Everything happens for a reason? I don't think so

August 13, 2010 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

After I lost my sight, and before I started writing, I volunteered for hospice.

Strike that. I should say, I trained to volunteer for hospice. After I completed the training, the agency was reluctant to assign me a patient. My Seeing Eye dog might scare a patient, they said. I might inadvertently knock over bedside medications. “We have a patient now who we thought about assigning to you, Beth, but he sleeps on an air mattress,” they said. How would you be able to tell when the mattress needed more air?” I calmly reminded them I still had my sense of touch. “I don’t know, Beth,” the hospice administrator continued. “We’re just afraid the families might see you as needier than they are.”

That's Gladys with her Husband John.

Later, I trained as a bereavement counselor and was assigned a woman in a nursing home. The other hospice volunteers had signed up for hospice because they wanted to visit patients in their homes. None of them wanted to work with Gladys.

My first Seeing Eye dog Dora learned quickly which room Gladys was in, and Gladys quickly became the most popular patient on her wing: she was the only one who had a dog visiting her once a week. Gladys loved a good joke, and she enjoyed talking about the past, particularly her childhood. Her husband had just died, and when I asked her questions about him she’d answer politely, change the subject, talk about her three children (and her beloved grandson Ben) instead. Gladys loved a good audience, and she had one in me.

On my visits to Gladys I’d often run into her youngest daughter Nancy, who was a nurse at a local hospital. Nancy took to walking Dora and me out of the nursing home, sometimes lingering with me on a corner just to talk. We became friends, and when Gladys died Nancy asked me to speak at the funeral.

Nancy and her partner Steven are coming to visit us in Chicago this weekend. They visit often, and we always, always have a terrific time together. When Hanni and I take the train down to Urbana, we stay at Steven and Nancy’s. To be specific, we stay in Gladys’ room. It’s a totally handicapped accessible room with it’s own bathroom — Steven and Nancy provided it for Gladys so she could move out of the Urbana nursing home before she died.

When I tell people how I met my friend Nancy, some react with an old cliché. Everything happens for a reason, they say. Really? The hospice agency was ignorant about my abilities, and then Nancy’s father died, and Gladys’ MS got bad enough to land her in a nursing home just so I’d meet Nancy? I don’t buy it. An omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force would find some other way. I find it more comforting to think there is not some God-like force making bad things happen to us.

My friendship with Nancy is precious, but it cannot possibly make sense of the suffering her mom went through. Or the suffering her family went through as Gladys’ MS progressed. The reasons Nancy and I are friends? Because Nancy was good to her mom, because I didn’t let ignorance keep me from volunteering, because Gladys loved her family and because we all were open to letting strangers into our lives.

This weekend, when Nancy and I lift a glass (or too) at the local tavern, we’ll toast to Gladys. We miss her, and we celebrate that her spirit lives on through our friendship. Gladys: Here’s to you.


Mary Jo On August 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

Great post. I totally agree. I think people say “everything happens for a reason”, when they don’t know what else to say. It’s not why something happens that matters. What matters is how we live our life no matter what happens. I toast you, and Nancy and Gladys. Thanks for the inspiration.

Lauren On August 13, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Nice job here, Beth. This particular platitude is not only vapid but venomous. God deliberately sends forth cancer, diabetes, MS, blindness, earthquakes, accidents,etc. in order to teach the survivors some Big Important Lesson?? I don’t think so. If that is God, God can kiss my ass.

bethfinke On August 14, 2010 at 7:27 am

Whoa, Lauren. Don’t hold back!!

Margoleath On August 14, 2010 at 6:48 am

I do think everything happens for a reason. MS happens because of an immune response in her body. Any you happened into Gladys’ life because you were strong in your convictions of your own abilities. Sometimes the reason is something you can control, and sometimes it isn’t.

Toast yourself, while you toast Gladys!

bethfinke On August 14, 2010 at 7:25 am

Thanks for your comment, Margoleath. Nancy should be calling any minute, I think we’ll spend the day running errands, taking walks here and there around Chicago, maybe hooking up with the Chicago Architecture Foundation for a walking tour.
Then again, considering how hot and humid it is out there, maybe we’ll just walk to Lake Michigan and stand barefoot in the waves! Whatever we do, Margoleath, I am confident that when the day is done, we’ll take your suggestion: a toast to Gladys, a toast to me. And a toast to nancy, too!

Greg T On August 14, 2010 at 9:19 am

Like this a lot.

Lolly On August 14, 2010 at 9:24 am

HI Beth,

You know the old saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes?” Well, one other thing is certain, change. It’s the only thing we can count on. That means bad things will happen to all of us. What’s important is how we deal with those things, and what we learn from them.

Last year my brother was diagnosed with ALS. I could hardly think of a worse diagnosis. I doubt that he is at this point yet, but I am learning to live in a space of several emotions at once. Gratefulness for the opportunity to learn to make every day the best it can be, sad that one of my dear sibblings is dying, angry at the disease that is taking him from us bit by bit, joy at seeing him get opportunities that wouldn’t have come his way but for ALS, and grateful for the time we do have together.

People in my spiritual community talk about learning to move toward the sad or scary thing. I didn’t think I’d ever understand that, or want to learn how to do it. The older I get, the more I am beginning to grasp what they mean, but that wouldn’t have happened without their wise counsel and support.

I too don’t think everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that what we make of the things that happen to us can bring us great growth and blessings if we are open to them.

nancyb On August 14, 2010 at 9:26 am

Wow Beth, what a beautiful post. It is really moving. I hope you know Mom loved you and boasted about you to anyone who would listen, she just wasn’t the type to say it. love you, and see you in a few!

Cam On August 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I know I’ve said that horrible phrase, mostly to fill the silence with something…and because I know that it comforts some people.

Personally, I don’t believe that all things happen for a reason, except for in Margoleath’s literal sense.

Things happens, period. You are the one that makes the best or worst of the situation.

bethfinke On August 15, 2010 at 11:47 am

Oh, Cam, I really didn’t mean to make you or any other blog readers beat themselves up for reacting to sadness by saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or “it could be worse” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I guess these phrases *do* help some people, they just haven’t helped me much.
And it just strikes me odd that for all the bad or sad things that happen to each and everyone of us (really, there’s no avoiding it) we’re so ill-equipped to react in an honest way and say what we’re really feeling. Instead, at some of the most poignant moments of our lives, we rely on saying trite things that, when we stop and think about it, we don’t really believe
Side note: when “Long Time, No See” first came out and I had to figure out which section to read aloud at presentations, my successful writer friend Jean Thompson advised me to always read something funny. “Americans will laugh together in public,” she said. “But we’re just not good at sadness, we keep that to ourselves.”
I took her advice, I always read something funny at a presentation. It works.

becky On August 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Oh this is beautiful. Hope you have a wonderful weekend and couldn’t agree with you more. As you might know, my work as a therapist is primarily with clients who are grieving a loss or an anticipatory loss such as this. I find Cricket is nothing but helpful in this healing journey.

bethfinke On August 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

…and for those of you who are wondering if Becky uses insects in her therapy, please know that “Cricket” is Becky’s guide dog!

Benita Black On August 15, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Ick. I despise “Everything happens for a reason.” Bravo to you, Beth, for showing it to be the empty-headed reply it truly is.
And Lauren, I think I love you.

Bob On August 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Hey, what does a bereavement counselor do?

bethfinke On August 15, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Please remember I only *volunteered* as a bereavement counselor, I am not professionally trained. From what I understand, a bereavement counselor works with clients individually to help them accept, and dare I say, appreciate, the emotions they are experiencing after a loved one’s death. A large part of my volunteer counseling involves simply being there with the client, you know, rather than leading any sort of experience. A social worker trained me to anticipate what people might need after a loved one dies, and honestly, what I mostly did was just ask them about the person who had died and listen to whatever they wanted to say about that person or the death or funeral experience, that sort of thing.
From what I understand, if you want to do bereavement counseling professionally, a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in bereavement or grief counseling is usually required. A Masters degree in social work, psychology or bereavement studies is also recommended.

becky On August 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm

First of all, I love the dialogue this is creating on your blog, Beth. As a licensed professional counselor I have chosen to specialize in grief and loss and am a certified thanatologist. For my training, I have a master’s degree in psychology counseling and added requirements and hours for the thanatologist (study of death and dying) certification. The work of a bereavement counselor is as Beth indicated to be there for the person who is grieving. This is an invitation for them to share their story in whatever way they need in that moment – to sit with someone in their grief – to companion them along their journey. A bereavement counselor may be a volunteer, have a bachelor’s degree, or have additional training but their service is invaluable to those they see. I have a client who knows that her bereavement counselor will be there every Tuesday for her to talk, share, encourage her to show pictures, journal, whatever this client feels would be helpful. The power of having someone listen and be a witness to their grief is a bereavement counselor, in my opinion. Grief will take ‘as long as it takes’ for someone. However, feeling is healing and being able to process our feelings with a bereavement counselor or therapist can often help one work through their grief and not be ‘stuck’. Sorry this is so long! This is my passion. I am in the process of expanding my practice and our new expansion will be called: The Resilient Center for Grieving Families. (you can check out our expansion journey at: http://www.cruisinwithcricket.blogspot.com)

lo On August 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

What a lovely story, Beth — and what a tribute to the ways that people are brought together, even through times of sadness. Connecting is such an important part of the human experience — and we all need to get better at doing more of that.

PS Although I will acknowledge that all-too-many toss the phrase around lightly, which is a mistake, I genuinely believe that everything happens for a reason (and NOT because there is a God who strikes people down with tragedy… it’s far more complex than that)… It’s not about punishment and reward. But, it is about lessons learned and keeping our minds open to the good. It’s about balance — and learning to appreciate the pain along with the joy as part of the human experience. Where there is growth, there is beauty, after all.

bethfinke On August 17, 2010 at 9:24 am

Let’s hear it for lessons learned and keeping our minds open to the good! My blog readers might be interested in knowing that Lo connects with other people in one of the best ways possible: through food! Check out her Burp! blog here, you won’t be dissapointed:

Mike G. On September 9, 2010 at 10:50 am

Hi Beth,

Great post. I told you once that I had a friend who was killed in Chicago in 2003. At the time, I heard a lot of “everything happens for a reason” and “he’s in a better place.” I wrote a song about it at the time. I’ll email the words to you.


Hanni at 14 | Safe & Sound blog On February 8, 2014 at 12:55 pm

[…] today. Loyal dog followers know that after Hanni retired from guide work, she went to live with our dear friends Nancy and Steven. To celebrate the big day, they’re heading out for a run in the snow at Homer Lake, a nearby […]

The Hanni hop | Safe & Sound blog On November 30, 2016 at 9:57 am

[…] Illinois. While there in Urbana, we looked in on retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni. Her human companions Nancy and Steven report The 16-year-old star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is still going […]

Leave a Response