When personal tragedy strikes… | Sunday Observer

When personal tragedy strikes…

Life in the 21st century with its attendant stress and strains is a challenge. Unlike in the earlier decades, there are no cushions and shock absorbers available. There are no extended families, family doctors, caring priests and astrologers or favourite teachers. So, it is a real challenge!

When stricken with an illness or grappling with a marriage which is on the rocks or a bad patch in one’s career, or faced with a real tragedy, like losing one’s loved ones in an accident, what do people turn to for solace? Are there any comfort factors now when compared to the bygone era? Or have things changed for the worse?

Leaning on family

Vikum, Janaki, Gayan and Ranjith are people I have known for years. All of them faced crises in their lives, and they explain how they coped.

Vikum, works in the Capital but his family lives in Matara. He says, “I have faced not one but many crises during my life.

My refuge during a crisis has always been going home to family- my parents, wife and children. I am able to think best when I am with them. Incidentally, any office disappointment is not a crisis. I fight my battles alone as I am the one who knows all the ramifications.”

Janaki, a finance professional who, with her mother and her husband, nursed her father through cancer, multiple surgeries and complications, says, “The key comfort factor was family support.

My mother was quite strong and dealt with my father’s illness with a lot of faith while my grandmother was the strongest of all, having seen so much in her life.

My husband, who is unruffled and practical at such times would often convince my reluctant mother to go home and he would stay the night in hospital.”

Gayan, coping with a marriage that turned sour much against his wishes says, “Apart from the family closing ranks, as one moves from denial to acceptance, the people you talk to next are close friends who put things in perspective and are the rationalising factor.

Often you tend to think that half the blame for the problem is yours, but friends help you focus on the positive.”

Gayan is right. During a crisis, true friends are a great lifeline with whom one can bare one’s soul, whose judgement can be relied upon and who can hold up a mirror to one’s problem.

A key change in the Sri Lankan social fabric is that problems are no longer kept under wraps and hidden away. People are as willing to share their stories as there are hands ready to help. Technology too has made a huge difference and also offers a certain degree of anonymity.

Attitude matters

Above all, what really seems to count is one’s own attitude. Even in the face of unspeakable tragedy and trauma, people with the right sense of mind have managed to come out reasonably unscathed.

Ranjith who lost his wife in last year’s Easter bomb blasts, says, “I felt that we must learn to handle the event with compassion, empathy and forgiveness. We have forgiven the terrorists because they didn’t know what they were doing. But it hasn’t been easy. My son still doesn’t talk about the event and my daughter grew up overnight.

We still have ghosts to exorcise. While I have grappled with the logistical and infrastructural problems around home, I was not sure if I have been able to handle the emotional aspects.”

A positive never-say-die spirit is both the right prescription and comforting factor during a life-threatening illness, and goes a long way in healing and helping to conquer the illness. Positivism also helps people to face testing times. Instead of going down under, these survivors actually bounce back with a vengeance.

Practical approach

Apart from the right mental attitude, a practical approach to the problems on hand and tackling the things that warrant immediate attention would help address the crisis.

Janaki remembers, “My mother blocked out some concerns and simply took it one day at a time. I prepared for the worst. Being in planning a lot of my life, I would mentally simulate situations and how I would feel, have a good cry perhaps. Later I would just do what needed to be done.”

When coping with a crisis, there is always the temptation to seek the easy way out and choose to drown one’s sorrow in a couple of swigs, binge eating or comfort food.

But some people who don’t have family and friends turn to pets for some unconditional love. And, believe it or not, plunging headlong into work is yet another comfort factor.

As Janaki says, “A crisis can suck you in completely. Work provides the much-needed counter-balance”.

Gayan remembers, “For me, yogi exercises were a major comforting factor. Not only was it good exercise, it’s also a sort of meditation and yogic discipline. It helped me take my mind off my problems and spend my energy in a positive way rather than get depressed.”

What about time, the great healer? Does its grim passage dull the pain and provide comfort? It is what you do in that time that is important. You have to consciously work through the problem. You can’t just put a bandage on a wound. You need to put the right stuff on it.

Faith as anchor

And how could one forget faith? Does it serve as the much-needed anchor? Is spirituality a more durable solution for coming to terms with a crisis?

Ranjith recalls, “The few moments of prayer and silence every night before sleep gave me perspective, belief in something over and above worldly things and was calming to the soul.”

Gayan discloses, “Slowing down, turning to yoga and inner reflection made a difference. People say you should keep yourself busy so that you can take your mind off a problem.

But I believe that if you want to see your reflection you need still water and not running water, which is why a sedate pace is more conducive.”