The bare bones story of my life is this: I lost two daughters to a vile and nasty genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis. My older daughter, Heather, was twelve when she died undergoing a bronchial lavage that was meant to prolong her life. My younger daughter, Holly, died twelve days following an unsuccessful bilateral lung transplant that we thought would give her new life. During those twelve long days, Holly was comatose. She was twenty-two when the medical team decided to unplug the equipment that were keeping her vital functions going. Five years later, my husband, the girls’ father, put a .357 magnum handgun to his temple and pulled the trigger. He sat downstairs in his favorite chair in the living room to commit suicide. I was upstairs reading when it happened.
Those events are the bones. The meat of the story is this: my girls led lives as full as possible while they were on this earth. They were in gifted programs for academics and art during their elementary school days. Holly, the only one who lived long enough to go to high school, was accepted into the Governor’s Magnet School, which she attended every afternoon after classes at the high school in the morning. They both rode horses and bicycles. Heather was a gifted visual artist, while Holly was a talented ballet, jazz, and modern dancer. They both had close friendships, and Holly had a steady boyfriend during high school and beyond. Their father and I decided very early in their lives that they would not be treated as hothouse flowers; rather, we encouraged them to participate in as much of life as they were able to do.
The part of the story that I pray will be of help to other sufferers, the part I especially want to share, is that I have lived through searing grief, worked through unfathomable mourning, and gone on to live a productive and new life. I stand as living proof that the human spirit is capable of responding to tragic loss – in my case, multiple tragic losses – with resilience. There is power in the broken heart, I have discovered. The heart broken open has room for new love, greater compassion, and deep empathy. The broken heart can either remain crushed and susceptible to dark depression and suicide, or it can be reconfigured and enhanced into a vessel ready to be recreated, metaphorically speaking.
No magic formula exists. A long, dark tunnel does exist, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel is a gift in a strange way, because the darkness gives you the opportunity to go within, where a spark of the divinity is waiting for you. God is always there, in the good times and the bad.
What is resilience? And how can it be learned? Resilience is a process of adapting in a positive way to significant tragedy or adversity. I emphasize process because I want you to know that it took me a long time to bounce back from the tragedies that life handed me. I’m still bouncing back, and always will be, but each day, I’ve chosen to move farther along the road towards happiness. Resilience was not handed to me on a silver platter. I learned to be resilient. In my next article, I’ll outline some of the specific steps to be taken in the development of psychological resilience.
May I suggest that you start by taking a brief walk? Get out into nature, and calm your soul for a moment. Then stay tuned for practical information.