“Get over it.”
“You’ve gotta get on with your life.”
“It’s time to move on.”
You’ve probably heard one of these phrases at some point from a well-meaning friend or relative. Maybe it had to do with something small — or maybe it came after a life-changing event.
And then there’s the advice:
“OK, feel sorry for yourself for a little while. Then get up and go on.”
“Stop wallowing in self pity.”
“Buck up, little camper!”
This time of year emotions are highly charged. And you may find yourself — or someone you care about — right in the middle of a sticky wicket.
You’re not the boss of me
What qualifies someone else, anyway, to know the right time for you to move on? After all, they’re not in your shoes. They can’t relate to what you feel like going through a job layoff or a relationship breakup.
And there are those life-changing events. Divorce. Financial collapse. Losing a parent or sibling. Or — perhaps the hardest of all — a spouse or a child.
I’d like to dedicate this column to those families and individuals going through these scenarios. And it doesn’t matter if the incident was last week, last month or in the last 10 years. There’s no keeping score. It’s all relative.
Bouncing back not that easy
This was reinforced a while back when I picked up the book “Resilience” by the late Elizabeth Edwards — lawyer, mother and wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards.
The book focuses on much more than her husband’s transgressions. The first hundred pages center on the loss of her teenage son, Wade. I was blown away by the way she described the depths of this loss — and her attempts to eventually learn to put one foot in front of the other.
Edwards describes how ludicrous it was for others to assume she would get over her loss in due time. As she explained, you wouldn’t ask someone who had a leg amputated, “Are you over it?” You’d ask, “How are you getting along?” or “How are you adapting?”
How much time does it take?
I’m always amazed at those time markers that are tossed out — five years to get over a divorce, for example. Who decides these things?
I admit there’s a difference between “moving on” and “getting over it.” And those time frames are different for each situation. I just maintain it’s hard for anyone to know when those time frames occur for another.
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely see the value in helping someone establish a sense of “the new normal.” There’s just not a handbook for this uncharted territory.
There’s no app for that
Those of us on the sidelines can be so desperate to “fix” the situation. Flash bulletin: There IS no fix.
“I would never suggest there’s a single way to get from Day One after the death of a child to Year Thirteen,” Edwards says. “Life is like a blackboard. We write on it the things we are, the things we do. We fill it up, sometimes erasing what we’ve grown out of ... and replacing it with new activities, new passions and new friends.
“As we grow up, our blackboard is as filled as it can be. I was a mother, a wife, a lawyer, a soccer coach and Goodwill volunteer. Write those down. Go watch the [University of North Carolina] Tar Heels, go to book club and the PTA. Sew a Halloween costume. The board was crammed full.
“And then Wade died. In an instant, my blackboard was erased. Nothing I was doing before seemed important. And nothing I might do tomorrow seemed worthy. So, I wrote nothing at all. And I did nothing. I couldn’t eat. Real life is something other people had, something I once had and couldn’t imagine having again. The people we were are like characters in a book. It’s nearly impossible to believe once we were them.”
One size does not fit all
Dealing with grief is different for everyone. And it differs within families, causing extra stress on those taxed to the max. I’m a big believer in counseling, and that can take many forms — therapist, clergy member or trusted friend. An important tool that helped Edwards was the internet — communities where people, unfortunately, were “members of that club.”
As she said, “We pulled up chairs, in front of computers all over the world and we talked. At any hour of the day or night, there was always someone there — in their chair, waiting for you.” The communities — alt.support.grief (an internet news group), griefnet.org and webhealing.com — all functioned the same, Edwards explained.
A person who recently lost a loved one would post an introduction, and those who had been participants for a longer period of time would respond.
“In this world where no one had a physical presence, I could accept Wade’s physical absence — in a way — and I could parent his memory, keeping that a central part of who I was. In this community it was ALL I was. Wade’s mother.”
I’ve heard from those who are members of this club that not one day goes by that they don’t think about their loss. Gradually, a sense of “the new normal” unfolds. It’s different, to be sure. And it’s unique for every person.
Grief is the great equalizer. It can allow you to move through the trauma and move on — but only when YOU are ready.
And it doesn’t mean you ever “get over it.”