The child psychologists I spoke to encouraged me to get my children back to their routine as quickly as possible. So ten days after Dave died, my kids went back to school and I went back to work. I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a total haze, thinking, “What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?” And then I got drawn into the conversation and for a second — a brief split second — I forgot about death. That second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family, some of whom are with me today were caring us quite literally.
The loss of a partner often has severe negative financial consequences, especially for women. So many single mothers and fathers struggle to make ends meet and don’t get the time off they need to care for their families. I had financial security, the ability to take the time off I needed, and not just a job I love but one where I was encouraged to spend all day on Facebook. Gradually, my children started sleeping through the night, crying less, and playing more.
The third P is permanence — the belief that the sorrow will last forever. This was the hardest so far, because for so long, it felt like the overwhelming grief would never leave. We often project our current feelings out indefinitely, we’re anxious, and then we’re anxious that we’re anxious. We are sad and then we are sad that we’re sad. Instead, we should accept our feelings, but know that they won’t last forever. My rabbi of all people actually told me and this is the quote, that I should “lean in to the suck.” Not what I meant when I said, “lean in.”
None of you need me to explain the fourth P, which is, of course, pizza from Cheese Board.
But I wish I had known about the three P’s when I was your age because there were so many times they would have helped me.
Day one of my first job out of college, my new boss figured out that I did not know how to enter data into Lotus 1-2-3. That’s a spreadsheet — ask your parents later. His mouth dropped open and he said in front of everyone, ‘I can’t believe you got this job without knowing that” — and then he left the room. I was sure I was getting fired my very first day of work. I thought I was terrible at everything but really I was just terrible at spreadsheets. Understanding pervasiveness would have saved me a lot of anxiety that first week.
I wish I had known about permanence when I broke up with boyfriends. It would’ve been a comfort to know that, that feeling wasn’t going to last forever, and if I was honest with myself, neither were any of those relationships.
And I wish I had understood personalization when boyfriends broke up with me. Sometimes it’s not you, it really is them. That guy really didn’t shower.
And all three P’s ganged up on me, when in 20s, I got divorced. At the time I thought that no matter what else I did, I was a massive failure.
The three P’s are common emotional reactions to so many things that happen to us — in our careers, our personal lives, and our relationships. You’re probably feeling one of them right now about something in your life. But if you can recognize you are falling into these traps, you can correct because just as our bodies have a physiological immune system, our brains have a psychological immune system — and there are things you can do to help kick it into gear.
One day my friend Adam Grant, a psychologist, suggested that I think about how much worse things could be. This was completely counterintuitive to me. I would have thought that getting through something like that was about finding every positive thought I could. “Worse?” I said to him. “Are you crazy? How could things be worse?”
He looked at me, and said, “Dave could have had that same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children.”
The minute he said it, I felt overwhelming gratitude that my children were alive and that gratitude overtook some of the grief.
Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list the things they are grateful for are healthier and happier. My New Year’s resolution this year is to – before I go to bed, write down three moments of joy and this really simple practice has changed my life. Because no matter what happens each day, I go to bed thinking of something cheerful. Try it. Try it tonight when you have so many things to be joyful for. Although maybe before you go to Kip’s and don’t remember what they are.
Last month, 11 days before the anniversary of Dave’s death, I broke down crying to a friend of mine. We were sitting — of all places — on a bathroom floor. I said: “Eleven days. A year ago, he had 11 left. And we had no idea.” And then through tears, we asked each other how we would live if we knew we had 11 days left.