As the father of a two and four year old girls, Anna and Elsa are regularly singing in our house. My girls love the shorts, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and Frozen Fever, but nothing compares to Frozen 2. They let go of the first one because, as my four year old says, it’s better when Anna and Elsa get along – hopefully they’ll apply that to their own relationship as they get older. Because of their love for the movie, we regularly have the Frozen 2 soundtrack on repeat in the car – it’s a lot of Frozen. Sometimes we can mix it up with the Encanto or The Greatest Showman soundtracks, but my two year old with her limited speech will often start chanting, “Elsa! Elsa! Elsa!” Being a parent is fun… or “fun” depending on the moment. When it comes to understanding pain, Frozen 2 is a good place to start… not because it’s painful hearing the same songs over and over (although it is), but because it has potentially the greatest lesson when it comes to handling pain: Do the next right thing. At the beginning of the movie, Grand Pabbie (the troll king) says this line to Anna, which is later part of the chorus in a song she sings when everything seems to have fallen apart. The lyrics are pretty incredible: “I’ve seen dark before, but not like this/This is cold, this is empty, this is numb/… hope is gone/But you must go on/And do the next right thing.” What do I do when the world falls apart around me or I’m in a whirlwind of suffering or chaos? I need to do the next right thing.
As a therapist I’ve worked with a number of individuals whose partners left them for someone else and everything they loved and knew was taken away from them. In each of those situations, when the person pushed themselves to do the next right thing like seeing the world’s greatest therapist (a guy can dream), despite their intense grief, a year later they said their partners leaving them was the best thing that could’ve happened because they had built a better life than the one they had before. At first the pain can be intense, but if you do the proper steps for healing like venting, defining the hurt, surrounding yourself with good people, trying new things, and eventually looking for the good in your situation (i.e. what can you learn and be thankful for in the pain?), over time life gets better. By pushing forward we create a new normal, and if we make good choices, we can hopefully enjoy it as much if not more than the last. When something terrible happens we can expect the first week to be a blur, the first month to be brutal, but as you get to the six month mark, if you’re doing healthy things and not just hiding from the pain in some way like through drinking or over working, you should be in a better spot. By a year, it should be a lot better… most of the time. Depending on the loss, it can be like getting a really big cut where no matter what you do you end up with a scar. Some losses we face will leave an emotional scar, but the hope is the scar will fade away. Some pains, however, are like having your arm cut off like losing a loving partner, a child, or a really great parent because they are part of you. The scar this leaves is more intense, but you can still have a really great life after.
Rita Carrey, my friend who did the forward to my Christmas book, The Happy Squire: Christmas stories to encourage and inspire, told me one of the most important lessons she’s learned is that when bad things happen we need to give ourselves time to pout and feel sorry for ourselves, but then we need to get our big girl panties on and get back to life. I’m sure she’d be okay if someone like me went with my “big boy panties,” but the point remains the same – take a moment to nurse your wounds and then get up and keep going. The reality is the only way we can heal from our grief is by living life and not hiding from it. The second most important advice she has is to always be kind. These two rules for life are what got her through one of the greatest tragedies someone can face. 17 years ago, her 25 year old son who was weeks away from his wedding day, was killed in a fluke car accident. Like many other families who’ve lost a child, her marriage soon ended and she was left starting her life pretty much from the ground up. Fortunately, following her two rules she is now in an incredible relationship, is fine with her ex, works a job she really enjoys, and she’s done some really cool things like be a host of several radio shows and helped some really great charities including one where she became friends with Doug Gilmour and Walter Gretzky. She still cries for her loss because her son was part of her (my guess is that emotional scar would be the equivalent of losing both your legs), but she has found a new normal that allows her to be a blessing to those around her and see the good in life again, which she maintains is the greatest gift she can give to her son’s honor.
I was once told the tears we cry after a loss are like spring showers giving rebirth to a new season that will soon be blooming. In the moment, our pain can be overwhelming, but as they say, hindsight is 20-20, and in the future we are typically better at seeing how even bad experiences can be a blessing in their own way as they bring us to where we are. For instance, my sister dated a guy for two years around the time I started dating my wife. For the two years they dated, I barely saw him because my sister would go his way since Mississauga was closer to the line dancing bar they went to every Saturday night – it was a dorky as it sounds. That was actually where they met and had a lot of friends – it was as dorky as it sounds, but they had a good community to distract themselves from their dorkiness. After the two years, my sister dumped him and then a month later while riding his motorcycle (he tried to look cool… sometimes) a car cut him off causing an accident where he shattered his knee. For a month he was on his couch unable to really move. My sister felt terrible (although was glad she broke up before the accident because how could she after?). Not wanting to add any more emotional damage than she already had, she asked me to go visit him. I ended up going over a few times to play board games and watch movies. After that time we started hanging out more. He would help drive on camping trips I ran for the youth group and soon we had a little group of friends that hung out every Saturday night for a few years (I stole him away from the country bar). In our group was another guy who was very into salsa dancing and together those two joined a salsa team. A few years later, my sister’s ex/my good friend now owns the salsa school their team was from. Through salsa, he also ended up meeting his fiancé. All this was made possible by my sister dumping him and a near death motorcycle accident. Essentially, these two terrible events has given my friend what he loves the most in life right now, his salsa school and his future wife. When we keep doing the right thing, even when things fall apart, doors eventually open and new opportunities and joys can be found.
Bonus for Christians: As a final thought in this final lesson on where is God in the pain, I recently received an email with this verse: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor 1:8b-9) Out of terrible times, great things can happen including a better relationship and understanding of God.
This week may you consider how what seemed terrible at first has helped you become who you are today.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)