What To Do When A Blizzard Hits Your Life

Dear Caroline*,

One minute I had a good life. I was happy, and my family was happy too. The next minute, we received some terrible and unexpected news.

Without going into detail, I can say that it has been devastating … a slow-motion train wreck with no end in sight.

when a blizzard hits your life

Surviving the present takes everything I have. I was in shock for a while. In a way I still am, but I’m getting through the days at least.

Even though I still have a lot to be thankful for – a steady job, a safe place to live – it feels as though I’ve lost everything. There’s so much grief and anger and fear.

It’s hard to do simple things, like shower. Even breathing feels hard sometimes.

I feel bad and judge myself for not living up to my potential, for not being stronger … but the thing is, I am doing the best I can. It’s just that my best has become so humble.

I’m not sure that I have a question, exactly. I just wanted to write and ask what you would say to someone who is going through the hardest time of her life.

*This letter has been edited to protect privacy.

What to Do When a Blizzard Hits Your Life

Dear friend,

Did you read the Little House books when you were young? I did. Laura Ingalls was my hero.

My grandmother even made me a sunbonnet, which I tied proudly under my chin when I went to feed my grandparents’ chickens during summers in rural Arizona.

For the rest of the year, my family lived in suburban New Jersey. We had a comfortable house, but I created a “claim shanty” in our backyard. My cousins and I piled logs (read: twigs) for the long winter.

Of course, I had no real concept of a sub-zero winter in an uninsulated space. Like so many children before me, I fell in love with a romanticized version of Laura’s life.

As an adult, I went back and read the Little House books again, and they sounded very different. There was still fiddling and dancing, but there was also terrible deprivation and uncertainty.

The Long Winter wasn’t romantic, it was horrifying. The whole town nearly died of exposure or starvation or both.

Why am I telling you this? Well, your letter reminded me of Laura’s description of sudden blizzards, with storm clouds blocking the light and strong winds howling.

That sounds to me like the metaphorical equivalent of your situation.

One minute you were looking at clear skies; the next, you were surrounded by a blinding fury. It wasn’t your fault and it certainly isn’t within your control.

I’m so sorry that happened to you.

when a blizzard hits your life, lost in the snow

Of course you feel shocked and afraid. Of course everything from breathing to brushing your teeth is ten times harder than usual. Of course you feel as though you’ve lost your way. Who wouldn’t?

Here’s how to survive in a blizzard: Find the nearest shelter. Once inside, keep warm and stay hydrated. Don’t get too proud to ask for help and supplies.

During a blizzard, you do not expect too much of yourself. Rather, you go into survival mode and let nonessentials go.

Furthermore, you do not allow harsh self-talk and cold judgment to chill you further. When you’re already freezing, that’s the most dangerous thing you can do.

Instead, you practice being kind. You talk to yourself as you would a beloved child. This will probably feel strange, and that’s all right. Just try.

Instead of berating yourself for all the things that aren’t happening, congratulate yourself on the most basic self-nurturing decisions.

You went back to bed when you felt tired? Fantastic. You made yourself a cup of tea and wrapped yourself in a blanket? Brilliant.

In the context of your ordinary life, it’s easy to take tasks such as showering and laundry for granted.

But you are not in ordinary life any longer. You are in a blizzard. As such, just doing the basics means that you are succeeding.

Here’s your new mantra: Surviving is succeeding.

Surviving is Succeeding, when a blizzard hits your life

No one – and I mean no one – expects you to “live up to your potential” in the middle of the worst emotional crisis of your life. As Hands Free Mama Rachel Macy Stafford wrote in the midst of her own crisis, “Love is the only thing required of me right now.”

Finally, remember that strength doesn’t always look and feel like you think it will.

Once upon a time I told a terrible story to my counselor. It was my own Long Winter, scary to talk about and scarier to live through. At the end of our session, she said, “You’re so strong.”

I was incredulous: “But I feel so weak.”

She didn’t miss a beat: “That’s how it works.”

This is how it works, my friend: You feel weak, but you are strong. You feel hopeless, but you have hope. You feel alone, but you are held.

This may be the worst storm you’ll ever weather, but there is a light within you that will outlast the wind and the snow and the cold.

I would bet my life on it.

candlelight, when a blizzard hits your life

“It can’t beat us!” Pa said.

“Can’t it, Pa?” Laura asked stupidly.

“No,” said Pa. “It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.”

Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.

~ Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter


born-for-this-bookWhen a blizzard hits your life, what do you do? Join the conversation in the comments!

Update: The giveaway is now closed; congratulations to our randomly-selected winners, Carol and Susan!

PS – Just for fun, I’m giving away two print copies of Chris Guillebeau’s new book Born For This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do. (I’m not an affiliate.)

To enter, subscribe to A Wish Come Clear’s email list and leave a comment below.

I’ll randomly choose two winners at 1pm Central time on Monday, April 18. Good luck!


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20 thoughts on “What To Do When A Blizzard Hits Your Life

  1. Carol says:

    The description of the book sounds like it would be wonderful. Would love to own a copy. Thank you for hosting this contest!

  2. R says:

    I needed this reminder, myself, recently, and also sent this to a friend who I think could use it. Thanks C, for always being there. 🙂 <3

    • Thank you so much, my friend – it means a lot to know that the post spoke out to you and that you shared it too. Sorry to hear that things have been tough; am sending a big hug your way and will reach out ASAP. <3

  3. Bette says:

    I think this may be your most powerful post, ever. Your advice is right on target. I’m sharing this with those who need it — with thanks.

  4. Cassie says:

    Thank you for you kind advice. I think it mirrors what I heard just this morning at the third funeral I attended in the past two weeks. The pastor spoke about enduring grief but not letting that grief outlast us. It is okay to live in that “blizzard,” as you talk about, but the blizzard doesn’t have to break us down or destroy us. It is okay to grieve and shuffle through those dark and difficult days, but inside of us is that small, light of hope that glimmers, encouraging us to never give up and to start the process of moving forward.

    In my “blizzards” throughout life, I have felt the staggering loss, grief, and depression. But in time, I moved forward. Some days, I could hardly breathe, but my heart was still beating and I knew there was purpose beyond the storm. I pray the same is true for your friend who wrote the letter.

    Blessings to you, Caroline. Thank you for your heart for others.

    • Cassie, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had so much to mourn in these last few weeks. And what a powerful description you wrote of what it feels like to walk through an emotional blizzard – it feels spot-on to me. Thank you for the prayers and for being here!

  5. Susan says:

    I wish I didn’t get this message but I do. I totally understand the blizzard. Stay busy, Pause, pray, cry & cuss. Those are my specialty areas. And I am truly thankful for so many things that are amazing & beautiful but hurting so deeply for what’s been lost.

    My good friend, vs, forwarded your message to me. Closed my eyes & cried & repeated Pa’s words…..thank you.

    • Susan, I’m so sorry that you’re going through a blizzard. I can definitely relate to the feeling you describe, of being thankful for the beautiful things even as you grieve what’s lost – well said.

      Comments like yours help me to remember why I write, so thank you for taking the time to post. (When I’ve gone through blizzards, I’ve printed out essays that spoke to me and carried them around so I would feel less alone.) Sending strength and gratitude your way today.

  6. Melanie says:

    I grew up reading the Little House series too. Isn’t something how our perspectives changes as we experience things in life.

    Thank you very much for presenting such a compassionate and empowering ways to view and treat ourselves when we go through these situations. Such a fantastic analogy.

  7. Susan says:

    Found you on the Gifts of Imperfection FB page totally by “accident” and couldn’t be happier. This blizzard post is exactly what I needed in this moment. Thank you for telling this story. Also have been eyeing Chris Guillebeau’s book and would love to win one, if it’s in the stars…

    Thank you for what you’ve already given. Great stuff!

    • Welcome, Susan! Glad you’re here, and thrilled to hear that this post came at just the right time for you. Wishing you luck in the giveaway and hoping that your “blizzard” dies down soon as well.

  8. Caroline, thank you so much for this beautiful post. I truly needed to read this. I’m not sure where I found your post from originally, but I’ve been needing this positive reassurance in spite of all the traumatic things going on around me.

    I’d love to connect with you, despite my injuries, I’m pushing through and trying to start a new company and I think you might be a perfect fit for what we are planning in the future as we grow.

    • Danielle, you’re most welcome! Apologies for my response delay – I took some time away from blogging and didn’t see your kind words until now. I’m so glad you found the post right when you needed to read it – hearing that helps motivate me to keep writing and sharing. And I’d love to hear more about what you’re working on – feel free to email me at caroline[at]awishcomeclear[dot]com. Thank you again!

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