A Power SHIFT in Focus
A few weeks after Kelly’s mother died, we were at a business lunch with some of the other speaking agents who book me around the country. I’ve known Kelly for years and I like her because she is a warm, energetic and unusually sympathetic person. She was picking at her Caesar salad that day and looking sad. I knew her mother had just died, so I asked her how she was doing. She looked at me and her eyes immediately filled with tears, but she smiled and told me that although it had been emotionally draining to watch her dear mother’s protracted battle against cancer, the whole experience had made her even more grateful for the good things in her own life.
Bearing witness to a loved one’s death is always a painful experience. I’ve gone through the same with both of my parents. Kelly told me that months before her mom passed, the anxiety over the illness had been affecting her relationships with other family members and distracting her from her usual enthusiasm for her work. The grief made it difficult to enjoy her life.
Kelly knew something had to change or she might slip into a full-blown depression. Studies by Ohio State University and the Houston VA Medical Center and others have shown that up to 41% of caregivers are so emotionally depleted by the time a death occurs that they find themselves tumbling into depression on top of natural their grief response.
Kelly told me she’d had a realization before her mom died that was life-changing.
One day before entering the hospital to visit her mother, Kelly noticed she was feeling different than usual. As she pulled into the parking lot, she noticed she felt acceptance about her mother’s condition and strangely at peace. She thought back over her drive. Everything was as usual: same route, same time of day, and same daily routine.
But something was different. What was it, she wondered? Then, Kelly realized that she had not been thinking of her mom’s situation during the drive to the hospital. Instead, something funny her own children had done was commanding her attention. She had been totally absorbed in the joy that they brought her.
At that moment, Kelly had a sudden understanding that although she was hurting, she could also simultaneously appreciate and enjoy her life. She saw it was unrealistic to deny that she felt a whole range of emotions – from pain over her mother’s condition to the joys of her own experience of motherhood. In that moment she gave herself permission to freely express her feelings. And she began cry. It felt as if the tears would never stop.
But the tears did stop. Kelly invited herself to also experience joy, gratitude, and peace. She vowed to herself that throughout the course of this experience she would make intentional, conscious choices to also focus on the many wonderful things remaining in her life.
On her next visit to the hospital, she brought along pictures of her family and shared them with her mother, which helped them both to remember the good times they had together. While it brought her mother a smile, it reminded Kelly that she knew that even when her mom was gone, there would still be good times with her remaining family.
Kelly’s newfound ability to refocus was empowering. It brought about an instant, overwhelming attitude of gratitude for her life, even though she was experiencing incredible sadness at the same time. Then Kelly decided to take the process a step further. On her drives to and from the hospital, she allowed herself to enjoy the view of majestic homes, ever-changing landscape and colorful scenery that rolled along outside her windows. This acknowledgment of the world around her pleased and calmed her, lifted her spirits and helped her to appreciate how much life had to offer, even when she was hurting.
Kelly also found that when she gave herself permission to smile and appreciate her life, she was able to recapture the zest for life that she once felt was at risk. And she found relief in the fact that she could still laugh out loud without feeling guilty. These new attitudes and coping strategies gave her the strength she needed to survive this tragic situation. This new strategy that Kelly came upon is what I call a “Power SHIFT in Focus.”
A “Power Shift in Focus”, even if only for a few moments, can have a profound effect on how you cope with any challenge in your own life. You can’t know true peace until you’ve experienced true chaos. You can’t know joy unless you’ve felt pain. Conversely, no matter how many tears may fall, a smile will come after if you allow it, and even laughter. It is your personal choice whether you will ride the waves of life or let them pull you under.