life more bearable, put perspective on situations, and allow us to laugh at ourselves and our situations. It gives us power over what might seem like an impossible or powerless situation.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”
—Leo Buscaglia

It may seem difficult to laugh and find joy in our losses when our hearts are heavy with sorrow. But when we give ourselves permission to feel joy, happiness and laughter, our losses take on a more complete and healing integration. We can tap into those layers of humor as well as the layers of pain and sorrow.

We might think it irreligious or in some way devaluing of our loss to find things that are humorous. Instead, it balances our sorrow with joy. It takes the sting out of loss and brings normalcy back into life. It takes an intolerable situation, one packed with intense emotions, flips it over and “tickles its tummy.” Humor takes the edge off pain.

We can choose to look at the world in a positive way or a negative way. A loss by its very nature demands grieving. But even when grieving, we have the ability to laugh.

What we gain through humor and laughter:

  • Ability to see a more all-inclusive view of life – sorrow and happiness.
  • We can stop pretending, be real and laugh at ourselves and our imperfections.
  • Possibilities are expanded and we feel encouraged to move forward.
  • Humor helps us cope and survive in even the most horrible conditions. It gives us a way out – it balances life. Laughter disconnects us from the dreadfulness of the moment.
  • Humor helps us overcome fear, anxiety and uncertainty. It removes the rough edges of loss and fills in the deep chasms of distress.
  • Anger, hostility and fear are diminished. It is difficult to be remain angry when we can laugh.
  • Humor and laughter diminish emotional pain.
  • Humor breaks a deadly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
  • Laughter brings people together.

With all the positive results of humor and laughter, why don’t we laugh more?

I think we don’t want to be judged or criticized. We might feel embarrassed if we are showing a happy side when we are “supposed” to be grieving.

Sometimes we do not want to give up the immediate benefits of being angry. There might be a hesitancy because we heard messages as a child that said we were to be serious, especially when grieving a significant loss.

But I would rather find those moments when I can laugh in the midst of my sorrow. When I find those kernels of the absurd and ridiculous, I can create that moment of freedom from pain to laugh at myself and my world. It is both freeing and regenerating.

Each of us has the ability to create humor and laughter. And it is not just fun. It is extremely serious and a powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body and helps us cope in the worst of times.

What makes you laugh?

When do you laugh the most? Find time each day to find something to laugh about or find humor in. Make it a priority. It will help make your grief recovery easier and satisfactory.


Richman, Linda. I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Warner Books, 2001


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Accentuate the Positive

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“Ac-cent– tchu–ate the positive, eliminate the negative…” was a popular song in the 1940s.

We can look at any situation and see both the positive and the negative. If we choose to look at things from a positive point of view, we will see a glass half-full of water instead of a glass half-empty. Our perceptions affect our moods and emotional states.

Do we choose happiness or is it a result of external events?

And if we have so much control over our happiness, then why are we so unhappy?

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.”

—Leo Buscaglia

Happiness is a ChoiceIn his book, Happiness is a Choice, Barry Neil Kaufman lists six key shortcuts to happiness. The first key is to make happiness a priority. While recovering from a loss, our grief and associated problems remain in the forefront of daily living. We don’t stop to shift our focus to what is going well. And yet, until we do make that shift, we will remain stuck in a negative pattern of emotional thinking and feeling.

We often associate happiness with the accumulation of wealth or stuff. But stuff won’t make us happy. In fact, the more we accumulate the more we will become unsatisfied and wanting more.

Being happy is a choice.

When we make that choice, we begin to see life differently. How we choose to live life is up to us. If we choose to look for the good and act accordingly, we will see positive things happening in our life. We can bring something good out of adversity when we actively seek it.

Are you happy?

If not, what keeps you from actively seeking happiness? Were you happy before your loss, and if so, what needs to happen for you to experience happiness again?

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.
—Lifehack

The body-brain connection

A lot of scientific research into the body-brain connection indicates that our thoughts create a chain reaction throughout our mind and body. What we think and believe has profound physical consequences.

Consider what happens when you experience an unexpected kindness. One minute you may be feeling depressed and discouraged. Then someone tells you how much you are appreciated and suddenly you feel a lift of spirit and energy. It happens in a flash.

Predictably Irrational - The Hidden Forces that Shape our DecisionsDan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, author of Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, cites the research included in this study that show how the expectations we hold about life will influence how we experience what is happening.

Two people involved in the same event may experience something totally different based on their expectations rather than what is actually happening.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
—Albert Einstein

If our expectations can influence and “shape” our responses predicting the outcome, then holding the expectation that we can be happy regardless of what happens, will have a huge influence on how we go about living. When we make a deliberate decision to be happy, it becomes a mindset, an expectation, a belief that we live out in any situation.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God.”
—Leo Buscaglia

Every day is an opportunity to begin again – to start over – to write a new chapter in our life story. We can purposefully look for things to be grateful for and make a decision to laugh in the midst of our struggles, or we can choose to hang onto our sorrow.

We can choose to find solutions or focus on the futility of trying.

We can actively look for all our blessings or we can focus only on losses and what we don’t  have.

We can focus on love instead of hate – laughter instead of crying.

We choose our focus in all things.

We can choose to accentuate the positive or become a victim of our losses. We can choose our expectations and our attitudes and try one more time.

Changing our mindsets will influence everything we do. We can choose to be happy.


Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” was published in 1944. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 18th Academy Awards in 1945.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Hope Helps Us Move from One Season to Another

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” 

—Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

A time to laugh and a time to cry.

Every year we prepare for the traditional changes that occur with the different seasons – fall to winter, winter to spring, etc. We can also identify with the writer of Ecclesiastes when he talks about the seasons of life we go through. But we are not always ready to accept them, especially when that season exchange is out of sync with our expectations.

We want the pleasant things – we don’t want the unpleasant.

We don’t want to give up one to gain the other. We want life – not death. We want laughter and joy, not weeping and mourning. Yet both are necessary components to life.

I believe it is only within our difficulties, troubles and losses where we discover more about life and ourselves. When mentally, emotionally and spiritually wounded, we retreat from the world to find solace and direction. This isn’t just a time for introspection, however, but an opportunity to discover anew God’s great love and purpose for us.

When grieving the loss of my husband, there were times when I felt like a little child, my soul crying in depths devoid of sound to all except God. In those moments, I found myself held and comforted.

Grieving is a journey to heal the wounds of the heart and spirit

In our retreat and solitude, we arrive at a place where we need to lay our burden down, give up the struggle and rest. When we stop struggling, we gain peace.

Hope is an active journey

Hope actively and purposefully takes part in the healing process as we explore future options and possibilities. Each chapter in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, begins with a vignette from my own healing and growth journey, followed by information to apply to help the healing process. Here is an excerpt from one of those chapters.

Learning new skills requires determination, struggle and hard work. It seems at times that we push and push that proverbial stone and it doesn’t move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of it! We haven’t moved it; we haven’t gone around it; we have climbed on top and are on our way over and beyond!

In talking with a friend who was going through some tough times, I shared a page from my book, A Love So Great, A Grief So Deep, words I had written when my husband was dying. I wanted to continue to hope even when I knew the end was near.

“Hope is the effort to fly with wings not yet grown. If I don’t hope – don’t try – don’t struggle, there will never be the possibility of flying.”

Hope! It is a gift I cannot refuse. Belief. It is the assumption that God will catch me when reality doesn’t match my hopes and I begin to fall.

In order to fly, you will be required to exercise your wings. In order to fly, you need a willingness to “let go” of your fear of heights, and free fall, spreading your arms to catch the updrafts and float. In order to fly, you must believe and have hope that you can. That hope sustained me after his death and carried over into a new season for me.

There would be no life without hope – just an existence devoid of happiness and joy.

Hope Helps Us Move from One Season to Another

In the struggle we might get bruised and bloodied. But to live without hope is worse than struggling – flapping wings that take you nowhere.

Just like pushing that proverbial stone, whether it moves or not, we become strong in the effort. Flapping our wings make them stronger, capable of carrying us. I want to soar like the eagles. I always have. But in order to do that, I need to do the work required to get strong.

Hope energizes. It seeks new solutions as we learn from crashes what to do and what not to do.

Hope is action. It is moving forward even when the world is at its darkest.

Hope is believing there will be an end to the pain and struggle. There are good days ahead. While this may be a time of weeping, retreating and mourning, we know that we will not be there forever.

Grieving a loss takes time and effort. In the journey out of any ending, we can discover renewed purpose and meaning.

Here is what I wrote in my journal when I was ready to take charge of my life again:

“This morning as I sit from my new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending before me, the options available to me. As I remember the dark, deep and narrow canyons, I am reminded that even there, patches of blue sky could be seen. When I had looked up, those canyon walls expanded, and I felt the power and love of my Heavenly Father as I received a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toeholds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.”

Fear grounds us – makes us miserable, resentful, and blaming. Fear can eat us up and spit us out like so much garbage!

Hope reaches upward. Fear drives us down into the ground. Hope is the wings that enable me to fly, every day.

As you continue to move towards a new beginning, hang onto hope when the going seems rough. You will make it through this. You will enjoy happiness again. You will live life with purpose and meaning once more.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Forgiveness: A Gift We Give Ourselves

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

As we approach Easter in a few days, we are reminded that Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross, offering forgiveness and grace.

Forgiveness was a gift given to us.

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.

To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll

Over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor

To the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are

Giving back – in more ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.”                                                                       

—Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

Jesus said forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative. But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves, as the theologian, Frederick Buechner, so aptly describes.

Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, and then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip-ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize and then move on.

When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story” as detailed by Dr. Fred Luskin, in his book, Forgive for Good.

When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time. The suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

  1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules. Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words should, must, have to and ought. When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?
  2. Own your feelings. We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that doesn’t involve escalating anger, ill will or hatred.
  3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do. We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.
  4. Forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same thing. Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation – it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says I can admit when I am wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness and stop beating myself up.
  5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior or excusing bad behavior. It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.
  6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless. We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware that they have offended us.
  7. Forgiveness is a choice. We make the conscious decision to let go of the hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving. Acknowledge, accept your feelings and then make that conscious choice to forgive. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.

What unforgiveable sin is hard for you to let go of?

What is the cost of hanging on and what would be the long-term benefit for you if you chose to forgive?

Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace.

I choose to forgive. How about you?


Forgive for Good, by Dr. Fred Luskin, New York, New York, Harper Collins, 2002


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

—Abraham Lincoln

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison

and expecting the other person to die.”

—supposedly a Buddha quote

Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances. We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.

In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.

Anger

Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It helps us survive and motivates us to take appropriate action and make important changes. Left unchecked, however, anger can become corrosive and problematic. Reacting without restraint will inflict additional pain and suffering on ourselves and others.

While venting or acting out might release some of anger’s energy in the short term, it does not take away the source of your anger. If anger is your typical first response to unpleasant situations, you may have an anger problem.

Here are three things to remember about anger:

  1. It is okay to be angry.
  2. It is not okay to hurt yourself, someone else or anyone’s property.
  3. We are responsible for what we do with our anger.

Anger activates our fight-or-flight response to danger. Losses can trigger a similar response; we want to protect ourselves against the injustice of what happened, and we lash out or attack in some way.

If left unaddressed, anger will build deeply held resentments that become toxic to our emotional and physical health.

Guilt

Those Troubling and Lingering Emotions: Anger, Guilt, and Shame | focuswithmarlene.com

Guilt is what we experience when we believe we have acted against our beliefs and values resulting in some kind of harm.

Guilt is important because it helps us know when corrections need to be made. Looking backward, we reprimand ourselves, “If only I had done this or that” or “if only I had been more available.” We can become brutal in the self-blame game. At some point, reconciliation and forgiveness is required.

While reflecting is important, it serves no purpose when we maintain an ongoing dialogue built on guilt, shame or remorse.

Remaining in a state of blame only adds another intense layer of pain to our grief that does not accomplish anything.

Working through guilt is working through the multitude of questions associated with the many “why’s, what if’s” and if only’s” and putting them permanently to rest. These unanswerable questions continue to leave us feeling angry, guilty, frustrated and helpless.

Expanding and reframing what happened gives us a different perspective.

  • Could I really have done anything different?
  • What information do I have today that I didn’t have back then?

Shame

Shame is feeling guilty. It is a painful emotion caused by an awareness of doing something wrong. It diminishes our sense of worth and esteem. Guilt and shame work hand-in-hand with anger.

Guilt helps correct behaviors. Feeling guilty indicates we may have done something wrong that requires making amends. Guilt, along with shame, helps us say we are sorry, and that we regret our actions.

But when faced with an unfortunate or untimely loss, we may be plagued with a guilt and subsequent shame that is misplaced, prolonged or not even appropriate to the situation.

When we feel guilt disproportionate to any actions we may have taken, or may not have taken, our guilt becomes poisonous. Inappropriate shame for perceived transgressions will affect our self-esteem, creating a diminished sense of self because we find no way to correct what was done.

We doubt our ability to be caring individuals.

We might have an unrealistic high sense of responsibility for others.

Guilt and shame that have been blown out of proportion and remain unresolved will erode our ability to live productive and fruitful lives.

Coming to terms with our loss means we come to terms with ourselves as human beings.

If the guilt is appropriate to the event, such as driving drunk and hurting somebody, then we need to use that guilt to turn our lives around. If possible, say you’re sorry. Then take actions to make amends as well as change the direction in your life.

Hanging onto feelings of guilt and shame, nursing them in order to do penance, doesn’t change anything; instead it keeps us from moving forward. Forgiveness enables us to take positive action instead of remaining in a past we cannot change.

If feeling anger, guilt and shame towards yourself, challenge the depth and degree of what you are experiencing. Remind yourself that we make the best decisions we can in any moment in time. Anyone can look backward and see things we didn’t see in the moment.

Next week we will look at forgiveness.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,

it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.”

—I Cor. 13:4-7 NIV

When any longstanding conflicts are dumped onto our grief and loss, they add another layer of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Unresolved issues between you and the deceased can initiate feelings of shame or guilt. You may not have had a chance for reconciliation or resolution before death.

If losses were the result of random acts of violence, accidents, suicide or any unforeseen death, we may be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions and feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety, fear and remorse.

If you had been a victim of past abuse, abandonment, rejection or injustice; or lived with years of misunderstandings or conflict with this person who has now died, you will be left with a multitude of incongruous emotions. It might seem as if death has cheated you from finding resolution.

  • What happens to all that anger and resentment?
  • How do you process it all?
  • Does it get buried with the person or will you continue to carry that bitterness with you?

Death doesn’t automatically release us from any anger or resentment we may have.

We will suffer tragedies that are associated with someone’s lack of responsibility or carelessness.

Coming to terms with injustice, tragedies and losses of any kind, whether in our past or present, first requires acceptance. Hanging on to our losses and injustices is like carrying around a huge suitcase full of rocks and stones. It keeps getting heavier and heavier and robs us of our ability to move forward.

Discover a new way

Unresolved Conflict in Our Losses | focuswithmarlene.comNo matter what has happened, to get beyond grief, we need to come to terms with what has happened. Coming to terms means we stop denying, fighting or struggling with what can’t be changed.

We correct what is correctable and then make a deliberate choice to let go of the conflict and bring forward what is good. As with any grievances we might have, however legitimate they may be, if we hang onto them, we are the ones who continue to pay the price.

Acceptance doesn’t mean everything will suddenly be back to normal or okay. It simply means we stop fighting and arguing about how cruel the world is or how badly we have been treated. Life is not fair. We can grumble and moan and rant and rave, but we can’t change history; we can’t change what others have done or what we have done.

By making a conscious and deliberate choice to let go of resentment, we can experience a different outcome.

As we let go of bitterness, we will be able to see things for which we can be grateful. There is some good that can come out of the worst atrocity. We are changed when we rise above the injustice of the world. Instead of attacking and seeking revenge, we can develop a compassion and understanding for others who may also be struggling. Seeing the pain of a neighbor, we can reach out with a word of understanding and comfort.

In any moment in time, we choose how we respond to life.

Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, Jew and survivor of the concentration camps of WWII wrote:

“To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

Man's Search for MeaningIn his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he shares that even in the horrendous conditions of Auschwitz, “What alone is the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

We will be challenged to live our faith and values in the face of death and losses.

We will be challenged to let go of unresolved conflicts that keep us stuck in an endless cycle of discontent. We choose how we will respond to life – both in our past and in the future.

We will be challenged to make decisions that go against our desire for payback.

But it is in those challenges where we grow and become more of who we are – a child of God and someone who desires to live a life of hope and faith. No matter the struggle, we can grab hold of that love extended to us by God and work through the knots and tangles of living.

It may be difficult to work through unresolved conflicts by ourselves. If you are struggling, seek the assistance of a trained therapist. While we might not find all the answers to our questions, it is important to ask them. It is in in the asking where we can address the resentments that stick to us like glue and find a way to put them to rest. When we become stuck, our grief is extended.

Next week’s post will explore a little further these troubling emotions. You will also find more detailed information in Appendix A of my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Endings Leave A Bit of Ourselves Behind

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Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

There are rituals in many cultures that take us from one stage of life to another. Coming of age ceremonies or rites of passage symbolize leaving childhood to enter adulthood.

Sometimes the rituals are physically demanding – others are simply a public recognition and celebration after instruction. Religions also have symbolic ceremonies to represent a major transition such as Jewish Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.

We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we move into the next stage of life.

Even if we are enthusiastic about a new beginning, the ending can be bitter-sweet. We wait with anticipation for that first child, only to discover in becoming a parent, that we are not free to come and go as we please. Life has been altered forever.

We may finally have reached that long-awaited retirement, only to experience restlessness and lack of purpose. It is necessary to redefine who we are at each stage of life.

We rarely think about what we are leaving behind when making a new beginning. Even if the new role was planned, such as becoming parents, we seldom realize what was left behind.

To fully appreciate a new beginning, an ending needs to be completed.

Significant losses are endings that close one chapter of life to start a new one. They are not usually an ending of choice. But we can’t put our energy into constructing a new future until we let go of the past. It’s not forgetting what you loved and enjoyed but looking beyond it.

Losses strip away the familiar and the reality we now face can look dark and dismal, where doubts and fears unexpectedly rise like monsters. Transitions are a pivotal point. We can hang on to the past or move forward.

Years ago, I attended a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.

Bridges defined three stages in making a transition: endings, a neutral zone, and finally a new beginning. He addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement, etc. Each requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.

The task of endings is to clarify, express the feelings we have, and let go.

In the “neutral zone” our focus shifts from the past to discovering who we are today. It is a time of reorientation. This can be a very unsettling place laced with anxiety and instability as we close the door on what was familiar and look at the unknown.

Bridges talked about the need to make a solitary journey into the wilderness to redefine what is important, what we are leaving behind, what we are bringing with us and still struggling with. In the wilderness there are no distractions from life, and we have the opportunity to wrestle and come to grips with our expectations and assumptions and make sense of where we are in the world.

While this time might seem unproductive, it really is gaining a better understanding of what we are bringing with us. It is a bridge between the old and the new – a time to be alone, but not necessarily lonely. It is a time of putting together a different perspective of who we can become.

As we transition from who we were to who we can become, we need to take a solitary journey into “the wilderness,” a time to spend alone, to reflect. As we redefine who we are today, what is important and why and what we want to take with us. As we do, we walk away a stronger person. A good friend of mine has taken many backpacking desert trips alone. At first it was to discover more about who she was. Now she just enjoys the solitude.

Transitions – that shift from one reality to another.

Endings Leave A Bit of Ourselves Behind | FocusWithMarlene.com

As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the pain of loss or the uncertainty of the future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing things – anything.

So, we quickly bundle up our “baggage” in our backpacks and head out the door trying to recapture what we had before. If we do not spend some time in reflection, and skip directly to creating a new beginning, our beginnings may not be as successful as we’d like.

Life is full of transitions that require time to process. Someone said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition. In today’s world of instant responses, we want our life processes to happen immediately.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Living Life with Enthusiasm and Optimism

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

We are defined by many things in life: our relationships, our roles, our handicaps.

What defines you?

My youngest son was an artist. He started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. Even the simplest stick figures he drew had character and substance. His creativity seemed to flow out of him like water from a pitcher. He would draw for hours.

He loved to draw faces – faces that so expressed the characteristics of the individual that it never required anything more – you saw the whole person in the face.

Within the expressions, there was passion, confidence, longing, sadness, robust strength, humor, wisdom, and understanding. Even today as I look at his drawings, I marvel at the depth of disclosure in his drawings that revealed so much of the human spirit and soul.

My son was born with a handicap – he didn’t have the muscles to hold up his head.

Although children are born with the absence or lack of specific muscles, his was unique. He grew up in a brace specifically designed for him. Although there was some weakness to other body muscle groups, his fine motor skills were never affected.

But amazing as was his creativity, was how his handicaps never deterred or defined him. He learned to walk, run, swing from a rope, climb and ride a bike. He beat out a rhythm on a set of drums and played trombone in the school band. He joined the cub scouts and acted in school plays.

He wore this brace until he reached puberty and scoliosis threatened to cave in his lungs. After undergoing a lengthy surgery that fused his back and required a rod implant to help hold vertebrae in place, he endured another brace for a short period of time as he entered high school. Less than a year later he went to England with the Drama class.

Don went on to college and continued to make his living as a storyboard artist, concept illustrator, character design and sketch artist in one of the toughest industries – the movie and entertainment world of Los Angeles.

He wrote and produced some films and worked with different mediums within the film, TV and entertainment media. He never considered himself handicapped, and neither did his friends. His life was framed by what he could do – not what he couldn’t.

After pancreatic cancer took his life, and after sharing his art with friends and family, I chose pictures to frame that best represented his creativity. They hang throughout my home, reminding me of his extraordinary talents. But they also remind me of how he defined his life and how we can do the same.

We can frame our lives in such a way that handicaps recede, and talents are developed. Or, we can frame our lives without a belief that we can ever enjoy satisfaction and happiness.

How do you picture yourself within your circumstance?

As I wrote in a previous post, frames can either accent or detract – they can highlight a central theme or object or reduce its importance.

Don’s life was framed with optimism, enthusiasm, an impish sense of humor and quiet determination. He never thought of himself as handicapped and neither did his friends.

I have read and continue to read memoirs of people who have overcome incredible odds to create satisfying and happy lives. They are stories of people who weathered adversity, faced incredible hardships, lost limbs or faced on-going limitations. One such story was of a young man born without arms and legs who created a world-wide ministry of helping people overcome the odds they may have been facing. You witnessed his infectious enthusiasm for life and confidence when you watched him speak.

Reframing puts a different interpretation around your life.

It expands your field of vision to see opportunities and possibilities. It challenges a negative mindset and looks for creative ways to resolve problems. It helps define us with confidence instead of no hope.

When everything seems to be going wrong, it is so easy to start grumbling. We criticize and complain about this and that, finding fault with our past or anybody or anything in the present that we think may be making life difficult for us. Yet, how much do we really have to complain about?

Adopt a mindset of acceptance rather than resistance.

Reframe your circumstances, and then look for options. Sometimes they may be limited. Sometimes our only option is to choose how we respond to something we have no control over. But we are still given that choice.

Choose love – choose life – choose an attitude of optimism.

Whatever you choose to focus on, that is where your energy will go. That energy force can be either positive or negative.

We can choose to find meaning in the middle of conflict and chaos or respond with anger and resentment. We can choose to retreat into fear and anxiety in threatening situations or step out in faith and confidence.

Related posts that feature Don and his artwork


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

What Transforms Your Life?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

Every day, we observe the wonders of our world and the transformations that happen throughout the seasons.

Who hasn’t been renewed and refreshed by a cooling summer’s rain or been moved by the beauty and quiet serenity of an earth blanketed in mounds of downy snow or snowflakes that shimmer like diamonds in the winter sun?

Who hasn’t witnessed the peace of a countryside bathed in the light of a full moon?

And what person hasn’t marveled at stars so dazzling and vivid, it seems we could reach up and touch them? At such times, nature is silenced and time suspended.

And yet, the snow is only frozen water, and the sun, moon and stars are nothing more than hardened, desolate, uninhabitable rocks and dangerous gasses.

Misfortune and hardship can take us out of what was predictable and comforting and place us in unfamiliar territory.

We don’t know what to expect and are temporarily thrown off balance. It changes our perception of what we think life ought to be.

Our future looks dark and dismal and the world of sunshine has become colorless and grey. The refreshing summer rain becomes an intrusion on outdoor activities. We see the falling snow as a hazard to driving; and we don’t even notice the sky full of twinkling stars as it is overshadowed by flashing neon lights.

What Transforms Your Life? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Our night-time activity is so encompassing we never stop to look up and see the beautiful full moon or observe how it turns the earth into an exquisite and ethereal landscape. The beauty of the world has suddenly been transformed into a nuisance – annoying and irrelevant.

  • What transforms your world from one image to another?
  • Has the world itself changed or have you changed? And does it matter?

Disasters can so alter our perception of life that we no longer see blessings or anything of beauty or goodness. It’s as though we put on dark sunglasses that completely obliterate anything positive and encouraging. And in our desire and haste to find a new comfort zone, a new predictability, we look for the quickest solution that comes along, good or bad.

In the midst of our world that has been turned upside down, it is possible to pause, take off those dark glasses and see God’s creation and beauty that surrounds us every day? In that pause and reflection, we are reminded that God is still with us and in charge. He has not abandoned us and continues to reach out to us in many ways. In that pause, we become aware of the kindness of a stranger, the helping hand of a friend, or the encouraging words of the Psalmist.

The mystery of life is constantly unfolding around us, from the green shoot pushing up through the dirt to the developing baby spiders clinging precariously to the edge of their web. We brush them aside as a nuisance before we have had time to consider what it would be like without them. But to experience that wonder, we first need to observe.

Good things can come out of tragedies, misfortunes and adversities.

As we pick up the scattered pieces of our lives, we can reassemble them into a new, broader and more comprehensive picture. It is where we develop the muscles and strength to live a more meaningful life.

We will struggle with our losses. We will hesitate to start again because we are not sure what we want to do. While a new possibility may excite you, you are not sure whether it will continue to hold your interest.

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and think about where you are right now.

  • What can you bring to your landscape to transform it into something refreshing, positive and relevant at this point in your life?
  • What are some things you have always wanted to do but never had the time?
  • Can this be the time to experiment?
  • Can you identify the things that energize you?
  • What is stopping you from doing any of these?

I am sure you have explored this before, but I encourage you to do it again. Start a My life Planning Notebook and write down all the things you see yourself doing. Include the hopes and dreams you had as a child. Be expansive – don’t prejudge. Just write them down. Later you can go back and begin to prioritize or eliminate.

Marlene Anderson


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

A New Mind Shift – A New You  

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

How do you see yourself?

Are you despondent and dreading the future, unable to see anything positive to look forward to?

Losses can make everything seem gloomy and hopeless and we resign ourselves to this fate moving forward.

But we can change that picture.

We can reframe what is happening in order to see something positive. Let me share a true story with you.

Years ago, I worked for a company that provided training to injured workers in chronic pain to help in their recovery and their re-entry to the workplace. They had been injured on the job, resulting in their inability to continue working in that same capacity.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they were required to attend two weeks of all-day classes. They were not very happy at having to attend; in fact, some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a dramatic shift in attitudes, mind-set and possibilities.

It was amazing to watch this transformation from hopelessness, despondency and despair to one of possibility, hope and motivation.

Some didn’t let go of what had happened. They were angry at the injustice of it and did not want to hear about ways they could reframe and work with their circumstances. They hung onto their grievance and left with the same bitterness they had when they arrived.

But it was those who took the information presented and applied it, where we saw what attitude and a different mindset can do to greatly improve any situation we find ourselves in.

One Woman’s Story

A New Mind Shift - A New You | FocusWithMarlene.com

While there were many people I came to admire, one lady in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job and restricted many new job options. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed grim and hopeless.

After the first week, she returned to class glowing after the weekend off. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook. She went home and thought about all the information we had taught in class and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was reframe how she looked at her current existence.

She went through her tiny cramped house, room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. There was only one tiny bedroom. She decided to give that room to her children and make the living room her bedroom. During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom.

She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” that night, she lit a small fire in the fireplace and snuggled down to watch the flames and thought to herself, How many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom?

She helped her children make her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. In fact, she told us she slept soundly for the first time in years.

What had changed? Only her perspective.

During the remainder of that last week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the possibility of a new job opportunity through a training program she was in that actually paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to have to struggle?

Yes.

Would it take hard work?

Yes.

Would she still have to live with limiting conditions?

Yes.

But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook, a new perspective that held possibility, options and renewed energy.

The world you live in has been drastically changed because of your loss.

You are challenged as never before to be innovative, creative and flexible. The old beliefs you have about yourself can seriously impact your ability to move forward if you let them.

Your loss may seem catastrophic and the end of the world for you. But there is within you that capability to take what you have and create something new and exciting from it. Out of the ashes of one disaster you can create the promise of a new beginning, if you are willing to re-invent yourself, grow and change.

Marlene Anderson


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.