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What Can We Do When Life Goes Wrong?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

“May you always know you have my hand to hold.” JJ Heller

When my granddaughters were young, they delighted in having their meals served on a pink princess plate. However, problems arose when the plate was not available. Perhaps someone else wanted to use the little plate or it was in the dishwasher, whatever. Then temperatures could flare. Tantrums. Meltdowns.

I started calling the whole idea of life not going the way we wanted (and our overreaction to it) “pink princess plate syndrome.” Life bumps seemed to happen quite often for the kids…not getting the toys or food or playtime that they wanted. After awhile, the grandmother's sympathy pretty much disappeared.

One time, I was out with one of the g-kids. We were to meet some friends for breakfast. When we got to the restaurant, the screaming began. My granddaughter had a place she loved for breakfast, and this was NOT it.

Of course, being the unflappable, wise woman than I was (NOT on more occasions than one cares to remember), I turned around, somewhat irritated and perplexed, to face where my granddaughter sat in her car seat. There she was red-faced, a psychological puddle. It seemed like a clear case of pink princess plate syndrome (ppps). That ppps needed to be corrected as far as the grandmother was concerned.

“Well, here we are. To meet our friends. We cannot go to the place you had hoped. What am I to do, leave you in the car?”

Sobbing she responded, “You can’t leave a little kid in the car!”

“True. It’s not a good choice, but what else can I do? Our friends are waiting for us.”

Continuing to sob, she paused for a moment, “You could hold my hand.”

“Hold your hand?” I asked incredulously. What a wondrous, strange, unexpected solution. Hold her hand?! It was a new idea for me…and she was right. The tears dried.

Within a few minutes, her grief seemed to subside. We were connected, strong. Holding hands, we walked together through the door. Our friends greeted us; the waitress brought kiddie menus, placemats, and coloring crayons; all good.

That whole hand holding, connecting, weathering-the-grief-together-when-life-feels-tough thing which my young g-girl taught me is a practice to remember. Researchers tell us that hand holding, like hugs, lowers our stress response. I used it today.

At my exercise class today, an ordinarily perky participant looked downright gloomy. She was not into the sit-to-stands and bicep curls. When I turned to her, she whispered with a worried face, “I have cancer.”

“What?” “What did you say?”

“I have cancer.”

I stopped what I was doing. Remembering what my granddaughter had taught me, I upgraded the hand holding to a hug and an “I love you.” Later as word spread, a few others joined a group hand holding.

Reflecting on the Pink Princess Plate Syndrome, lately I’ve noticed it in myself. Maybe it rains when I want sunshine. Maybe my husband comes home at five when I wanted him home at four. I’m upset, I get it. It’s not my ideal. I counsel myself, talk myself through it (generally), and can balance my emotions. On a good day, I look for silver linings and count my blessings while acknowledging that I am disappointed.

There are times, however, when life can throw us humans some seriously nasty curveballs; our hopes can be thwarted in horrendous ways. And that’s when it really helps to remember to ask someone to hold our hand like my granddaughter did.

We can also learn to hold ourselves with love and kindness rather than bully ourselves around, crumple in despair, or raise our fists to the heavens (although those last two may help for a bit on occasion).

My friend, the amazing Dr. Gene Sharratt, has some good go-to affirmations he uses for himself in challenging situations (perhaps a personal setback, a deep hurt, a mistake, or an attack by another), those times when he needs to be his own advocate. He internally plays this positive self-talk (imagine self-directed hand holding or actually hold your hands together) repeatedly… to be a friend to himself that he can continue his support of others.

“I am doing the best I can.” “What have I learned that will make me a better person?” “How can I use this lesson to put my best self forward next time?” “The person (an offender) is dealing with issues I know nothing about, assume grace.” “That person is struggling, he/she is hurt and is lashing out not at you, personally, but at his/her environment.” Finally, “Move on, you are giving too much energy to negative thoughts, use that energy in a positive way.”

Then Gene ends with a reminder to himself…To live is to suffer. To suffer is to learn. To learn is to grow.

And, as I have mentioned before, we can continually send ourselves what I call “best wishes” (an idea psychologists stole from meditators), such as “may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you use your suffering to grow, to be stronger, and kinder….”

How might we journey together through life’s setbacks (small or large) by learning to hold our own and each others’ hands?


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