It might be a tough day, a tough situation…or maybe a tough year. Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale shares a powerful example of moving forward through tough times.
Do you ever have those down days (sometimes one after another after another), that leave you wondering if it’s really all worth it? There are tough days and there are tough years. It’s not unusual to hear from viewers occasionally who are really down on their luck – where it’s difficult to see any bright spots in the day – and where it’s even difficult to get up out of bed some days.
And nearly every one of us can relate to times like that at some point along life’s journey…or even several points along the way. We are so out of control regarding this thing called life. Just like the adage, “Life happens while you’re making other plans.” No one knows that better that Carolyn Tuft.
Carolyn and her 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten, were shopping for the perfect Valentine’s card on that fateful night two years ago at Trolley Square. What they had planned and what occurred that night could not have been more strikingly different.
On February 12, 2007 a gunman opened fire, shooting nine people. Five of those victims died. Kirsten Hinckley was one of them. Carolyn remembers every detail of those last minutes.
“I remember watching her go – and I’m really grateful I was there for those last few moment because I know what happened to her. That is a gift. Even though it was such a horrible, horrible day, I’m glad I was with her. I was there when she came into the earth through blood and water and when she left I was there, our blood together. I’m just grateful,” Carolyn said.
Even through the gratitude for such tender blessings, the emotional and physical pain remains. Simple tasks like combing her hair and brushing her teeth are a struggle.
“Not only has it been a long, painful 2 years because of the loss of her, but because of the loss of me. I remember the feeling of being shot in my back and in my arm. It affects the way I walk and move. There is a loss of feeling in my arm and in my hand,” Carolyn explains.
Sweet Baby Kirsten was a bright light in her family’s life – so what gets them through? Each other, and the memories.
“Somebody once asked me, ‘How do you get up every morning.’ And I see it like – the sun rises, regardless if we get up or not. I could stay in bed all day,” Carolyn said, “it’s much easier to stay in bed every day. But I choose to get up and see the sun. I have to make myself get up and tell myself that there is good ahead for me.”
RECOVER, RELEASE, & REBUILD
We are all asked to recover from what life hurls at us…and release how we think life SHOULD go (not to mention release the emotional baggage when it piles up) and rebuild where change and tragedy leave us. Whether it’s injury, illness, divorce, death, war, murder, suicide, or debilitating disease….we will all go through something!
• Mark the Miracles
One of my favorite principle’s is the Pony Principle, Amidst a pile of manure the optimist keeps digging through it saying, “With this big a pile, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!” Find a Miracle in the Manure. The loss of Kirsten left a huge whole in the heart of this family. They began looking for ways to honor her life. Kirsten loved animals; especially cats.
Kirsten’s love for cats began when she was only one-year-old. In honor of Kirsten, Carolyn and her oldest daughter, Kait, agreed to be pet foster parents and committed to bottle feed this brand-new tiny Tabby kitten, every two-hours…even through the night, for several weeks! As this little Cheeseball grew, she developed two very symmetrical markings on her shoulder blades: two perfectly-shaped white hearts. They matched these two beautiful red glass hearts Carolyn had been given, representing mother and daughter. And then Carolyn found these Christmas ornaments from Kirsten’s childhood…two Tabby kittens with red hearts on them. Cheese is almost as cuddly as Kirsten, she climbs up and lays down across your neck – legs on one side of the shoulders – head on the other.
What comfort this precious animal brings to the family! God knew what He was doing when HE created pets! I can personally attest to that with the comfort my father’s cat brings him since my mother’s been gone.
• Let Life Deepen & Beautify
Some of the most beautiful people I know are those who have dipped down into the well of hell, as we say in my practice, and then rebuilt their lives on top of that well. They stand taller, wiser, kinder, to say the least,
Elizabeth Kubler Ross said it best:
“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, struggle and loss and have found their way out of the depths. They have an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Everyone you meet has experienced pain and suffering in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine. Sometimes we are blessed to hear their stories; other times not. I called a voice mail once and at the end of this person’s recorded message was, “And remember to be kind….everyone you meet is carrying something!” We just don’t always know what that “something” is.
• Live 5-Minutes Intervals
This doesn’t mean we should never plan; it does mean, however, that the only guarantee is this moment. Notice how you end a phone call or personal conversation; create memories that you’re proud of and want to linger longer. Within these 5-minutes intervals be completely depressed; then be completely happy…just for 5 minutes at a time!
For 5 minutes, be willing to change burdens into blessings. For example, if you have medical bills piling in and up (such is the case with Carolyn’s unpaid bills) reframe the situation. See if you can go from seeing them as a burden to a blessing for 5 minutes at a time. Carolyn has given her bills a beautiful basket for them to gather in because now what she envisions behind each of those bills are medical professionals and personnel who saved her life. Every bill is a reminder of how precious life is! And it is her job to live life to its fullest, as it is with all of us!
When you are depressed, sometimes that’s all you can live through are 5-minutes at a time. So be it! Just keep taking 5-minute bites of life.
• Find Fun & Funny
Carolyn Tuft is a great example of this. Even before the loss of her youngest child, Kirsten, she wanted to create the best of memories for her kids. Even when there wasn’t a lot of money in her wallet as a single mom, she would tell the kids, “Great news! Tonight we’re having popcorn and movie night!” They loved those kinds of evenings. Only just recently did the kids realize that popcorn and movie night meant there was nothing else to have for dinner. Her kids always thought of themselves as the rich kids because of how their mother managed the means that she did have.
Carolyn has quite the personality and even in the hospital said something hysterical, considering the events that had just unfolded. Her personality came through with the hospital staff. She had a tube down her throat and was unable to talk so she had to write notes to the nurses. Even some of those notes were humorous. And then on the day she had the tube removed, the firs thing she said is “I’ll never joke and say, ‘Just shoot me,’ ever again!” And, of course, my favorite line from Carolyn is “I’ve been through a lot – I’m tough and now, even bullet proof!”
The great paradox of life is this: Even when things are tough and the world is crazy, we can still find personal meaning and deep happiness. We do that by facing the worst in the world with the best in ourselves!
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.