Life bruises. For others, it cripples. And, for a select few, it empowers.
As we marvel at others’ resilience during uncommon adversity, what lessons are applicable to our lives?
On a gloomy October day, the doctor’s diagnosis numbed us. “Pancreatic cancer,” he spat out. My aunt and I recoiled. The word — cancer — buzzed in our ears. Shoulders slumping, our mist-filled eyes met. We were dazed; cancer happens to others. Not our familial matriarch.
Grim-faced and sullen, we staggered to Mom’s hospital room. And here, in a sterile hospital room, Mom’s resilience transcended our raw, unfiltered emotions. She was a beacon of poise. As Aunt Janie and I reeled, Mom comforted us.
The treatments sapped her physical strength. But Mom was undeterred. She bantered with the doctors, teased her three boys, and attacked the treatment regimen with vigor. No complaints.
As Mom’s body betrayed her, her resolve steeled. As she chuckled over the latest family gossip, Mom’s spirit transcended any hint of bitterness or despair. Resilience was hardwired into her; bruised and battered body be damned.
Resilience can triumph over life’s adversity. My late mother understood this better than anyone.
Here are three strategies to find and unleash your inner resolve:
- Find a trusted confidante.
We want to be understood. We want others to share in our successes and grief.When uncertainty threatens, find someone — anyone — to connect with. As treatment ravaged Mom, this proud, fiercely independent woman offered a powerful confession. “My toughest days are when no one visits,” Mom conceded.Regardless of our tough we are — and Mom was tougher than a Duluth winter — each of us needs an emotional anchor. Life, and its joys and sorrows, are best when shared.
- Be their support.
Mom intuitively understood this. As treatment ravaged her, Mom empowered herself through others. Teasingly nicknamed the Boss, she lavished praise and doled out advice.
Mom could have succumbed to her fears. If she sunk into a well of self-pity, we would have understood. But, of course, she didn’t. She couldn’t. People needed her. Her family needed her. My father, dependent on her wisdom, cajoled Mom into attending a contentious employment hearing hours before a grueling treatment.
“Mom, you need to rest. Relax. Read a trashy novel or something,” I would admonish. “Enjoy your kids waiting on you.” But helping others helped Mom. Instead of ruminating on the unknown, she lifted others up and, in the process, emboldened herself.
When others hurt us, our instinctive reaction is to lash out, firing off an email missive laced with insults and obscenities. Since we hurt, we rationalize our scorned email or insult-filled tirade. “They started it; we are going to end it,” we vow. That was three smoldering texts and five seething emails ago.
When we are chained to the past, we are reactive, not proactive. Grudges and resentments bubble to the surface, distracting us from purpose-filled action.
Forgiveness for real and perceived slights is therapeutic. During one heartfelt conversation, Mom and I discussed family dynamics. In this open conversation, she expressed regret. I smiled, “Mom, you did the best you could.” Her face softened, a comforting smile replacing pensive worry.
Adversity is a fact of life, nestled between taxes and death. It perpetually lurks, from family strife to crumbling relationships to job instability. But adversity also provides opportunities reserved for the most resilient among us. Mom intuitively understood this and embraced it.