Resilience

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This past weekend I attended a conference in south Florida.  On my way down, I stopped at the cemetery in Fort Lauderdale to pay my respects.  I rounded the corner of the columbarium and there was a ladder just below Rick’s niche and an open space above. For someone raised in the Christian faith, you can only imagine my visceral reaction upon seeing an open vault once sealed!  It simply turned out that another man’s ashes were being inurned above my husband’s.

It is less than a year ago that I, sobbing, handed the urn holding Rick’s cremated remains up to a cemetery worker standing on a ladder with a niche open and ready to seal him up forever.  That was the last time I held him in my arms.

Since becoming a widow, I have thought about the concept of resilience.  Rick had gobs and gobs of resilience.  Years ago when we thought his two knee replacements might be his only health challenges, I admired the way he pushed through the rehab, doing the maximum possible to regain range of motion.  He wanted to return to motorcycling and bicycling as soon as he could and so he had a laser focus on his results.

As I faced my hip replacement surgery this year, I worried I did not have his resilience and might lack the fortitude to push through rehab well by myself.  It turns out I did have enough after all, and am back to bicycling and dragon boating.

Among the many interesting speakers at the conference was a former POW:  Captain Dave Carey, USN, Retired.  He is now a motivational speaker and draws parallels between his ability to endure imprisonment and beatings with how we civilians handle our own challenges.  He indicated about 75% of Vietnam-Era POW’s have fared well.  Studies have shown, according to Captain Carey, that certain traits portend better resilience.  They include being reasonably optimistic, not a loner, somewhat gregarious, a problem-solver and having faith.  While those qualities may seem logical, what caught my attention was that he believes they are teachable, not just innate.  During my long drive back home I pondered this.  I do not think they can be “taught” but maybe emulation of others can help get us through difficult times.  If I had not had Rick as a role model in joint replacement recovery, perhaps I would have struggled more in my own.

I close this post with a quote from Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her own cancer battle in 2010.  She wrote, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.  You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

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