A Constant Truth
Legend has it that a king once asked his advisors to tell him something that would be true under all circumstances. The advisors thought and thought, talked among themselves, then finally presented the king with a beautiful gold ring. The king was bemused, “How is this ring true under all circumstances?” he asked. “Read the inscription, Your Majesty.” replied the advisors. The king lifted the ring and peered at the inscription around the inside,
This Too Shall Pass
The king understood.
The only thing we can count on (aside from death and taxes) is change. It does not matter what is happening at any given moment – the best or the worst thing we could ever imagine- it will pass. Kahlil Gibran illustrates this cycle of change in his book, The Prophet. He explains that joy and sorrow are twins. When one is sitting with you at your table, the other is asleep in your bed.
With change, comes a certain amount of upheaval. Even if the change is welcome, it brings new routines or a change in priorities. I remember this upheaval when my husband and I were newlyweds; we had not prepared ourselves in advance for the changes that would come from melding two separate lives into one. There were many rough patches as we tried to navigate this new territory. I loved to cook with a variety of vegetables, he only liked potatoes. He could not fall asleep unless the radio was on, I could not sleep with the noise, on and on we trudged through those first years. That is when I learned that a marriage is not made with a ceremony, a marriage is made with thousands of compromises and adjustments made over time. Every day was a negotiation of some kind, how money was made and spent, how children were to be raised, how holidays were to be celebrated, the list was endless.
With unwelcome or unexpected change, the upheaval can be far worse. A car runs a red light, a virus is unleashed on the world, a spouse leaves, a diagnosis is disclosed, or a job is eliminated and the day to day predictable life we were leading comes to a screeching halt and we are left floundering. All the balls we were juggling come crashing down and we must figure out how to get them back in the air again…and quickly.
This is enormously stressful.
When life is predictable, we feel safe. Imagine how nerve-wracking it would be if you could not be fairly certain each morning that your job or your home or your family were going to still exist at the end of the day. When upheaval happens, it reminds us in no uncertain terms that the things we think of as permanent can change in an instant. We must acknowledge that if one thing can change all things can change, nothing is permanent, nothing is exempt. If we can lose one thing, we can lose everything.
That is why sudden change can be terrifying. It can leave us traumatized and grieving our old way of life, and that is where some people get stuck.
In the midst of upheaval, when we’re trying to figure out a new of doing what we need to do, sorting out who we are in this new environment, we are so absorbed with busy-ness and tending to the most pressing needs that it’s easy to miss the amount of grief we may be feeling. Unprocessed grief is like cement when it comes to finding a way forward.
In all likelihood, we will not be going back to that old life. The longer we tell ourselves (and others) that things will get back to normal soon, the longer we put off grieving what we’ve lost, the plans, the hopes, the goals we were working toward, in that old life and the longer it will take us to start forging a new path and routines in our new, post-upheaval world.
The Only Way Out is Through
Fortunately, we know a good deal about grief. We know the path we must navigate to come out on the other side of it, and we know the path is marked by certain milestones. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who has made a career of researching the grieving process, has given us seven stages, or milestones, of the journey through grief:
Most people are aware of the stages, they are talked about often, and they sound pretty easy to do, but one of the tricky things about grief is you may not recognize that you are feeling it. The other is that the path is not a straight line, we do not go through the stages neatly one right after the other and call it done. It is a convoluted road, just when you think you are doing well, you could find yourself back at an earlier milestone, starting again.
The important part about the journey through the grieving process is doing it. People who deny it, or try to bury their grief, hoping it will go away, are often the ones still lost in the wreckage long after the upheaval has ended. Those who do the work and can accept the change, are the ones we see thriving in the “new normal” because they are not stuck in the mud, grieving what used to be.