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On Loss and Finding Meaning

Sometimes it seems like one awful thing after another piles on until you might just break. If you are a worrywart like me, prone to anxiety and hyper vigilance, you may find yourself carrying more of an emotional load than you realize.

Believe it or not, 'All There is with Anderson Cooper,' a podcast exploring profound loss,, may provide some relief. My sister Sarah recommended the episode with Stephen Colbert, and, after listening to it, I'm recommending it to you.

As an artist, I've always had a heart that's painfully and exquisitely empathetic. My tendency to absorb other people's pain, then feel it's my duty to help them has gotten me into trouble in life.

Rather than close down, however, since that would also cut off the connection and joy that comes with empathy, I've become an ongoing student of setting healthy boundaries and expanding my perspective.

In the podcast, Stephen Colbert spoke about a passage written by J.R.R. Tolkien:

A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)

Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert discussed their enormous grief upon losing both a parent and a sibling. The passage from Tolkien helped young Stephen find some gifts from the almost unbearable pain. In particular, he knows that keeping his heart open means he also feels fully the love he has for his children. Anderson agreed and found comfort in this concept.

This shift in perspective is not just for profound grief. I was assembling some boxed cards in my garage yesterday, grumbling over an earlier fair which had frustratingly low sales. There had been dozens of ritzy customers who passed by without even glancing at my work. I felt invisible and I went home having taken in only eight dollars in revenue.

But as I listened to Colbert and Cooper, I asked myself what gifts I could find in my frustrating day. I found several:

  • The customers who passed me by are not my ideal clients. This is a gift because I will save time and money by not marketing to them.

  • I had longer conversations with interested customers because it was a slow day. It's a gift to know my customers and what they care about.

  • I got to know the other vendors because it was slow. We exchanged useful tips about some good fairs to do, and we even traded some goods in a barter.

  • Most importantly, I de-personalized my frustration. This slow day was not about me.

Getting to know my fellow vendors on a slow fair day - one way to make lemonade out of lemons!

I've continued listening to the podcast. There are heart-stopping moments of sheer awful loss. Yet the conversations continue, which is pivotal. So often in our culture we shut down and push away vulnerable conversations. But in this podcast they continue in their grief and reach moments of insight that are healing.

I think that's the key - to realize that we need each other to make it through our sorrows in life. That is central to the mission of Vivid Cottage - to offer my art in ways that bring comfort and delight. I'm hoping this blog post helps you feel seen and encouraged as you move through the challenges in this life.

Get together and talk about it - connecting is the way through...


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