By Olea Gough

olea author pic

I want you to know… life can be beautiful again!

Last month I wrote about how losses that need to be grieved are more than just losing someone to death (see Grieving a Loss is Okay). We all experience multiple losses through life and often forget that dealing with those losses in a healthy way often includes the same steps as losing a loved one to death. We need to give ourselves permission to struggle with these losses and time to come to terms with them. The time needed for this varies as much with situation as it does with each individual who experiences the loss.

Have you ever experienced a loss that has knocked you off your feet? Ever wondered if you would ever feel normal again? Happy again? Ever wanted to stay under your covers in bed rather than face your new reality and try to move on? Perhaps you are currently going through a time like this.

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I experienced one such loss when without any explainable reason I lost the vision in my right eye and partial vision in my left. That was such a scary time for me and for my family! The tests that were run on me to try to find the underlying cause were invasive and extensive. I didn’t know if I was going to lose my vision altogether or if it was a more comprehensive problem that would eventually demand my life. To say that first year was a struggle would be an understatement. I was tired. I was scared. I felt inadequate. And I missed my old life. But I survived and I learned some powerful things about rebuilding after a loss. I learned that life can be beautiful again.

The first thing I learned is that I did need to grieve the loss. I had to get to a point of acceptance. Iyanla Vanzant wisely stated,

“Acceptance does not mean you agree with, condone, appreciate or even like what has happened. Acceptance means that you know regardless of what happened, that there is something bigger than you at work. It also means you know that you are okay and that you will continue to be okay.”

Iyanla Vanzant

Though there is no time frame attached to the grieving of your loss, there is a requirement that if life is ever going to go on and be a life worth living again, at
some point we have to come to a place of acceptance. We have to ACCEPT that life will never be the same again. I once met a woman in an online class who had
lost her husband. He had died suddenly and she grieved deeply for him. She made a comment that really hit me hard. She said that she recognized she needed to stop coveting her old life.

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I had never thought of it that way before. Suddenly that commandment from God took on new meaning for me. Coveting is to have an inordinate wrongful desire. Now to miss what we once took for granted in and of itself is not necessarily wrong but for it to be “inordinate” means that it is unrestrained. When we put all of our heart, mind, and strength into wishing that we could have back what we have lost, our life loses purpose, we remain trapped in a life that simply no longer exists. We lose any desire for self-improvement or for using our energy to do good. Often, we even lose the desire to have a relationship with others around us or even a relationship with God. We are so caught up in missing the person or thing we have lost that we live in the past without any hope of building a future. This is not a healthy way to live. We have to stop yearning for and coveting our old life. We have to recognize that hanging onto the past holds us hostage. It keeps us from moving forward and rebuilding. We have to ACCEPT THE ADJUSTMENT, and as we do, we will start to see that life can be beautiful again.

About a year after the initial realization that my vision was in jeopardy, I went to a specialist in Oregon who confirmed what my Utah doctor was telling me. My vision loss in my right eye was permanent. And though my left eye had adjusted and begun to compensate, it would never have perfect vision again either. I remember vividly the feelings of devastation that came with that pronouncement. I also remember the comfort I received at that time that everything was going to be okay… eventually. It had been a little over a year-long journey searching for answers. That answer came as a period at the end of that search. All through that year, I grieved the loss of my old normal and I was finally at a point where I could embrace the reality that there was no going back to the “normal” I had known. I was ready to accept that there could be a new normal and I could be okay again.

I started to embrace this idea but I was still struggling with how to adjust physically, mentally, and emotionally to this change.  I found my next building block one day as I was talking to a friend.  She was one of the few I had shared my struggles with and she approached me at a meeting we were attending and asked if I was doing okay.  I remember bursting into tears and telling her that I wanted to be okay, but I felt broken and just couldn’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces back together again.  What she shared with me next was life-changing.  She called it the block theory and I will share that theory with you now. 

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We all have a set of blocks we come into life with.  We spend our whole lives examining these blocks, finding the perfect position to put them in, and building the most amazing design.  We work and we build and we rearrange until we have the most incredible structure.  We love this building.  We admire it and we take pride in it. Then one day something comes along and knocks the whole thing over. We are devastated!  We run around frantically gathering up our blocks trying to rebuild.  We wrack our brain to try to remember where each piece goes, but we soon discover that there are pieces missing AND there are extra pieces.  Now what are we going to do?!! We can stand there completely immobilized by the fact that we are never going to be able to rebuild the same structure we once had.  That fear is real and it can be paralyzing.  We weep for the loss.  We sometimes want to fall down on the ground and throw a tantrum a two-year-old would be envious of.  We may even want to take all the blocks and chuck them in the nearest garbage.  But deep down we know that we have to rebuild.  We can’t spend the rest of our life without a structure.  So, we can accept that it’s going to be different and admit that we need help in rebuilding it.  We must turn to God and ask Him to help us.  We must admit that we don’t see the bigger picture and ask Him to be our architect. It is at this point that we will acquire our second block for rebuilding.  We must BELIEVE that with God we can BUILD IT BETTER.  And so, we show Him all the individual blocks we are holding and we ask Him how we can build a better structure? Because He is the master carpenter, He can show us perfectly where each piece should go and how the structure will be not only the most beautiful, but the most useful too. Oh yes, with the Lord’s help we can build it better.

At this point in my life, I stand back and look at my block structure that has been rebuilt several times since the year I lost my vision and I can honestly say that I love it even more than I loved the original structure or each subsequent structure that has been built along the way and I’m so glad that with God’s help it has been rearranged.  Life really can be beautiful again!

The third building block is often one the hardest pieces in healing and rebuilding after a loss.  CREATING A COMMON GROUND with others requires us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to share our story with them. 

Crissi Jami says, “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable. To make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”  This is such a paradox!  Most of us go through life with this façade we want others to see in us.  So often we have created an image we want the world to see.  I was talking to my cousin who used to play football for Vanderbilt in college.  He had dreams of becoming a pro athlete and just before his big tryout he blew out his knee.  Just like that the dream was over.  He told me that the hardest thing about this was that his whole identity was wrapped up in being a football player.  It was so hard to accept that he would have to really look at himself and figure out who he was aside from that.  We don’t want anyone to see that we are weak or flawed or broken.  We try so hard to be like everyone else and what we don’t realize is that everyone else is just as weak, flawed, and broken as we are.  When we can be brave enough to admit this, we actually find that in sharing our weakness we gain strength.  We gain strength because we support each other.  We share the burden we have been carrying and it is lifted by those we share with.  Not only does it strengthen us, but by being vulnerable ourselves, it also gives those around us permission to be less than perfect and it lifts and strengthens them. Spencer W. Kimball once said, “God does notice us, and He watches over us.  But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.”  When we refuse to share our struggles, we are in essence tying God’s hands.  How can He help us or answer our pleas for help if we refuse to be vulnerable enough to let anyone in?

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One of the things I have found most interesting about this third block is that as I create this common ground and share my struggles, as I talk about the hardship and the overcoming, I find myself saying things I need to hear.  In my speaking there is understanding and healing that could have come in no other way. I believe that one of the devil’s greatest tools is to make us feel isolated.  If he can make us feel like we are the only ones weak enough to struggle, he can bask in our discouragement.  When we feel discouraged, we do not build, in fact we tend to deconstruct anything we may have been working to build.  But when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we find that we are not so all alone in our brokenness. We find strength in numbers and solace in the stories of others and their overcoming.  In the most unusual way, we will find that when we create a common ground and share our burdens, life can be beautiful again!

As you rebuild from a loss you will find that there are many other blocks, blocks that are personal to your own rebuilding.  You may find that music helps you build well, or meditation, or reading uplifting stories of others triumphs.  You may find that service is what helps you most or spending time in nature.  I know for me humor has been my favorite block with each loss I have experienced.  Humor may not come at the very beginning but it is one of my blocks that indicates that I’m starting to heal.  I learned long ago that if you are going to laugh later you might as well laugh now.  Sometimes laughing was what drove the tears away for me.  I am blessed to be married to a man who can make me laugh and helps me to not take life so seriously.  Often our laughing is at the unfairness of life and our circumstances.  When we were in Oregon getting a second opinion, they had just finished doing all of their testing, my eyes were dilated and my contacts were not in, so my one good eye was really doing me no good.  I needed to use the restroom and Chad was guiding me by the arm.  As we headed down the hall, I suddenly remembered who my navigator was and I said to him, “And you better not be taking me into the men’s room.”  He immediately turned around and headed back down the hall to the lady’s room. I started to laugh and so much of the day’s burdens slipped right off my shoulders. For me laughter is healing.  We all have challenges, but if we can laugh at them, the laughter often takes the sting out of life and brings us closer together.  Laughter can help us create a common ground reminding us that life is really meant to be enjoyed and that we are not all that different after all.  Life really can be beautiful again.

Life is full of surprises and we will all experience loss in one form or another throughout our lives. Losing my sight was not a loss I anticipated, nor one I would have asked for, but as I have ACCEPTED THE ADJUSTMENT, BELIEVING that with God’s help I can BUILD IT BETTER, and choose to CREATE COMMON GROUND allowing myself to be vulnerable and share my struggling with others, I have been able to gain a vision of how rebuilding after a loss can make life beautiful again.

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