The following is an excerpt from my new book, The Karma Queens' Guide to Relationships:
I can conjure three distinct memories from my childhood home in Queens, New York: the strong smell of my father's cooking wafting beneath my bedroom door; the long-awaited coming of spring and with it, the laughter of the neighborhood kids playing outside; and last, a plaque on my wall that read: "Out of difficulties come miracles."
I was a child who, fortunately, didn't have many difficulties to endure. My mother and father took them on for me. Financial matters, family problems -- they weren't mine to worry about. So I was lucky enough to concern myself with my schoolwork, friends, and trends of the moment as typical children do. But every day, I looked at the plaque and read those words festooned with flowers: "Out of difficulties come miracles." I read that plaque as I entered my room, and at night as I dozed off to sleep, and in the morning when it caught my eye briefly.
"Out of difficulties come miracles" became somewhat of a motto for me, like a song you hear over and over again on the radio that gets stuck in your head. But I didn't fully comprehend just what miracles could come out of difficulties, for I had next to no pain in my life. It wasn't until my father passed that I experienced a head-on collision with a big difficulty. And what then? What miracle could possibly come out of my father's passing? The grief echoed constantly throughout the chambers of my being. My plaque, the one item in my house I most concentrated on for years without even realizing it, had taunted me with a downright lie. When it came time to clean out my father's closet and gently dispose of his belongings, the plaque went right with them. I remember feeling disgust at the broken promise of my pretty plaque as I shoved it into a garbage bag.
Perhaps a year passed without me repeating that phrase in my mind. My family and I locked up that old house in Queens quite suddenly and moved to Florida.
I didn't visit New York for a while but finally I decided to come up north for a few weeks. Unlocking the house and entering after so many months felt like stepping into an abandoned castle. I appreciated the interior for a moment, beholding the strange relics I once took to be ordinary objects in my home. I walked upstairs and into my room. Everything was as I had left it last year, collecting dust... everything save the plaque.
Spotting that empty space on the wall brought a surge of emotion. I needed to find not the plaque, but its meaning. I needed to believe that out of difficulties could indeed come miracles. But where to begin walking what seemed like an ever-winding road?
I started with the first place to reconnect with my loss: my father's grave. This was the first time I would visit since the burial and, granted, I felt a little awkward going into a cemetery by myself. It took me nearly two hours to find the grave -- none of the family members could explain how to get to it. Even the main office could not locate the grave. I scoured this place of the dead, walking past endless tombs, flowers in hand beginning to wilt, until I finally came upon my beloved father's grave. Sighing in relief, I sat down on the grass and laid the flowers by the headstone.
I wasn't sure where to start, so I simply began speaking as if he were there, as I used to speak to him every afternoon when I got home from school. I released my frustrations, anger, wishes, and desires to him. I asked him why he left, and how could he leave my mom all alone. I was mad and didn't hesitate in telling him so. I reminded him that he always promised us he would live to be a hundred years old. I laughed as I recounted that he thought he'd outlive all of us. It was strangely comforting, because I realized he was listening.
I soon moved back to New York for various reasons. I was no longer afraid to be in a place that held so much pain, because that pain had been replaced by hope. Twice a week, I made it a habit to visit my father's grave, lay flowers, and sit and talk. I did not miss one opportunity, rain or snow, to go to him. It became almost my secret hiding place, my few minutes a few times a week to retreat and regain tranquility and faith. I took comfort in our little talks, and although he didn't speak back to me, I could figuratively hear his voice in my mind, guiding me, chiding me, and giving me advice as he often did. When I left, I always left relieved.
Since I was little I instinctively knew that the message of that plaque would bloom into full meaning one day. Being hit with my first big hardship helped me understand that out of difficulties actually emerge not one, but five, miracles:
the miracle of resilience, because we are able to spring back from any trouble,
the miracle of awareness, because only pain opens our eyes to reality,
the miracle of unity, because human souls seek each other when we are suffering,
the miracle of a new beginnings, because loss signifies the end of a hard ordeal,
and the miracle of unexpected help, because after a tragedy we are always compensated with great aid.
We can overlook these miracles as though they were ordinary elements of life, or we can take them as proof that the divine grants us just what we need in our worst moments. I took them as the latter, and applied the following three strategies to regain a sense of inner security and overcome the challenges of loss:
Strategy 1: See Beyond the Moment.
Seeing beyond a moment in time and to a better future that doesn't exist yet is difficult, but future projection is our saving grace during misfortune. You may hurt today, and deeply, but the pain will subside in time. If you shift your thoughts away from, "Why did this happen?" to "What lesson can I learn from this?" your agony will be alleviated. See every obstacle as an opportunity for personal growth. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Allow reality to set in and open yourself up to the lesson. It may not come to you the first time you meditate on what can be learned, but if you keep reminding yourself that good can come out of the worst tragedies, you will become more open to evolve emotionally. When you look past the grief you're experiencing in the moment, you can regain hope -- hope that "this too, in time, will pass," hope that happiness will return, and hope that you will begin and lead a brand new chapter of life that can be filled with incredible joy.
Strategy 2: Replace with Positive Action.
Although nothing can replace what you've lost, taking any action, no matter how small, to counteract your adversity or create something new can help usher you out of grief. Take time to rediscover your own needs and devote time to activities you enjoy on your own. Get out and meet new people by taking a class or joining a group or attending an event. Force yourself. Even if you don't have a great time, reward yourself and praise yourself for having made an effort to rise above your sadness for just a few hours. For every one negative event, perform two positive actions.
Strategy 3: Change and Redirect.
After a loss, changing your circumstances may be the best way to overcome your heartache. After all, you can't expect to keep doing the same things yet feel differently -- you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to make major life shifts after misfortune has hit. Maybe you've always wanted to move, and now might be the perfect time. Pack up your things and go -- don't be afraid to take a leap of faith and act on what you've wanted to act on for a long time. Apply for that new job, redecorate your home, trade in the car you shared with the person you lost, and so on. Now is the time to shift. Redirect your focus so that you're not repeating the same patterns, the same routines, after a loved one is gone. Enacting the same daily habits after a familiar face has left will keep you forever trapped in the pain of personal loss. I encourage you, of course, to keep their memory alive. But for the sake of your own well-being and progress, allow new potential to bloom into your life, too.
Loss catches us off guard and causes us deep grief. But we can learn to work with any situations that arise by seeing beyond the moment, taking positive action, and working in a new direction. Then, we become well-grounded in our thoughts and sustained by our inner peace.
To learning from loss,
To learn more about The Karma Queens' Guide to Relationships, click here.