“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl
It’s ok to be sad or mad. Grief and anger are those steaming piles of shit in life that become the fertilizer for your garden. What becomes of your compost heap? What grows in your garden on a cloudy day?
At a time in my life when I was feeling sorry for myself, I read the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Vicktor Frankl. I would come across his work again and again. Anxiety, depression, cancer, addiction, suicide…we all have to deal with tragedy. I am not special in that regard. What is special, is finding people that choose responses which create purpose from their pain, rather than suffer endlessly. There is a difference between pain and suffering and there is plenty of good writing about it, such as https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/some-assembly-required/201401/pain-is-inevitable-suffering-is-optional from Psychology Today. Author Judy Tatelbaum, who writes prolifically on grief, says “Though we may not always be able to avoid pain, we can choose how much we suffer.”
Dealing with some life transitions, I decided to attend a retreat in Molokai. Although its taken me a year to process some of my emotions from that week, it took only a few moments of conversation with Kathleen to feel that I already knew her. I recognized the “stiff upper lip” and use of humor to squelch what might have actually been bothering her. We were attending the same retreat – to take a break, connect with like-minded women and learn some tools for re-imagining our lives going forward. “Were you raised by a military officer?” I asked, out of the blue. Yes. So was I, and coached to “suffer in silence.”
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children
After getting to know Kathleen a little more, I knew she embodied the qualties of this verse from “The Invitiation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, (which we were introduced to at the retreat.) A cancer survivor, wife and mother of four, Kathleen did more than feed her family following grief and despair. Kathleen lost her mother and four of her mother’s siblings to gastric cancer. Kathleen, two of her brothers and two of her children also inherited the genetic mutation for gastric cancer. Kathleen had a gastrectomy and several other cancer mitigating surgeries, then shepherded her brothers and children through the same decision making and treatment processes that would save them. Her story is sobering, but uplifting. Some wonderful ways that Kathleen found purpose in her pain include:
- Development of the Recovery Bound Journal – from her personal experiences in navigating cancer healthcare and subsequent interviews with medical professionals, Kathleen learned what information to secure and how to organize it. She marketed this tool to help other people retain their sanity while going through the same process.
- Co-founding of on an on-line business called Send Well Wishes and the discovery/incorporation of I Heart Guts, the Recovery Bound Journal and other handy hospital stay items into gift baskets. I have gifted from I Heart Guts and Send Well Wishes with grateful results.
- Creation of the “I’m Still Very Sad” button – although born from the loss a brother to suicide, it became a productive and meaningful tool for communicating within her family. It openly acknowledges ongoing grief, making it more acceptable to talk or not talk about it.
- Using her humorous story telling skills in public speaking.
When I last communicated with Kathleen, she had made the decision to close her business. Her current adventure is the adoption and training of a therapy dog to visit people in hospitals. She recently sent me a couple of the “Sad Buttons.” Thank you, Kathleen, for reminding me that sadness is not the same as suffering. What are you doing with your sadness?
In memory of my Mom, who I still miss very much.