There are some changes in life you expect, but others come upon you in a flash. An accident, a natural disaster, a medical emergency – any of these happenings can be a minor blip on your radar or can turn your life around. Accidents happen – but what if one is fatal and you lose your son? Into every life, a little rain must fall – but what if you live in Joplin, MO and have your home destroyed, your possessions scattered, and your grandmother buried under some rubble by a tornado? Or you go to work one day, and a plane flies into your building, killing 3,000 of your colleagues? What if a minor pain in your husband’s arm turns out to be a major heart attack? How do you cope with sudden change?
When change comes so quickly, it often sets off a chain reaction of things that need to be done without warning. You are suddenly dealing with a range of emotions – and planning a funeral, calling insurance companies, arranging temporary housing, moving belongings, on top of what your daily life demands. You make it though what you need to do at the time, but you will have long term effects.
Change and loss can be hard to reconcile any time you confront them, but when the element of suddenness comes into play, you have other questions, emotions, and concerns than you would have had if knew the change was coming. Why did this happen? What if you or your loved one had been in a different place or on a different street? Why did it happen to me? Why did it happen now? Why am I here and my loved one gone?
Given that we are remembering the 10 year anniversary of September 11, as well as dealing with the aftermath of tornados, earthquakes, and floods this year, we have seen many people play their grief out in public. When an ordinary day turns tragic, survivors ask themselves these questions day after day, often years later. Natural reactions are guilt, anger, bewilderment, and loss of control. Some of the pain of sudden change may dull in time, but regaining any sense of control in a random world is the hardest part.
So, how can you get past devastating loss?
- Embrace a routine.Eat and exercise regularly and go about your daily life. If it helps, make a list of what you need to do each day and stick with it.
- Don’t bury the pain. Alcohol, drugs, or excessive shopping can deaden the pain, but won’t fix anything.
- Find what gives you comfort. Take walks. Gaze at a picture. Rely on your faith. Enjoy your friends.
- Talk it out. A coach, counselor, or therapist, a support group, friends can all play a role in helping you cope.
- Move on when you are ready, but try to find balance between staying stuck in the past and finding new direction in your life. Again, a counselor can help you take baby steps until you are ready to redefine your life.
- Find a new purpose. Remember your loved one by getting involved in a cause that is meaningful to you, and perhaps even related to the loss. Many organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) got started by parents who lost children in drunk driving accidents. Amber’s Law came about from efforts of parents whose child was abducted. Eunice Kennedy Shriver became the champion of the disabled in honor of her sister Rosemary. Getting involved won’t take away the loss, but doing something for others will give it lasting value.
When change comes quickly and randomly, you can find new meaning in your life and take back control. You may never understand why it happened, nor answer the nagging questions left behind, but you can learn to cope with sudden change.