“Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives.”
-Greta W. Crosby
Resilience is commonly defined as the ability to bounce back from major changes and manage the debilitating effects of the distress involved. Those who have learned to be resilient early in life, or through previous loss experiences, are able to reduce unnecessary suffering. They begin by gradually accepting their great loss, the new conditions of life, and the challenges that must be faced.
Why do some individuals cope well with their new life and others experience long-term difficulty? Much has to do with perceptions, which are the personal meanings we give to our experiences. The meanings we attach to any event in our lives are highly individual and can be changed. But those meanings, whatever they may be, become our view of the world, our personal realty.
1. Arguably, the single most crucial factor in building resilience is the belief that while there is nothing that can be done about what has already occurred, we can control how, when, and where we will respond right now. That belief is a powerful asset to cultivate. Each one of us has the wisdom within to choose how to shape our new existence without the physical presence of our loved one.
2. At some point, we have to begin by addressing the question “What do I want?” This key question possesses many possible answers. The two extreme polar opposite answers are: I will reinvest in my new life or I will resist what has happened and live in the bubble of my old existence.
3. In choosing the reinvesting scenario, it does not mean in any way that we are ushering our loved one out of our life. We forever have a relationship with him/her. There will always be a connection. Thus the twin challenge is to learn how to love in separation as we adapt to a different environment. We can accomplish both. One of the tasks of mourning is to establish a new relationship with the deceased based on memory, tradition, and our spirituality. Make every effort to explore the spiritual connection you will always have with your loved one.
4. The critical consideration in grief work is accepting that we can love in separation and at the same time build new routines, perhaps even new roles, which will help us grow and adapt to our great loss. For most of us this means seeking out multiple resources, new knowledge based on the experiences of millions of others, who have gone before on this journey.
5. Resilience is further shaped from additional learning, interaction with others, and seeing our occasional failures in coping as feedback to try something different. Keep searching for new strategies to deal with the pain. The options “out there” are numerous. We also need to talk to ourselves to be determined to keep looking for possibilities and then try putting them to good use. Each of us alone is accountable for the quality of our inner lives.
6. All of the above implies that we take action, daily action, which is at the core of resilience. No action, no change regardless of how much has been learned. Have a plan on what will be done each day. Don’t sit back and simply be reactive to whatever happens. Stay in charge of how you will cope.
For example, try the following. Each morning ask yourself where you need help the most: physically (exercise, yoga, deep breathing to relax, etc.), mentally (read, paint, draw, etc.), emotionally (telephone or visit a friend, go to a support group, listen to soothing music, etc.), or spiritually (go to church or synagogue, meditate, talk to your loved one, etc.). Be specific on what you need and work towards fulfilling that need.
Finally, it is essential to understand that behavior changes attitudes and feelings. This means you may not feel like doing something that you know deep within you should initiate. Take the next step and do the distasteful. Once started, you will be surprised how your attitude begins to change as you focus on the task at hand. You are becoming resilient as you make new behaviors into routines leading to the management of your great loss.