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APRIL 30, 2003     PAGE FOUR      
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                  Coping With Loss by Jo Cordi Sica
Due to the recent tragic death of Dr. Robert Akins, it seemed fitting to look at how we are affected by loss and ways to move beyond the grief. I would like to add my own personal note of thanks to the man who has brought better health to so many people.

Thank you Dr. Atkins, for having the courage to stand firm in your beliefs; for not succumbing to pressure from conventional theorists; and for leaving behind a legacy that will positively affect the world for generations to come. May you rest easy knowing that many thousands of people are committed to serving as living testimony to your lifelong work.

                                  "When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
                             and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
                                       for that which has been your delight."
                                                                      Kahlil Gibran

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It’s a great quote, and while it’s true, when we are in the throes of challenging times, it is difficult to accept. At many points in my life, I felt completely overwhelmed by the challenges I faced. I remember many times when I was convinced I would not survive one more day. I frequently thought, and periodically screamed, “I can’t take any more of this!” Yet, I did in fact survive. In the end, I realized that if it weren’t for the tough times, I’d never be truly able to appreciate the good times.

Another important lesson I learned is to be thankful for the challenges. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. I heard that in a sermon once and it took me a few weeks to digest the idea. The bottom line is every challenge and setback we overcome makes us stronger and better prepared to handle whatever life brings. “If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it.”

Sometimes we need to be thankful that the trials and tribulations aren’t any worse than they are. We’ve all heard the story about feeling sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet. I know it sounds corny, but consider the real world applications:

Even after I started to recover from my negative attitude and work toward changing my life, I continued to feel sorry for myself for having to deal with the pain of losing my son. I spent a lot of time being angry with God for allowing that to happen. “Why me, Lord?” Then in July, 1999, the light bulb finally came on for me. John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law were killed in a tragic plane crash. I realized that Carolyn and Lauren Bissette’s parents must be dealing with unimaginable pain. Here I had been feeling sorry for myself for losing a child. I still had my daughter to hug and love every day. These poor people had lost BOTH of their children. I immediately started thanking God for sparing me that kind of pain.

This type of thinking is helpful when we are looking at loss in retrospect, but how do we cope with tragedy when we are right in the midst of a situation? Understanding the grief process provides some level of comfort. I’ve seen several models, but my favorite is SARAH; Shock, Anger, Resistance, Acceptance, Help. Any time we face difficulty, we go through each of these phases. The greater the difficulty, the longer it takes us to cycle through the process. The bottom line is that we have to arrive at acceptance in order to get help. Consider this scenario: You are leaving for work and discover you have a flat tire. Your first reaction is shock. You cannot believe that today of all days, you have a flat. Now you get angry. And as you stomp off to get the jack or call AAA, resistance kicks in. You stop and go back to look one more time; maybe it wasn’t really flat. It is in the resistance phase (sometimes called denial) where we start bargaining: “Please, God don’t let it be flat. I promise I will…” Finally, you acknowledge that the tire is in fact flat; this is acceptance. Now you are ready to get help changing the tire.

When we are faced with significant challenges and losses, it takes longer to cycle through the process. It is not unusual to go from resistance back to anger and continue cycling through the various emotions for a period of time before we reach acceptance. Each of us has a unique timeline for completing the cycle. Until we reach acceptance, we are not ready for help. Understanding this process is especially important when trying to help others cope with loss. Too often, we try to help when the individual has not yet arrived at acceptance. You cannot help someone who is not ready to be helped. There is a reason that 12-step programs require members to stand in front of the group and acknowledge their addiction; it is a testament to acceptance.

I frequently catch myself making that very mistake. Someone will ask me for advice on how to make changes in her life. As the conversation progresses, the excuses start to surface. It is so tempting to try and combat the excuses, but it is purely a waste of time. That person is offering excuses because she has not reached acceptance. In my many weight loss attempts over the years, deep down, I was still in the resistance phase. I know that I was in denial because I made excuses for not starting a plan, for going off a plan, and for eating the wrong things while I was on a plan. It becomes so easy to rationalize when one is in denial. “I don’t really look that bad.” “I’m still smaller than so-and-so.” “This little bit won’t hurt me because…” “I’ve been really good, so I can afford to have this…” While these statements may be true for some people, for me they were merely attempts to deny that I needed to make permanent changes in my eating habits if I wanted to be thin. I simply was not ready to deal with the loss of my comfortable, albeit unhealthy, eating habits. Once I accepted that I have a problem with food, finding help changing those habits wasn’t very difficult.

Sometimes the best way to move toward acceptance is to visualize ourselves in the future. Clinging to the past serves as an anchor making it hard to move forward. When we are faced with loss, human nature is to cling to that which is familiar. We may keep re-living old events over and over in our head. The comfort of the past is easier to cope with than the uncertainty of the present and future. To move beyond this, imagine yourself in the future being happy and comfortable. Picture yourself being successful in the new job, relationship, or body. See it with all the detail you can imagine. Identify where you are, and what you are doing, seeing, and feeling. Focus on how good it will feel when you reach that point. Every time you find yourself thinking about the past, instead, think about your vision of what is yet to come. Picturing a brighter tomorrow will enable you to take positive action today.

A dear friend who was instrumental in my healing shared some great advice: “Just keep hanging in there - nobody ever said it would be easy or fair, but that doesn't mean we have to succumb to it all either. There are many treasures of life that far outweigh the bad times. In time, you will think about it less often, and when you do, you will tend to remember the good things.” The past will always be there. Memories will remain; they are a permanent part of us. The beauty is that eventually we will remember the past fondly, look forward to the future eagerly, and live life in the present. Today is a glorious day to be embraced and enjoyed. We need only open our eyes to the possibilities.


                  Jo Cordi Sica
                  SPHR Organizational Development and Training
                  jwcordi@aol.com



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