What to do when life becomes one major disillusionment? That is the question. Let’s just say my life has not gone as planned. Not to get into details, but there has been a lot of death in my family. Virtually no one is left. I had planned on having my children visit me in a lovely house filled with books and surrounded by lush gardens. I had planned on taking grandchildren to Prague and to Paris. None of that will be happening. I have begun to dread holidays. I plan a trip for every major holiday, so I don’t have to be around happy families.
People tell me to find solace in faith. I can’t. To be honest, I don’t believe in much of it. And lately, I find the apparent hypocrisy of religious people troubling. They make excuses for any behavior that goes against the good book and hide behind biblical passages to explain their intolerance for those who are different. Plus, there is nothing I hate worse than people saying, “Have faith. Believe. It’s all in God’s master plan. He won’t give you anything that you can’t handle.” What master plan? What kind of plan is there for the parent who loses a child in a mass shooting? Or for an infant who contracts a deadly disease? What kind of sense does that make in this senseless world?
So, what to do to muddle through. After talking to therapists, medical doctors, academics, reading mountains of articles, and discussing these issues with those who have suffered similar tragedies, here are some suggestions that might help you walk on with hope in your heart.
Perform an act of kindness each week. Not because your reward will be in heaven as my mom used to say, but because you will feel better when you do. And maybe helping someone else will make that person’s world shine a bit brighter. Select something that gives you joy. Bake bread for an elderly neighbor; set up a reading program for an inner-city child; volunteer at a food bank, etc.
Keep moving. Psychotherapists who deal with PTSD patients say that exercise sometimes works better than antidepressants—or a combination of the two does the trick. As we all know, establishing a regular schedule so it’s hard-wired into your routine is the best way to keep things going. Think about an aerobic exercise coupled with yoga or Pilates or stretching. If you can somehow combine the activity with an opportunity to enjoy nature, so much the better. That’s an easy thing to do on the Eastern Shore.
Build a support group—a cadre of friends—people whose company you enjoy and who make you laugh, think, or share common experiences. Reach out to them on a regular basis. You can be sure that many of them are grappling with issues and disappointments as well. Focusing on someone else’s problems instead of your own is always a good idea.
Read good literature. Select one of the 100 best literary books of all time and begin reading. It’s time. Also check out the Pulitzer and Booker prize winners and read some of those too. Getting lost in a good book helps you get through the darkest days. Something about a brilliantly written story soothes the soul. For me, my most recent escape was, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I found the writing lyrical, pure, simple and true.
Get organized. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail, simplify, simplify.” It’s true that life gets better when you simplify and organize. “The art of tidying up” really does make sense. When you spend time organizing your environment—your office, home, garage, library—you gain control over a piece of your life. Also, you can give away stuff you’re not using to others in need. It may make someone’s day.
Get a dog. A dog forces you to go for walks, is always happy to see you, and believe it or not, is often better company than some people. When you have a dog, you can’t hibernate. You must take that dog for a walk at least three times a day. That’s a good thing.
Take a class. Learn how to play an instrument, paint, sculpt or find a class that you wish you had taken in college. There are so many wonderful classes with Renaissance learning or Continuous learning options. Even online options are superb.
Travel. Depending on your budget, plan local, domestic, or international travel. Make a list of all the places you want to see and schedule them periodically throughout the year. If faraway travel isn’t an option for you, plan a museum visit each month. We are fortunate to be in an area where museums are rich with amazing exhibits.
Make a pie. A homemade pie fills your kitchen with delectable smells and creates a sense of comfort. Invite a friend for dessert and coffee.
Search for concerts, movies, theater, and lectures and schedule them into your day. Immersing yourself in another world can lift the psyche and transports you to a different place and time.
Obviously, none of these activities will bring back a loved one or erase your grief. But a combination of these activities will help you move forward and with luck offer some fleeting moments of joy, beauty and peace.
Maria Grant served as principal-in-charge of the Federal Human Capital practice with Deloitte Consulting where she advised several Federal agencies and major private sector corporations throughout the U.S. Since her retirement from Deloitte, she has focused on reading, writing, music, travel, gardening and nature. She cherishes the hummingbirds that gather daily just outside her screened porch overlooking Island Creek.