I met with a new client a couple of days ago. As we normally do in a first meeting, we spent a few minutes talking about the typical Colorado snowstorm in May, his trip to town from an eastern farming community, and other topics trying to find some common ground on which we could begin a new relationship. Fortunately, a few days before our meeting, his financial advisor had given me a solid overview of this family’s dynamics. He lost his wife to cancer two months ago, has two children, one of whom he wants to continue to operate his farm after he’s gone and three stepchildren, all of whom he loves very much and only one of whom is a “model” child, the others having made several questionable choices along their life’s path.
Our conversation was progressing well until I asked this 68 year old man to tell me about his wife of 22 years. I asked how she lived, and how she died. After he expressed a couple of tender thoughts, his voice cracked, he teared up, and finally broke down, sobbing into a tissue. There was the typical uncomfortable silence as I watched him cry and silently reminisce about the woman with whom he had spent many wonderful years.
In that brief moment, I closed my eyes and thought about the undercurrents of our fresh conversation. Here was a man who loved his wife, loved his family and had big dreams of what his marriage, his family, and his business would become. Perhaps in his lifetime, perhaps after he was gone. In that moment, I experienced what I have now determined to be the “death of a dream.”
I have spent many years of my life talking about death with individuals and families and helping them work through the legal and financial issues of the aftermath. I have laughed and cried and hugged with many folks over the years, each of which have left a footprint on my heart. I have experienced death in my own family and in my wife’s family. The death of a loved one leaves a deep, lasting ache in your heart and your soul that many times softens and eases with time. I think the pain lessens because while death terminates a life, it doesn’t terminate a relationship.
When we learn of a loved one’s death, most of our thoughts tend to drift to remembering the good qualities of the person, now gone. Like most, I have grieved and mourned with others and in solitude. Mourning and grief are interesting emotions. They conjure up and solidify all of our memories, both good and bad, of a lifetime of experience. We tend to package the best of that person and remember it proudly while we stuff away the negative baggage and emotion and the things that made us feel badly.
Mourning the death of a dream is just as real and painful and long lasting as mourning the death of a person. We question God’s motives and His plan for our lives. We question whether we have failed and let everyone down. We question whether God will turn His face from us in disgust. It’s part of life. Part of the mess. Part of being wrong. And part of being human. The key is figuring out how to get over the disappointment that our dream didn’t get to be fulfilled, how to get to back to being “okay,” and how to humbly move on. I think the real question is “If my dream has died, what do I do next?” It’s painful, but necessary, to ask. And it’s a question really with only one answer. Get up and get back in the game. You see, when the dream died, the game didn’t end. The roster and the strategy changed but not the actual game. So we learn the names of the new players, reacquaint ourselves with the players still in the game, find out what the new plans and tactics are and start again. Fresh. Right where we left off.
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