by Hon. Pamela Luther
It is bittersweet having experience in overcoming a major hurdle in life. Often, we feel as if we are alone in having difficult, life-changing events. However, with each passing year, we realize that life is a never-ending series of personal and professional setbacks, as well as advancements. The challenge lies in moving beyond disappointments toward a mindset of gratitude in one’s own time. These suggestions deal less with practical suggestions for rebuilding what was lost, and more with allowing the often painful experience of change to benefit us.
#1. Do Nothing
Allow yourself time to do nothing, especially if this is a sudden, life changing event. There are two ways to do nothing. One way is to change your schedule, take time off and literally not do anything for as long as you need it. Another way is to continue on your previous plan as much as possible in spite of the life-changing event.
One of the reasons that I was asked to write this article is because of a life-changing event that happened to me just days before law school. My teenage daughter was killed in a Jet Ski accident approximately one week before law school began. I personally experienced the grief and confusion that comes with unexpected tragedy. Mixed with all of the emotional and financial demands of planning a funeral and grieving are the worries about the future. One of the pieces of advice that I am most grateful for was this: “For one year, don’t make any changes.” As much as possible, do the things you planned to do. Do not sell your house. Do not move away. Do not quit your job. For me, this also meant not changing my plans to attend law school.
Undoubtedly, I would not be where I am today if I had changed my plans. The law school environment turned out to be the perfect place to be for me at that time. Moving forward with our original plans after a tragedy does not mean that we are not grieving.
#2. Focus on the Here-and-Now
Bring your attention back to your physical needs, routine caretaking, and bill paying. The proverbial “one day at a time” approach is a necessary stage. Often, the pain and fear we are experiencing resides in our minds. We increase our discomfort and grief by allowing our imaginations to replay events, worrying about the future, and finding someone or something to blame. Focusing on each moment brings us back to the real pain in our bodies and hearts. To some degree, it is unavoidable and healthy to allow ourselves to experience sorrow and fear. However, reliving tragedy and blame in our mind leads to anger, depression, as well as physical and mental illness.
#3. Be Grateful.
Everyone arrives at their destinations after encountering closed doors as well as open doors. Looking back, most of us can remember an old plan or relationship that did not work out that we are grateful for today. Admittedly, it can take a long while to be thankful for the closed doors.
#4. Understand That Your Thoughts Will Shape Your Future
This article is more about the mindset of facing obstacles than specific steps to take in order to get back on track after a setback. The truth is that “getting back on track’ may not mean getting back on the same track. Someone who has experienced a tragedy or major life hurdle cannot immediately know what the future holds. In my experience, the only real answers come through patience and a willingness to face the real discomfort that comes with unexpected change or loss. A mindset of avoidance or blame will not result in the best choices in moving forward.
In summary, if you experience a tragic setback, focus on yourself and your loved ones instead of the expectations of others. Allow yourself time to heal without feeling guilty. Notice when your mind is spending too much time on painful memories or blame and bring your attention back to what you can see and feel in the moment. Constantly make an effort to be grateful for even the smallest blessings. Your mindset, more than anything else, will determine what will happen next. Bring your mind back to what you have instead of what you have lost.
The Honorable Pamela Luther is judge of Dallas County Criminal Court of Appeals No. 2. She can be reached at email@example.com.