Read an Excerpt
Parenting Through Crisis
Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief, and Change
Before I suffered a major catastrophe, I had no way of understanding the depth to which the soul is shaken, the exterior shattered, the interior made vulnerable and raw. Perhaps this is the way the wound works, to open us up so that we can feel and experience the depths, and having gone there, climb to heights we could never imagine.Judy Collins,
Singing Lessons: A Memoir of Love, Loss, Hope, and Healing
"Life's not fair!" Joseph sobbed as he pounded his fist on the table. He had just been told that his sister had cancer and would need a second surgery as well as radiation treatment. I could only agree. Life is not fair. I learned long ago not to ask why or why not. Those kinds of questions have no good answers and give no solace, so why bother? Why cancer? Why my daughter, who was so full of life and such a joy? Why not someone else? Why not someone older? Why not someone who wanted to die? Why not me instead of her? And why us? Only two years before, her sister was seriously ill. Now her. Would her brother be next? Such questions only drain energy from the mind and the body. We needed all the resources we could muster to get through this together.
All the colds, ear infections, cuts, scrapes, and even the broken bones of childhood seemed insignificant. All the minor hassles that had seemed so important yesterday paled by comparison. Even the deaths of the elders in the family, the automobile accidents, the surgeries seemed distant and unconnected to the suffering our family was now going through. Yet they all did somehow fit together. Getting through those traumas and losses with optimism and resolve gave us the wherewithal to approach this major one with the same optimism and resolve. We would just have to reach deeper and hang on longer.
Life hurts. We came to know a new depth to which our souls could be shaken. We met others who had been as deeply shaken. And we met others whose souls had been nearly rent apart with a suffering we had been spared. Their children died on the pediatric cancer floor that our daughter had walked away from to get on with the rest of her life. Life is good.
Life is not fair. Life hurts. Life is good. These three seemingly incompatible expressions are really three parts of the whole of living. They are threads woven through the tapestry each one of us creates as the visible expression of our being a part of humanity. To accept these three is not to abandon hope or optimism, or to deny our real grief. To accept them is to rid ourselves of the unnecessary suffering that comes from struggling against these three truths and trying to make them something they are not.
Burying grandparents, an uncle, and five friends gave our children firsthand experience that death is an inevitable part of life. In its inevitability there is suffering, pain, and grief. Our children learned that the grief has its own timetable for healing. They learned that healing does happen.
Living through the terror of the kidnapping of their godfather, Marty Jenco, gave them firsthand experience that bigotry, hatred, fear, and fanaticism have a human face and can cause just as much suffering, pain, and grief as do the inevitable losses in life. They can cause even more pain, because the suffering that was inflicted on Marty was intentional and unnecessary. After his release, our children also learned from Marty that hearts and minds can change. One of those who brutalized him in the early months of captivity came to him in the end and asked his forgiveness. Our children learned that one bound in chains can have the strength to be compassionate and have the wisdom to forgive. As he retold his story, Marty said softly, "Two men, alienated brothers, off in our own alien lands, eating the silage of bitterness and resentment, embraced. Two sons came home to their hearts, in which the spirit of peace and reconciliation lives."
This spirit of peace and reconciliation enables us to reach out to others with compassion and empathy, honoring our deep bonds and common humanity. Our deep bonds with one another give us our sense of dignity and worth in the face of adversity or a great loss. It is our compassion that demonstrates our sense of responsibility for, our commitment to, and our respect for one another. Our compassion reflects our deep passion to alleviate another's pain and suffering. Our empathy enables us to look at adversity and grief from the perspective of the one who is suffering and ask, "What are you going through? What do you need?"
Whether we are dealing with a death, an illness, an accident, a divorce, or mayhem, we will need peace of mind, optimism, and resolve to handle the chaos, the loss, and the suffering that come hand in hand with each of these. How we handle our mourning will give our children tools to handle theirs. When we offer them our compassion and empathy, we give them, from our own tapestry, strong threads of hope and resolve to grab on to and eventually weave into their own rich tapestry of life.
Life is not fair. Life hurts. Life is good.
A deep distress hath humanized my Soul.
William Wordsworth, "Ode to Duty"
A student asked Soen Nakagawa during a meditation retreat, "I am very discouraged. What should I do?" Soen replied, "Encourage others."
from Essential Zen
Tao is the Zen Buddhist word for "way" or "path." It is not a source or an absolute. In and of itself, it yields no truth or answer. It is not the way or the path. Like an algebraic formula, Tao is both empty and useful, and like a formula, it can be used again and again in...Parenting Through Crisis
Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief, and Change. Copyright © by Barbara Coloroso. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.