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Starting Over; Tragedy and Life Changes

Updated on October 4, 2011

Lessons learned

I am no stranger to starting over. Every time I figure it out, life throws me a curve ball. From single to married. From career woman to stay-at-home mom. When I finally had life with a new baby figured out, I got diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (painful chronic autoimmune illness). I've made a comfortable living for most of my life, and now I worry about money like millions of others out there.

As I watched my little girl fumble with learning to do things for the first time, it felt odd being able to physically relate to her rather than being the one to teach her. Here I was, 35, asking others for help and struggling to learn how to do things by myself because my hands are weak and painful. For me, a formerly athletic individual, it was hard starting over, sometimes at the level of my 3 yr old daughter.

I've come to laugh at myself when my little girl and I are both fighting with the mechanics of a toddler's toy. We've literally gotten on the ground and rolled with laughter. Two years ago I would have felt like a failure for not being able to fix or help my daughter with one of her toys. Now she still takes my lead, but for something much more valuable- not taking life too seriously. Instead of beating myself up, I can laugh and redirect my energy to something else. I can still be someone my daughter looks up to despite my physical shortcomings. I can still, with all honesty, believe that things happen for a reason.

I suspect many others reading this have had to start over, at some point, whatever it may be. We remember 9/11 terrorist attacks like it was yesterday- many lost their lives and many started over. We all have our stories, our shortcomings. Japan was hit by a high magnitude earthquake, then a fierce tsunami, and finally a breakdown of nuclear reactors, leaking dangerous radiation levels into their environment. But life went on and new beginnings occurred even as more tragedies unfolded.

9/11 Terrorist Attacks
9/11 Terrorist Attacks


Tragedy occurs suddenly; like what we witnessed 10 years ago on 9/11. It can be death, war, natural disasters, unexpected major news or life changing events. Tragedy is also in the eyes of the beholder. A story you hear on the news is just a story, death is merely death, but the public and/or personal perception can turn it into a tragedy. This tragedy can effect people and polices connected to it for sometimes years to come. It is difficult to move on when it is a nationwide or worldwide disaster and is remembered for years to come- we want to pay respects, but not wallow in that particular time and event. I promise you, it's not often sunshine and lollipops are the result of tragedies, but good often shines brighter out of the dark.

The initial reactions to tragedy are grief, loss, depression, stress, blame, guilt, and comfort within faith. Most of this sounds incredibly sad if there weren't a positive side to tragedy. I never felt so united as a nation until after the 9/11 attacks. I really saw how the human spirit deals with devastation on a large scale, yet people all over the nation stuck together and provided support amidst their grieving.

Tragedy can bring great changes, awareness, and new beginnings. I love saying, "We would not know happiness, if we did not know sadness." We have to consider the other side of tragedy. The chance to start over, which implies renew, fresh, chance, and are all positive. It is only a tragedy if we do not grow and learn from it- if we do not make the most of it.

Life Changes

Life changes can be considered a divorce, retirement, house foreclosure, trauma, losing a job, cutting ties with family, disability, moving, aging, surviving cancer, illness (especially chronic/life-long), and anything that will change and effect your life for a lasting period of time. I don't know one person who is immune to any of these, at least aging for sure.

Some of these life changes are occurring more often as stress of life now seems to be related to the increase in illnesses, such as diabetes and autoimmune disorders. Also, with the current recession, financial troubles involving our houses, livelihood, and jobs are changing our lives, making a huge indent in the status quot of life as we know it. Life changes force us to change things within ourselves as well as our environment.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.
- Helen Keller

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
- Thomas Edison

Starting over

What's so good about starting over? Starting over is not the tragedy or the life change itself, it is what you make of either of those things; a tragic event is often scary, but even purely positive events that evoke change are scary. Most people are scared of new beginnings as if those are the natural disasters themselves. They won't budge from the familiar to begin with something new or reflect within themselves to find another perspective. What's worse is when people live as if nothing in their life will change out of their control or doing. I don't remember who said this, but the one thing you can count on in life, is change.

How do people start over? Psychological resilience, or "bouncing back", is the positive ability for people to manage and cope with stress and adversity. Resilience is a process, which is the only way to overcome tragedy and life changes, just as grieving is a process. It is a culmination of hardiness, efficiency, mental toughness, and resourcefulness. It is also navigating a way to find peace in the present and hope in the future.

Other factors that contribute to being resilient through tragedy or significant life changes are: having close relationships that provide support and care, excellent communication skills, faith/spirituality, self-confidence, realistic objectives, restrain impulses and manage feelings. It helps to use challenges for growth to make future hardships more tolerable.

I remember when I was younger I thought one problem was the end of the world, and that problem would be failing a test at school or something that seems so minuscule when I look back now. I was stressed about one class at school and went to the school counselor. She told me about all-or-nothing thinking. It is a concept related to resiliency, but how we view a problem. Basically, the lesson is if it's not the end of the world, it's not the end of the world. Problems have solutions, tragedies have endings, and don't think of every problem as the end of the world.

Another positive aspect of going through a tragedy or certain life changes is that you have the ability to help others. By helping others, it can help you. Those that offer the greatest help are those that have gone through it themselves.

Japan 2011 Tsunami
Japan 2011 Tsunami

Starting over

The Japanese had a unique predicament of having to survive an ongoing tragedy (9.0 earthquake, tsunami, and radiation in the environment) while rebuilding a new life and finding hope. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that "the tsunami disaster is the toughest crisis in history since World War II. This tsunami disaster has paralyzed the various spheres of life in Japan." He also stated, he "strongly believes the Japanese people can unite to work together".

After terrorist attacks, Americans learned the benefit of uniting- just the act of going through this as a nation made many people feel a lot better. When we remember the attacks on 9/11, let's remember how we focused on our nation, our people.


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