Resilience is a skill, perhaps an art, learned from life experience. When a loved one dies our resilience may disappear for a while. Much as we want to be resilient, we can’t seem to do it because we’re so mired in grief. At least, that is my experience. In 2007 four of my family members died within nine months. Though I’m a stable person, these successive losses brought me to my knees.
Seven years have passed since my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law died. During this time I’ve told my story in articles, books, talks, and workshops. Today, with the clarity of hindsight, I realize sharing my story helped me to heal. In his book, Life After Loss, Bob Deits says telling our stories gives us permission to grieve. He asks mourners to write a statement on paper, “The sadness I feel is a badge of honor.”
Grief is the result of love and that is a badge of honor too. Telling my story helped me jump-start my resilience.
What is resilience? Pauline Boss, PhD describes it in her book, Loss, Trauma and Resilience. More than recovery, a resilient person is able to maintain stability, according to Boss. “There are multiple and sometimes unsuspected pathways to resilience,” she writes. For me, telling my story was a pathway and it may be a pathway for you.
You may share your story with family members, the ones who are usually willing to hear your story over and over again. You may share your story with a grief support group. You may share your story with your religious/spiritual community. As you and re-tell your story things begin to happen.
The reality of death becomes believable. Many times I asked myself, “Did all of this really happen?” You may have asked yourself the same question. The more I told my story the more it became real, an important step on the recovery path.
You are able to identify feelings. This may be a gradual process and, as time passes, you are able to identify your feelings: sorrow, anger, confusion, despair, helplessness, hopelessness and more. When you’re able to tell your story without sobbing, you are beginning to heal.
Telling your story leads to acceptance. If you survived this you can survive anything. Your thoughts may shift to the future, setting new goals, and planning a new life. Thinking about the future doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten your loved one. Rather, it means you’ve come to the realization that your loved one would want you to be happy.
Your story may help and inspire others. At a workshop I was giving I shared a short version of my story. I told attendees they were worthy of happiness, a comment that made one woman cry. Later, she thanked me for my comment. “I didn’t believe I was worthy until you said it,” she summarized. “You’ve changed my whole outlook.”
Resilient people are able to rebound from tragedy. Each time you tell your story you are jump-starting your resilience. Though your resilience may be hidden now, like the arrival of spring, it will reappear and bloom again. Your grief story is unique. Tell it and keep your resilience humming.