“Bitter or Better?” May 17, 2022

What would you say has been the greatest loss of your life? The death of a loved one? The end of a relationship? A fork in the road that took you to a place you never wanted to go?

When you look back on that loss, at the heartache it caused and the time it took to heal, what do you see?

Were there lessons you learned? Were there blessings that eased the pain? Did you find yourself feeling thankful, not for the loss, but for the gifts it brought, shining like rainbows in the midst of a storm?

Loss always brings gifts. The greater the loss, the greater the gifts. Sometimes we can only see them in hindsight. But in the end, we have to choose: Will the loss make us bitter or better?

My three children were barely grown when we lost their dad to cancer. He had been ill for four years, and watching him suffer took a toll on us all. We were so sure he would beat it. When he didn’t, it struck us so hard I feared we might never recover.

Then came this gift: We had always been close as a family. But losing him drew us even closer. My children were my inspiration. I leaned on them and they leaned on me, and by the grace of God, and the help of good friends, we grew not bitter, but better. Nothing has ever made me prouder. I’ll bet it makes their dad proud, too.

But my favorite example of the bitter-or-better choice will always be my brother Joe. I’ve written about him countless times and am always glad to hear from readers who find him almost as inspiring (if not quite as stubborn) as I do.

Totally blind all his life, and severely impaired by cerebral palsy, Joe lives alone, gets around with a walker, does his own cooking (he used to fry chicken, until he nearly set himself on fire) and always seems to be, as he says, “Just fine, thank you very much.”

Joe knows more about loss and how to survive it than anyone I’ve ever known. He and I live on opposite coasts but keep in touch by phone. The family we grew up in has dwindled nearly to extinction.

Some years ago, Joe lost, one by one, our mother, who was his champion; our stepfather, who was his best friend; and his wife, who was the love of his life.

He was devastated. But his faith never wavered. He leaned on his Lord, his family and the good people in his church. Then he gathered up the pieces of the darkness all around him, and moved on with his life, shining a light for others to follow.

Joe makes the bitter-or-better choice a no-brainer. He gets up each morning, straps on his leg braces, shuffles to the kitchen, fries up some eggs, turns on the radio and pulls for the Clemson Tigers to win another game.

I tell myself, if my brother can do all that and more without complaining, the least I can do is choose better over bitter, too.

It helps to have inspiration. I have more than my share. Not just from Joe. It arrives most every day in mail from readers who write to share their stories about the heartbreaks they are facing and overcoming as they choose to be better, not bitter.

I wish you could read them.

For more than two years, the pandemic has heaped loss, to one degree or another, on us all. The loss of lives and loved ones and time spent together. The loss of all sorts of things we once took for granted.

We try to tell ourselves loss is just a part of life, something everyone suffers sooner or later. But when it strikes, there is no way to diminish it. And no one should have to suffer it alone.

We all need inspiration. If you’re longing to find it, you will. Look to your faith, your family, your neighbors and friends. Look all around you.

But most of all, look in your heart. In the end, bitter or better, you’ll choose it there.


  1. Elaine Mccaffery says

    Sharon, You are such a bright light in my week. I’m forever grateful for you, your columns , blog and books. Your wisdom and outlook on life gives me some peace and comfort.I am losing my sight to a condition called NAION {a stroke in my eye}. I feel so helpless and afraid I will eventually be totally blind. I’m sixty five and worried of all the what ifs, and of course feeling sorry for myself. Then I remind myself of stories of your brother Joe. And am ashamed of my self pity. Please keep writing , we all need you and your writings.

  2. CHope Hall says

    We lost our first little girl who was a premie when I was 17. Buying a casket, cemetery lot, having a funeral was a terrible heartbreak. I had never lived with my parents & when my husband I married & waiting for our baby was so wonderful. All was well according to the doctor & then she was born too early. It helps to know she is safe in the arms of the Lord. The second terrible experience was when my grandfather committed suicide. His only child disappeared & left it all on my shoulders. My husband & God helped me. We are blessed with 61+ yrs together & 4 more children who are wonderful adults. God has blessed us & we are ready to go to God when he calls us. We realize we haven’t much more time on this earth, but our acct is settled & we are ready to go. Truly appreciate your articles. Please keep writing & God bless!!

  3. During the pandemic my son & newly daughter in law were (and still) are RN’s it was months that I saw them. I was watching church “online” and GOD knew that I needed to attend church. Pastor Mike called me and said that church was going to go to in person and would I like to attend. I love my church family. God is watching over me.

  4. Diane Ziegler Fox says

    I lost my husband to a motorcycle accident in 2016. I remember reading your columns and being confused how you could talk about your late husband without hurting your new husband’s feelings. I sent you an email and your sent me a lovely personal note. Through your love for your late husband and how you and your husband found love again was such a guiding light for me. I am now in a new relationship and understand how my heart is big enough to love two men. Thank you for helping me be better and not bitter.

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