When life sucks and grief hits you, and loss overwhelms you, what in the world do you do? Three points that hopefully help you:
# 1 Look at Others
Number one, I want to encourage you to look at others who have somehow been there and done that, and have made it through the suckiness of grief. And they still have their grief, they still have their pain, but they’re not letting it debilitate them.
Wiltold Pilecki was born in May of 1901, and he died in 1948. He was 47 years old, and had a wife and he two children. He was a Polish cavalry officer and co-founded the Secret Polish Army resistance movement as Hitler and Nazi Germany made its way into Poland, arresting thousands and thousands of Polish people. The Germans built the concentration camp called Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland.
Pilecki was the only human on record that volunteered to intentionally be arrested and become a prisoner at Auschwitz. He went into the camp in order to give reports to the Allies of what the Germans were doing to the prisoners. What he found was so shocking and horrific that the Allied leaders found hard to believe.
For two years he also tried to organize a resistance within the camp in order to help thousands escape. When that effort failed, and the Allies were slow in accepting his reports, he escaped from Auschwitz and went back to help the Polish people.
When the war ended, he was arrested by the communistic Polish government and put to death. He was a hero of all heroes. There’s this book by Mark Manson, it’s called Everything is ______, quite a bold title. And in that book, he has this quote about being heroic. What does it mean to be heroic?
“Being heroic,” Manson writes, “is the ability to conjure up hope where there is no hope.”
Hope #1 – Look at Others Who Have Conjured Up Hope Where There is No Hope
At Spark of Life, where we have worked with so many ‘heroes,’ I agree with that definition. The first point to share is to encourage you to look at other people who are hopeless, yet found hope. How did they do it? What did they do that can help me know what to do?
When we look at others, we don’t ever want to compare our loss to theirs. I can look at somebody else who’s lost 3, 4, 5, or 6 children, for example, and think that since my loss is not ‘as bad’ as their loss – then I should not feel so bad. Thus, I may minimize my feelings, and feel bad about feeling bad.
But I can look at those who haven’t quit and had a hopeless situation and they found hope, and ask how did they do it? I mention often that the people who come to our retreats, the people who go to our online resources that we have, are our heroes because they’ve conjured up hope where there was no hope. When they felt hopeless and helpless, they didn’t quit. And when I look at others, I’m inspired. So Pilecki can become a hero because he conjured hope where there was no hope. He never gave up.
# 2 If one human can have hope where there is no hope – then I can
In every single retreat, we see hopeless people, but really we see people who FEEL hopeless, but they are not hopeless. The reason they’re not hopeless is that they came to a retreat seeking help. When you seek help, when you try to do something about your situation, with your pain, then you are not hopeless or helpless because you haven’t even believed you’re helpless and hopeless, even though you feel helpless and hopeless.
I say that often because I think it’s such a vital point right now. We’re saying, if you do anything to find help, you are acting in a way that’s not hopeless and helpless, if that makes sense. My emotions do not define me. So if I look at somebody else and I see that they have not given up, it helps me not give up either. If I look at somebody else who is on the brink of giving up, but didn’t give up and they’re living productive lives and they’re not letting their past define them or debilitate them, then I get hope. If one other person can do it, then I can do it. So what do I do with these feelings of hopelessness and helplessness? Well, what I do is I give voice to it.
We have found the power of listening to those who feel hopeless and helpless is life-giving! When people are listened to in their pain, then their pain is validated, and we’re saying, in effect, there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you feel. You’ve experienced terrible loss, and you have every right to feel that way, but you don’t have to let it define you. ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood’ is one of the greatest statements I’ve ever heard in my life. This quote does not mean you can go back in the past and change things, but I can reframe the past into something that can make me into a better person today, even the painful things of the past.
I want to hold on to the good things, I don’t want to forget those. I don’t want to heighten the power of all the bad stuff that people have done to me or did to me, or my own mistakes and failures, or even horrific losses. I want to recognize them, give voice to them, but not let them define me. So when I look at others who didn’t let all the bad stuff define them and dictate to them how they should live their present and future, I’m inspired by that. I need to look at others and I need to realize if one human being can go through what Pilecki did, in the midst of pain and death, then so can I.
# 3 – Find Meaning in all the Pain
The third life-changing realization is this: find meaning in all the crap that’s happened to you. Find meaning. This does not mean that everything happens for a reason, a specific reason. I do not believe that. God does not delight in my pain and suffering.
Jesus wept at the tomb of a good friend. God sees our pain and his heart goes out to us. God is not a monster. I don’t understand everything about God, but I know this; it is a myth that everything happens for a specific reason. Sometimes evil people do evil things. Sometimes people hurt other people because of free will. Sometimes loved ones die, and there is no explanation. But that does not mean I can’t find meaning in every bad thing that happens.
Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in Auschwitz. He was an Austrian psychologist, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, he was an author, and he was a Holocaust survivor. Frankl went to the same concentration camp as Pilecki. So this our third point, find meaning in whatever you’re going through.
What can you find in the midst of deep loss that can help you live forward as a different, changed person with your pain, but a different person with the same identity, the core identity. Don’t let the past define your core identity.
The Nazis arrested 960,000 Jews who were thrown into Auschwitz. Of the 960,000 Jews that went to this concentration camp, 865,000 died and went to the gas chambers on the day they arrived into Auschwitz. If you do the math, that’s 90%. There was a total of 1.3 million humans who went to Auschwitz, and 1.1 million of those died. Viktor Frankl was one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
After the war ended, and Frankl went back to life, he discovered he had lost ALL his family. He then wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, one of those life-changing books. It is Frankl’s effort to make ‘sense out of the nonsense,’ to find meaning in the horrific horrors that went on during that period of time in world history.
When I look at other people, and realize if somebody else can find hope in the midst of despair, and when I find the meaning in what happened, I can reframe what happened to say, “Okay, this happened. I’m going to give myself permission to grieve it, to feel terrible, to be honest with my emotions, but I’m going to look at others and see what others have done, and I’m going to have hope. And I’m going to conjure hope in the midst of no hope.” And that’s what being heroic is all about.
For Frank, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. That’s how you find meaning in life. And listen to some of his quotes. “Life is made is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
If you’ve experienced horrific loss, what will you do with it? You’re going to give yourself permission to grief deeply because that’s natural and normal. You’re not going to compare your losses to other people. You’re not going to say, “Others have worse losses, therefore, I don’t have a right to feel bad. I’m not going to minimize my pain and I don’t need to maximize my pain. “
I need to be honest with my pain and my feelings and my emotions, but I also need to be honest that they don’t have to define me. And then, what do I do? The people who have survived horrific things find meaning and purpose to get up in the morning again. So where’s that meaning and purpose? “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” wrote Frankl. I’m unable to change the crap of the past. I wish I could. I wish I had the magic wand. But I can change, I can change my response to the past. I can change what I do with it.
So what do I do with the pain of the past? I admit it. And then I find meaning and purpose, and this quote, “I can’t change the past, but I can change this guy. I can do something about this guy.” We really want you to find hope in the midst of no hope. Remember this. I want to repeat this. That true heroism, being heroic, is finding hope, conjuring up hope, where there is no hope, of not quitting, of not giving in to it.
At Spark of Life, we believe there’s always hope. Go to sparkoflife.org for more resources. At Spark of Life, we really do believe this. There is always hope.
Be a hero, conjure up hope where there is no hope.