Friday, May 20, 2016

Bad News: Advice & Reflections on Maintaining Perspective



My dad was diagnosed and deemed terminal in the same day. One appointment took us from healthy man to dying dad. After my dad died, I knew my faith couldn’t manage bad news. I feared any shade, any degree of bad would send me careening from the narrow road He’s laid forth. 
This week we got the first bad news since he died. We got the first bad news that dances in the same circle of sadness as disease and death. It was news that wasn’t entirely shocking but still maintained the harsh sting of disappointment. 
I"m not devastated. I'm surprised by my optimism in a weird, proud way. My faith is fine. It’s there, sort of unaffected and wholly devoted to acknowledging His plan. My emotions are surprisingly simple, comfortably swaying in the winds of change. I wondered what was different this time, how one foot in front of the other is easy despite the sudden shift in circumstance. I’ve come up with a single thing: perspective. 
What I lacked in my college years after the dementia diagnosis was perspective. And what’s made a world of difference in the last five days of heading in a new direction is perspective. It’s the compass that makes this all seem tolerable because at the end of the day direction is about relative location, isn’t it? 
So, here are three perspective check ins that you’ll need when bad news decides to cross your life plan:

1. The raw, ragged feelings pass. 
When you’ve received a negative news flash, it’s important to check out, to insulate and hold your space. Then you’re there in your emotional cocoon and sweatpants when you wonder if you’ll ever get on with life. You will. 
Feelings are fleeting as painful as that might be to admit. You’ll get over it, you’ll get on with it, you’ll realize that the essence of life is its lack of perfection. 

2. The end-of-the-world as I know it sensation is transformative. 
The last thing any person wants when life changes unexpectedly is more uncertainty. But, that end-of-the-world feeling is inspirational. It’ll lead you to adventures you’d otherwise skip, to opportunities you’d probably take for granted, to dreams you put off for too many years now. 
The choice is yours: fight or flight? I challenge you to stay, to transform, and to grow alongside the heartbreak. Like a muscle, you'll feel torn apart and sore, but we were made to heal and you'll come back with a strength you could never have expected. 

3. Sometimes it’s a mountain. Sometimes it’s a molehill. But bad news always sucks. 
When we get back news it's easy to compare. Is mine worse or better, more tragic or not, fatal or benign? But comparison is unnecessary because pain is pain and bad news of any proportion sucks. At the risk of being cliché, this too will pass. You will not only survive, but come out on the other side with a more beautiful, kind soul. I know because I did. 

And my number one practical tip when bad news comes crashing down: 

1. Do something, anything to make yourself feel productive. 

I know you'd rather crawl into bed and cry your eyes out than admit the world is still spinning. I know it seems easier, more lovely, to cocoon yourself beneath a cool down comforter and use up a whole box of Kleenex than live. But life. Life goes on and there's something about doing one thing -any one thing- that balances out the soul kind of aching. (I chose to clean and barbecue artichokes for the first time.)
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Today marks five months since the day my dad died. Goodness that seems impossible and yet, I'm thankful that the sun rises and sets on my days and my moods. I'm thankful he's somewhere safe, somewhere beloved, somewhere he so desperately wanted to travel. I'm just now heading back to church, just now learning not to be angry when sadness is overwhelming, just now embracing what it means to carry on a legacy. This isn't always a fun road, but I'm a better person because of him. 

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