7 Tips for Dealing with Tragedy
One of the most difficult things in life we can experience is tragedy. Whether it’s a death, life changing illness, separation, or other loss, tragedy is something we all face, often unexpectedly. When Matt went through cancer, we thought it was the biggest challenge that we would have in our lives. Our major challenge was past us. But after his accident, we realized it was the practice session for our next big challenge – Matt being paralyzed.
I learned a lot through Matt having cancer, and even more after his accident. Here are my top 7 tips for dealing with tragedy . . .
1. It sucks. It’s okay to feel/think/say it. We all have some terrible thoughts and feelings when something bad happens. It’s awful. Allow yourself to have those feelings, and then move on. You can’t be strong until you allow yourself to work through the feelings that are making you weak.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to think, “Sarah took a whole week off work when her dad died and I’m only taking two days – will people think I love my dad less?” – or “Why am I bawling right now when nobody else is? Am I not handling this the right way?” Everyone deals with their grief in a different way. Don’t pressure yourself to deal with the situation how you THINK you should. Give yourself permission to grieve in your own way.
3. Read between the lines. Most people are not going to know what to say to you and are often going to say the wrong thing. Someone might make a joke that rubs you the wrong way or asks an insensitive question, but try to understand that they are trying to support you and show that they care. It’s important to understand and feel that support, even if it takes some reading between the lines.
4. Give yourself a break. The week I moved back to Michigan to take care of Matt, I was asked to bring a family a meal that was going through some changes and needed some extra support. I was moving into a new house, starting a new job, and balancing time with Matt in the hospital with getting our new home ready. As much as I wanted to bring a meal to my friend, I had to give myself a break. You have to take care of yourself to survive life’s biggest challenges. It’s okay to say no when you’re overwhelmed.
5. Allow others to help. Whether it’s letting a friend bring you coffee or watching your dog for a few days, let others support you. People that care about you genuinely want to help so don’t be afraid to tell them what they can do to make your load a little lighter.
6. Try to keep things in perspective. This can be hard when emotions are high. I remember going on Facebook the day that Matt broke his neck and seeing someone complaining about having a cold. It infuriated me. I wanted to give that person a lesson on what things are worth complaining about. But the truth is, everyone has their “stuff.” While you might think someone’s stuff is minimal compared to your stuff, you have to understand it’s all about perspective. Yes, Matt was paralyzed. Could it be better? Sure – he could have broken his arm instead of his neck. Could it be worse? Uh yeah, he could have been instantly killed. It all comes down to perspective.
7. Take the opportunity to build your relationship with your loved ones (or partner’s loved ones) instead of letting it cause conflict. This is BY FAR the most valuable advice I received when Matt first got sick. At chemotherapy, there was room for one person to sit with Matt. One. Matt’s mom and I both wanted to be with him, and I felt myself get very frustrated. Someone told me to see this as an opportunity to improve my relationship with my future mother in law by working together to help Matt get better. We had the same goal, and were going to need each other’s support. It was going to be “Team Matt.” That new mentality made such a difference. Don’t let a tragic situation cause conflict with loved ones, whether it’s siblings, in laws, or friends. Use the challenge to bring your unit together. Lean on each other. Fight for the same goals. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.