Pearls, Robert Frost, and Finding Meaning in the Hard Times

I can’t help but be amused when I reflect on the myriad of combinations of ideas and objects that come to mind when I begin writing. Many times, the items that pop into my head are completely unalike, but after fashionably weaving them throughout the point I hope to make, I can’t imagine them not belonging together. I guess, in many ways, it’s like synthesizing one’s soul.

As you read about several of my favorite things: pearls, my dad, and a line from a Robert Frost poem, I hope you will not only feel their synchronicity, but will also imagine your own like-minded combinations that in a symbolic, yet simple way, define your life, and who you are.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Five Stages of Grief as identified in the Kubler-Ross Model: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. Sadly, many of us have experienced these phases firsthand.

My personal journey with grief began twenty-seven years ago, and it took about twenty-five of those years to reach the final level of Acceptance. My grief manifested in the pouring out of decades worth of stored up emotions onto paper. The result of that catharsis was the book Mockingbird Moments, a memoir about my father and the tremendous, heart-wrenching devastation that I experienced after his sudden death.

I was pleasantly surprised when I recently discovered there is now a sixth stage of grief: Finding Meaning. David Kessler, who co-authored On Death and Dying with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, has written a book entitled Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. 

After a person’s death, almost all of us seek closure–a way to move on and finalize the process of grieving. We feel that when we finally accept our loss, we can go about our business. We long for this acceptance. We believe it is necessary for us in the quest of becoming whole again. David Kessler doesn’t believe it ends there. He states that “in finding meaning beyond the five stages, we can transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience.”

I have only read about Kessler’s book, but from my own experience, I believe he’s on to something. Without knowing it, through what I thought was merely acceptance, I actually discovered the meaning behind the immense, and crushing loss of my father. I powered through that sixth level, and wasn’t even aware of my accomplishment until I stumbled upon Kessler’s newest publication! (I’m high-fiving myself at this very moment!)

The meaning behind my grief was found within the words of my book. I had finally come to terms with my father’s death after digging my way through the five stages, and I was able to use this mode of expression to not only move forward, but to also find my meaning and purpose; a place where I could understand all the things that came from a sudden, and life-changing loss. By sharing my story, along with the lessons I learned, I have been able to use my experience to help others. By carving through the massive layers of feelings, emotions, regrets, devastation, and anger, I was set free.

I believe during these very trying times, people are not only grieving the loss of loved ones, but many are grieving the loss of time. The loss of celebrations. The loss of reaching milestones. In the blink of an eye, a pandemic has changed everything about our lives, and has destroyed and killed our plans, our hopes, our dreams.

This feeling of grief is real. Grief doesn’t only come from death–grief can come from the loss of relationships, and the loss of normalcy. High school seniors are feeling this in countless ways: the cancellation of prom, awards programs, athletic seasons, scholarship opportunities, and saying goodbye to friends. The members of the Class of 2020 are clinging to the hope that they will have some sort of graduation ceremony, even if it is a little unorthodox, in a thinking-outside-of-the-box sort of way.

All of our school children are in uncharted territories. Many are too young to completely understand the depth of the situation. They are filled with anxiety about the unknown, and the lack of routine has rocked their world. Parents are struggling to work, and keep things going at home, while trying to fill in the gaps, and dealing with the simple truth that there will be no real closure to this school year.

Jobs have been lost, or put on hold. For many, money is as scarce as toilet paper. People are trying to understand and comprehend how in a matter of days, everything we took for granted and counted on has changed, or completely disappeared.

We were anxious and denied that any of this was real. Then we became angry, depressed, and have in one way or another tried to bargain our way out of this in order to get things back to where they used to be. Without even knowing it, we have been experiencing those five stages of grief.

So what do we do with it all? How can we simply accept that this is our new normal–that the reality of the times is much harder and more difficult than anything we have endured as a nation in our lifetime.

Let us be reminded that many great works of art, songs, and philosophical tenets, along with scientific and mathematical discoveries, were created during times of isolation. Each of us should look upon this abundant gift of time as an opportunity to ponder, and think, and discover new ideas, and goals, and dreams.

Take charge of your life! Don’t sit around and react (or over-react) to things. Be proactive. Be creative. Think of innovative and different ways to connect with others. Be a problem solver. Be an overcomer.

And don’t give up. Do whatever you can to take your challenging situation and make it better. Give yourself time to grieve all the milestones and events you are missing. You have a right to feel upset, sad, angry, and cheated. But don’t stop there. Find meaning in those losses.

Don’t be a victim, and only focus on what might have been. Instead, focus on making the best of a bad situation. Find your meaning. Find yourself.

Explore the world around you. Walk through the woods, and forests, and the sand. Stand on the mountaintop. Roll down a hill. Wade in the creeks, and swim in the lakes and oceans. Clear your own path, and chart your own course–let your heart, and soul, and mind be your compass.

And never, ever feel bad about mourning the things you’ve lost. Every bit of what you are feeling is real, so own it.

I challenge you to make what you learn during this time matter. Do something with it. Your destiny will be found in your ability to adapt, change, and survive.

One day, when you look back on this time, you will realize it was in this storm that you discovered your strength, and you chose to become stronger. After all, it is in the grit that a pearl is formed.

Remember, no matter what you do, don’t ever give up. If you are overwhelmed, and suffocating from the heaviness of it all, please reach out for help. Please don’t let the fire that seems lost within you burn out. Find something to ignite your flame. The world needs your light to help others find a way. You are not alone. We’ve never needed each other more.

Keep shining, and believing, and make tomorrow a brighter day. Although you can’t change the current situation, you do have the power to change how you look at it. Don’t let the difficulties and hard times define who you are. Instead, find meaning in the obstacles, and take a different road.

Your life might not be what you once imagined.

It might be even better…



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