Here’s the thing about life: more often than not, it goes on.
We’ve been conditioned by movies in particular to think that, after a particularly significant event happens— a death, a graduation, an election, a revelation, whatever— that time goes into kind of a freeze frame. The music hits, the credits roll, and the audience wanders out into the street, maybe happy, maybe sad, maybe uplifted, maybe bummed out, at what they just saw.
But for most of us, that’s not how life works after major life events.
For most of us, we wake up the next morning, and that morning is, most often, a lot like all the mornings prior.
And we’re faced with the reality that whatever happened, as major as it was, did not remove the fact that we still have to live our life, adjusted to this new reality.
We still have to figure out a way to pay our bills.
We still have to figure out a way to get our interpersonal needs— our needs for interaction, for validation, for reality checking, for sexual gratification— met.
We still have to care for our pets. We still have to handle our families. We still have to provide value for our customers. We still have to connect with our version of the divine.
Sometimes, that significant thing that happened is a death. Maybe the death of a family member, or the death of a pet. I’ve experienced both of these, and believe me, I get it: after those events, your routine is altered. No question about it.
Those events can make you feel as if your world is turned upside down, and your routine can never be the same.
But the reality is, even after something as significant as a death of a person or animal who is absolutely beloved to you, maybe who was even the center of your world: life still goes on.
Everything in us wants to believe that such a fundamental shift means that the universal pause button gets pushed, while we cope and mourn— while the credits roll— but that’s not how it works.
As it turns out, we still have to get up, make breakfast, work out, make a living— even if we feel like there’s a huge hole in our heart where our loved one used to be.
Sometimes the significant thing that happens is, we get fired from our job. I’ve had that happen, too. In grand fashion, even: I had a dramatic falling out with a mentor, which left me feeling misunderstood and underappreciated (I can’t read her mind, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t feel the same way at the time).
Again, I felt that life as I knew it, at least professionally, had ended.
But again, the reality was that even after that professional relationship, which had been the most significant one in my life to that date, had ended, life went on. The next day, I had to pick up the pieces and start putting together the plan for my own practice instead of working for someone else.
The fact that I’d gotten fired didn’t mean there weren’t people who needed my help; it didn’t mean I didn’t have bills to pay; it didn’t mean that I didn’t have a whole caseload of patients who were willing to start over in my new practice with me.
As it turns out, the fact that I’d gotten fired from one job didn’t mean I still didn’t have work to do.
So often when major changes happen in life, especially when they hit unexpectedly, and especially when they rob us of the life and routine we used to have, we feel angry. We’re distracted and intimidated by the scale of the change. We’re furious that life had the audacity to change in such a significant way without our permission.
We want our old life, even with its rough edges and imperfections, back. We don’t like unpredictability, and we definitely don’t like loss.
Make no mistake: it’s essential to mourn the losses that occur when major life shifts happen, especially when they happen unexpectedly and deprive us of something that had been central to us before. The presence of a family member; the love of a pet; the income of a job. Not taking time to mourn your loses is a recipe for your self-esteem to deteriorate: your brain notices if you’re skimping on your own emotional needs.
Something that can provide some unexpected solace, however, is the fact that life does, most often, go on.
The sun will rise, one way or another.
Even after things that feel like the end of the world.