Can dealing with loss or trauma lead to self improvement?

Published: September 9, 2016
Author: Steven Thomas
Forgive the title of this post.  My intention is not to glibly draw a comparison between loss and the often over-played, positive 'ra-ra' of self-improvement. Let me explain...

Last night I took my wife to see the Nick Cave documentary One More Time With Feeling.  A film that was utterly encapsulating and very moving.  The documentary was released to coincide with the new album, Skeleton Tree.  The sixteenth from Nick and his band The Bad Seeds.  But, of course, it goes deeper; in July 2015, Cave's son, Arthur, died aged 15 after he took LSD for the first time and plunged off the side of a cliff in Brighton.  A trauma (to use Cave's word) that would take any family to untold depths of heartbreak and despair.

At the same time recently I've witnessed a good friend lose his mother through cancer.  She was in her later years but still full of life, cancer quickening the inevitable.  I went through a similar loss, almost 20 years ago, with my own mother and, sure, such a slow decline is less shocking for the family but still disturbing and traumatic in a different way.  And almost in parallel, another good friend told me recently that he too was fighting cancer, this time, thankfully, there is a great chance of a full recovery.

A time to reflect.  A time to be there for others.  What can you say to people who are close to you who are experiencing such stress, such fundamental shifts in their emotional being?  If you were experiencing it yourself, how would you cope? Cave's words give us a clear window through which to see how we are all forced to adapt to such hardship...

Most of us don't want to change, really. I mean why should we? What we do want is sort of modifications on the original model.  We keep on being ourselves, but just hopefully better versions of ourselves.  But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic, that you just change? You change from the known person to an unknown person.  So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you recognise the person that you were,  but the person inside the skin is a different person. - Nick Cave

As a father and in the context of Cave's loss, his words are both eloquent and shattering.  How can one cope with such loss?

My reflection is this.  There are many aspects of positive and negative change that we can draw parallels between.  In each situation, we will all experience seismic shifts that can rupture our emotional equilibrium.  But, as humans, through simply experiencing the process of change we are forced to adapt. Watch the wonderful athletes competing in the Paralympics in Rio and tell me this isn't so.  In Cave's tragic situation, clearly, it is hard to see anything positive although he talked in the film about how he and his wife are "choosing to be happy" and to go on "doing the work".

And, if we keep searching for the 'footholds' that help us advance, that add to our emotional, spiritual or physical abilities, then even in negative situations, we can learn, improve even. The important thing I guess is to understand that small steps are ok, and you will (most likely) trip along the way.

The image used has no credit and was titled 'free' but if that's not the case then please do get in touch.