Few would disagree that losing a child is one of the most devastating events a person could endure. Search the internet, and you will find countless articles about grief, depression, and the lifelong impact of outliving a child.
My daughter, Jamie, lived for 30 years, 7 months, and 4 days. She spent half of her life in addiction and danger (unbelievably, she survived a near-fatal gunshot wound at the hands of her ex-boyfriend when she was 18 years old). Still, her death was unexpected. I fully believed Jamie would beat her addiction Beast, but one man’s choice on a hot summer night in August 2016 would remove Jamie’s choice. Unarmed and defenseless, Jamie was shot multiple times in the chest and succumbed almost immediately to her injuries.
We don’t expect to bury our children, and when the occasional thought enters our mind, we push it away as quickly as possible while fighting off waves of nausea.
Life is full of uncertainty, and when we unsure, we head into fear mode. The current Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has left the entire world feeling unsettled and scared.
What we are currently experiencing is nothing most of us have ever dealt with, so we are unprepared. Even if we were able to prepare for something like this, would it eliminate the fear?
If it were possible to turn back the hands of time and change history, I would do it in a heartbeat. Jamie would be alive and healthy. Since that’s impossible, I choose to allow a situation that could have taken me down for good, to make me stronger.
Most of us, by a certain age, have experience heartbreak, betrayal, disappointment, and loss. You can choose to turn grief and anguish into purpose. I have learned many things from Jamie’s death and our ride on the Roller Coaster From Hell through her addiction. I share them with you in hopes you can use them to help you navigate the current world events and beyond.
Time is Precious
Nobody is getting out alive. I always knew this, but somehow it seemed time was on my side. Even though I had lost loved ones and was into my fifties, I didn’t fully appreciate how precious time is until I lost my daughter.
When I got the knock on the door with the almost unbearable news that my daughter was brutally murdered, time stood still. But, it wasn’t long before the hands of time kept moving. As if making up for the standstill, the clock seems to be moving faster than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I valued time before Jamie’s death, but not like I do now. At some point each of us will have our number called. This fact might scare you a bit, but use it as an opportunity to value every precious moment of your life. Don’t take one second for granted.
The Illusion of Control
Most of life is out of our control, and we don’t like the feeling, so we white-knuckle grip as many things as possible (and sometimes people) in order to feel some sense of control. While we do impact many events, we don’t directly control the weather, government, or the economy. We have zero control over the other vehicles on the road. We can’t control what others think, say, or do. Most of what you are trying desperately to cling to will slip through your fingers.
There is good news in all of this. When you give up your false sense of control, you will be free to control what you can.
The #1 Thing You Can Control
While most of the events that swirl around you are not within your command, there is one thing you can control 24/7. That is your attitude – your thoughts. It may seem as if someone else is in control of your thoughts, but it is numero uno – you. Subconscious thoughts invade our brains, but the more you learn to control your conscious thoughts, the more those unconscious thoughts will align with your efforts to have a positive mindset.
Since attitude is the one thing you have complete authority over, be mindful of your thoughts.
You Can Even Control Your Feelings
Wait a minute, you say. Feelings can come out of nowhere, triggered by a song, smell, or a photograph. They grab ahold of us out of left field.
It is true. We have all experienced overwhelming feelings with zero conscious thought. Just the other day on a walk, I thought of my Nana, who died in 1989. The moment she popped into my head, I realized I had whiffed the strong scent of a flower.
This morning, I was on a bike ride, listening to music. Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” played and immediately tears streamed down my face and the hole in my heart needed attention.
In the nearly four years since Jamie’s death, I have had many moments of overwhelming emotion.
So, how is it that I can say we can control our feelings? You may not be able to control them all the time as those out of the blue moments will come, but you get to decide what to do with those feelings. When grief grabs me, I embrace it, but I am careful not to allow those feelings to spiral me into depression.
Even feelings that come from minor setbacks or disappointments can leave you reeling. If you are not careful, they will send your day spiraling into darkness.
While some feelings can come out of nowhere, for the most part, you get to decide how you feel because you have the power to control your thoughts.
Adjust Your Focus
What we focus on becomes magnified. Focus on a minor problem long enough, and it will seem impossible to overcome. The more you think about an unfair situation, the more trapped you become in victimhood.
Currently, much of the world is on lockdown/shutdown to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, so social media is the lifeline for many people. Typically, I issue this social media warning:
“Lives lived out on social media may appear better than they really are.”
However, since 99% of the postings seem to be about Coronavirus panic, I will issue a new warning,
“News reported on social media may not be true.”
Additionally, the same news reports get repeated or shared thousands or millions of times. No matter what is going on in the world, you need to adjust your focus to all of the positive, uplifting, and hopeful messages you can find. Don’t bury your head in the sane, but you can stay informed without being bombarded by the same reports that instill fear and panic.
You Are Stronger Than You Think
People often say that they wish they could be as strong as I am, to which I reply,
“I used to wish I were as strong as I am, too!”
Yes, some people seem to be braver by nature. Others were fortunate enough to have parents who instilled a high degree of confidence in their children. Many of us had courage forced out of us by the two-by-fours of life upside our heads.
Decades ago, when I believed I could control the outcome of my life, I would not have imagined the many things I have experienced. If someone had asked me what life would be like for me with a child in addiction, the massive betrayal of a friend, financial stress, and the murder of my daughter, I’m sure I could not have imagined myself as a warrior. Yet, that is precisely what I am.
You can not only make it through whatever life tosses your way, but you can stand stronger than ever – not in spite of your experience, but because of it.
Peace Is Possible Right in the Middle of the Storm
When Jamie was in her addiction, I just wanted everything to stop. It didn’t occur to me that I could find peace while the storm was raging. I knew people, like my friend, Teresa, who seemed at peace all the time. She has massive faith in God, not the wavering kind like I seem to have.
I heard about that peace that surpasses all understanding, but that was for people like Teresa, not strong-willed redheads like me.
After about 13 years of terror, I decided to see if I could find even a moment of peace. What I learned is that God is the author of peace, but we have to meet him somewhere on the road to peace. I did my part, and God did his. I’m not sure about the peace that surpasses all understanding, but it certainly surpasses my understanding.
Losing a child is the worst thing I could have imagined. Jamie’s death and the 15-year nightmare of her addiction are things I didn’t think would happen to me, but they did. So, I stood at a crossroads with two choices before me. I could live out my days in depression and hopelessness, or I could choose to fight. I decided to fight and to live the rest of my life as an example of hope and healing. It is the least I can do to honor Jamie. You should do the same because people in your life are watching you and need to be inspired by your heroism.
Stand up and step out as a woman or man of courage. I am standing with you.
Your Story Matters…Live it, Courageously.