This is part four of the guest blog series on Resilience by Nancy McCranie. This series looks at resilience and explores self-care practices you can use.

She was in a tough spot. Mom and Dad had been married for 34 years. When he died, just like that, she was no longer part of a matched set. Social invitations from a couple of friends slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether. My father had been a pastor and their lives had been intertwined with their congregation. Since her official role with them had ended where would she fit in? Dad had managed their money, filed their income taxes, taken care of car maintenance, and mowed the lawn. Mom would now have to learn to do these things for herself. Predictably, she floundered for a little while, feeling lost and lonely as she came to terms with this enormous loss.

And then, after the darkest days of sorrow had passed, she began again. Like learning to walk, progress was slow at first and not always graceful. As she got stronger and more confident, however, she began to get her groove. She was invited to become an elder in her church. She joined a movie group. She did some volunteer work. She bought season tickets to the opera, the ballet, the symphony, and a local theater. She joined a book group. She learned that you can’t wait around to be invited places. Sometimes you have to do the inviting or go alone. She began to make her own investments (conservatively) and to mow her own lawn (aggressively.) She made friends of all ages. And now, 32 years later, if I need her to help me with something she has to check her calendar. If I want a recommendation for a book or a movie, I ask her first. She is fully up-to-date on the latest news-breaking story and is always willing to share her opinion. But I warn you, she’s an unapologetic liberal.

Of course, she still gets lonely and misses my dad and the days when all four of us kids were living at home. But because of the connections she has tirelessly forged, her life is rich, full, and satisfying. In the face of subsequent losses (her parents, four siblings, and countless friends) she has remained resilient and strong. I’m telling you, she’s something else.

The need to form connections is hard-wired into our biology. Whenever we make a positive social connection the pleasurable hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream which immediately relieves anxiety and improves productivity. Studies have shown that strong social connections have as much impact on our longevity as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and exercise.

Let’s Practice:  Investing in our relationships is a great way to increase our resilience. Consider trying one or more of the following this week:

  • Acknowledge:  When you are walking down a busy hallway, are at a checkout counter, or in a meeting be sure to speak to people and look them in the eye. This actually sends a signal to your brain that will trigger feelings of empathy.
  • Attention:  If someone walks into your office or calls on the phone, stop looking at the screen or typing on your keyboard and give them your undivided attention. This automatically communicates respect. If you only have a moment you can let them know that. But for that moment be fully present.
  • Appreciate: Take a moment at the beginning or end of every day to send an e-mail or a text, write a note, or telephone someone to thank them for something you appreciate. Gratitude is even more contagious than the flu and a lot more rewarding.

Visit our grief resources page for additional tools that may provide comfort through your grief journey.

Nancy McCranie is the author of our guest blog series on Resilience. She began working for Hospice Austin as a chaplain in 1996. Since 2009 she has served as the Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services. Nancy is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and holds an M.Div. Degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is Chair of the Clinical Pastoral Education Committee at The Seton Family of Hospitals, a member of Mission Presbytery, and Parish Associate for the First Presbyterian Church, Elgin, Texas. Nancy is married to Bill, an organic/bio-dynamic farmer & rancher who raises blueberries and beef. They have two sons, three dogs, two cats & a donkey.

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