Finding Resilience

None of our lives is without trauma, without loss or without challenge.  If you asked me what the most difficult experience in my life has been, it would unquestionably be my brother’s death.  Young, healthy and suddenly gone as a result of a freak accident at his home.  I remember thinking, over and over again, “I just talked to him,”  trying, and failing, to reconcile that with the thought that I would never hear his voice again, see his face again, feel the warmth of his hug.

Even now, years later, it is a hole in my life that will never be filled.  He is in my thoughts every day and I am, and will always be, somehow incomplete without him.

It took me about a year to come back to feeling like myself.  I believed that I was fooling the world, that everyone thought I was “okay,” and I did fool many, especially those who did not know me well. But I knew that I was just putting one foot in front of the other, maintaining the surface as normal and not revealing the open wounds inside.

I did a lot of writing and talking about resilience during those days, about the choice we have to be “better or bitter” when confronted by loss and heartache.  Resilience is not just “getting over it.”  It’s not just “bouncing back.”  Rather it is a purposeful and thoughtful way to rebuild, to not allow yourself to drown in the negative but to acknowledge the pain, give it its due and find ways to move forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience as we work our way through these unprecedented times.  Specifically within the elder care environment, we have all suffered incredible trauma these last two plus months. Anxiety has been our constant companion as we have battled with an enemy that is both devious and unpredictable.  We have watched elders become ill and we have struggled to help them to heal.  We’ve lost elders we love.  Our staff has been ill, some very ill and hospitalized.  Staff have lost loved ones and friends to this virus. No one has been unaffected and, in truth, none of us will ever be the same as a result.

Even more so, the world we thought we knew has disappeared.  In places that we work hard to make “home,” we suddenly created isolation areas with physical barriers that only designated staff could pass through.  People don’t look themselves, they look like space aliens in disposable coveralls, face masks, hair coverings and face shields. The buildings full of life and sound and people have become ghostly and quiet as everyone is confined to their rooms.  The environment that we thought we knew, the work that we thought we understood, has changed forever.

Many of us chose to devote our careers to elder care because we believe in the importance of this work, we believe in the value of our elders and the blessing of being able to enhance their lives.  Despite all the trauma that we have suffered in recent months, we will find—together—the resilience to build on this and go forward, to learn from this and go beyond.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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