In A Shot Of Optimism

Are you an optimist? I am. One of the great (and for the most part positive myths) we believe is that if we are “good” – if we do our homework, are honest, kind, and diligent – good things happen. In school, this meant not having to stay after school or being grounded for bad grades. We believed that if we just did what we were supposed to do, then our life would roll along in predictable ways . . . but of course, that is not necessarily so!

In fact, recognizing that regardless of how “good” you have been, the unexpected, the painful, and even the devastating will come to visit.

So, for all you optimistic achievers and overachievers . . .

The First step in preparing for loss is to know that it will come to you – regardless.

Second, realize that loss does not mean you have failed.

Third, develop a deep belief that you will be able to live through whatever it is.

I know this because in my fifties my previously charmed life began to fall apart. I left my well- paying job to go out on my own, our daughter got involved in drugs, and my husband’s business started failing. He became depressed, developed cancer and ultimately our marriage fell apart. All of this happened over the course of three or four years. With each new challenge, I just gritted my teeth and tried harder to fix, control, make things better.

By the time I got a divorce, my daughter had happily and successfully graduated from a two-year extensive treatment program and had just entered college. My son was out of college and on his own. I was optimistic. I believed I was back in charge and that, although it had been difficult, I had survived and would move forward.

At last, I found a nice little house I could afford. I loved the neighborhood and even though the house, built in the 50’s, had some peculiarities – it was mine (and the bank’s).

Because the house I had shared with my husband hadn’t sold, I moved everything I owned into the new house and prepared to turn the page on some of the most challenging years of my adult life.

Ten days after I moved in, on a cold February weekend, my heat went out. The repair people advised me that my furnace needed a part, which they ordered but suggested I might want to stay with a friend until it arrived. Having endured two days of cold, I finally left the house and went out to dinner with a friend. Halfway through dinner, my sister called and said, “Go home, your house is on fire!”

My friend drove while I sat in the car in stunned silence trying to believe this couldn’t be happening.

When we got close to the house, I could see fire trucks, bright lights and people in the street. Jumping out of the car, I ran and saw flames coming out of the roof, reaching higher than the tall trees at one end of the house. Running and screaming I remember shouting, “That’s my house, that’s my house!”

I was caught in the glare of TV cameras and kept running. Someone grabbed me and took me to a neighbor’s house. Lying on the floor, I recall people standing over me. I rolled over, face down sobbing. The only thought in my mind was, “I don’t have the energy to deal with this. It has to go away. I can’t. I can’t keep being strong.”

That night on the floor, after what felt like a crisis a year, I believed that the fire was indeed the straw that had broken my back.

Friends took me to their house. Numb and exhausted, I slept to wake the next morning from dreams back to the nightmare. The fire had happened. Willing the clock to rewind was futile.

Some years before my house burned, a friend of mine, Charlotte and her husband Charlie had had a devastating fire. Charlie was the first person who came to see me the day after the fire. He had all kinds of practical and tactical advice about dealing with the insurance adjuster and the insurance company. He helped me find a place to start.

However, there were two other pieces of advice he gave me that allowed me to begin moving forward.

#1. Six weeks from now you will feel better than you can imagine right now.In six months you’ll have more of your life back and in six years (or less) you will no longer feel the trauma of your loss. And although It was hard for me to believe him, he was right, and just being able to imagine a future was a gift.

#2. You need help.What you don’t realize is that other people need to help as much as you need them to help you. When people say, what can I do? Tell them!  Say: “Buy me a nightgown, robe, and underwear and bring me the receipt. I have insurance money. Buy me jeans and t-shirts and a coat and bring me the receipt. Buy me a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and body lotion and bring me the receipt. Go with me to inventory what’s left. Call the utilities to turn off my service . . . ”Of course, the list went on. Asking for and accepting help was actually one of the hardest things.

So, if you are an optimist and an achiever remember:

  •      Accept that loss will come
  •      Believe you will get to the other side
  •      Ask for and receive help

Until next Tuesday,

Elizabeth

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