When Life Goes Sideways

By: Therese Barrett
Monday, November 2, 2020

When Life Goes Sideways

James Reid Funeral Home

Bereavement Support Program

November 2, 2020

Therese Barrett


When life goes sideways. What does that mean? How can we explain a life going sideways? What do you think?

Have you heard the saying; ‘Life throws us curveballs’? This is when life goes sideways. This will happen over and over again during our lifetime and some curves are harder to come back from. What are some of the curveballs we have received?

- Computer crashes
- COVID-19
- Losing something valuable
- A huge disappointment
- Losing a job
- Having to move to a new home / country / province
- A death of someone close to us

 All of these events can catch us off guard; they can knock us on our backside leaving us struggling to be positive. How can we be positive when we feel like our life is falling apart - when our life is going sideways?

I recently read an article that quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian: “Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering.”

What does this mean? I had to read it a few times to grasp the meaning of what he was telling us. What does this mean to you?

- A life void of experiences, good and bad
- Having the ability to be creative
- Finding enjoyment in the world around us
- Finding enjoyment in the people we meet
- Experiencing suffering of any kind

When we really think about this, we might remember many times when we felt like we were on top of the world only to feel it crashing down around us. How did we survive those times? What internal resources did we draw from? Can we go back to those resources again?

If we go back to Bonhoeffer’s quote, are we living the full human life?

We life our lives with intention. We know where we are headed and we know what really matters to us. We spend years cultivating what we are best at, developing our personalities, building a strong foundation that will allow us to support ourselves and our families. We feel really good. We feel invincible!

But we aren’t immune to world events and we can’t separate ourselves from the world around us. We will hit many bumpy roads along our life journey. It is now, when our life has gone sideways, that we are reminded of that.


How Do We Cope?


A quote I found on Instagram ‘Grief Quotes’ says: “This is not the life we choose, but we do have control. You are the driver on your grief journey.”

What are your thoughts about this quote?

When life goes sideways, we have to fall back on how we handled the other bumps in the road. We need to do a reality check with ourselves. We need to examine the situation.

- Am I safe?
- Am I healthy?

If we can answer yes to these questions, then what we are facing is most likely manageable. Confucius says: “We only have two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one.”

So how do we get back on track?

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge the things that went wrong, things that didn’t go the way you had planned. Don’t blame yourself. When you begin a thought with ‘I should have ….',pause and rephrase it. Try thinking instead of ‘How did I deal with that situation? What can I do differently the next time?


Guilt & Regrets


In Grief Groups, we hear a lot of people struggling with guilt and regret. How do we get through the guilt and the regrets?

We remind ourselves that during the painful experience of life going sideways, we are often overwhelmed and exhausted. We have to remind ourselves that we did the best we could do, with the knowledge that we had at that time, and with the resources that were available to us.

We also have to remember when we have lost someone to a sudden death, we might feel that we have unfinished business. We might be filled with thoughts like, We never got to ……., or We never got the chance to talk about ….. Again, we must be kind to ourselves and find ways that we can deal with what we feel had been left undone.

How do we get through these regrets?

We work at figuring out how we can continue the bond with our person and fulfill those dreams and rectify the unfinished business.

We might go on the planned trip with someone else and do some of the special things you had talked about with your person. You might leave a memory on the trip to say that your person was with you spiritually even though they could not be there physically anymore.

If you had unfinished conversations, you might write a letter to your person saying the things you didn’t get the chance to. This might help to ease the burden.

The Power of Curiosity

Sometimes we feel like we are stuck. We are so overwhelmed when our life goes sideways that we don’t believe there is a way back. So get curious.

What does this mean? It means suspending the good/bad ways of thinking in your brain. It means stepping out of the straight jacket of "shoulda, woulda, coulda." It means harnessing that shift of perspective you are experiencing.

Consider a challenge . . .

- What would happen if I did …..
- I wonder if it’s possible to do …..

If you hear yourself saying “I can’t because …” or “I want to but…..” then it’s time to get curious - why can’t I? Take a break for perfectionism, from fear. You've learned that life can change in a heartbeat. Let that motivate you. 

Get back on track by making a plan. To dream is wonderful. To travel is great. But how do we get there? We make a plan. A plan helps us to break tasks into smaller, doable steps.

The Plan:
- Decide on what you want to do.
- How long do I want it to take me to do this
- What’s my first step?
- When can I begin?
- How long will it take me to do this step?
- What’s the second step?
- What’s the third step?
- Will I need help to get this plan accomplished?
- Who will I call?
- What reward will I give myself when this plan comes to fruition?

Breaking the plan into small steps allows us to see that we can do it. This works for household tasks, travel plans, renovation plans, even mundane tasks such as cleaning out a closet or a set of drawers. When our life has gone sideways, all tasks are enormous. So make a plan and reward yourself every step of the way.




Charles Dickens said; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These seem to go hand in hand. As we work to bring our life back on track we will experience the worst of times and the best of times over and over again.

Focus on what you can change. Take it one step at a time. In grief we experience many feelings that overwhelm us. Remember, they are just feelings. Acknowledge them and why you feeling them.

Breathe. Learn to ask for support. Have gratitude for what you have, without which inner peace eludes us.

I have one last quote for you from Fred Rogers, the infamous Mr. Rogers:

Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is manageable.


Retrieved from: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-ca/support-friends-and-family/grief-library/when-a-spouse-dies-coping-with-the-loss-of-your-partner 

Retrieved from: https://momtography.club/get-back-track-life-goes-sideways/ 

Retrieved from: http://www.danbarbercoaching.com/2017/05/how-to-move-forward-when-life-goes-sideways-part-1/ 

Retrieved from: https://freshhope.ca/2017/05/11/coping-when-life-goes-sideways/ 

Quotes from Confucius, Charles Dickens, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Grief Quotes on Instagram Social Media 


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