Clumping: How Much Can One Person Bear?

I met her at her home a few evenings ago. As we visited, she spoke about him frequently. She also referred to things around the house that she has now been doing – things he used to do – which she hadn’t done for years: yard work, home repairs, and other odd jobs around the house. After about an hour, we went to a restaurant for dinner. It was clear the stopping in at her home meant a great deal.

It was ten months ago that her live-in “boyfriend” of 18 years died. She’s 53. He was 47. Two years after a diagnosis of cancer, followed by surgery which left him constant pain, he passed quietly, comforted by high doses of medication.

Over these same two years, her mother was in a serious automobile accident caused by a youthful driver who ran a stop sign while talking on a cell phone. After months of rehab, her mother regained the ability to walk but has a permanent disability.

The restaurant where we ate is managed by one of her long-time friends. She found out some months ago that he was diagnosed with cancer. He visited with us at our table. When she asked him how he was, he quietly said, “Not good.” She asked what the doctor’s said. He replied, “They’ve told me to tell my children that it won’t be long.” She made plans to meet him for lunch later in the week. When we left the restaurant, she held onto his arm for more than a few moments.

Sometimes, the events of life are difficult and overwhelming. It can seem like all at once tragedy strikes and then repeats itself. It’s not just that there is one misfortune. Instead, it’s one after another. We wonder, “How much can one person bear?”

When I went through a period during which it seems liked anything could go wrong did go wrong, I spoke with a long-time friend in another part of the country about various hardships. She reflected that sometimes it just “clumps together.” She called it, “clumping” – having all the tough stuff clumped together at once. Clumping. I like that term. A clump is something difficult to break up. A clump is something one could trip over. A clump doesn’t seem to have a purpose but just gets in the way.

As I think of people I’ve spoken with over the last year, it seems that many people have been experiencing this clumping of tough stuff because of long term unemployment, loss of homes, the loss of loved ones, and separation from loved ones because of military deployment or for the need to work in another region. The reality of these situations can’t be changed or wished away. But how we face them and get through them is within our control.

Over dinner with my friend the other evening, I was struck by the way in which she focused on the things she could do for herself and the positive aspects of her life. Keeping a focus on the positive aspects of life helped to prevent her from getting lost in the pain of loss which entered her life. That’s one way she has been able to face the tragedies she’s experienced.

One way I often get through difficult times is to create a sense of inner stability by maintaining an outward routine. In other words, by following a regular pattern for prayer and meditation, exercise, sensible eating and sleep, I’m better able to move through life’s challenges.

Each of us experience challenging times in life when difficult, tragic events clump up and threaten to bury us. After spending an evening with my friend, it was clear that she wouldn’t be buried by the pain of repeated losses. She recognized the pain and felt it. But she also recognized the unique gift of life she has received. By keeping a focus on the good as well as the painful in her life, she has been able to continue to find balance in her life even when the clumps get in her way.

While it’s tempting to think of my friend’s situation and ask, “How much can one person bear?” perhaps it’s better to learn from her ability to accept both the good and the tragic aspects of life as all being part of the fabric of life.

© 2010, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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