A guide to weathering life’s unexpected events

One never knows what life has in store. One moment life is flowing well, then, all of a sudden, it is not.

One never knows what life has in store. One moment life is flowing well, then, all of a sudden, it is not. The disruption can be as insignificant as car trouble or as life-altering as a cancer diagnosis, an aortic aneurysm, an accidental fall or the sudden death of a friend or family member. During the past month, I have, or someone I know has, experienced one of the above life-changing events. Out of the blue, no warning, life was going along just fine and then it wasn’t. How do you face such unexpected traumas while, at the same time, adjusting to what the experience thrusts into your life?

There are many answers to this question, and here I offer five elements that help me get through hard-to-accept surprises in my life:

  • Shock: Think of it as a protective shield for the mind and spirit that slowly lets reality in so that the traumatic event can be dealt with at a pace we can tolerate.
  • Emotions and feelings: These are a guidance system through the mine fields of upheaval that leads to a degree of acceptance.
  • Path of least resistance: Our natural tendency is to resist, to reject, to hang onto life as we have known it. The path of least resistance helps us accept where life is now, not where it was or even where we want it to be. All the wishing it was different; all the struggling to go back to your former life cannot change things. The path of least resistance opens the door to life now.
  • Acceptance: Gradual glimpses at first, then slowly a deeper sense of ownership of who we are now and who we are becoming that is a direct result of the depth and difference created by the life-altering event.
  • Living now: There will be wishes for and flashbacks of life before the traumatic event. It is essential to grieve that loss as it arises. Those feelings are the continual letting go of resistance to where we are now.

I do not propose that any of this is easy. I know it is not. I offer it simply as hope. Should you need it now or in the future, may it in some small way bring you comfort and guidance in weathering life’s unexpected events.

The birds they sing

At the break of day

‘Start again,’ I heard them say

‘Don’t dwell on what has passed away

And what is yet to be …’

(Leonard Cohen)

Donald M. Vowels holds master’s degrees in theology and social work, and is a licensed clinical social worker.


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