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Thursday, April 23, 2015

On the outside of a tragedy

I know it's rare that I write a post on my blog that looks more like a journal entry but this is a topic that I feel will be more beneficial online than only in my journal. I know it's a topic that we've all felt but maybe didn't know how to put into words at the time. This is my attempt to put my feelings into words with hopes that it might help others understand what they are feeling. It's lengthy but I hope it is impactful.

Tragedy
an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.

Lately, I've found myself on the outside of multiple tragedy's. What does that mean? It means that something really bad (not necessarily fatal) happened to someone else and I am affected but technically "on the outside." Am I confusing you?

Here are some examples:
-3 years ago my best friend's husband, also a close friend of mine, died in a car accident. She was in the middle of the tragedy, and although I was greatly affected, I was on the outside.
-A couple years ago, my childhood best friend's father was in a terrible (but not fatal) car accident and recently had a major surgery to get rid of cancer. In both cases, she was in the middle of it and I was on the outside.
-Recently, another one of my best friends was in a terrible car accident (not fatal) and injured herself badly. She is recovering outside of where we live so I feel like there is nothing I can do. She is in the middle; I am on the outside.
-Multiple friends of mine who desperately want to have a child are dealing with infertility. They are in the middle, I am on the outside.
...This list could go on and on.

Like I mentioned, this is a topic that has been on my mind for a while. The reason I decided to write this post is because of the recent tragedy in Georgia. A horrific car accident happened early yesterday morning and 5 Georgia Southern University students were killed and 2 are in the hospital. I don't know any of the girls or anyone that knew them but suddenly the overwhelming "outsider" feeling made its way in and I can't stop thinking about those people who have found themselves in that position.

How does it feel? It hurts. It consumes your thoughts and your mood for days, weeks, and/or years. It puts life into perspective. You are desperate to help in any way possible although you feel helpless. You ask why; why did it happen to them and not you? You pray...a lot.

After many conversations with my best friend who lost her husband I've figured it out. In fact, she put all my questions to an end by telling me this: You are not on the outside. Ever. The tragedy happened to you too. You are in the middle of it but you just hold a different title. You are grieving too. It happened to you just as it happened to "the person in the middle" it just looks different at how your life goes on from there.

MY friend died in a car accident. MY friends were injured in a car accident. MY friend is helping her dad recover from major surgery. MY friends are struggling to conceive a child. I am right there in the middle of the tragedy too. It's okay to feel like it happened directly to me because it did. She's had to learn what her new normal is as a single mom. My other friends are focusing on the best way to heal. My friends trying to conceive are learning how to deal with the high hopes and low despairs that come with infertility.

I have to understand that my role in the tragedy is to figure out how I can be the best friend to them in each situation. That's how you cope. Being present. Being that listening ear when they need to talk it out. Staying away when they need to be alone. Being the person to help them transition into their new normal.

Most importantly...

Tell them how you feel. Tell them how many times you ask why. Tell them when you have moments of breakdown. Let them be your crying shoulder. They don't need someone to tell them "it's going to be okay" because they know it will but they also know that it will be different than before, and in a way, that is not okay. They don't need someone to tell them "let me know if there is anything you need" because, truthfully, they won't. The only reason people say those things is to make themselves feel better. The most shocking and the most honest truth my friend told me was, "It comforts me to know others are hurting too. It shows me that I am not alone in this. Just because he wasn't your husband, he was your friend and I know that you are grieving too. When people hear my story I don't want them to feel sympathy towards me; I want them to see how much he was loved by so many. His death affected many people and I want them to see how God is using his death to pour out His blessings. He was my husband; but he was also a son, brother, cousin, and friend."

Oh, the strength and perspective she has!

So, I leave you with this. You are not on the outside of the tragedy. You are right there in the middle of it. It's okay to grieve. It's okay to be honest with your friends/family about how it is affecting you. Your grief might be the only comfort to them when they are numb. You don't have to be the strong outsider because in most cases, the strongest person is the one who you considered to be in the middle. 

Love, sje

Photo by Proverbs 31 Ministries