Monday, May 16, 2011

No Rhyme or Reason

In the time since my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life only ten weeks later, one thing I've heard people say a lot is “Things happen for a reason.” I am sure I've even said this at some point, or at least I've acted like I agreed with it when it was said to me.  But after lots of thought on this idea, I would like to offer another perspective on this and about a few other things that are often said to people who are going to a rough time, dealing with a serious illness or other life-changing event, or have suffered a loss:

Maybe things don’t happen for a reason.  I find it unsettling when people seem to be saying that cancer, other serious illnesses or tragedies, death, or anything that has been a challenge has happened as part of some grand plan for something better.  I think saying that there was a reason behind such horror serves to shut down the questioning that naturally comes in bad situations ("Why me?" "What caused this?" and "WHY did this happen?").  That "Grand Plan" kind of thinking can also offer an easy-out in cases where people don't make the best choices and think everything will just WORK OUT, if it's MEANT TO BE.

What could possibly be a reason for really bad things to happen?  Is there some little secret plan behind someone's suffering, and is that supposed to make it "worth it" if so?  

I realize that this and similar statements are something that people say to try to help or to comfort those in need or maybe even to try to rationalize why such a terrible thing has happened, to show that there is purpose in suffering and hardship.  I also recognize that we all do what we have to do to get through the day. Sometimes this type of statement is a way of putting things in perspective, of showing one's personal beliefs, and/or of trying to create a silver lining.

But I personally don't think it's true, and I am not at all comforted by it.  I think things, good/bad/otherwise, just happen, and when they do, you have to decide how you are going to handle them.  Your responses, and those of others around you, can teach you lessons.  It's your attitude, your PERSPECTIVE, your outlook that can influence how you get through things that happen in your life.  You can grow, get stronger, and do something that you otherwise never would have. Alternatively, you might learn that you made a mistake and should deal with a situation differently the next time it comes up. 

I'm actually more comforted by thinking that everything is random. When a tragedy occurs, I don't think it's some big judgment, a punishment, or a test ... it's just the way things are. Good people have terrible things happen to them, drunk drivers walk away from car wrecks they caused while an innocent person is hurt, jerks win the lottery sometimes ... things just happen

The way I see things, there isn’t necessarily a purpose in suffering; it’s not part of a causal narrative that “passing the test” will get you to the next step. You make your own tests, you find your own lessons.  You'll learn from a challenging situation what you will choose to take away from it.

And what about "People are only given what they can handle;" "People get what they deserve;" "What comes around, goes around;" "Everything works out the best in the end;" "He was lucky he didn't suffer;" "It was just his time;" or even "I know exactly how you feel" and "Time heals all wounds"?

I refuse to feel like I  am being punished for bad decisions, warned of coming terrors, or living out some mystical plan.  I choose to acknowledge whatever control I have over what happens in my life and to view the glass as half-full, even when things don't go my way.  I won't assume the role of the victim. Yet I also don't think it will "work out better" that my dad had cancer than if he hadn't had it, for him or for me or for anyone else.  I think he was, and that my family and I are, lucky overall, in spite of the cancer and his death, not because of it or the trauma of it.  It absolutely was NOT my dad's time; he had lots of things that he still wanted to get done.  And although I will try to adapt to the changes in my life and I may get more practiced at coping without being able to have contact with one of the most important people in my life, I won't feel "better" or have my grief "healed," no matter how much time goes by. The tough things that have happened, just happened.  I appreciate the support of those around me and know that each person is trying in his or her own way to help as much as they know how.  I am doing everything I know how to do to move forward after such a terrible loss.  Because whether or not there is a Reason or a Plan, my goal is to deal with what has happened with as much courage, love, dignity, and grace as possible.