Dealing With Tragedy 5 ways to keep your head above water during rough times. BY EMILY SUE HARVEY
By John Dalog
If you keep looking up, you'll see that beyond the dark clouds is sunshine.
Renewal has never been portrayed to me quite as vividly as during my first flying experience aboard a 747 jet. The delayed flight, due to rain, plunged my spirits. Finally, the engines roared to life and I felt myself raised up, until we lifted from earth. Outside the windows, the clouds swallowing me were gray and angry, painting my emotions desolate.
Then, a remarkable thing happened. Suddenly, we burst free of the dark clouds, into glorious sunshine and a sky so blue and clear I could see to infinity. Joy! I’ve never before or since experienced such a mystical example of rising above darkness.
We’ve all experienced encountering dark and rough places through which we must struggle; whether it’s a marital affair, the loss of a child—as in my case—or problems within your own family. Such experiences have stirred me to reach out to others and simply say, "Hang in there! Above those dark clouds, the sun is shining!" Here are five tips for breaking through clouds:
1. Trust: Understand that you have little to no control over circumstances. This "aha" often finds us on the short end of the stick. We cannot help that. What we can help is the way we perceive ourselves as we journey through dark clouds. Trust in your ability and strength to persevere. Buried in grief years ago, I remember distinctly stopping dead in my tracks one day and saying to myself, "self-pity will kill me." And I knew in my heart of hearts that was true. From that moment on I refused to be a victim. No "poor me" passed my lips. It was the beginning of renewal.
2. Stay Busy: Nothing can restore one’s emotional and spiritual balance like staying active. The mind can only fully focus on one thing at a time. Whether your pain is from grief, heartbreak, depression or myriad other sources, forcing your focus on positive things will aid in a smoother healing. During grief, I sang in the college choral group. As a scholarship section leader, I led ensembles for the upcoming Spring Concert. Nothing is more difficult than singing when one’s heart is breaking, but the group patiently coaxed me along, overlooking my tears, validating me with how "needed" I was, until, weeks later, I sang from Sound of Music as joyfully as the rest. Staying busy was cathartic in my healing, moving on process.
3. Be Flexible: The journey through dark clouds is always difficult. Just when you think you’re about to top them, setbacks can occur. These are the times you must chill out and ride it out until you reach another plateau of recovery. A friend of mine has a daughter, whom I’ll call Laurie, who is going through drug rehab via a Methadone Clinic. Laurie wants desperately to wean off the methadone and get on with her life. She must constantly readjust dosages due to withdrawal crises. But she’s growing stronger by the day by exercising flexibility.
4. Exercise Your Inner Strength: We must increase our sense of power by exercising it. Sure, it’s tough sometimes, especially when we’re at our lowest ebb. During my period of loss, I yanked myself up by the boot straps by reflecting how my departed adolescent daughter had perceived Mama as Superwoman, who’d always made things right and who could conquer anything.
It was on that note that I put one foot in front of the other and kept on keeping on during that difficult time. "Oh, you’re so brave," folks told me. And I thought, "You just don’t know what I’m feeling inside." But looking back, I saw how important that interval was in my journey to renewal and healing. It was the walk—the exercise—that built up my spirit and mind to where I was able to walk through the darkness with unprecedented strength.
5. Gather Role Models: Role models forge us a path and inspire us to follow. They bring us to a clearer understanding of the who we are and what we’re meant to be. My best friend, Charlene, had a difficult childhood. Abandoned by her parents during adolescence, she was reared by her grandmother, a stalwart woman who taught her good common sense. Charlene ignored poverty and went on to become who she was meant to be. She picked role models from those amongst her with admirable attributes. Teachers and church folks she loved and wished to emulate. She chose her home economics teacher’s posture and carriage, practicing it until perfected.
From others, she gathered nuggets of diction, health habits, wisdom and academic excellence. An honor student, she dressed impeccably all through high school, sewing her own clothing from scraps of leftover material from clients she sewed for. I didn’t know until later of her dire circumstances. After all, she’d always had a big old smile, was homecoming queen with a reaching out personality that drew folks like butterflies to flowers.
Now, she’s one of the most beautiful and strongest women I know, compliments in part from her Nanny. Charlene was wise enough to know the value of following exemplary role models. So do I. Especially the ones who have weathered life’s thunderstorms and risen above those dark clouds into sunshine and clear skies. It lets me know that if they can soar above the clouds, so can I!
Emily Sue Harvey writes to make a difference. Her upbeat stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies including "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Chocolate for Women," "From Eulogy to Joy," "A Father’s Embrace," "True Story," Compassionate Friends Magazine, and Woman’s World. Emily Sue served as president of Southeastern Writers Association in 2008-2009. Peter Miller’s NY Literary and Film Agency represent Emily Sue. Her first novel, "Song of Renewal," published by Story Plant, will be released in the spring of 2009. For more information visit www.renewalstories.com.