Resilience, Can you Adapt?

Resilience, Can you Adapt?

This is part one of the guest blog series on Resilience by Nancy McCranie.

If that year had been a fish, my friend and co-worker, Lynn would have thrown it back. The turbulence began when her husband gave up his job at the end of the summer to pursue an advanced degree hundreds of miles away, leaving her to contend with the mortgage, the car payment, and the raising of two teenage girls. Not surprisingly, their marriage began to unravel. Then in late October, her mother, Jean, a source of tremendous support and love, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.  Jean lived only three weeks, dying the week before Thanksgiving. Reeling from the loss, my friend and her sister had to scramble to find a nursing home for their dad who was cognitively disabled and in failing health. A few months later, her brother, a hearty man in his mid-fifties whom my friend adored, called to deliver the devastating news that he had just received a diagnosis of stage four lung cancer and had only a few months to live. Shortly after her brother’s death, her elderly father died as well.

Needless to say, it was a heart-wrenching time in her life. It seemed that everything was falling apart. Those of us who loved her worried about how she would survive this tsunami of suffering. And frankly, there were days when she wasn’t sure if she would. But she did, taking one day, sometimes one hour at a time, refusing to waste energy asking why me?, refusing to be broken by the wind and waves that were crashing relentlessly over her ship. During the worst of it, she never lost her sense of humor or her openness to life. She took hold of the hands that reached out to help. She became more intent on practicing gratitude.

I’ll never forget the day I came into work not long after her brother’s diagnosis, and she said to me with a gleam in her eye, “Oh, Nancy, I have some good news about my brother!” “What is it?” I said, wondering how there could be any good news with such a grim prognosis. “He called yesterday,” she said excitedly, “and told me that cancer has spread throughout his body, except for his arms. His arms are CANCER FREE!” “Isn’t that incredible?” “Really?”, I said weakly as my confused mind tried to determine the most appropriate response. And then, swatting my arm playfully, she began to laugh, saying, “Aw, I’m messing with you.  But, I mean, the news has been so horrible for so long, we had to find something to laugh about. Just imagine, cancer-free arms!

I know…she has a really weird sense of humor sometimes.

To watch her navigate those extremely difficult days was inspirational and instructive.  She embodied the word resilient. She eventually made it safely to the other side with a heart that had been broken, yes, but broken open so that her spirit became even more courageous, compassionate, and joyful.

Research tells us that there are specific qualities that contribute to resilience. Here are several:

  • The ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Openness and curiosity about whatever life brings.
  • Involvement in a supportive community.
  • Confidence in one’s strengths.
  • A healthy sense of humor.
  • Practicing gratitude.

Throughout this blog series, we will look at some of these qualities, considering ways they can help us cultivate resilience during grief and explore practicing some of them.

Let’s Practice:

  • Place your hand on your heart, and feel the warmth of your touch. Breathe in the sense of calm and well-being, a sense of kindness for yourself, and gratitude for others. Continue to breathe gently, inviting peace and love into your heart.
  • Now call to mind someone who loves (or loved) you unconditionally; someone you feel/felt completely safe with. You may want to recall a moment with this person (or pet) when you felt absolutely loved and cherished. Breathe in that moment, allowing it to flow into your body.
  • When that feeling is steady, let go of the image and bathe in the feeling itself for 30 seconds, letting it really soak in.

~Adapted from Linda Graham, MFT, Resources for Recovering Resilience~

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.