As we go through life, we all know that not all of our experiences are happy or even pleasant ones. We have frustrations and disappointments, things don’t always go our way and, far beyond that, life throws us curves that are unexpected and hard to understand, much less accept. Health challenges turn our world upside down and loss completely changes the world we thought we knew.

When we face traumatic loss, loss of someone too young and too vital, loss that is outside the “natural order of things,” the fabric of our life is brutally torn leaving us with jagged edges that cannot be mended. We can patch them, we can put them together as best we can but the damage can never be put right.

Eventually most of us learn to move forward, not liking the “new normal,” but coming to terms with it and accepting the reality. There are moments that trigger grief anew, holidays, family events, all the places where that person’s presence is so profoundly missed, where the hole they have left is open and glaring, where you can’t help but think that they “should be there” regardless of the reality of their passing.

In my own life, I am approaching one of those events in just a few days. My niece is getting married and we are all so very happy for her and wish her a life of joy and health and all that is good. Yet right under my joy is an ache is my chest and tears that are very close to my eyes. Her father, my only sibling, won’t be there to walk her down the aisle, to dance the father/daughter dance. He won’t be there to beam at the beautiful, bright, talented young woman she has become. In fact, he has been gone for more years of her life than she has lived, dying in an accident when she was only 12.

So I have thought a lot about how emotionally charged this is — both for Rebecca and for me and for all the rest of the family who will look for him even though they know he cannot be there. And it occurs to me that what I must do, and what we must do when facing situations like this, is to flip the equation. Flipping the equation means turning it 180 degrees, looking at the other side. For me, that means focusing on the joy rather than the sorrow. It means being grateful that I am there to represent his memory and his heritage. It means that when I catch grief overtaking me that I am going to tell myself exactly that to “flip the equation” and find the other side.

Thinking about this, it occurs to me that “flipping the equation” is a technique that might have application for both the work that we do and the relationships that we have with older adults. As age, disability and disease diminish capacity, how much better it would be if we work to see not what is lost but rather what still exists. If we look at the person for who they are now rather than who they were, if we were able to flip our mindset and remember that there is still a gift in who they are today, our expectations might very well change and our relationships benefit.

Flipping the equation in our lives, both turning the negatives to positives and seeking the positives, seeking joy amidst the sadness — perhaps our lives would truly change. Perhaps we would let happiness overtake sadness and what an impact that would have — on all of us.