How to Respond when Tragic, Awful, Overwhelming Sh*t Happens in Life.


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Warning: naughty language ahead!


Shit happens.

I remember seeing this saying on a bumper sticker and loving it. I have always felt its accuracy in describing life.

Today, when I scan the news and take in the problems of the world, I find myself repeating these profound words—shit happens.

It is true. Shit happens all the time and everywhere.

While opening my news app this morning, the first thing I read was a tragic death—a head-on collision involving two moms and six kids in Oregon. Nobody survived, including the driver who caused the accident.

As I looked up from my phone, I could feel the darkness, the rabbit hole egging me on to jump in. In that moment, I had a choice. I could continue reading through the problems of our world, or I could look up, take in the beautiful sky welcoming the traces of clouds dancing by, birds flying between trees, the sun shining upon the green grass, the innocence of children, so filled with love, and how it is a miracle just to be alive.

We all have a choice. We can concentrate on the shit or the miracles, dwell in the darkness or the light. It is all out there for the noticing—the miracles and the shit.

I am only so readily able to do this, to forgo the negative, because of how often I used to dwell there. Still, I slip, I forget, and I get lost in a problem or a tragedy. It is an old pattern—to become entrenched in fear or worry—and it is something I have observed in my parents, as well as so many others.

Focusing on the miracle, while becoming gracious and humble, is also a pattern that we can cultivate.

I am certain that, if we thought we had a choice, we would all choose to focus on the miracles. Yet, we believe we have no choice. We think we have to blindly follow the news reports, allow our minds to wander down the rabbit holes of worries and what-ifs, and accept the conditioning that was handed to us as if it were truth.

We have a choice.

It was over two years ago that a miracle was brought into my life. It was so blatant that I could not have missed it if I tried. It changed everything for me. It was the moment I knew I had a choice and that I was not victim to the news reports or my conditioning.

It was 4 p.m. The day was unusually hot for the beginning of summer. The phone rang. As a parent, picking up the phone and hearing your child in tears and unable to speak fills you with panic. With my own heart in my throat, I asked what was going on. In between sobs, my daughter was trying to give me the pieces of a story, one that included an ambulance, a child, and a beautiful afternoon at a lake turned horrific in the blink of an eye.

The story, which I finally got out of my daughter, began like any other summer afternoon. Many families had gathered by the lake for a few hours of fun, swimming, and barbecue. My daughter was there babysitting a three-year-old girl.

As they were getting ready to swim, a mother came screaming by the edge of the water—she could not find her seven-year-old boy. It seemed he had disappeared, and they feared the worst—that he had wandered into the water.

The first miracle: fire department first responders happened to be at the beach that day. Along with a nurse and lifeguards, they all sprung into action, combing the lake.

Almost 10 minutes had passed when the second miracle happened. One of the responders accidentally stepped on the boy, who was facedown in five feet of water, unconscious. They performed all necessary medical procedures and rushed him off to the hospital. Things did not look good.

“He drowned! I saw them pull him from the lake,” my daughter’s words rang in my head for days as I obsessively scanned the obituaries and the local news. I found nothing. Her sadness cut deep into my heart.

Tragedy, death, and accidents are the shit that happens, and as parents we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this dark reality of life. We know it happens, but we just want to keep our distance for as long as possible. We want to fill everyone we know up with cotton candy, laughter, and bear hugs. We want to keep them safe and happy.

Yet, life is unexpected, and we cannot control what happens to us or to others. We can hope and pray that our loved ones are safe, that we don’t witness the shit, but sooner or later it is right in front of us. We hear about a famous actor committing suicide, a cancer diagnosis, or a teen passing on from a car accident. But death is a part of life, whether we think about it or not. We cannot protect anyone from the shit.

And maybe the point isn’t to try to control and protect. Perhaps the point is how we respond and how we choose to spend our time. We can choose to love, see the miracles when they are brought into our lives, dwell in gratitude instead of misery, and allow ourselves to feel through the shit when it happens.

Four to six weeks after that call from my daughter, she took off on a three-week trip to Tanzania. Her heart was still aching for that boy, but her zest for travel and discovery was healing the sadness and carrying her on. On a whim, I texted the family she had been babysitting for that fateful day, asking if they had heard anything further about that boy. I received this response: “If you talk to Lia, tell her the boy survived. No brain damage at all. A true miracle. His name is Nicholas.”

We have all heard the saying that bad things come in threes. So do miracles.

We all have a choice to stop, breathe, notice, and make a different choice. It takes practice, but it is possible. Whenever I find myself pulled into the messiness of life, the darkness and the void of the rabbit hole, I think of Nicholas, and my heart opens.

Life is beautiful and amazing, and Nicholas is a wonderful reminder of the miracles that happen every day in life.

Shit does happen, but not always. If we’re keeping score, there are far more happy moments, amazing sights, incredible acts of courage, loving connections, and even miracles in life.

The next time we find ourselves looking down into that rabbit hole of worry or fear, we can look up, consider whether we want to focus on the shit or the miracles, and remember Nicholas. I do.

author: Beth Mund

Image: Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

Editor: Kelsey Michal


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Beth Mund

Beth Mund cherishes her husband, three children, and dog, Bella. Crafting stories and heartfelt writing is her passion, as is having a daily, full-body belly laugh. Her writing has been featured in Grown and Flown, Elephant Journal, A Room of Her Own, Living the Second Act, and Blunt Mommy. Her coauthored book, Living Beyond Fear, is due out this fall. You can follow her inspirational blog, Alternative Perspective, or connect with her on Facebook.

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Pat Riley Woods Aug 31, 2018 2:22am

Beth Lieberman Mund I did not mean my comment to be meant as a criticism of your article. I was looking for guidance and you replied. Thank you.

Pat Riley Woods Aug 31, 2018 2:19am

Beth Lieberman Mund Thank you for replying.🙏

Roxanne Nelson Aug 31, 2018 1:33am

Beth Lieberman Mund I think your article would have been much more informative, powerful and inspiring if you had written about losing your child and how you got out of the rabbit hole of despair. That's what people want to hear, not "tragic light." I'm sorry but this story you told is rather "fluffy," about a seemingly tragic even that your daughter (not even you) witnessed--and you didn't even know the family. And it had a happy ending, but it wasn't something that was going to put you into deep despair, or shock, or grief. So I can't figure out why you chose this--this is an event that would be easy to recover from, even if the boy had died because it was far removed from your own life. For people dealing with real grief, loss, etc, I will go so far as to say this was rather insensitive.

Beth Lieberman Mund Aug 30, 2018 7:03pm

Pat, there is no way to make sense of a child dying. There is nothing worse. I experienced a full term pregnancy loss. Two days before giving birth, my son died. The loss and grief was immense. It has been fourteen years. The only thing that has eased the pain is time, but it does not take away from how difficult this was and still is at times. For me, and I can only speak for myself, this was not about going down a rabbit hole, for I spent many days, months and years, grieving and being angry that this happened. The article I just wrote was relating more about how we can let our thinking, negative thinking, get the best of us, and focus on all the negative shit that happens in life, or we can focus and look for the positive, even the miracles that can happen. Yes, really horrific and sad losses can occur in life, and that process, that grieving process was a different process than what I was speaking about, and what can drive us down a rabbit hole. Thank you for thoughts and my heart goes out to anyone that has lost a child.

Dawn Johnson Aug 29, 2018 6:29pm

Good point Pat. It’s a daily struggle to not succumb to the black hole after losing my 25 year old son to suicide. I agree with “tragedy light”. I do find tallying the “good/miracles” daily, even the little things, helps somewhat. I do know it helps keep my perspective on what’s important very real. Something others don’t quite get. 💚

Cristy Holden Aug 29, 2018 5:41pm

Shit vs. Miracle. Printing this out to put in front of me. Necesary daily reminder, sometimes. It is a choice. Thanks for this article.

Gerry Sexton Aug 29, 2018 5:20pm

No one can answer that only you. It is the most unimaginable thing that can happen to a parent. My sister died at 18 two days after her birthday. She even asked my Dad if she was going to die & imagine that my Dad could only reply in the affirmative. She replied "oh shit". I was 21 I had so much "other" shit in my life I was wondering how something like this can ever be got over. And then a light went on. It said "oh shit" I had a choice my sister didn't I could dwell on the loss or channel all my energy into celebrating her short life & use it as a fulcrum to move on not to forget not to demean but to move on. We can't tell you how to be we can only guide you to how you might be. The title of the piece helps a little as it uses a specific word & that is "respond". The likelihood for many left in the wake of a loss is that they are they are less likely to respond & rather react. The former is not passive or cold the latter is the basis of a trajectory to insanity. Forgive me if I have intruded I do not mean to I merely wish to say that what I read here though a tad flippant is in fact the recipe for moving on not forgetting rather moving on.

Roxanne Nelson Aug 29, 2018 5:00pm

Yes exactly. The girl was upset because she had witnessed this, but overall, the incident was rather far removed from this author. "Tragic ligh" I would call it. About a boy and a family she doesn't even know. How about giving an example of a tragic event closer to home--like when someone she loved dies or is diagnosed with a lethal illness, etc. I don't find this article very inspiring or informative. What if her daughter died? What if she was diagnosed with cancer? Had a stroke and now can barely move? Let's hear some "real" stories and how you keep from heading into the rabbit hole.

Pat Riley Woods Aug 29, 2018 3:01pm

Except when it is your child that dies. How am I to find a way to no ascend into that rabbit hole?

Beth Lieberman Mund Aug 28, 2018 5:07pm

Thank you Tim. I agree! I will have to watch that movie.

Tim Haddock Aug 28, 2018 12:24am

This reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, "His Girl Friday." A prisoner is about to be wrongully executed. It is eating up the front page of newspapers throughout the city. Cary Grant, who plays the editor of one of the newspapers, is trying to decide which stories to keep on the front page. At one point, he says, "Keep the rooster story. That's human interest." Even on the most tragic days, it's worthwhile to look for the lighthearted and uplifting stories. This was a nice reminder of that.