How Tragedy Can Make Or Break Your Life

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I remember every little detail. The weather of that Sunday morning, light streaming through my living room’s glass doors. The sun warmed the back of my neck, the rough carpet slipped between my toes.

The heavy words fell out of my dad’s mouth. Their weight was unbearable.

A cacophony of silence.

And then I was empty.

Memory is a strange thing. Some memories are foggy and lack detail. They’re easy to misconstrue and blend.

Others are as crisp as the present, as if you merely close your eyes and walk into another room. These memories are significant, because they usually tie to deep emotions.

Nostalgia, joy, guilt, love. Emotion fuels the longevity of a memory.

On October 2, 2005, I lost my mom.

At the naive age of 11, I didn’t know how to process death. It felt as if she had taken a vacation and would return soon. I sometimes found myself staring at the door, awaiting her arrival.

It’s easy to pair the words life and death together, like start and finish. But you simply cannot be prepared for death. It unlocks a hidden emotional depth, as if a trap door was released beneath you.

A little over 12 years later, I still remember how true emptiness feels. It’s like a car stripped of its engine. The main part that kept it going, removed.

Something precious is ripped away from the soul.

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The Biggest Decision You’ll Ever Make

When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to get caught up in the storm that follows. That’s normal. Even expected. There’s no manual for how to handle it.

However, what you do from this point on will define you.

It does not matter if it’s death, disease, injury, or loss. You’re forced to make a pivotal life decision.

Will you let one event, moment, or day be the tick on your life’s timeline that reads, “it all went downhill from here.”

OR

Will you make the most of your situation, using your newfound understanding of emotion, empathy, and hardship to move forward.

Option #1: Downward Spiral

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It’s difficult to recognize that this is a decision in the first place. Rather than an inevitability. So it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and fall down this path.

Those who unknowingly choose Option #1 will let the tragedy and ensuing hardship consume them. Misery will take command and the dominoes will begin to fall.

Life will appear broken, and the pieces will be too sharp to pick up.

Adversity will breed further adversity, and you’ll be too torn apart to rise against it.

This is the easiest option. You no longer feel that you have to take responsibility for anything. Now you can point at the tragedy and say, “you did this.”

A permanent excuse is born.

Option #2: Opportunity

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Tragedy attempts to mask the opportunity that arises with misfortune. But it can be uncovered.

Those who take Option #2 cherish the memories of the past. But the past won’t define them.

Life’s hardships are seen independently from one another. Not a serial continuation.

These hardships are hurdles — not mountains. They get easier to clear each time.

You’ve gotten through worse.

This is the harder option. It takes a mentality adjustment, which does not happen overnight. You learn from the past, and you use it as a springboard for your future. You see the fragility of life, and do whatever it takes to do something meaningful with it.

You choose to see life as an opportunity. To let yesterday be yesterday.

To make the most of today and tomorrow.

Making The Decision

This is by far one of the hardest decisions we face. Because it takes mettle. Because it takes time. Because it’s not as simple as saying “I choose option #2”.

But it is a decision. We do have control.

Persevering through the trauma and shell-shock, handling life’s hurdles. These are not easy tasks. It can be overwhelming.

But we will be stronger each time.

Tragedies happen. And they will forever be cemented within your history. The memories, murky or crystal clear, live on with you.

They become as much a part of you as your eyes, nose, and ears. But it’s your response to tragedy that shapes your life for the better or worse.

You’re Not Alone

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that everyone has endured pain or loss or suffering. Some are more reserved about it, some are open. But everyone has something. It’s all relative.

Empathy is a powerful tool. It’s the strongest form of communication. Empathy is also humbling and let’s us know that life could always be worse.

I am not here today on my own.

I’ve had continued support from family, friends, and sometimes even strangers. I am eternally grateful for these people.

If you unfortunately find yourself facing this life decision, do not hesitate to reach out to someone. Me included (carter@carterkilmann.com).

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Freelance Writer & Editor | Personal Finance | Limitless Supplier of Spongebob & Family Guy quotes carter@carterkilmann.com

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