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Grief Perspectives
Scholar's Corner
Resource Review
Your Professional Library

A Journey Toward "Choosement"

by Debbie Hoy
(Editor’s Note. Twenty-one months after the car crash that killed a lifelong friend and seriously injured her husband, Dr. Bill Hoy, this month Debbie Hoy reflects on her experiences with trauma and grief.)
My leisurely afternoon drive ended with a phone call no one wants to receive: “I’ve been in a terrible wreck. I think B…… is dead. I need you to come now.” My husband’s words shattered the life I had known and introduced me to a new world of criminal investigations and personal injury law. Over the next months, Bill and I changed from feeling like successful mid-life professionals to impotent pawns in a legal chess game we neither valued nor understood.


IInitially, we were victimized by the driver of an 18-wheeler, speeding down the interstate with his truck on cruise control while talking on his cell phone. He plowed his 47,000 pound load into the rear of my husband’s stopped sedan, instantly killing our friend of 45 years and leaving Bill in excruciating pain and with long-term damage to his brain.
After the initial shock of the wreck wore off, we found ourselves victimized again by a legal system that distorted any semblance of justice by allowing either corrupt pay-offs or apathetic inefficiency. The truck driver was not criminally charged, so no one was held responsible for our friend’s death or for my husband’s ongoing physical, mental, and emotional damage. Our sense of victimization multiplied.
The final nail in the coffin of our belief in “truth, justice, and the American way” was experiencing how civil “settlement” negotiations are conducted. We listened to the vice president of the trucking company tell us “we are totally responsible for the accident and want to do right by you.” Even as he spoke, lawyers for his company were marshalling their resources—not to pay a fair settlement to us—but instead to paint Bill, not as an innocent victim of a criminally negligent truck driver, but rather as a malingering cheat trying to “game the system” to get rich. Thankfully, our attorney was a master at navigating—and interpreting—the system for us and did so with utmost integrity and compassion.
After months of feeling like a victim, raging against a “system” that seemed blatantly unfair and unjust, I realized I did not like the person I was becoming—angry, cynical, and disillusioned. While discovering nothing I did seemed to have any influence on our pursuit of justice within the legal system, I also began to recognize that I could control my response. If I could not change the system, I would learn to change myself! My rage was having no impact on the trucking company or our legal system, but the anger was eating away at the good within me.
Small changes have made big differences. For example, I realized even saying “settlement” ignited feelings of resentment. “Settlement” connotes giving in, wanting more but accepting less, i.e. “She settled for a B in the class” or “He settled for a 2% raise” or “It’s time to settle down and get married.”  Agreeing to a “settlement” that I believed was grossly unjust screamed out “victim”, and I chaffed at that characterization.
Knowing words have power, I began to search for a different word, one that connoted not being exploited by the powerful but rather empowered by our values and choices.  I “invented” the word choosement.

Settlement means assigning a dollar value to our losses, the pain and frustration of the past 21 months, an impossible task. In contrast, choosement communicates we are making a conscious, clear-headed choice. We accept the trucking company offer, fully aware their money will not begin to cover our losses.   However, we are not victims giving up, but we are mature survivors choosing to close a painful chapter of life, turn a page, and begin a new chapter. We determine to stop “beating our heads against the wall,” a barrier that we have been unable to budge, and to move forward with our hard-earned wisdom. (Bill’s comment here: this is exactly what I mean when I talk about how we do not recover from losses but rather, we integrate them, we enfold them into the remaining years of our lives.)
Choosement means we accept an offer, not because the financial compensation is just, but because we have learned that our human channel for receiving justice is terribly flawed. However, our dashed expectation of legal justice “here and now” has paved the way for a heightened awareness of a God who loves justice and Who will balance the scales one day in ways far superior to any we could create.
Choosement means we determine to move beyond bitterness to gratefulness. We move ahead with grateful hearts, not because we received just treatment, but because life is a precious gift, too valuable to waste one minute in self-pity or rage. We move forward, more thankful than ever for loyal and steadfast friends and family who have stood beside us every step of this journey. We gratefully relish the simple parts of life we overlooked before—the joy of working at tasks we enjoy, the delight at sharing laughter with friends, and the satisfaction of seeing our young adult children link arms with us as we travel along uncharted territory.
The wreck that propelled us into the world of legal maneuvering and “settlements” has done much more than wound and dismay. Our choosement has developed a new lens through which we view life.  We now are choosing to move into the rest of our lives wiser in the ways of our world, longing for the day when the scales of justice will be perfectly balanced, and grateful for the gift of living life with those we cherish.

The Author: After more than 20 years of Christian student ministry on the campuses of California State University campuses, first in San Francisco, and then in Long Beach, Debbie Hoy has been a full-time wife and mom since 2002 when the Hoy kids were young elementary age. She holds the B.S. from Baylor University and the M.Div. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She and Bill celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in the summer of 2018.

Resource Review
Creating new traditions with personal memorials:

We live in a world of personalization and creation that offers us a plethora of ways to honor and memorialize our loved ones. A quick search through Etsy (an amazing website featuring handmade artisans and crafts from all over the world) will turn up hundreds of ways that people uniquely honor and keep close those they miss.

A unique way to incorporate the memory of your loved one into your Christmas or holiday traditions is to create a personalized ornament or keepsake that comes out specially at this time of year and receives a prominent placement on your tree or in your home. 

One of the principle griefs for bereaved people during the holidays is the break or loss of traditions. It is often difficult to imagine carrying on the decorating of the tree without mom being there, or the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree without dad. 
Finding new ways to engage in tradition can help us through these times. These same ornaments can also be special gifts to other close family or friends. 
Your Professional Library
Smith, Joanne Huist. (2014) The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle. Smith, H.I. (1999). New York, NY: Harmony Books. 

Reviewed by Molly A. Keating, MA, CT
Editor, GriefPerspectives

A true story of a widow facing her first Christmas following the unexpected death of her husband. The 13th Gift follows the Smith family, Joanne and her three young children, through the 12 days leading up to Christmas and the mysterious gifts that begin appearing at their door. 

This easy to read, authentic and hopeful book looks at the bleakness of the holidays in loss and the beauty that comes when others remind us we are not alone.

While Joanne's story is not full of research or theory, it is also not overly burdened down with the unique pain of her grief. Her story is accessible and helpful to any family going through the holidays with grieving children. The structure and story provide ways of counting down, creating new traditions, and finding energy in the mystery of the gifts that helped carry Joanne's family through their first Christmas with some distraction and even, anticipation. 

This book, despite its topic, is a comforting read and Joanne's voice feels like a friend. The outcome of her story is the hope she finds when she learns about her gift-givers and the world of grief that connects so many. It was not the gifts themselves, but the hearts of the givers to her that made all of the difference. This book offers something all of us can do in our own way - whether it is receiving or giving this holiday season.  
Research that Matters
Lumb, A. B., Beaudry, M., & Blanchard, C. (2017). Posttraumatic growth and bereavement: The contribution of self-determination theory. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 75(4), 311-336. doi:10.1177/0030222816652971
Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) is the widely accepted theory first described by Richard Tedeschi and Richard Calhoun that posits that untoward experiences can create interpersonal, emotional, and/or spiritual growth in those experiencing those losses; these are frequently described in the literature as personal transformation and reappraisal of life and priorities. While the topic has been widely-researched, no research employing the psychological perspective of Self-Determination Theory has investigated the bereavement experience of individuals or how motivation can help facilitate posttraumatic growth (PTG) following the death of a loved one. Popularized in the late 1990s by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) holds that humans are intrinsically motivated toward growth and positive change and that our behaviors support that movement toward achieving desirable results in one’s life.
In the two cross-sectional studies reported here, university students completed an online survey. Study 1 investigated the contribution of global autonomous and controlled motivation in statistically predicting PTG above and beyond previously researched correlates. Study 2 explored the mediating role of cognitive appraisals and coping in explaining the relationship between global motivation orientations and PTG. The two studies enrolled 98 participants (80% female) in an introduction to psychology course at University of Ottawa.
Results indicate that in comparison to controlled motivation, autonomous motivation was positively related to post-traumatic growth, even after controlling for previously researched correlates. Mediation results indicated an indirect effect of global autonomous motivation on PTG through task-oriented coping. Collectively, these findings suggest the importance of incorporating motivation into models of PTG.
The researchers remind readers that post-traumatic growth is not a feature of trauma itself, but rather of the meaning-making employed in working through the results of the trauma. To that end, the researchers remind clinicians that the “findings suggest practitioners may want to promote the use of task-oriented coping strategies such as acceptance and positive re-interpretation in therapy, as it may benefit clients in the process of meaning making and growth” (p. 331).
Like all research reports from Omega, the full text of this study is available free as benefit to members of the Association for Death Education & Counseling. To join or access the article, visit
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