November 21, 2022
When the Beyond the Crucible team was brainstorming a name for our special fall podcast series on navigating through crucible experiences involving the loss of a loved one, or of a dream, or of an aspect of our identity, we were a little concerned about the name we settled on: Gaining From Loss. Was it too glib? An oxymoron? Would listeners – not to mention our guests sharing the details of their losses – think it insensitive?
At the root of our trepidation we wondered: Is it a bridge too far to say that a loss that devastates us can lead to a gain that enriches us?
We worried unnecessarily, as it turned out. Each of the five guests we interviewed agreed that gain could indeed come from loss. That it indeed came from their losses. With the holiday season now upon us – serving to heighten the intensity with which so many of us struggle with losses both old and new – we’ve culled key learnings from each of our guests to help you on your journey of gaining from loss.
Here are five practical action steps to lead you along that path:
- Be patient.
Jason Schechterle was barely a year into his dream career as a police officer in 2001 when his squad car was hit from behind while stopped by a taxi traveling more than 100 mph. The explosive fire in which he was trapped for minutes left him in a coma for two and a half months, initially robbed him of his sight and led to severe scarring and disfigurement as he endured 56 surgeries to first save, and then improve, his life.
Through the physical and emotional trauma of all that he lost in the crash, he has come to live by a motto he encourages those he talks to as a motivational speaker to live by: “Sometimes the most beautiful, inspirational changes will disguise themselves as utter devastation. Be patient.”
His patience led to him and his wife adding a third child to their family, realizing his dream of working as a homicide detective and embracing all he’s not just suffered through, but grown through. “I have gained everything,” he says today, “and lost nothing.”
- Work to change what you cannot accept.
Shelley Klingerman’s police office brother, Greg, was murdered last year in an ambush while he walked to his car after work. She was devastated by the loss but refused to let that evil act be the period on the sentence of Greg’s life. She refused to “accept what she could not change” and instead dove into changing what she could not accept.
She launched Project Never Broken, a nonprofit committed to extending hope and healing through stressing resiliency to other law enforcement officers and their families struggling through the aftermath of trauma. In doing so, she is ensuring the true essence of Greg lives on while also serving others.
- Understand there is room for your pain on the other side.
Kayla Stoecklein lost her husband, Andrew, to suicide in 2018, leaving her a widow with three young boys to raise and an unexpected, uncertain future to face. What she learned as she moved forward, tentatively at first, was that “It’s a daily choice to welcome and acknowledge the pain, and it’s a daily choice to welcome and chase the joy.”
“The wounds we carry with us are not obstacles to simply get over,” she says. “Rather, our wounds are the way through. And loss gives us new eyes to see the grace threaded through all humanity.”
She wrote a book — Rebuilding Beautiful: Welcome What Is, Dare to Dream Again, and Step Bravely into What Could Be — to both document her journey in gaining from loss and to help guide others along the same path. It is a 256-page encouragement that “a beautiful world waits for us on the other side of loss. A world so expansive it has room for our pain.”
- Intentionally cultivate joy as you continue to grieve.
Marisa Renee Lee’s mother lost her battle with breast cancer when her daughter was just 25 years old. In the near decade and a half since then, Lee has crafted a successful career working on Wall Street and in the Obama White House. Her successes, she says, have come not in spite or even because of the loss she’s lived through. She has been able to live with the loss and thrive beyond it because she’s also never stopped living with the love.
As she puts in in her book, Grief Is Love: Living with Loss, “We are taught that grief is something that arrives in the immediate aftermath of death, and while that’s certainly true, it’s not the whole story. Grief is the experience of navigating your loss, figuring out how to deal with the absence of your loved one forever. It’s understanding that the pain you feel because of their absence is because you’ve experienced a great love. That love doesn’t end when they die, and you don’t have to get over it.”
In fact, she says, a critical key to managing grief is to find joy to accompany it through such means as leaning into celebrations – even if it’s for obscure holidays – and focusing on serving and encouraging others. She calls that “Being a Lisa” – her mother’s name – because that’s who her mother was.
- Live as a good ancestor to those who come after you.
Steve Leder, Senior Rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, says that even after officiating more than 1,000 funerals, it wasn’t until his own father died that he felt in his heart, rather than just knowing in his head, the depth and breadth of losing a loved one. The lessons he’s learned and the applications he’s still walking out have made vivid to him that the losses of all stripes we experience can be the fuel for living more intentionally.
In his book The Beauty of What Remains he exhorts readers to do that via a simple message: to recognize how fleeting and finite time really is, and to allow that realization to prompt us to make the most of our blessed lives with the people we love.
He has a surprising way of inspiring that in others. “I often tell people that a great way to think about your life is to live as a good ancestor,” he says. “We don’t think of ourselves as ancestors when we are alive, but we are all going to be ancestors after we die. A very instructive question to ask while alive is, ‘Am I living as a good ancestor for the generations yet to come?’ Most likely that will lead to a very meaningful life.”.
Loss is one of life’s most devastating crucibles. But it can not only be moved beyond, it can be an experience that leads to some of life’s most enriching gains.
- What does being patient in the aftermath of loss look like for you this holiday season? What might be gained from exercising that patience?
- What are you doing, or can you do, today to cultivate joy even as you also grieve a loss?
- What kind of ancestor do you hope future generations of your family see you to be?
Get the whole story…
- To listen to our podcast series, Gaining From Loss – Click here
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