Lean Into the Suck

Terrible chapter heading, right? Not sweet and syrupy and "Oh, let me hold your hand while you cry."  You already get a lot of that, don't you?  Why, then, do we say "lean in to the suck," if we can say such nice, sweet things?  Because sometimes, in the midst of our grief, we have no words for how we feel, and all we know how to say is “this sucks.” Because, we, you and I together, are going to be honest with each other.  So we can really help each other and deal with this head on, together.

What does "lean in to the suck" really mean?  That, while what's happened to us can be really hard, and really terrible, and really, really hard to deal with, we're going to deal with it. Together. And, in the end, we're going to come out stronger.   All of us.


This first chapter of Option B is about resilience.  Having resilience is always important, no question about that.  But it's an especially important component of grieving because, while we do grieve, we cannot let that grieving destroy our core strength.   And, while resilience is an important characteristic to have, there are also characteristics we have to say "go away" to.  We call them the Three P's: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence.  Are you battered by the thought that it's all your fault?  That's Personalization battering your brain.   Are you haunted by the thought that what happened will affect every aspect of your life forever?  That's Pervasiveness dictating your thoughts.   And do you think that this is the way your life will be, forever and ever, and it will never get any better?   That's Permanence setting up shop and refusing to budge.  Want to see someone who was a victim of the 3 P's?   Just take a good look at me.

It was in Chicago, about 5 PM, on August 5th, 2012.  I was lying in bed, sobbing.  My mom sat next to me, trying to console me, as I soaked my bed with unstoppable tears.  The realization that I was never going to see my dad again was crushing me.  I could hardly breathe.  And I knew, without question, that my life was destroyed, never to recover.  I loved my dad more than I could ever say and losing him was as if I had lost a part of my being.   I was sure that my life was never going to be the same.  And, I also felt strongly that it was my fault.  Why hadn't I done more to stop him from jumping into the lake to rescue those boys?  I had tried, but why hadn't I tried harder?  The question was relentless in my brain.  And that thought, meshed with all the other feelings of sorrow and anger and helplessness affected my entire life, including my relationships with friends and family and school.  

And then I changed.  Not suddenly, but eventually.  Because, over time, I began to think more clearly about my dad.  I realized, finally, that nothing I could have said would have changed what he did.  Because he would never have stood back while two boys' lives were in jeopardy just to save his own.  I could never have stopped him.  And something else about my dad helped me to pull through.   Remembering what he would have wanted for me.   To be a happy and productive and positive person.  I'll always miss him.  There's no question about that.  But there's also no question that he's not really gone.  He stays in my mind and, when I question him, he gives me exactly the answer I expect him to.  I can even, to tell you the truth, debate with him!  Because he's not really gone from me and never will be.

Another thing helped, as well.  And I hope that what I’m going to tell you now doesn't seem cliché.   There is a recurring theme when his colleagues and friends talk about him.   That he was a man whose life was spent overcoming obstacles and, most importantly, overcoming obstacles in positive, productive ways.  I inhale these stories and make them a part of my own being.   I am my own person but, from his memory, I have remembered how to be a productive, positive person, consciously supportive of the world around me.   

Let me end with advice from someone who, as the saying goes, has been there and done that.   Treat yourself kindly.  Listen to your problems and then give yourself the kind of positive advice you'd give someone you love.   To grow, analyze people who are positive and constructive and learn from them how to be positive and constructive, as well.

And support, with kindness and empathy, those who need your support.  They, too, can learn from you.

1 thought on “Lean Into the Suck”

  1. Thanks, Asher. Your dad was one of my surgical attendings when I was a resident. As you know, he was loved by all of us. And he talked about you a lot in the OR and he loved you guys so much, so proud and fascinated by you. I am visiting this page because another surgeon mom who is my friend lost her surgeon husband, in a mountaineering accident. Mt. Hood, in Oregon, at least Portland, is ‘our mountain’ like Lake Michigan in Chicago is ‘our lake.’ They had two boys and I hoped I could point their mom to this website to give her hope and perspective to help her through what truly seems impossible, to help her know her kids can find a way forward. It is so good to read your words and feel that this is truly possible. I’m not surprised your dad is with you- of course he is! From what I know of him, all he would want would be for you to find happiness and beauty and fun in life. I’m a mom of two little kids now and I understand what joy and love they bring and how that really is the only thing in life that matters. So thanks for sharing, for inspiring, and know that there are folks all around the country and probably the world who you don’t even know who are rooting for you!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.