“I never lose; I either win or learn.”

I heard this motto on a guided meditation and I love it because it articulates in a much catchier way a lesson I learned about four years ago. Later this month, my family will mark the fourth anniversary of my brother Rob’s death from melanoma at age 27. In the immediate aftermath of losing him I felt many things, including anger. Now I am not naturally a very angry person–I’m more prone toward depression, which some consider anger turned inward–so to walk around feeling so bitter and furious with the world was new to me. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process, but I didn’t want to get stuck there. I was a new mother at the time, so I needed a way forward that would allow me to heal and care for my baby.

As the months passed I read as much as I could about what happens after we die and what the meaning of life is. I considered religious perspectives and read books by psychics and people who’d supposedly had near-death experiences. I came away from my research with a strong sense that we are here to love and learn. Our relationships and how we treat other people are the most important parts of life. Adversity and failure are invitations to learn, grow, and deepen our empathy for others. Achievements and material prosperity are just icing on the cake. It’s good to have goals and there’s nothing wrong with wanting things, but that isn’t our main purpose here on Earth.

My little epiphany helped me let go of the anger coiled inside my chest. I stopped resenting people whose siblings were still alive and families who seemed to be a perfect picture of happiness. I resolved to approach everything that happened to me, good or bad, with one question: What can I learn from this?

It hasn’t always been easy to maintain this attitude, but I’ve observed over the years that everyone faces loss or adversity at some point. The person who seems to have it all today is the person who, next year or the year after, will get divorced, lose a job, say goodbye to a loved one, find herself in a bad car accident, and so on–the possibilities are endless. When life is going well, enjoy it and “save up,” so to speak, for the eventual darker days. When things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, try to find the lesson from your situation and have faith that you’ll come out of it sooner or later. As a wise friend said to me in the most intense days of my grief, “The only way around it is through.”

2 thoughts on ““I never lose; I either win or learn.””

  1. It is once again a clear, insightful article that reveals the depth of your new found wisdom. Thanks for writing straight from your heart, Elizabeth, those words help others deal with grief.
    Twenty years after my father died when I was in college, my brother Jonathan, the charming storyteller who loved my sons, taught kids to dive,and gave me good advice got cancer. He had stopped drinking ten years before, had served in Vietnam, and survived a number of close encounters with death. He was only 45 and went through three rounds of chemotherapy and aged 30 years. When he came home for these treatments he was very thin and I could see the prognosis was not good. There is some mental preparedness that comes with seeing a number of loved ones go through cancer struggles. There is not much that prepares you for losing a sibling who is not yet old; it goes against the usual order of life’s changes. This person is in your generation, too close to facing your own mortality, but there it is death staring you in the face.
    I was going to therapy at the time he was ill so it was a great help to talk to someone not attached to my brother. I realized more acutely that my mortality is unknown and the importance of living life to the fullest was real. I guess I added more grief wisdom to my previous grief learning experiences. I read a lot of Buddhist writings at the time which helped me to accept the fact that life always involves change, you watch it, and adjust and accept the outcomes eventually. The spirit, love, and influence our brothers had on us stays with us and it is good to recall the lessons they taught us and pass those stories on to our children.

    1. Thank you for reading, Marj, and for this wonderful response! One of the most helpful things for me is to realize, over and over again, that I am not alone in losing someone too soon. Buddhist thought is also very helpful to me–like you said, life always involves change. We can fight against it and get worn out or watch it and practice acceptance.

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