STARR 2018 – letting the light in when coping with trauma and death.

You can find your way!

Few weekends of my year bring as many tears of joy and tears of sadness as does the Indiana Survivor Transition and Resilience Retreat (STARR) weekend for the families of fallen service men and women. I see old friends, make new ones, and get the opportunity to lead a weekend of healing, mourning, thanksgiving, grief, and joy. It’s overwhelming and unforgettable every year. This year’s retreat at Bradford Woods just south of Indianapolis was no different. To live, sometimes means finding a way out of the darkness, even when it seems impossible.

None of us can avoid death. We do our best to live outside its shadow by focusing on the cycle of life. We grow old, have kids, get older, have grandkids, our parents die, we get older, we see our own children age and grey, and then eventually, we die. We can accept that. Sad, but perfectly ordered.

The death of a child, brother, sister, husband, wife, in the prime of their youth upsets the order. That isn’t supposed to happen! It can plunge one into a dark hole with no bottom. Everything we believe is upended and this finality of death can spiral us into hopelessness and despair, or worse, blinding anger and bitterness.

When in the presence of great loss and eager to help, the first thing to remember is that often the most effective form of healing is just listening. Don’t interject clever philosophies. Don’t try to “answer” the problem of pain and suffering. Just listen, be present, and when they are ready to listen themselves you can begin to help them move forward.

Build momentum and rebuild!

The theme of this year’s weekend was “Fitting The Pieces Together”. Loss and despair can infect our entire lives, and the road to rebuilding is a holistic one. Resiliency and total health rests on 4 pillars – Mental Health, Physical Health, Spiritual Health, and Social Health. Our mind, our body, our soul, and our relationships must be healthy in order to restore any semblance of normalcy after deep loss. Rather than focus on the hole of loss that will never be completely filled, focus on the things you can change and improve. Build momentum by beginning to rebuild.

At STARR, in order to strengthen our pillars, we went through a few simple exercises – deep breathing, journaling, forgiveness, and meeting new people. It was a blessing to see smiles of happiness, tears of forgiveness and healing, rejuvenated bodies and more importantly, the hope found when you realize that however deep your pain, you don’t have to be alone.

Let the light shine through.

To live is to despair. We will all suffer losses, grow old(or maybe not), and die. How can we avoid suffering? Well, that is not really the question. The question is how will we live in those moments where we have the freedom to choose our attitude. As the great songwriter Leonard Cohen might say, how will we let the light shine in through the cracks? My answer, we do it together, reminding each other of the need to live with meaning. Simplify, focus on what matters and keep the noise out by building the pillars of life while helping others do the same.

Like the brave survivors at this incredible weekend, summon the courage to be a STARR. The light is just waiting to shine through your cracks.