Gifts From Tragedy

 In Grieving, Honorable Closure (HC), Letting Go, Tools & Resources

Carola’s daughter-in-law took her own life and though she was not her biological child, Carola experienced her as one. The loss was excruciating for her and her family. On the eve of the three year anniversary of that loss, Carola met one of my friends who told her about my work and introduced us.

When we met, she shared her journey through the shock and grief, acknowledging one can never “get over” such a loss. She finds herself in the fresh territory of acceptance and peace, as she observes that she and everyone else in the family is “doing well.” I told her it sounds like she has emerged on the other side of a long, dark tunnel. There will be other tunnels ahead—grief has its own rhythms —but they (probably) won’t be as long, or as dark.

I was struck by Carola’s ability to see the “gifts” that have emerged from the tragedy, which include a depth of compassion for others that wasn’t there before. Her family grew very close; relationships deepened at a time when they could have shattered. Under these circumstances, when relationships do break, people sometimes discern they are no longer healthy or wanted and can let them go. Everything burns away and you discover your true north.

Suicide is a unique way to leave this world and I am no expert on it. The fundamentalist religion I was raised with taught that suicide is a reckless sin against God. I don’t believe that anymore. It doesn’t seem useful to stigmatize something I don’t understand.

Someone told me recently that Native American’s do not use the word suicide, preferring to say the person “took themselves over” as if going from one school classroom to another. This Life Class we’re in can be so harsh, perhaps taking oneself to another room is a form of self-deliverance. How we speak about events can shape our understanding and experience of them.

Loss is an initiation, an invitation to live from our hearts. These events can harden or soften us. Carola allowed the loss to turn her heart and soul into putty that now finds a new shape. It can hold the absence of her daughter-in-law and also the beauty in life.

When we can muster gratitude for a situation we are on the way to Honorable Closure. There are many things we cannot be grateful for in life (i.e. violence, mass species extinction, untimely death) but in the rubble of even those things, gratitude can open the heart. When the heart is open new vistas appear and right actions become apparent.

Carola requested and read my eBook “Honorable Closure: 4 Steps to Skillful Endings.” She concluded there is yet more for her to let go of and she has chosen a few tools therein to work with. In the meantime, she shared this practice with me and gave me permission to share it with you:

“One of the things I have been doing as a way to remember and honor my daughter-in-law is to write a book of letters to her about experiences that we had together. Some day I will give this to her sons. It helps me to understand my depth of feeling when I realize all the facets of our relationship which I will always treasure – the difficult experiences as well as the wonderful ones.”

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