• Hazelden Renewal Center

Broadsided: Dealing with Life’s Unexpected Setbacks

unexpected life

Recently I had some catch up time with a supportive person at our regular meeting spot. While chatting she told me that she and her husband were out driving recently and unexpectedly another driver broadsided them. This incident has since caused them inconvenience due to having to take time for car repair as well as some personal damage in terms of their sense of comfort while driving.

How easily things can change. One minute, as with my friends, you are riding along and things are “normal”. The next minute, another motorist, who, for whatever reason, hits you broadside. Shock! Fear! Damage! You are knocked from “normal” to one of life’s Plan B offerings.

For my friends, it was uncomfortable and on some level they may experience in the future some sense of caution when driving. However, they can have their car repaired and at some point they will resume their “normal” and go about their lives.

Others have been broadsided irreparably. Think of people that you know who have learned that a child has a serious illness, that a family member or friend has a serious disease and will never be the same.

Consider a soldier who has been physically or emotionally wounded from being in intensive combat situations. Think of the greatest loss you have experienced in life. After some point no one is immune to being broadsided by accidents, illness, death and changes over which you have no control. The plan of the day, the week, the year, one’s entire future, a dream not yet realized, has been dramatically altered.

Because of this, what must one do to assist the person you see as being broadsided big time? What if you were broadsided? What would you do to remain peaceful and positive?

I look at a person very close to me in my life, my husband of 20 years who deals with a complex illness. We have been open to receive support and reached out to create a network of people who affirm and help us. People who care are there and they are there consistently. They demonstrate their concern with cards and visits. They bring their spirituality and hope to him through prayer and sharing of our religious values and blessings. I too have consistent caring people who accept me for who I am at all times.

We celebrated a milestone anniversary last summer. The guests came and were their genuine selves. They honored us by seeing us not as just where we are today with its current challenges but as we have been through the years. They see us in a larger context.

Our supporters do one other thing that is very important. Effective supporters treat those with a life challenge as normal persons. Recently I observed my husband among his own sisters and brothers-in-law. They came from out of state to see him. While visiting with us his family just plain acted the same as they always acted. They showed no strain or discomfort in conversation. They brought up silly stories from the past. They teased my husband and laughed at circumstances that they had lived together before my entry into their lives. They showed me respect and understanding, but gave us no reason to feel sorry for ourselves. In effect, they affirmed our dignity.

These wise individuals know life from their own experience. Yes, challenges do occur and continue along the road of life they have walked and are walking. Certainly they would treat us in a normal way because¬†all of us have normal lives. All of us are on the path and encounter the difficulties of life. All of us have been broadsided in one way or another. And the people who were actually hit by a car likely have had many other situations of being broadsided by life’s challenges as well. If they had not, they would be unable to empathize with us as effectively as they do.

Consequently, because all of us, you and your family and friends and our supporters, relatives and close people, experience life as normal, we can then accept more easily every difficulty that comes along. We choose to live our days with laughter, faith and hope.

Yes, there are down times and fear pops in and tears and sadness can overwhelm us, but in this battle for emotional well being and positive mental outlook, making the choice to find the good things in life is what gives every one of us the gumption to go on. That has been my husband’s way of approaching life and this outlook serves him well now. We all can keep watch for the daily gifts of our normal lives.


Mary Z. McGrath, Ph.D., speaker, author and caregiver, works with organizations, schools and parents to reflect on and improve the quality of career, relationships, and life transitions. 

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