The people who have been most helpful to us in our grief are those people who just came alongside us and were present with us, who didn’t treat us with pity, and who didn’t expect anything from us, but were there for us if we needed something, just a cup of tea or to sit quietly by our sides so we could feel a connection. So, look for those people, because they will be there, but they won’t be calling attention to themselves. You’ll have to find them.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives. How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things -Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drs. David and Donna Lane. Drs. David and Donna Lane are professors, counselors, consultants and award-winning authors specializing in trauma, grief, loss and family relationships. Their research and writing on trauma and grief have been used extensively throughout the world in the aftermath of tragedies, including the Sandy Hook shootings, Haitian earthquakes, Rwandan genocide, and others. While qualified by education, their life experience shapes much of their current work, as they have experienced first-hand the horrific death of their own son, who had a neurological disorder throughout his 17 years on earth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us about your childhood backstory?
(David) I grew up in a cotton mill village in east-central Alabama with my parents and older brother. My daddy was a mill worker who was a World War II veteran and struggled with what I now know to be post-traumatic stress symptoms, including hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, and a quick temper. Despite those struggles, he was a good man and well-respected in his community. Among the things he taught me were integrity, responsibility, and a good work ethic. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who was also a sweet, kind-hearted, service-oriented person. The most significant event in my childhood, which informs what I do as a counselor, was my mother’s sudden death of heart failure at age 35 when I was eight years old. She was the glue that kept everything together and made everything work, so when she died, everything came apart for us. I had a two-year struggle with grief, depression, and anxiety before I started to feel intact again. When I was twelve, my dad remarried, and I had to sort through the issues of a blended family and stepmom. What helped me through that period was going to work at 13. Working helped reestablish my independence and sense of agency and personal authority over decision in my life. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know if I was going to college, the military, or a job until my dad said, in not so many words, “One of my kids is going to college. And you’re it.” So, I became the first person and first generation in my family to go to college.
(Donna) I grew up in an upper middle-class family in Macon, Georgia. My father was an engineer who was head of logistics research, a civilian employee at Warner Robins Air Force Base. My mother, a stay-at-home mom, was an alcoholic who became aggressive and emotionally abusive when she was drinking. My father was a functional alcoholic who worked all the time, even when he was home. As a result, I was basically left to my own devices growing up. Things became significantly worse when my sister, over six years older than me, left for college. School became a place of respite for me, and I was blessed to have encouraging, supportive teachers, so I focused my energy on success at school. Several consequences arise from growing up in that type of environment, some good and some very unhealthy. I struggled with trust and connection in relationships, and I based my identity on external things such as good grades and high achievement. At the same time, I did learn independence, determination, and perseverance, as I needed these qualities to survive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
(Donna) My favorite quote is from C. S. Lewis: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Coming from a hedonistic home and being the only one who believed in something greater, a power higher than myself, and a purpose beyond my own self-gratification, I felt alienated and singled out as the odd one. This quote helped me to understand my feeling of being an alien in a foreign land, someone who didn’t understand the values or priorities of the world in which I live. So, instead of feeling like the odd one, I know I am a citizen of another world.
(David) My favorite quote is from The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” I find this quote incredibly freeing, because when I struggle with something, it’s fine because I expected it, and if something is going well, it’s wonderful, because it’s an unexpected gift. So, I am freed either way things go.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much. If you can, please share a story or example for each.
(David) I am a global thinker. I see the big picture, and when one sees the big picture, one can easily deal with any of the details of that picture successfully. But if one does not see the big picture, creating a whole from the disparate parts is extremely difficult. For example, I’ve created numerous programs in my life from scratch, both treatment programs and academic departments. The scenarios always go something like this: someone in a meeting says, “We want to start a counseling program at our university.” I immediately, in that instant, can see four ways of accomplishing that goal, from day one to the end product. So, I (sometimes foolishly) say, “I can see a number of ways we can do that.” They respond, “Why don’t you head that up?”
I’m extraordinarily determined and persistent. I don’t know if it’s from being a red-head, or if it’s a learned behavior, but it’s certainly true. While I was a full-time Ph.D. student, I worked full-time to support my family and helped raise two toddlers, with a third baby born during the process, which meant studying had to take place after everyone else went to bed. However, my mindset was I will do a good job taking care of my family, and I will complete this program or die in the attempt.
I’m not dependent on what other people think of me. When I was teaching at Columbus State University, which is near Fort Benning, I helped the commander of the Family Life Chaplains’ group develop a family therapy training program for the chaplains to enhance their family work. This training program was ultimately adopted by the Army and is still being used today. After we presented the program to the Army, I went to the Dean of my college to tell him about what I had worked out. He informed me that Fort Benning prohibited Columbus State working with them due to liability issues, to which I replied, “I wish I had known that before it was already a done deal with the Pentagon.”
(Donna) I am strong-willed (just ask my husband). If you want to ensure something is done, tell me it can’t be done. Recently, in fact, several writer friends told me I could never pull off writing a novel in first person present tense. Therefore, my latest book is 479 pages written in present tense from first person point of view through the eyes of one character. It has received glowing reviews from several beta readers and is in the process of evaluation with a publisher.
I’m extremely disciplined. When I found out I had rheumatoid arthritis, my first doctor told me I would have to take medication with serious potential side effects, including possible development of cancer. I didn’t like that choice, so I researched options with my nurse daughter-in law’s help and found several anti-inflammatory diets. After prayer, I settled on a highly restrictive diet which cut out virtually all of my favorite foods. I’ve been on that diet since 2008. But the part of this story that best reveals my discipline is that my family still eats their normal food around me, including all my favorites, and I don’t feel the least bit tempted or jealous. Once I make up my mind, I set out to do what I’ve chosen.
I have a strong faith. As a result, I know my identity, I value truth, and I’m extraordinarily protective of my freedom to choose. Those may seem like three additional qualities, but they are all grounded in my faith, and would not exist without it. My relationship with Christ is the centerpiece of my life and the singular motivation for all that I do. For example, all of my books, both fiction and nonfiction, have some elements of faith or lessons I’ve gleaned from my faith woven into them. Any wisdom or guidance I might share with my clients or my students comes from my faith.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
We’re happy to talk about it. Our youngest son, Cody, developed neurological symptoms, including hand and eye tremors, at around 19 months of age. After several rounds of tests, a lumbar puncture, and MRI’s, they still didn’t know what was wrong with him. This began our long, arduous journey through the maze of the medical profession. It took nearly 10 years for his disease to be diagnosed, ultimately settling on chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP). This disorder is progressive and has no cure or real options for treatment. The disease slowly worsened, affecting his ability to walk, and finally his ability to breathe when he was fourteen. He was in and out of the pediatric hospital for the next two years. Throughout these trials, Cody continued to be the same sweet, gentle, and kind young man, full of joy, without fear, and steadfast in his faith. The nurses said he was the only child they’d ever seen who smiled at them around an intubation tube. Several times we thought we had lost him during those hospital stays, but he pulled through all of those, despite the doctors’ dire predictions.
When we got in the car to go home after his last hospital stay, he told us with calm resolve that he was done with hospitals. The doctors had told him the next step was putting him on a ventilator. He said, “If it’s time for me to go home, you need to let me go home.” He did not want to be on a ventilator permanently and said if he couldn’t have the life he wanted, he’d rather go home. He said he was at peace with his decision. We discussed, we argued for a while, but he was adamant. He said he knew it would be hard on us, but he needed us to do this for him. So, we agreed: no more hospitals.
His disease started to affect his ability to swallow, so he would frequently choke on his food. We had several scares with that issue, where we had to do the Heimlich maneuver to clear his airway. As a result, he lost a lot of weight and began to look frail. His breathing problems worsened, so much so that even being on oxygen didn’t keep his saturation levels up.
We would take shifts watching over him during the night, each covering half the night. Whenever his O2 sats dropped, we had to wake him and make him take deep breaths. One morning, we couldn’t rouse him. He slept until late in the afternoon. When he awoke, he acted like he was fine. We went downstairs, and he tried to eat a little, but it was difficult for him. We said we were sorry he had such a bad day. But he said, with a smile, “I felt fine. It was a good day.” This was typical of his attitude, no matter what his circumstances. Later that night, on the way upstairs, he even told a joke that had us all laughing.
We both stayed in his room that night. His O2 sats dropped, but we couldn’t wake him. All that was left for us to do was sit together by his bed and pray. He never woke up again. Around 1 PM, he took a shuddering breath, then stopped breathing. Cody was home. Our oldest son said, “The house feels so empty,” and we agreed, because when Cody left us, he had both feet fully planted in God’s Kingdom. We felt like that final night was his last gift to us, almost like he came back one last time to say goodbye to us in his own way and tell us he was ready to go.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
(Donna) I think my scariest moment was the night we first had to take him to the hospital. He had a little congestion that afternoon, but nothing we thought was too serious. He went to bed as usual. About an hour and a half later, something in my spirit compelled me to go check on him. He was lying in a pool of sweat (something we later learned indicated very low O2 levels), and he was unresponsive. I called for David, and together we carried him to the car and raced him to the emergency room. On the way, he stopped breathing and started turning blue. They intubated him, then airlifted him to the pediatric hospital. This event was the first time his disease impacted his ability to breathe, so it radically changed the landscape for us.
I actually know what I always thought the worse thing could be, because after Cody’s death, one of my dear friends reminded me that I had once told her, “I believe I can withstand anything, except something happening to my kids.” So, what happened to me had always been my worst nightmare.
(David) I have a long list of scariest moments, so it’s hard to differentiate between them. But one that is right at the top begins with me helping him up the stairs one night to get ready for bed. He had had a rough day and struggled a bit climbing the stairs, but he insisted he could do it on his own (as usual). I stayed close behind him and supported him when he needed it. At the top of the stairs, he collapsed and threw up. I turned him on his side to clear his airway and found he had stopped breathing. I checked his pulse, and he had no pulse and no heartbeat. We called to our daughter, who was home from college, to call 911, and we started CPR. I gave him mouth-to-mouth while Donna did chest compressions. I was absolutely certain I was causing him to aspirate the vomit, but I had no choice. We gave him CPR for seven minutes until the paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital.
It was always clear to me that the absolute worst thing that could happen to me was to lose one of my kids, and this incident brought me to the brink of losing Cody.
How did you react in the short term?
(David) There is a statue called Melancolie by a Romanian born artist named Albert Gyorgy on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. This statue is the best representation I can think of to describe how I felt. It’s been adopted by parents who’ve lost children because of its authenticity and the understanding that it imparts without words. I still can’t look at it without tears, because it shows the bereft, hollowing destruction of the experience.
(Donna) I remember sitting on the edge of our bed as the funeral home attendants wrapped his body and carried him from his room. I felt like I was watching myself from another place, somewhere outside my body, folded over as if I was trying to keep something inside me from flying apart, weeping. I glanced as they started to carry him down the stairs, but I couldn’t bear to watch it. I recall they had questions for me, but I don’t remember what they asked or what I said. Once they drove away, I got up, washed my face, and went downstairs to be with my other son and daughter. But a part of me remained outside myself, watching, for quite some time. I felt like everything in me had been sucked into a massive void, a black hole I couldn’t escape that continued to pull me in, deeper and deeper.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
(Donna) My primary coping mechanism was my relationship with God. He alone carried me through the dark days and weeks where, without His help, I wouldn’t have been able to put one foot in front of the other. I always felt Him with me in my agony, my wailing, and my emptiness. Also, David and I relied heavily on each other. Before Cody died, we made an agreement that we would always let the other know how we were feeling, and that we would never try to protect the other by keeping our feelings to ourselves. I honestly believe this saved us both and saved our marriage. So many couples who lose a child also lose their relationship in the process of their grief, because the individual they always counted on for support needs just as much support as they do. Because we forced ourselves to be honest and open with each other, we were able to remain connected and to be there for each other still, despite our shared grief.
(David) I went back to work as soon as I could, because nothing at work was associated with Cody. This gave me breaks during the daytime and some evenings from the loss being constantly in my face. Donna and I talked a lot. Every time one of us was feeling something, we spoke it aloud to each other, and the other listened and offered support. Because of our schedules, I was typically home alone on Wednesday evenings. That first Wednesday after Cody died, I was home alone and could not stand it. So, I called a friend and went to his house. Coincidentally, another friend came over to his house. Every Wednesday, the group grew until we would sometimes have 15–20 people hanging out, laughing and talking about everything and nothing. So, purely by accident, we started a tradition of getting together every Wednesday night, which lasted from 2007 to 2020. COVID has interrupted our tradition, but we plan to restart our meetings as soon as we can.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
(David) Cody prepared us all in the way that we each needed as individuals. When he prepared me, he was fifteen and really struggling, and I, in my anxiety, was hovering. He looked at me and asked, “What are you so worried about?” I said, “I cannot stand the thought of losing you and being without you.” He started laughing, and I said, “What are you laughing at, boy?” He said, “Don’t you get it? It’s only an interim.” I said, “What do you mean, it’s only an interim?” He said, “Well, you know what an interim is.” I said, “Yes, it’s an interval of space or time.” “He said, “Right. Any way you slice it, there is going to be an interim. Either you go first and I’m without you, or I go first and you’re without me, but it’s only an interim. Then we get to be together forever. So, I want you to get back to being happy as soon as you can, because it means a lot to me.” That changed my viewpoint in that moment. When he went home, I clung to that truth and tried to honor him by getting back to being happy as soon as I could.
(Donna) First, I must begin my answer to this question by saying I don’t believe you ever fully heal, and I personally choose not to try to let go. Let me explain. My connection with Cody is part of me and always will be. The laws of physics say we are eternally connected on a quantum level, and my faith tells me we are always connected in our spirits, even though his death severed our physical proximity. So, letting go wasn’t my goal. My goal was reconnecting to Cody in a new way. I chose two ways to reconnect to him. The first was through memories of the wonderful times we shared. At first, looking at those memories was unbearably painful, but over time, thinking of those memories became bittersweet, like a moment of joy followed by sadness. Now, the memories make me smile, and although there is always a hint of grief, my other way of reconnecting to Cody helps ameliorate the sadness. The second reconnection happened through my belief in a future with him. Cody would share with me visions he had of heaven, where he was playing baseball with Jesus (we laughed about whether he would ever hit the ball since Jesus was pitching, or if he would always hit homeruns because it was heaven), or swimming in the crystal sea before God’s throne, or making snow angels but never getting cold. I imagine myself in the stands, cheering Cody as he bats. I see myself swimming beside him and playing in the snow with him like we used to on the rare occasions it snowed. These thoughts always fill me with joy.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
(Donna) One of the ways I helped myself make that emotional shift toward feeling better was through sharing Cody’s story. He was an incredible individual who lived in consistent joy despite terrible circumstances and no small amount of suffering. As a result, he had a tremendous impact on everyone who knew him. He would often share bits of wisdom well beyond his years, earned through his suffering and learned through his relationship with Jesus. I still love to share these pearls with others, along with how he chose to view his circumstances and live his life to the fullest. Seeing the kind of impact his story still has on people today makes me feel like, in a way, he is still present with us.
(David) When Cody was so sick, he had to sleep with multiple pieces of equipment, monitoring him and assisting his breathing. All the equipment required electricity, of course. I bought a back-up generator in case we lost power, but for the last three years of his life, we never lost power, even during the worst storms. The night after he died, we went to bed but couldn’t sleep. Our daughter and, at the time, future daughter-in-law were there and couldn’t sleep either, so they came in our room and crawled in bed with us. We were all telling stories and crying and praying. I said, “I just wish I knew my boy was OK. I wish I had some kind of sign,” and the power went out, and stayed out for three hours. There were no storms, no bad weather, no explanation other than the sign that I needed, that now we didn’t have to worry about the power going out anymore because he was safe. When I realized what was happening, I started laughing uncontrollably, and everybody else started laughing as well. I felt something shift inside me. It was very freeing. I was no longer worrying about him. What was left was just missing him.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
(David) I have a really good group of friends. Many people at work and other areas of my life were trying to treat me with kid gloves, which I didn’t want. I didn’t want them to see me like I needed pity or special treatment. This group of friends never treated me with pity or like I needed special treatment. They never used kid gloves. They just kept treating me like they always had, and they would do things like get together on Wednesday nights or call on Saturday and say, “Be ready in ten minutes. We’re going to do something.” They wouldn’t take no for an answer. They’d pull up and say, “Get in the car,” or “We’re on a mission from God” in their best John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd voice. We would go do fun things. It was a distraction and a normalcy that I deeply needed.
(Donna) Cody helped me cope and heal more than anyone else. He would openly talk about his dying from the time he was fourteen, when he asked me, in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Am I going to die?” I replied, “Honey, we’re all going to die.” “No, I mean soon,” he said. I suggested he pray and see what Jesus said about his question. When he returned, I asked him what Jesus said. He smiled and told me, “Jesus said, ‘Touch as many lives as you can. Then come on home.’” I watched Cody live by those instructions for the next three years, and he inspired me to live my life according to Jesus’ words, too. Cody also told me to think about his death like being apart from each other for college. “If everything were as it should be, I’d be going to college in the fall,” he said. “So, just think of it as if I’m in college in Australia, so we can’t see each other right now. But we know we’ll see each other again.” I’ve tried to do just that.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
(Donna) I don’t think I’ll ever get used to not being able to reach out and hold his hand as he rides next to me in the car or hug him as he gets in the bed at night. I still miss hearing his laugh. I still feel the emptiness in the house. However, I do believe in God’s redemption. God has more than redeemed Cody’s death in the beautiful and powerful way Cody lived his life. That is the frame I put around my loss.
(David) I like to tell stories about Cody and share the things he taught me. I like to see the influences he had on other people, which are still active today. Cody took Tae Kwon Do as a form of physical therapy, starting when he was about 5 years old. His Grand Master was a hard man, former Army Special Forces, a Vietnam veteran with three Purple Hearts, who taught hand-to-hand combat and silent killing at the Special Forces training camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for 20 years. To say he was hard is a dramatic understatement. The first time he saw Cody doing his forms at a promotion test for his yellow belt, he was speechless. Later, he admitted that he went in the back room and wept. He asked Cody one time, “What is it about you that makes grown men cry?” To watch this man open his heart, that had so long been closed off and hardened, was nothing short of miraculous. He and Cody worked together for ten years, and with this man’s support, Cody made the Junior Olympics National Team twice. He won the Perseverance Award from the National Tae Kwon Do Foundation, and eventually earned his 2nd degree (dan) black belt in Tae Kwon Do. This man still teaches and uses Cody as the exemplar of the tenets of Tae Kwon Do to this day. Sadly, some years later, he lost his son in a tragic shooting incident, and he says Cody helped him through that. Cody had been gone ten years by that time. So, I see redemption everywhere I look.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
(David) I learned very profoundly how truly powerless we are. Standing beside a sick child’s bed, not knowing what the next minute is going to bring, while knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do sears that powerlessness deeply into one’s soul. So, I surrendered. It has been incredibly freeing, though. No wonder 12-step groups use understanding your powerlessness as the first step, because if one can truly grasp this concept, the struggle for power and control has no meaning or value anymore. It highlights the things that really do have meaning and value in one’s life. The first time we nearly lost him in the hospital, I remember praying over and over again for the strength and faith of Abraham, that if you want my son, I’m faithful and I trust, and I will let him go.
(Donna) That night we rushed Cody to the emergency room, we were made to sit in the waiting room. My daughter and her best friend came to sit with us while they intubated and stabilized Cody for transport. My daughter later told me her friend commented on how peaceful I seemed. To her, I appeared unshaken, while she said she would’ve been a quivering mess in the floor. What I learned was, when tested, my faith stood firm. I never got angry or railed against the circumstances. It never crossed my mind to do so. Through each new trial, God strengthened my faith to continue to stand. Now, when something bad happens, we always say, “Worse things have happened in our lifetime.” I know I can stand up during anything if I was able to stand through the illness and death of my precious son.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Give yourself permission to grieve. Many cultures have grieving rituals. The family does certain activities or rites. The mourning period lasts for months to a year or more, and the community expects the family to be changed by the experience. Our culture lacks that; in fact, we frequently do the opposite and expect people to be done with their grieving shortly after the funeral. For example, our daughter returned to college ten days after Cody’s death. Her school friends rallied around her at the funeral, and for the first week or so after she returned to school. Two weeks into her grief, she was hanging out with these friends, and someone said, “We’re ready for the old Lindsey to come back.” They saw her as a downer. Needless to say, our daughter promptly developed a new set of friends, because she knew how she felt was appropriate, and she didn’t care whether they understood or not. She was not going to live down to their expectations.
- Pay attention to the things you are telling yourself and clear out any lies you are believing. Often, people who are grieving tell themselves they “should” be strong, or they “ought to” be holding up better, or they “need” to be taking care of everyone else. These are lies that hinder your grief process. Other hurtful lies might include things like: “it’s my fault;” “I should’ve done more;” “I failed them (in some way);” “it should’ve been me who died;” or, “this is punishment for the bad things I’ve done.” Regret is a destructive and unhealthy emotional response to grief, because you can’t change the past. You want to replace those lies with truth, such as, “it’s alright for me to be sad/upset/in pain/struggling;” “my job right now is to take care of myself and grieve my loss;” “I can’t do better than the best I can do;” “I have no power over circumstances;” “their death isn’t about me, but it affects me profoundly.” Occasionally, lie beliefs would flitter in, such as regret for getting upset about something trivial or forgetting to do something for him that would’ve made him happy. We helped each other reject those lies when they came up, reminding each other of our love for Cody and all the things we did do for him. Cody was always very clear that he knew how much we loved him, and how much he loved us and appreciated us. Once, he wrote a poem about us that talked about who we are as people and how much he loved us. He sent the poem to a friend, who got it framed for him to give to us. We treasure it.
- Understand there is no timeline or formula for grief. Every individual is unique; therefore, every relationship is a one-of-a-kind creation between two unique individuals. If you lose that relationship, no one can know what your experience is like, because no one else has ever had or ever will have that exact experience. So, forget the so-called “stages of grief.” Your experience is yours alone. Grief is a process which can’t be rushed or avoided. When you don’t take the time to grieve, the feelings you’ve suppressed will demand to be dealt with and will show up in ways you don’t expect. So, allow yourself, your family, your neighbors, and your sphere of influence the time and space to process their feelings in whatever way is best for them. And give yourself the same grace. The first Sunday we returned to church after Cody’s death, several people came up to us and said some version of, “We knew you’d be back at church right away.” Their statement made it seem like they expected us to be fine. Well, we weren’t fine, and that needed to be OK.
- Look for the person who is not trying to “make you feel better,” and go be with them. Sympathy and pity put people in a one-up/one-down position. In our experience, this isn’t helpful. We want to say to those people, “Spare us the platitudes and leave us alone.” Or even worse, we literally had people come to Cody’s funeral expecting US to take care of THEM. The people who have been most helpful to us in our grief are those people who just came alongside us and were present with us, who didn’t treat us with pity, and who didn’t expect anything from us, but were there for us if we needed something, just a cup of tea or to sit quietly by our sides so we could feel a connection. So, look for those people, because they will be there, but they won’t be calling attention to themselves. You’ll have to find them.
- Share your stories. Once you find people who are not trying to “fix it” for you or make themselves feel better, begin to share stories of your loved one. It’s OK to start with the sad ones, because those may be the only ones you can think of at first. If you keep sharing memories, you’ll slowly notice that you’re starting to tell funny and happy ones, too. It may be a slow, subtle shift, but that’s OK. It’ll be painful to talk about those stories at first. The truth is, you must lean into the pain to walk through it, and the only way out is through. So, embrace your pain as part of the process. By telling the stories, you will notice the more you tell them, the easier it will be to share. Your memories will lighten and become less painful, and joy will begin to seep into your heart with the telling. We had scheduled a fund raiser for the Cody Lane Foundation before Cody’s death. It just so happened it fell less than two weeks after he went home. We stood before the crowd and wept and shared stories about Cody. We shared some of his wisdom and many stories about his quirky sense of humor. Before the evening was over, everyone was laughing, including the two of us. Although it was incredibly difficult for both of us, it became a healing moment for us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
(Donna) You mentioned the crises and turmoil we’re experiencing in our world today. Toward addressing these issues, I would desire to help people let go of a belief in control. I think I would call it the “Control is an Illusion” movement. I would want to emphasize that control assumes an ability to determine outcomes, which is a lie. No one thing determines outcomes. Control also assumes power over another, which is also a lie. We only have authority over our choices. We do not have power over the choices or feelings of others. To rid ourselves of these lies, control needs to be replaced with making individual, personal choices without believing or expecting that the choice determines the result or exercises power over others. Included in my movement would be: teaching people they always have choices, and therefore, they are not victims; empowering people to make choices and live in true freedom; helping people understand their personal authority and agency; showing people how they cannot control and are not responsible for the feelings, actions, or beliefs of others, nor do other people control or have responsibility for their feelings, actions, or beliefs; and, explaining to people that God is sovereign, meaning He has the right to reign, but He is not in control, as is often taught. This understanding would change the negative view many people have of God.
(David) If I could wave a magic wand and change anything I wanted to change, I would start the Responsibility and Accountability movement. When I look around in the world today, I see myriad problems that would be solved by people taking responsibility for how they think, feel, and act, and not expecting others to be responsible for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s true freedom to know that I have agency, but with agency comes responsibility and accountability. If I truly am in charge of my thoughts and my feelings, which then drive my behavior, I think before I act, I consider the consequences for myself and the people around me, and I make decisions that minimize pain and difficulty and maximize the potential for positive things for us all. If I’m responsible for me, and I know that I have choice, many of the things that divide us are eliminated, because I act in a safe, responsible, respectful, considerate manner, knowing that other people have feelings and thoughts just like me. I respect that, and I consider that before acting. I am responsible and accountable for those choices. I do the things that take me toward positive goals, and I minimize or eliminate the things that take me away from or distract from positive goals. Nothing guarantees that what I want to happen is going to happen, because bad things happen to good people all the time, but if I’m making good, responsible choices and being accountable for my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, the potential for positive results skyrockets.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
(Donna) If you could arrange a sit down with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, that would be my dream meal. But since they’re sitting around a table talking with Cody right now, how about Richard Rohr? He is a thoughtful theologian with whom I would enjoy discussion and debate.
(David) Newt Gingrich, not because he’s a former politician (I don’t do politics), but because he has written some extremely well-researched and well-written histories and historical novels. I’m a not-so-secret history buff, being a history major in undergraduate, and since I can’t meet Shelby Foote or Michael Shaara, because they’re also having lunch with Cody, I think Newt Gingrich would have a really good story to share.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!