What To Do When the Worst Happens

Portrait of tired young business woman with laptop computer

When you get to your wits end, you will find, god lives there – Anonymous

Recently, Harvard University released a study that said, “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.” The stable, committed and supportive relationship I treasured most as a teenager and young adult was my Wise Aunt Bea.

Aunt Bea was different. When she saw me she would smile and exclaim, “Hello!”, happy to see me. At first, I would look behind me, assuming she was happy to see somebody else. I eventually realized that yes, someone actually thought I was nice to have around. Before she showed up, I hadn’t realized that I was used to being barked at, judged, criticized and treated as if I wasn’t worthy by many of the adults around me.

My Wise Aunt Bea treated me like I was an able young adult. She gave me helpful advice without being patronizing and she really cared about my future. When I felt bad, she always made me feel better. I trusted her – and her judgment. When she told me everything was going to be all right, that I was doing fine and to not worry so much, I believed her.

I can personally attest to the amazing benefits for children that a stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult can make. That relationship enabled me to complete my education, get settled into adulthood, feel really good about myself and relate well to others. I learned how to have fun, let down my guard and to keep an open mind.

I really relied on my Wise Aunt Bea and pretty soon I couldn’t picture my life without her. Losing her became my worst fear. I didn’t know who I was going to call when I needed someone I trusted to tell me that everything was going to be all right. I didn’t have anyone who really understood me the way she did and who could say just the thing I most needed to hear. I didn’t want to go back to feeling as I had had before she was around. I was afraid that I would just feel bad forever once she was gone.

When I was in my mid-twenties, my Wise Aunt Bea was diagnosed with cancer. It had been caught early and her prognosis was good. She was treated and given a clean bill of health, however, right around the fifth anniversary of being cancer-free, she discovered that it had returned. What followed for her was three years of treatment and debilitating surgeries.

During those three years, I came to the slow realization that I would never see my Wise Aunt Bea grow old. I dreaded the dark negative tortuous feelings I would have when she was gone. Nevertheless, I continued to make strides in my own independence, knowing that she was cheering me on and would be proud. I was able to see her at the very end of her life and tell her that I loved her and that I was so thankful for her in my life. She died a month after I turned thirty.

The Paradox of Letting Go

I am definitely a control freak and there have been few times in my life where I have been able to completely give up control. The death of my Wise Aunt Bea was one of those times. Her death felt very final and the “bargaining” stage of grief was one through which I never went. She was gone and I accepted the reality of that right away. I had no idea what my next step would be and I completely let go of the need to try to control the situation.

There is nothing like death to show us that we are not in control. I didn’t decide to let go of the situation consciously; I just felt that my life was taking a turn without my input. Rationally, I knew there was nothing to be done and frankly, I was just too exhausted and bewildered to formulate a response. I became like an observer of my own life, rather than the leader.

An amazing thing happened. I didn’t feel any of the terrible feelings I had anticipated. Instead, I was overcome with a profound sense of gratitude. I was sad, of course, but alongside my sadness was a joyous feeling that my Wise Aunt Bea had come into my life in the first place. I experienced a knowing that this was all meant to be and that everything was all right.

Surrender doesn’t mean giving up, it just means handing over the control of a situation to a higher power and having it steer your course. I remember feeling as if I had stopped running around trying to control everything for the first time in my life. I was finally listening for guidance on what was next for me and I detected a higher power that I had never experienced before.

That is what the paradox of surrender means to me. Once you let a higher power lead you, every situation resolves in the way that is meant to be and for the best of all involved. It felt that it was my Wise Aunt Bea’s time to go and it was time for me to make my own way in the world. I didn’t feel alone in that prospect; in fact, I felt a great deal of spiritual support.

I divide my life into two parts – before my Wise Aunt Bea died and after. The irony is that while she brought so much to my life while she was alive, experiencing her death was the birth of the infinitely more fulfilling part of my life – my spiritual life. I certainly never saw that coming!

In the Meantime

No amount of rational thinking can really convince someone that they can not only be “fine” but better than ever, once they are on the other side of a grievous loss, painful divorce, financial hardship, career change, terrible illness or scary world event. And yet, so many of us who have navigated a crisis by surrendering to a power greater than ourselves can attest to this fact.

Until you know what comes next after any crisis, it helps to practice extreme self-care, feel your feelings and listen for guidance. Even though I felt such a spiritual support after losing my Wise Aunt Bea, I still felt grief. I would wake up every morning, cry, take a shower, head to work, come home, cry on the couch and then go to bed. I did that every day for about six months. I had to feel my feelings rather than pushing them aside.

I also remember learning to tap into that spiritual support system. I remember realizing that if I started feeling anxious or overwhelmingly sad that I could just go deep inside myself and there would be peace there. Despite feeling that I was on my own, I seemed to gain a realization that I would be just fine if I just reached inside to my own wise self. I know that everybody has that same wellspring of peace inside of them as well.

Sometimes we just have to listen for guidance to see what we should do next. Developing a relationship with that deep inner wise source may be born at a time of great difficulty, but it shows us that there is always a divine plan and it shows us our part in that plan and what comes next.

Shortly after my Wise Aunt Bea’s death, I was wandering through the library shelves looking for some sort of inspiration to speak to me. I looked up to find Sylvia Boorstein’s book titled, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There. It was such a relief to read those words. It can be so exhausting trying to control everything and I was really drawn to the fact that I didn’t have to do something to overcome this huge loss in my life. I just had to sit there, and let guidance show up if I listened. That is what letting go is all about.


Losing my Wise Aunt Bea taught me that life has a funny way of coming along and scooping us up during our worst moments, then guiding us to a new phase of life. No matter how much we may try to control our life or try to plan for the outcomes we want, the universe is ultimately in charge. Our job is to sit there, do nothing and listen for directions.

In the more than fifteen years since my Wise Aunt Bea’s passing, I have seen many other people live through their worst fears. One friend’s daughter died, another friend had a sudden and unforeseen breakup of her marriage and yet another friend’s wife died at a young age. Others have gone through hardships, such as the sudden loss of a job, the breakup of a friendship, a bad diagnosis and children growing up and leaving the nest. All of them had their feelings of grief, pain and anger. Those who surrendered their lives to a higher power, allowing themselves to be guided while at the same time practicing extreme self-care, have experienced a renewal in their lives.

Whether the worst has happened to you or you are worried that it will, you are doing fine and everything is going to be all right. That’s what my Wise Aunt Bea would say.

What happens when you surrender and listen for guidance?


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