The End Was Only The Beginning
LESSONS LEARNED: GROWTH AND GRACE
As I revealed at the end of the Epilogue (page 202), my wife, mother, and younger son all passed away in the same year. After losing three family
members virtually all at once, I learned lessons I now share with support
group members and others — and following is a brief summary.
Check your ego at the door
When people who have just lost a friend or loved one are asked in so
many words why they’re sad, they usually respond in predictable ways,
including “I miss him”... “She was my best friend”... “I’m alone now”...
“I have no one to hang out with.” Note that in every case the speaker
takes center stage and makes it all about I, me and myself.
When moving through grief and anguish at any level, elevate your thoughts above self. Leaving yourself out of the equation makes you more able to
cope with loss. But this is easier said than done: The old saying that “life isfor the living” is true. But we must always remember that the deceased is atpeace in a joyful place.
For this reason, we should concentrate on, celebrate and rejoice in our
happiest memories of the person. Deep grief is hard to keep at bay, but anytime you begin to succumb to it, think of things like that first anniversary
party, that hiking trip with campfire meals worthy of a top chef, or when
your friend or loved one fell into the pool fully clothed and turned the
accident into a brief comedy act that drew cheers.
Live in the Moment
It is not only okay to grieve — it is important to grieve. We all go
through it in different ways, mourning for days, months or, even years. But since none of us has any idea how many days we ourselves have left on
this little planet, we should all live in the moment, embracing it for what it is and finding the joy in it. Try your best to do so, no matter the task
and no matter whom you happen to be with.
By no means do you need to stop in your tracks and tell yourself to enjoy the moment every hour of the day, or else you would never get anything
done. But opportunities pop up more often than you may think. One I
remember a time in Italy, when I found myself sitting at a table with
locals who spoke no English. I offered to buy them a bottle of wine, and
before long the whole table was laughing and communicating in ways that went beyond words. I’m also reminded of the time I struck up a brief chat with the electrician who was busily replacing an outlet in my kitchen,
switching from the weather to asking how he got into his business. I may
not have realized it at the time, but I was appreciating that every human
being on earth is unique and has his or her own story. Over the days and weeks, connecting enough moments to the next moment can enrich your
own life story beyond measure if you allow it happen.
Try to find joy in everything
Make sure joy and laughter remain a part of your life. Sure, we all have
moments that require a somber attitude, but try your best to make
lighthearted moments outweigh the serious ones. A day-by-day example:
While driving alone between appointments with clients, a boring but
necessary task, I sometimes turn off the radio and my phone to relax,
meditate briefly and communicate with Mary Alice — and boring morphs
into happy. A once-in-a-lifetime example: For the celebratory wake for my
mother Jo, who passed away at age 99, my brothers and I orchestrated a
respectful but joyful remembrance for a woman who was known for
her great sense of humor. Throughout, her grandchildren celebrated her wit and wisdom in a series of stories.
Also, be careful not to take yourself too seriously. We all live more fulfillinglives if we remember the old saying, “Life is short. Play hard.” Our time
on earth is fleeting, and no one leaves here alive.
Another aphorism worth remembering is “It’s the journey that’s important,
not the destination.” We already know the destination, after all; what we
don’t know is when that will come. An auto accident, a heart attack, a
brain tumor or something we could never imagine in a million years might whisk us off this earthly plain — but if we live in the moment and find
joy in all we do, we can arrive at the final destination with few or no
Recognize that there are no coincidences
Most people believe in God or at least a higher power in one
form or another, but regardless of your view of religion it is
important to remember that there are no coincidences. My
own experience convinces me there are no accidents in life
and that everything happens for a reason. Many times it’s
difficult to understand why things happen as they do, and
it is up to us to try to find meaning in whatever comes our
way. For example, if my name hadn’t been in the Atlanta
newspaper and Mary Alice hadn’t seen it and decided to pick
up the phone and call, it’s quite possible we never would
have reunited and gotten married.
Open your heart and mind to the universe
One of my favorite expressions is “Listen with your heart.” In other words, feel your life. Some call it instinct. Others call it a visceral response to
experience. I simply call it listening with your heart.
Whether something feels right or wrong, it is probable that your heart or
soul or spirit is trying to tell you something. Listen to that message. It may be a quiet message from your inner voice telling you that danger lurks nearby... or perhaps an instinctual dislike of a person you’ve just met. Once
you learn to trust your inner voice, you can move through life making
better decisions and experiencing life in a more meaningful way. Those
messages are rarely wrong if you only take the time to listen.
Dont be afraid to love
Love comes in many forms. We love our parents, our kids, our spouses, ourpets, our friends, our work, our possessions. On a higher plain, I believe
in the simple truth that God is love. And whoever God may be, he or she
is also the wellspring of life, and godly love is one of the most vital
aspects of life. Some find it difficult to even let themselves love, perhaps
because they didn’t experience it when growing up. If learning to love is
hard, it is also possible; once again, the answer is to listen with your heart.
Even men can love men without being stigmatized. For example, we often
hear sports teams talk about the love the players have for one another —and the same goes for men and women in the military or law enforcement. “Love” is part of their culture and creed. (In my eyes, women are better at
loving others. Why? Because they function better on the emotional level,
communicating from the heart.) So why not consider love a part of our
daily lives with friends and close workmates? Showing that you love them
through your actions and words can strengthen your friendships and make
life all the richer.
Embrace your solitude
Whether you lose a spouse through death or divorce or simply lose a job ora friend, try to embrace the feeling of aloneness it brings. Look inside, not outside, for the best ways to cope. Too many people fill their lives with
parties, alcohol, empty relationships and superficial activities in the wake of
loss, holding it at arm’s length and not embracing it. If you can discipline
yourself to resist filling your life with distractions, you can listen to your
heart to find answers to question after question after question.
There is peace and comfort in silence. While Tibetan Monks may take this
to an extreme as they silently meditate for hours, there is beauty in how
they become “one with the universe.” And we, too, can practice embracing our solitude to gain strength in the peace found there. As we think about
our own journeys, we must remember that the path we’re on now is our path only in this lifetime — and it is up to us to take the responsibility to