In the Face of Loss

by Alice Woodrome

How can one have peace in the face of loss?

This is not an easy question, but it is one I've pondered often. And it is because I have struggled with the question personally that you can be sure the answers I offer for your consideration are not merely theoretical. I am not parroting pat answers that come packaged with any particular religion or philosophical persuasion. I don't profess to have discovered anything new, but I am speaking from experience and suggesting what works for me.

I suppose presenting some credentials would be in order at this point, which in this case requires at least a cursory recital of loss. I'll mention two biggies, though there are lesser heartaches that spring from these two. I lost my only son to suicide in 1987 and then there is the continuing loss of my only daughter to schizophrenia. Perhaps she will not stay lost to me forever, but at the moment, she has chosen to cut off all contact with me and I have no way of knowing how she is doing, and will not know if she slips into psychosis.

Among the lesser heartaches mentioned is living in a society with the prevailing notion that a mother is somehow to blame for such tragedies. There are many mistaken attitudes surrounding mental illness and few people bother to learn the facts unless it devastates their own family. But whether you have an enlightened view of mental illness or not, you perhaps can see that there could be a lot standing between peace and me.

I do not offer something that removes the pain of loss or even lays it to rest forever, but I have found a way to be reasonably happy even though my situation is light years from ideal. Much of what I've learned is contained in the simple serenity prayer. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." Familiar words, but when one truly endeavors to live the words, it can indeed generate a level of serenity.

We can't change the past. Whether we are to blame for anything is a moot point, because we cannot go back to correct mistakes or do it all differently hoping for a better outcome. The past is what it is, and that is something that must be accepted. Nothing helpful can be gained by dwelling on the past, nor can anything be gained from living in the future. Goals are good, but investing our emotions in things turning out a certain way is not a recipe for happiness. We have very little control over our lives, no matter how much we wish to or think we do. In a situation that is ongoing, all one can do is practice courage and be ready to help when an opportunity presents.

Not a day goes by that I do not have to remind myself of this when worry or sorrow creeps into my consciousness. It helps me tremendously to focus on today, to enjoy the blessings and opportunities for happiness that each new sunrise brings. We have a choice whether to focus on the negatives or the positive aspects of any particular day.

If we are wise we will heed the advice given in Philippians, "whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things." I've often heard it said that we can't help how we feel, but I don't believe that is totally true. Our emotions often follow an act of our will. If we choose to be happy, we are half way there.

There is a metaphor that has helped me that I'll pass along for what it is worth. I think of the heartaches in my life as an ocean. It is deep and it is wide but I don't have to drown in the pain. I can live above it in a beautiful little boat just big enough for today. I can drift through my life a day at a time, looking to the clouds and the sparkles on the surface of the waters. I know the pain is down there, but I am wise enough to not jump in and let it overwhelm me.