Thursday, April 30, 2020

When the World Seems Like a Terrible Place

I recall sitting with a woman a few years ago whose only son had unexpectedly died. I had sat in the same place a couple of years before when her husband had passed away. Of course, the loss of her son was opening the old wound, not yet nearly healed, caused by her husband’s death.

With tear-filled eyes and pursed lips she lamented, “Oh, how terrible life can be! Isn’t this world a terrible place?”

What could I say? On the one hand, I believe that the world can be a wonderful and enchanting place. There are times of fun and joy and happiness. 

On the other hand, and especially for her right then, the world was indeed a terrible place. Family she dearly loved were ripped from her life. She faced the prospect of countless days filled with heartache and endless nights of loneliness. Such grief cannot be dismissed with a quick, “Oh, it will be all right. You’ll be fine.” Or, “Don’t worry, he’s in a better place.” Regardless of whether or not these statements hold any truth, to minimize her feelings of loss at that moment would have done her a great disservice. More than anything, she needed someone to understand her pain and confusion.

“I know, this is really difficult,” I finally said, taking her hand. “I’m sorry.”

She eventually did get through both losses. It was far from easy and took plenty of time, but with help from her friends and hope from her faith she was able put her life back together. She was able to laugh and sing again.

When the world seems like a terrible place, I think it is good to remember a few things. Such as not to blame yourself for something that may not be your fault. The death of a family member is a good example. “If only I had seen what was going on.” “If only I had been there.” “If only I had encouraged him more to go see a doctor or a counselor.” If onlys assume you have power in somebody’s life that you simply don’t have. There are some things which are beyond your control. 

And don’t beat yourself up because you think you ought to feel better. You’ll heal in your own time and there’s no sense in “feeling bad about feeling bad.”

It also helps to remember that  you will get through this thing, even if you don’t think so at the time. One widowed woman remarked to me six months after her spouse’s death, “I used to have more bad days than good days. Now I have more good days.” She added that she believed she would never get over her loss, but she said, “I know I can get through it.”

And remember that you are not isolated. There may be nothing more helpful than reaching out to others when you hurt. It is also important to draw on your spiritual resources. In very many ways, you are not alone.

Pain and suffering, from time to time, will inevitably take up residence in your life as unwelcome guests. You can’t ignore their presence. They’ll break stuff and mess everything up and, when they finally leave, you will have to put it all back together the best you can. But leave a space for joy to move back in. Joy may have left, but it’s not far away.

And when it moves back in, your world will be a much better place.

-- Steve Goodier Penna

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