I recently read a saying that made me laugh. It went something like this: Dear Whatever-Doesn’t-Kill-You-Makes-You-Stronger, Thank you. I’m strong enough now.
Cute! But it started my brain thinking about what people do when everything falls apart.
Options are many. There’s always the “go to bed,” option. Just drop out of the world for a bit and let everything stop. Maybe there are tears and feelings of failure or loneliness to process or not. Of course the standard grab a cup of really good coffee, tea, or liquor offers a degree of solace when relationships fail or everything you’d planned, dreamed of, and worked toward falls apart.
In my books, Dancing with Detective Danger and Always and Forever Love, about the Private Investigator sisters, Sterling and Lacey Agar, the sisters suffered much and early. Their world, consisting of their family, crumbled away in degrees. They each found ways of soldiering on, but they also each built coping mechanisms that kept them going into adulthood. Coping mechanisms are survival tactics, but they also can become outdated and destructive.
For Sterling, the younger sister, the loss of her father and mother and family as she’d known it prompted her to build walls that would keep her safe from getting close to anyone again. When her sister’s husband was killed, the walls got stronger and she broke up with her lover and detective, Ben. Here’s an excerpt in which Ben pushes her to try love again.
Ben dropped his hands to his sides and stepped off the elevator. Thoughtfully, he rubbed his thumb against his chin. The rasping of his thick beard stubble sounded crisply inside Sterling’s head, drawing her in like a bee to honey.
“We found Jerry’s fingerprints on a glass in the bathroom,” he said, eyeing her as she stepped out into the night.
Sterling cleared her throat. “So they were enjoying a little early morning tryst. That would explain why there was no sign of forced entry and why the dog didn’t attack the killer. The dog must have known the killer. It seems pretty open and shut, huh?”
“Maybe,” hedged Ben. “Maybe a little too neat?”
“Yeah. But then, what’s wrong with neat? Well, here’s my car,” she said, stepping several feet away from Ben. Sterling pointed her remote key toward her car and put her hand on the door handle. Her hands still trembled, despite her efforts to calm herself. Nervously, she glanced over her shoulder and saw Ben standing on the other side of the lot.
“You know, it seems like you’re always walking away from me,” he said, his voice low.
Instantly, Sterling pivoted. “Don’t do that.” She faced him with as much composure as she could muster.
“Don’t do what?” A few succinct broad strides and he closed the distance between them.
“Don’t keep referring to the past.”
“I can’t help it, Sterling. Maybe that’s because what we shared isn’t really in the past.”
Standing close, he looked down at her with such sorrow, she wished she could reach out and hold him, tell him everything would be the way he wanted it. With strong emotions seething just under her skin, it would be so easy to tell him things could be the way they used to be.
Instead, she backed away.
Like her sister, Lacey’s worldview was shaped by the loss of her parents. But when her husband died, she wore the grief of his death like a heavy mantle. That is, until her dead husband, Nicholas, returned to her as an embodied spirit. With him back in her life, and visible only to her, Lacey centers her life around him, repressing any desires for more. She fears the return of the terrible grief if he leaves. But what she doesn’t know is that Nicholas has come back to help her move back into the world and develop a new relationship, without him nearby.
Brought out of her reflection by the sound of a car horn nearby, she realized Nicholas’s remark was part of a developing pattern he’d been presenting lately, and she wanted to nip it. “Jackson Carter is a snake who comes from a long line of snakes. I want nothing to do with him.” Initially she’d felt self-conscious about talking to Nick in public, but he’d suggested that most people didn’t notice because they were busy with their own thoughts, and she’d found out he was right. She glanced at the passenger side and smiled. “How long have you been watching, Nick, my love?”
“Long enough. I wanted to see Tyler off. But stop changing the subject.” He set his eyes, the color of crystal blue quartz, on Lacey. “Tell me about Jackson.”
Her heart clenched. “I don’t want to talk about him. The only two men in my life are Tyler and you.” She wanted the traffic driving by to distract him but she suspected his attention was elsewhere.
“You forget, I’m dead. I’m just a ghost. I can’t even keep you warm on a cool summer evening.” The wind flowing in through the open window lifted strands of Nick’s ash- blond, wavy hair. His face turned to savor the breeze, and he looked every bit alive enough to Lacey.
“You make me happy. It’s as simple as that.” She reached for Nick’s hand. He took hers in his, brought her fingers to his lips, and brushed them with a kiss. She savored the feel of his lips, never taking his very solid presence for granted.
“You deserve more, Lacey. You’re young, you’re alive. I’m not. Not in the same sense you are.”
His pressure on her to consider different options than the perfectly lovely and satisfying one she had with him made her stop breathing. “Stop.” She let out her breath as she turned into the parking garage across the street from the Aegar Investigations office. “You are alive. Just not in a way anyone would get. I do. And I get you. And if that means I get you as a ghost, as you put it, I’m grateful.”
The defenses the sisters have in place are not far from what people do in real life when tough times hit and call into question how we’re going to go on. When a book project is rejected, many of us go through the routine of reassessing our ability as a writer and consider quitting. I’ve done it many times when a reviewer has rated my book anything less than a 5-star. Reassessing can be helpful. So can going to bed and grabbing a hot coffee, talking with a good friend, or really processing the sorrow.
Then what? It’s up to you. Because as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”
What do you do when facing a hard situation? Do you have any sayings that give you strength?