“The greatest test of courage on earth
is to bear defeat without losing heart.”
~ Robert Green Ingersoll
Defeat is heartbreaking and painful whether you lose a horse race, an election, a job, a lover or miss a great opportunity. For those who supported and volunteered for Hillary Clinton over the past year and a half as I did, last Tuesday’s loss was just that. So what do you do when your dream turns into a nightmare?
If you are in a position of responsibility, like Mrs. Clinton is, you quickly regroup and accept defeat with grace, dignity and empathy even while your heart is breaking. You might find yourself having to explain to your family that you have missed a promotion or been laid off, tell your friends and family about your breakup or divorce, or deliver the news to your team that a prospective client went with another company. That is your “public” face. In private, you need to go through a grieving process that will help you heal, because in the words of a song from the great Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, “at the end of the storm is a golden sky…”
Understand the Grieving and Healing Process
The five stages of grieving have been identified as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Of course, not everyone necessarily goes through all these stages — we are all individuals in varying circumstances — nor do they last for the same length of time for everyone. But, generally, these are the stages of the storm we go through until we see that golden sky again.
From the standpoint of etiquette we need to remember that while we go through the grieving process after a loss we want to consider the people in our lives who might or might not be grieving with us. We need to call into play our emotional intelligence so that while we try to make ourselves feel better we do not in the process make others feel worse. Having had my share of shocks to the system, here is my take on the healing process:
- Stage One: Initially we tend to protect ourselves from the shock of a loss by denying it. This can’t be happening, we tell ourselves. We tend to numb our senses and disassociate ourselves from the trauma of one minute thinking we’re standing on solid ground and the next minute finding ourselves in the midst of an emotional earthquake.
- Stage Two: Once the reality of the situation sinks in, however, the typical reaction is anger. Anger at the situation, anger at ourselves or anger at whoever has hurt us or in our minds is responsible for our loss and pain. Anger is a release, but it must be managed and channeled properly. We might have a good, long cry or write a good, long letter (that we will not send while still in anger mode) or have a good, long talk with a close friend or commiserate with others who share our loss. And if we follow the example of our British friends across the Pond, we’ll accompany these approaches with a nice strong cup of tea. And maybe a biscuit. And I agree, because I don’t believe anything can be solved on an empty stomach.
- Stage Three: Next, typical tactics include trying to figure out what went wrong or how it could have been prevented or bargaining with a higher power (if You fix this I’ll never miss church — or temple, mosque, meeting, meditation, etc. — again).. A post-analysis of the situation can be helpful in avoiding future disasters, but dwelling too long on coulda-woulda-shoulda scenarios is usually counterproductive, as is blaming oneself in excess or pointing fingers at others. From my experience the best formula for recovery generally involves accepting the appropriate amount of responsibility, investigating and studying what went wrong so the same missteps can be avoided, and then moving on.
- Stage Four: It’s always darkest before the dawn and things may get worse before they get better, so the sayings go. And an emotional upset can sometimes take longer to heal than a physical injury. I have found it helpful when feeling down to call upon my sense of humor and laugh through my tears, as it were, depending on the nature of my grief. Reading books or watching TV shows that make me laugh provides temporary escapism from sadness. Some of my favorite novelists that deliver on that score include Carl Hiaasen, Dorothy Cannell, Donald Westlake and Janet Evanovich. And if you want a few chuckles, check out how world-class TV detective Adrian Monk handles the grieving process in Season 5, Episode 7 of the Emmy-winning comedy-drama series. Finally, I try to keep up my routine and stay busy. And for some this “dark” phase could be a time to reflect and find paths to enlightenment, and turn depression into expression.
- Stage Five: In most cases relief will come eventually, for although outside forces can break our hearts they cannot break our spirits. Thus, when we accept the reality of a situation we can begin to heal and turn our attention to taking the necessary steps to recharge, repair and resurge. In time it will be possible to smile again and say, “I’m back.”
Be Kind and Patient
It’s important to reiterate that during times of turmoil it’s especially important to be kind, forgiving and patient toward yourself and others. That might seem like a tall order, but it’s crucial to the healing process. Resist the impulse to focus on blame, vindictiveness and recrimination as these actions will on some level make you feel worse, delay your recovery and inflict fresh wounds with which you will have to cope later. Those around you may be suffering from the same loss that you are; being aware of their feelings often can mitigate yours through commiseration or distraction. And that can move the healing process forward for everyone.
You might also find that recovery does not occur in a straight line, that you bounce back and forth among the stages of grief before finally settling down and feeling better. Or just when you think you’re out of the woods you might suffer a relapse. Don’t panic; resolve to keep going. Surrounding yourself with friends and colleagues who understand and share your situation, keeping a journal of your journey to wholeness or finding ways to help others heal can help you get back on track.
So be creative. Find new focus. Take the lead. Show respect and tolerance without sacrificing your integrity and values. And know that if there is a long road ahead to fix things you won’t have to walk it alone.
Until next time,