“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl
Every year, March 13th is difficult for me. This year, I marked the day with a long hike in the woods near my house and an extra-long hug for my wife, Kathleen. My sisters and I called each other and just said his name out loud. Wherever he is, we want him to know he is gone but not forgotten.
March 13th would have been my brother Jimmy’s 64th birthday. He only made it to 26.
But March 13th is also a time to reflect on what Jimmy meant to me, because although his death was a tragic event, it inspired me to choose a better life.
April 23rd, 1975. A day that will be in my consciousness as long as I breathe.
It was my sister Elizabeth’s 17th birthday and the day that my brother Jimmy, whom I worshipped, died.
I was 11; Jimmy (as I said) was 26. My other older brother Robert (I am the youngest of eight) broke the news to me and my three other closest siblings, Michael, Madeleine, and Elizabeth.
Robert told us and then held me in his arms as I screamed, “That’s not true! Jimmy can’t die! It’s a mistake!”
But it wasn’t. He was gone, and my life changed that day forever.
This devastating change was not my choice, but what I did next was. It was always my brother’s dream that his seven other siblings would escape our abusive father. I knew that, to honor Jimmy, I would never go back home.
My mission from that day forward was to grow up and take control of my life. In the darkest moments—fighting with my foster parents, for example—I would say to myself, “Stay strong for Jimmy.”
My path was far from smoothly paved; many bumps lay ahead. But I knew at that early age that whatever the universe threw at me, I could at the very least control my reaction and my journey forward, out of darkness into light.
We choose to quit jobs, get married, adopt an animal, but of course there are many life events we don’t choose—a divorce, an accidental pregnancy, or the death of a loved one. Yet we can still choose how we deal with and react to these occurrences in our lives.
During tough times, our emotions run the gamut: denial, anger, fury, despair, numbness, isolation, desperation. In order to heal, we must feel. But we have a say in what we do with our feelings.
There are no right or wrong reactions, only what serves us and what doesn’t.
It may help you to be angry and express your rage; it may help to be alone for some time. What is crucial when moving through a crisis is maintaining self-awareness.
Check in with yourself daily, perhaps through meditation or journaling, and ask yourself: Where am I today? Is this helping me? What might be the next phase of this transition?
While we have to relinquish control over the circumstances, we can still maintain our connection to ourselves. We can work with this knowledge, to paraphrase Victor Frankl, to face the challenge of changing ourselves.
“Change” has become a dirty word in today’s world; advertisers avoid it because consumers associate the word with challenge and difficulty.
But whether we like it doesn’t really matter—life-altering events will change us, in one way or another. Instead of tuning out to avoid the pain, dealing with and even embracing tragedy and its consequences gives us an active role in guiding our own change and growth.
Transformation is all around us. Transitions are the birthing pains, alternately exhilarating and difficult, that can bring wondrous, challenging, beautiful changes into our lives.
What change are you dealing with now, and how are you responding to it?