I write this column before its publication. As I put pen to paper to share my thoughts with you today, I’m sitting comfortably in my air-conditioned office in Tucson, Arizona. Yet, a hop, skip and a jump away, firefighters are battling raging fires in San Diego. I’m safe and protected here I am, but heat, smoke and embers surround them. They struggle to do their work as the Santa Ana winds blow up to 70 mph. Fire can be a holy terror. Thousands of homes have been reduced to piles of ash. Neighborhoods have disappeared and a massive number of families have become homeless overnight. Some people have died. On October 22, a beautiful sunny day in Southern California turned into a nightmare.
As many of you know from reading my prior columns, I’m getting divorced. My marriage of 25 years has imploded, and I am in the middle of a legal battle that can overwhelm me at times. But, I know this is finite. I will eventually be divorced. And, both my children and I will be fine at the end. This isn’t a life or death situation. So, this week when people ask me how I am doing I say, “I’m doing well, all things considered, and, thank God, I don’t live in San Diego.”
It’s striking to me how relative pain, misfortune and challenge can be. We can be down in the dumps until we hear of our neighbor’s greater misfortune. Then, all of a sudden, our problems don’t seem to be so big after all. We don’t want to trade our sorry lot for theirs, for all the tea in China. We find ourselves thinking, “Thank God I don’t have their problems.” Then we begin to focus on what we have to be grateful for.
Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about the blessings in loss. My husband has been gone for seven months, and my children are living with me full time. I am responsible for their needs and care. No one co-parents with me anymore. I do it myself, and it’s a ton to do.
But, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m no longer afraid in my own home. The stresses in my life are huge, but the minefield I used to inhabit has gone by the wayside. My kids and I are lovingly supporting one another. Friends hold me in their caring embrace. And new love has entered my life. As the saying goes—when a door closes, another one opens. In demise, there is the opportunity for reconstruction.
I know that we can’t see the redemptive side of pain while we are reeling from it, or overwhelmed with grieving—and grieve we must. We have to give ourselves the space, time and opportunity to mourn, cry, retreat and lick our wounds. But how often do we overstay our welcome in that place? How often do we see ourselves as the downtrodden victims when our situation isn’t really all that bad? If you’re anything like me, the answer is, too often. I can stay in that place longer than serves me well.
Reflect on your own life and current challenges. How do you view them? Do you allow yourself enough space for grief? Do you stay there too long? Do you look for the opportunity in loss and the gift in challenge?
Pain is relative. When we lose track of that concept, we get disconnected from the force that heals. We all need to be reminded of the notion of relativity. The fires in San Diego give me perspective. What does that for you? I’d like to suggest that for today, you take a few moments to honor your hurts, and to count your blessings. Think about the hardships you have known and the triumphs you have experienced. Then think about the difficulties faced by others you know, or reflect on the challenging times you have overcome in your own past. Do you gain a sense of perspective from this exercise? Can you find the gift in your sorrow?
Several years ago my dad lay dying of cancer. My heart was breaking. He was “my person”—my champion, support and soul mate in a very profound way. He and I were the only two in my immediate family of origin who believed in God, felt comfort in our faith tradition and shared a commitment to helping those less fortunate.
In one way, living through my father’s decline was one of the most challenging and deeply painful experiences I’ve endured, but it was probably one of the most healing as well. During that time, we had so many conversations about our history, relationship, mistakes, regrets and love. Everything that had ever hurt me in my 47-year history with him was healed in those final months. As we sat together, my dad often said, “I so enjoy these conversations we’re having.” So did I.
The fact that my father was meant to leave this earthly life sooner than I felt he should was deeply challenging for me, but I searched for, and found, amazing blessings in my loss.
He died “ecstatic” that I was helping so many people, feeling deeply loved and without fear. “Adonai li v’lo y’rah,” he would say. “My lord is with me; I will not be afraid.”
We can find blessings in the smallest of life’s challenges and in the greatest experiences of pain. Look for the silver lining of every cloud, the rainbow after each storm and the present in every loss. There’s always a blessing there—and, everything is relative!
Eve A. Wood, MD, is clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. She is the award-winning author of There’s Always Help; There’s Alway’s Hope, 10 Steps to Take Charge of Your Emotional Life, and The Stop Anxiety Now Kit. Eve is also the host of a weekly call-in radio show on www.HayHouseRadio.com. Her therapeutic approach has attracted attention and acclaim from the nation’s leading authorities in the fields of medicine, health and spiritual well-being. For more information about Eve, visit her website at www.drevewood.com.