How to do Hard things.

My best friend’s mom just died. That was a hard thing.

I had the privilege of being up close and personal with the process from the moment of diagnosis until after her last breath. It may seem strange to call it a privilege, but Beverly had a beautiful death, surrounded by people she loved, prayers, singing, and even laughter. Her daughter Nancy stayed by her side from the moment she entered hospice until long after she took her last breath. Nancy covered her in flowers, and sat in silence, until we all returned to sing her body in procession to the car that would take her to a forest on Salt Spring Island.

While it was exquisitely beautiful it was also really, really hard. Not just the final goodbye, which Nancy wasn’t ready for, but the whole rapid decline from seemingly healthy at the end of February, to gone at the beginning of June.  I learned a lot by living with my friend during that time and watching how she handled such a hard thing. And I want to share with you…

5 things I learned to get through a hard time.

1. Accept that most things are out of your control. Not just when things are hard, but always. Care people show up at the wrong time, or don’t show up at all, disease progresses faster than expected, flights are cancelled, baggage is lost, dogs poop on the rug, your kid gets dumped by his girlfriend.  What’s within your control is how you respond.* So…

2. Be kind. When you’re going through a hard time, you might become driven by your sadness, fear, anger, or even determination to get through. When things are hard for you it’s easy to become self-obsessed. You forget that others are going through hard times too. So that person who bangs into in the grocery store without apologizing may not be a jerk. She may have been up all night changing a loved one’s diapers, calming night terrors, or trying to get medications right. And don’t just be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Take naps, eat well, grab some time alone or with friends. And definitely…

3. Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered. My friend’s not one to ask for help. She’s usually on the giving side of the give/take equation. But during this time, she asked for and accepted help. She wisely asked people to do things they were good at and wanted to do. She didn’t expect it to be perfect. She just let them do what they could do in the way they wanted to do it. Any bit of help took some pressure off of her so she could focus on her mom. Whether people rush in to help or not…

4. Be appreciative. Not only did Nancy express her appreciation for friends who stepped in and offered support. She thanked each doctor, nurse, pharmacist, caretaker, janitor, and delivery person for doing their job. Many jobs are stressful, even more are thankless. People were touched by her appreciation and even that she noticed. She wrote cards, gave flowers and chocolates, but mostly just acknowledged what people were doing and said thank you.  To do this all, she had to…

5. Slow Down. When you’re facing something hard you’ll probably notice one of two impulses – Rush through it or Resist it. But unless you’re ripping off a bandage, the better way is to slow down. When you slow down you get a chance to feel your feelings and release them so they don’t build up and erupt in surprising ways when you least expect it. When you slow down you can pay attention to what’s needed, notice and appreciate others, and be present to whatever and whoever you are with. When you slow down you feel your own feelings, which might be scary but suppressed feelings don’t go away – they just get in the way. Slowing down, even briefly, can show you what you need. Hard times are great teachers if you’ll slow down to get the lesson. They are often riddled with beautiful moments if you’ll go slow enough to witness. Nancy’s days were full and challenging but almost every morning we took time on the couch to connect and do some somatic work to support her nervous system to do the hard things ahead. Find simple ways to slow down your experience so you can really be present to it.

*A note from #1 about being able to control yourself. When you’re scared or stressed your nervous system takes over. Once you’re in fight or flight or even freeze, you’re no longer your rational, compassionate, caring self. You are in survival mode. Have you ever looked back and wondered why you yelled or stood stunned? Have you ever been ashamed of your behavior and wished you’d been different? It’s easy to say you can control yourself but to be at your best in hard times, you have work to regulate your nervous system at all times. Find support and exercises to become more resilient. Practice those exercises when times are easy, so you’ve got them in your system when times are hard.

Please share this with someone who might be going through a hard time. And I’d love to hear what you do to get through something hard.

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