I have been thinking a lot about resilience, the quality that enables us to regain our footing, move past the most difficult circumstances and move forward. Resilience is not as simple as shaking off what has been and letting it go. Being resilient is built on accepting what has been, recognizing the impact it has had on us and building from there to create something new, something that is even stronger.
There was a time in my life when I spent a lot of time thinking about, and writing about, resilience. As children of older parents, my brother and I lost both of our parents before the time we reached our mid-30s. It was painful and difficult to feel “orphaned” but we had one another. Eighteen months apart, we were each other’s support, sounding boards, confidants, oldest friends. If you had asked me, I would have told you that I could not have imagined my life without my brother.
Yet just a few years after losing our second parent, my brother was killed in a tragic accident at home. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it for the longest time, thinking over and over again that I had just talked with him on the phone, that we had made plans and that, suddenly, his life was over. Devastated does not even begin to describe it.
For the better part of a year, or maybe even longer, I struggled. I saw my brother in every tall man holding a little girl’s hand across a parking lot. I saw him in someone’s profile, heard his voice in someone’s laugh, looking desperately for the person who was no longer there.
I tried very hard to “be myself” for that year, both with my family and in my professional life. But I know that my performance didn’t fool very many. There was no escaping the empty space, the bottomless grief, the constant ache of unshed tears in my throat. I haunted the bookstore, and Amazon, for books that would help me, guidance that would tell me not just what to do but would tell me that I would survive as others have survived.
Eventually my reading turned to the topic of resilience, focusing on the behaviors, the tools, that enable that all-too-difficult “bouncing back.” I realized then, and even more so now, that we have choices to make, not the least of which is whether, when faced with the worst kind of adversity, to be “better or bitter.” We can choose to embrace the pain, the unfairness, the tragedy and stay in that place—angry, bitter, locked in or we can choose to move forward and find ways to identify and use those terrible life lessons to move forward.
I am not the same person I was before my brother died. I know that clearly. But I also know that surviving his loss taught me many things about myself, about my relationships, about what matters. If I could rewind the clock, I would do so in less than a heartbeat. But I can’t. So I carry his presence with me always and I try to let the people I love know how much they mean to me, how much I love them.
As I think about rebuilding past this year of COVID, as I think about pushing beyond the fatigue into the future, I think about those lessons I learned so many years ago. We will never be the people we were prior to COVID. We have all lived through too much, we have struggled, we have been afraid. We have watched elders that we love lose their battle with this virus. We have looked for answers and help that just were not there. We had moments of despair and endless sleepless nights. And we survived.
With vaccine becoming a reality, I believe that we will be successful in vanquishing this virus. I believe that we will be able to restore our strength, our connections and our lives. We can and will all come back from this COVID year. Not unchanged but stronger. Always stronger.