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Detailed Book Information


All Is Not Lost

Yes! Press, 2002

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Book information:


Excerpts

Introduction

While most of us desire happiness, success, and peace of mind, there are other aspects of life we’d just as soon avoid: Death. Divorce. Illness. Hurt. Disappointment. Sadness. Tragedy. There are points in your life and mine where we will face loss, whether it involves the end of a relationship or job, illness or accident, betrayal or financial hardship, death of a beloved person or pet, letting go of a long held dream, or a massive national tragedy. Although we are told our entire lives that life is not fair, that bad things happen, and we should expect the unexpected, we are still taken off guard when such things take place. The September 11, 2001 attacks took us all by surprise. Because of this traumatic event, and because each of us inevitably face our own crises, I felt impelled to offer a message of comfort and empathy. I had never planned on writing a book like this, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the victims and rescue workers who died, and their families, friends, and coworkers. Somehow, it felt important to let them know they did not grieve alone.

While loss and grief take many forms, experiencing emotional pain is an intensely personal process. It’s common to feel alone, isolated, and disconnected from others. One unique aspect of September 11 was its universality: while we all reacted in our own individual ways, our shared sense of shock, bewilderment, and outrage brought us together. Those of us who were not directly affected by the attacks identified with those who were. Recall the outpouring of compassion in the form of monetary donations and personal contributions; the numbers of people who, at their own expense, left their homes and jobs, driving themselves across the country so they could pitch in. Restaurants, retail stores, and companies provided free food, drink, and essential equipment for rescue workers and volunteers. Concerned citizens lined up to give blood or assist in any way they could.

As we painfully witnessed the worst of what our species can inflict on one another, we also witnessed the best: countless examples of the heroic human spirit. Lest the lesson be overlooked, good things can come from bad circumstances. Paradoxically, the same pain, suffering, or grief that pierces our heart also directs us toward deeper understanding and wisdom, and eventually, inner peace. The events of September 11 represented a compound loss for us as a nation, and we grieved. Even if we didn’t live in one of the ground zero areas or lose a friend or loved one, our concept of safety, security, and sovereignty were swiftly and irreversibly redefined. We lost our some of innocence and naiveté. We knew things would never be the same. Such is the nature of loss.

Through the weeks that followed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the thousands of people whose lives had been so swiftly and dramatically altered in a single morning. Having experienced the sudden death of my youngest son, I know the feeling of having my world turned on its side at a moment’s notice. And families who have lost a loved one through a violent act tell me that the harshness and senselessness of it all adds to their pain and feelings of helplessness.

In our efforts to heal it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin picking up the pieces. If you are currently in the midst of grieving, I hope these ideas will bring comfort to your aching soul, give you a sense of what you’re in for, and offer some healthy ways to handle your hurt so you can move forward in your life. If you have lost a loved one you’ll find comfort here. If you are recovering from the pain of divorce you’ll discover some insights that can help you adjust and eventually thrive in your new life. If you have lost your job or feel as if you’re stuck in a period of confusion or angst you will find some ideas that will help you break free.

While All Is Not Lost explores the painful, difficult side of life it’s also a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Even in the aftermath of loss, crisis, or trauma, we somehow find ways to prevail. This book is about what you can expect as you progress from floundering in the depths of despair to healing your heart and spirit so you can once again soar with all you believe in. I have intentionally left room for you to interject the tenets of your faith or spiritual beliefs rather than impose my own. I trust you will both appreciate and take advantage of this freedom. If you have recently suffered a significant loss or setback, even though it doesn’t feel like it at this moment, please believe that all is not not lost. You will recover. You will once again find sense and meaning in your life. In time you will find your way along the foreign terrain of the healing journey.

Chapter 12: Goodbye Can Mean Goodbye

We have rules in our household about saying goodbye. The basic requirements include eye contact and face to face acknowledgment. We tolerate no automatic, empty greetings, no yelling from the door, no turned backs, and no air kisses that fall to the floor, orphaned, unrequited. When we say goodbye, even when running out for a quick errand, we make it an event. In fact, Rob and I have made a game of saying goodbye. One of us will stand at the door, announcing our departure, hesitating long enough for the other to come running from another room in mock frenzy, ready to dispense a farewell hug or kiss.

You may be wondering if we’ve always had this rule. Of course not. Following my son’s death I was haunted by the distant, preoccupied farewell I had given him. I have no recollection of whether I kissed or hugged him or looked into his eyes. I suspect I did not. My brain was already on the road, eager to get home and back to my routine. After having to own up to my negligence that day, I vowed to never again to be so arrogant. This was a harsh, painful lesson.

Given my history, you can imagine the empathy I felt for those who lost loved ones on September 11. My heart ached for the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who gave their own incomplete goodbyes that fateful morning. Some were still asleep when their partners walked out the door. A few left in anger. How could anyone have dreamed that this casual, everyday gesture would take on such significance a few hours later?

For those of us whose last goodbye left so painfully much unsaid, we must come to accept that this was only one momentary gesture and not the whole relationship. It is a deed that cannot be undone and there’s a point at which we need to give up flogging ourselves for our inability to predict the future. As far as the future goes, we can only pledge to make each of our goodbyes something to remember.

A Healing Step: Maybe you already give great goodbyes, but if not, I encourage you make each one an event, even if it’s only your pet you are leaving behind. If like me, you live with a remorseful goodbye, remind yourself that it was only a moment in time and you do not possess psychic powers. Forgive yourself. We can serve ourself and the memory of our loved one by focusing on the meaningful hours and days and years when we were intimately connected instead of the brief moments we were not. We cannot change our history, but our past has worthwhile lessons to teach us as we move on.

Some people wrap themselves in their pain instead of learning from it. Don’t fall into that trap. We all have regrets and our job is to put them in perspective and learn what they can teach us. Regret can turn us toward what we truly value. Grief can remind us how precious life is. Disappointment can help us clarify what we want. Mistakes can provide us with the opportunity to try something different, to create new patterns and practices that enrich our existence. Who would think that a simple goodbye, one of the first social gestures we learn as babies, and one we so casually engage in without a thought countless times a day, could hold such consequence.

Chapter 15: Other Losses

Change is a constant in life and it is often accompanied by some kind of loss. Even our circle of friends changes with the years: we leave some of them behind and some of them leave us. When my best friend Roxanne moved to Seattle I didn’t realize it meant the end of our friendship and I grieved the loss for years. Having seen her a few times since then, I’ve come to realize that the woman I so sorely missed no longer exists. We have little in common now.

Work represents its own set of losses, large and small. Job loss shakes the foundation of our existence because it jeopardizes our entire way of living. Considering the number of hours spent in the workplace and the uncontrollable issues that go along with it (conflicting agendas and personalities, time demands, politics, ego clashes, unresponsive or incompetent management, to name a few) it’s no surprise that work can represent an ongoing source of distress.

Job changes such as reorganizations, reassignments, and reclassifications can mean losing our connections with former peers who now perceive us differently or shy away because we are no longer a part of the old team. Promotions often bring with them unexpected burdens such as increased responsibilities, longer hours, and people problems. With demotions, the loss of status can be ego crushing. Clearly, the workplace can be the source of many losses.

One person’s trauma can be invisible to others. There are people who grieve the loss of natural habitat just as others would mourn a lost loved one, taking the constant damage to our environment very personally. Edward Abbey, author of the evocative Desert Solitaire is one example. His subsequent works vibrated with anger as he watched so many cherished wild places destroyed.

One of my favorite authors, Carl Hiaasen, chronicles similar insults in his Miami Herald column. I respect how he has sublimated his grief over the systematic destruction of his home state’s shorelines and ecology by writing novels that pulsate with vicious, brilliant humor and evil characters. Hiaasen is an example of how you can creatively channel your indignation or angst instead of ruining your health (or life) over circumstances that lie outside of your control.

Earlier in the book I discussed the losses that accompany aging, though getting older has become a different issue than it was a few decades ago. Just look around at the emerging seniors (like myself). Old is younger than it used to be, and with an assist from medical technology, we can even turn back the odometer: many of my professional speaker colleagues are postponing the loss of their youth with various forms of cometic surgery. This is an option I have not exercised, nor do I plan to.

But mind you, I qualify. I don’t even officially fit into “middle age” anymore. Perhaps I’m clinging to a thin strand of denial, but there are moments this still takes me by surprise. So far, thanks to regular exercise, my mother’s genes, and moderately healthy diet I’m in pretty good shape, with a few isolated parts of my body knowing how old I really am. I did give up jogging some years ago to relieve the wear and tear on my knees. Otherwise, I’m still actively learning, thinking creatively, riding my horse, hiking, and coming pretty close to doing to what I’ve always done. For this, I am mightily grateful.

A Healing Step: Even small losses or changes can prompt unease. If you find yourself feeling down or angry, take time to pinpoint where it’s coming from or what it’s connected to. Examine what’s going on, especially if you have experienced any recent changes to determine what, if anything, is different. Was there an expectation that didn’t get met? Have you been ignoring any physical symptoms? Have you been avoiding an issue you need to deal with? Check the calendar. A pending birthday, especially one that moves you into a new decade, or other significant dates can trigger feelings and thoughts you didn’t know you had. Old anniversaries, even long after a death or divorce can resurface old wounds or regrets.

Maybe there’s something you’re grieving over and you’ve resisted admitting it. You might have tried to convince yourself that you’re being silly or stupid, but feelings are feelings and they will let themselves be known one way or the other. We’ve discussed what a personal experience loss can be. We’ve also established that if you don’t address the emotions that are trying to come out, they’ll express themselves later somewhere in your body. Be efficient. It’s like our moms used to tell us when we were neglecting our chores: go “inside” and get your work done now, so that if anything comes along that you want to do, you’ll be free to do it.

Chapter 19: Anger and Acceptance

When bad things happen, one of the many emotions we need to sort through is anger. If we become ill, we may get angry at ourself or our body, and even the doctor who diagnoses our condition. When a loved one dies, we might be angry at them for leaving us behind. A divorce can trigger a good deal of anger, especially if it involved betrayal or deception. We can get angry at life for being so harsh or cruel, or at God for allowing something so awful to happen. And with a little bit of creativity and perseverance, we can find a whole lot of other people to be mad at, too.

Elsewhere in this book I describe the anger I felt when my son was killed. It just didn’t feel natural burying one of my children. Parents were supposed to die first, or even grandparents, all of whom, in our family, outlived their grandson by several years. You can imagine I was very angry over the unfairness of it all. When I presented the minister with the elegy I had written for my son, I remember giving the poor man precise, insistent instructions on exactly how I wanted it read. I think he understood that I was so closed down with grief and outrage I didn’t realize how I was behaving, nor did I care. My anger had to go somewhere.

Therapists and anger management counselors describe anger as a secondary emotion, stating that, while what is coming out of us may look, sound, and feel like anger, that’s not really what it is. Fear, insecurity, and hurt are often expressed as anger, as are feelings of abandonment, frustration, and helplessness. For example, as couples in a troubled relationship approach the point of separation or divorce, much of their time is spent time yelling, blaming, and venting their anger. I am suggesting that much of what they are expressing isn’t really anger. They are grieving, but they don’t know it. Their anger is protecting them from their hurt.

I define anger as a defense mechanism that shields us from experiencing the full brunt of an emotion. In other words, people who keep themselves in a prolonged state of anger are wrapped in their “protections.” They are closed down, shielded; in full defense mode. Temporarily, anger does us a service. It can keep us from having to feel the intensity of our grief or hurt until we have time to adjust and sort things out. But if we hold onto anger for too long, it can be our undoing.

As an individual more inclined toward anger than depression, I’ve since learned to look for the connecting point. That is, I want to know what root feeling is attached to my anger at the other end. If you find yourself feeling angry about something that’s going on in your life, take a closer look and figure out what it’s connected to. What presumptions did you have about life? What were your expectations? Did you think you were exempt from this kind of hurt? Were you thinking life would be fair? Well, it isn’t. Life is exceedingly unfair.

It’s unfair that people should die painful deaths, whether by illness or violence, and that our hearts or spirits sometimes end up broken by the very people we love. It’s unfair that employers allow unhealthy, sometimes abusive work environments to exist, where people in subordinate positions are treated with disrespect, or where politics preside over principles. It’s unfair that corporations can wantonly pollute our water, soil, and air and not have to clean it up or pay for it. It’s unfair that some people have so much money that they blatantly waste, flaunt, or hoard it while others have so little they can barely subsist.

It’s unfair that children get cancer or are born with multiple disabilities. It’s unfair that women and children and animals get abused in their homes. I could go on, but you get the point. Life is unfair and our getting angry won’t stop the unfairness from happening. Life will go on anyway, whether we stay angry or not. If something terrible has happened to you, maybe you feel angry about being singled out. But yet, should you or I be exempt? It only takes a short look to regain perspective. I think of my friend Mitchell, who, just a few short years before the accident that paralyzed him, suffered burns so extensive that he lost his fingers and had to have his face rebuilt. Or my neighbor Ruth who buried a son and a daughter before either of them became full fledged adults. Then there are the families who lost someone on September 11.

We all have our losses to bear. Respecting the tragedies of others keeps me from feeling entitled; like I’m so special that nothing bad should happen to me. Or that I should stay angry when it does. Life happens. Hurt happens. And we go on anyway. We have to remind ourselves that the hard times help us truly connect with other human beings. It is our bond; our social glue. By eventually trading anger for acceptance you’ll find it easier to forgive, whether that means forgiving yourself or someone else. Once you accept what life is, instead of what you think it should be, or want it to be, you’ll find the place of peace you’ve been looking for, and more.

But if you allow yourself to remain in a state of suspended anger you’ll severely limit what you hear, see, and feel. Anger may seem an honest emotion, but because it puts you in a state of protective alarm it can cheat you in the long run. When you are angry it’s as if your mind and body are operating on reserve power and only so much sensory energy can be expended. Operating at minimum capacity will work for a little while, but it won’t serve you in the long term. You’ll miss more of life than you experience.

A Healing Step:

If, in your grief, you have been closed down with anger and you’re ready to give it up, you have some work to do (if you’re not ready to give it up you have even more work to do). Your first step is in facing up to the fact that you are a human being, living in a neutral world where things you consider bad, hurtful, or unfortunate will happen, most of which are beyond the realm of your control. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. Next, accept that, even though in many ways you are a very special person, this does not mean you are exempt from heartache or conflict in your relationships, unjust treatment by your employer, nor are you and those you love necessarily immune to illness, turmoil, or injury.

Getting angry and blaming people, circumstances, or even God for bad things that happen to you will only increase and perpetuate your anxiety. In directing blame (responsibility) toward any source other than yourself, you are, in effect, relinquishing control. If you in no way contributed to this situation your option is to accept, not resist. If you had even a remote hand in helping make it happen, own up. Wishing, hoping, blaming or getting angry over the way things are will not change the circumstances, nor will any of these resistances prevent more bad things from happening. However, they will keep you closed down, meaning that you’ll be unable to fully participate in your life.

Perhaps it’s occurred to you that these declarations reflect the sentiment found in the Serenity Prayer and you’re right. These statements also parallel the work of Dr. Albert Ellis and his model of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), a powerful approach to personal transformation. Dr. Ellis has had a tremendous influence on me and I heartily recommend his many books, especially A Guide To Rational Living.

One last thing I will ask you to accept is that you have tremendous potential for creating a life of fulfillment and much of your serenity will come from your ability to openly accept all of life’s experiences, not just the ones that feel good or make you happy. But then, at some level, you already know that.


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© 2008 Leslie Charles, Yes! Press & Trainingworks / Webmaster: Tara E. Nofziger