It’s been almost 4 years…
Years go by quickly, don’t they? So much happens in the course of just one year that by the time 4 of them go by, things start to get foggy and remembering details takes more effort than you ever imagined.
4 years…My daughter was just a baby in 1st grade and her big brother in 5thwhen their dad died from brain cancer. It was the only year they would ever be in the same school – not one bit of a coincidence- I am very sure of that. I look back at pictures and cannot believe that those sweet innocent faces had to endure so much. They had to watch their father suffer seizures daily, take countless pills, spend weeks in the hospital after brain surgeries, endure brutal radiation and chemotherapy rounds and ultimately take his last breath.
Never mind how I did it. How on earth did my babies do it? How did any of our children do it?
Fast forward 4 years…
My first grader is now in 5th, her big brother just started high school, I have found love and married again and will welcome a new little addition to our family in February.
The kids are happy and healthy. They are good students, active in sports and dance and enjoy life with family and friends. To those who do not know us and where we’ve been, we look like a normal, everyday family. But you know that for as much as things change, some things will always stay the same.
We are, and will be, forever changed by our loss. It lies right under the surface – not visible to most but felt every single day. I have no doubt that my kids think of their dad all the time. They have framed pictures on the walls, memory boxes under their beds and pillows stuffed with their favorite memory of him under their sleeping heads. They talk about him sometimes and love to hear stories from their Uncle Dave about when their dad was a little trouble maker!
But I notice that these moments don’t come as often as they used to and sometimes that concerns me. As their mom, I want to be sure that they are “grieving” in a healthy way because I know that loss lasts a lifetime, but I also don’t want to force it or overwhelm them when they just want to be kids. They don’t like going to the cemetery so I don’t take them. Maybe I should. We do have a few holiday traditions but maybe I should do more, I just don’t know. I don’t have the answers and am always wondering if I’m doing the right things, the wrong things, or could be doing more.
So where’s the manual?????
Nope, no manual for this. I know because I’ve looked! There are no 5-steps or 10-steps to grieving well. No instruction booklet, no magic system to doing it right. There are plenty of wonderful resources offering suggestions and tips on grief but one-size does NOT fit all when it comes to grieving the loss of a loved one.
I have friends who have lost spouses and some have lost children; some suddenly and some from long-term illnesses. And while each parent and each child grieves in their own way, I do notice a common thread that seems to get us through – Resilience.
So what is Resilience? I found a great article on PBS.org called, “This Emotional Life” that explains it as: Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Psychologists have long recognized the capabilities of humans to adapt and overcome risk and adversity. Individuals and communities are able to rebuild their lives even after devastating tragedies.
Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.
Resilience is also not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.
People do experience positive changes in their lives after struggling with a crisis or trauma, a process called posttraumatic growth. But it’s not the adversity or suffering that makes people stronger. It is the process of struggling, learning, and persevering. It is the ability to maintain positive emotions as well as negative ones. In fact, positive emotions make us stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity. Positive emotions motivate us to explore the environment, learn new things, and ultimately build new resources that help us to overcome life’s difficulties. In the process of resilience, people experience not only their own capabilities, but also the support of families, friends, neighbors, and faith communities. People also gain confidence about overcoming future difficulties
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues have found that positive emotions are the “fuel” for resilience. They help people find meaning in ordinary and difficult events. Finding meaning in life events leads to more positive emotions, which in turn leads to a greater ability to find meaning and purpose. Fredrickson calls this an “upward spiral” of greater well-being. They also found that resilient people still felt as many negative emotions as less happy people, often very intense ones. But they felt more positive emotions, and it was the positive emotions that accounted for “their better ability to rebound from adversity and stress, ward off depression, and continue to grow.” Their increase in happiness came from feeling good; not from avoiding feeling bad.
The reason positive emotions predicted resilience and greater happiness is that positive emotions help us build skills and internal resources. Positive emotions like kindness, amusement, creativity, and gratitude put us in a frame of mind to explore the world around us and build a larger repertoire of assets that we can draw on in stressful times. In other words, “Happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better, but because they develop resources for living well.”
This common “resilient” thread that I see in my daily life is in the good that we do for others. For me and my family, we choose to be resilient by supporting The Moyer Foundation and helping other grieving kids through this blog, our appearances on local and national media, and by supporting other local families who have lost loved ones. We acknowledge the sadness, but make sure that we make plenty of time for the positive emotions and happiness that comes from helping others. My friends, who have also suffered losses, do the same and we make sure that we take the time to support each other so we can remain resilient.
So maybe the lesson here is to worry less about if you’re doing things right and focus more on teaching and showing our kids that positive things can come from negative events. It’s a lesson that is learned and takes work and one that, I believe, is very much worth the effort.