“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine or actions” – Dallas H. Oaks
The odds of a phone call like that had to be astronomical, it had to be greater than 1 in a million, at least that’s what the doctor would tell us later.
It had been a mere six years since the death of my first born daughter when we received that infamous phone call that our youngest daughter tested positive for the same incurable disease that took our first daughter Nicole’s life, and I was crushed. Friends and family would wonder as well as ask, how will you get through this again, you’re still dealing with aspects of your prior pain, what will you do?
It is true that great pain, grief, trauma and loss have the ability to fundamentally change you to some degree. I know that it did for both me and my wife, however not every change was a negative one. I have a working rule of thumb that I share with all my clients, if you don’t know something work backwards until you do know something. For me in the utter uncertainty of this new crisis, I would work back to the truth that I did make it through the past grief, pain and loss, the problem was I didn’t leave a tangible strategy behind to follow. It would be just nine months from that fateful phone call that my daughter would pass, and the recovery journey was now required once again and what follows are some of the positive nuggets learned on the way.
The 2006 film The Pursuit of Happiness had a profound influence on me. It is one of those inspirational movies that transcends the average happy ending movie. The fact that this movie is based on a real-life story only adds to the overwhelming theme of hope. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong for the movie character (played masterfully by Will Smith). I so wanted him to catch a break or simply get angry at the daunting circumstances. The movie character focused on more than just making it through the day, his laser-like focus was aimed at eventually becoming successful. My hyperactive empathy gifts were challenged by his struggles contrasted with his unyielding resolve to remain the same.
His character can be summed up by two distinct attributes I believe lend themselves to the goal of having hope and finding peace in the trial. One, have a laser-like focus on your target, even if it is a moving target and two, have an unquenchable intentionality not to remain the same. I began to recognize how this movie mimicked real life – working through the issues of life is never quick and seldom easy.
What we all have in common with the movie character is the ability to look back and see how our choices influence and impact our journey and the successes and failures we experienced on the way. What I found on my personal journey working through intense grief and pain, was something even greater proceeded the choices I made both good and bad, and that was the context of my focus prior to the choices.
In the process of my healing journey, I had to ask myself three diagnostic questions I ask my clients now:
- Do I (you) find myself (yourself) focusing more on what I (you) don’t have rather than what I (you) do have? The answer to this question denotes the difference between positivity and negativity, certainty and uncertainty, doubt and fact and depression and a soundness of mind. When our focus centers around what we don’t have, we automatically eliminate one the most healing provoking attributes there is, and that is the ability to be grateful. Gratitude has the uncanny ability to both create and sustain an attitude of hope, and where hope resides, healing can’t be too far away.
- Do I (you) find myself (yourself) focusing more on what I (you) can control rather than on what I (you) can’t control? We all have an innate desire to experience some form of certainty, safety, security and degree of control, however with this in mind it becomes increasingly clear that to focus more on what we do not have, the ability to control is to be unbalanced and counter-productive in our thinking and unsuccessful in our decisions. Hope by its very nature and definition is a positive attitude and mindset that thrives in the atmosphere of productive, practical and affirmative thinking.
- Do I (you) find myself (yourself) focusing more on the past rather than the present? The old saying is “you can’t start the next chapter if you keep rereading the same current chapter,” so for me to move from the present grief that felt so much like the past grief and pain, I had to become intentional about living in each and every moment of the present in order to engage a positive course toward hope and healing. It is important to note here that the past was not my enemy, I needed it as a reference point in my current journey toward hope and healing. I needed my past in order to set my new boundaries of focus, thinking and decision making.
One of my greatest tools that helped me weave all this together was the tool of reframing. Reframing simply defined is, when you change the definition of any event, idea, thought or action, you also then change the emotions that surround those events, ideas, thoughts and actions. I learned that a reframe for me was to change the definition of pain (to some degree) to the idea of purging old negative debilitation thinking patterns and enveloping myself in the gratitude of having my daughter, even it was only for a brief year, and not concentrating on the pain of losing her. Reframing brings about the power of gratitude, positivity that leads to the intentionality of hope and healing.