What death, dying and grief taught me about resiliency

Losing a child is said to be a mother’s worst nightmare. I have lived that nightmare, twice.

It started in 1991 when my 9-month-old daughter died in an accident. It was horrible. Children are not meant to die before their parents. Talking about her became the elephant in the room. Nobody would mention her for the fear of making me hurt more. In truth, my heart ached to speak her name. There were many times I cried myself to sleep. I survived by digging deep into my inner soul, the depths of my existence.

Nearly 30 years after the death of my 9-month-old daughter, my world was shattered again with the suicide of my 24-year-old son. My dreams for his future were shattered. I had sleepless nights, angry moments, and lack of focus. I was living my worst nightmare again.

My pain and suffering are not limited to the loss of children. In between their deaths, other family members passed away.

8 years after my daughter died, my father died at 69 years young. To say we were close cannot describe our relationship. Dad’s passing was extremely difficult, and I grieved deeply. However, I had tools from surviving my daughter’s death which I tapped into. I knew I made it through the worst possible nightmare of losing a child so I knew I would make it through my dad’s passing.

My next loss was 10 years after my dad. This time, I mourned for my best friend and sister. She was the one that led me to my relationship with God.

By this time, I was wondering, what else? I was already bracing myself for my 82-year-old mothers passing. She died seven years after my sister and was my rock, my foundation who supported me through a horrible divorce.

With the loss of my mom, I felt like I handled my grief better because I survived the loss of my daughter, my dad, and my sister. I had developed more tools to navigate my pain and suffering. With each death, I became stronger. My grief didn’t get easier, I got better at handling it.

When I share my story of loss, so many people tell me I have been through a lot, that the magnitude of my losses are immense. They wonder how much more I can endure and how did I survive? To me… this is normal, to survive the loss of two children, both parents, my sister, other young family members to suicide and very recently my older brother to suicide.

The odds were against me being able to survive my losses, especially my children. Since my daughter’s death, and each subsequent family members passing, I have been saying that I am a survivor. However, I’ve had it all wrong from the beginning. I have not been surviving. Instead, through death, dying and grief, I developed resilience to adversity, trauma, and tragedy.

Resilience is the capacity to adapt to negative change and overcome it as quickly as possible. I must say, it is not those that have it easy that develop resilience, it is those who struggle, are beaten down and want to give up that become resilient. I faced many struggles and at times wanted to give up. There were days that my couch and the remote control were my best friends.

Resiliency is the ability to turn ourselves from being broken into a million pieces to a mosaic masterpiece of art. The pieces fit together, even with the cracks and rugged edges. When we lean into our challenges and look closely through a magnifying glass, all we see are the fragments of pain and suffering. When we step back, away from the microscopic lens, the exquisiteness shines through. We see how beautifully the pieces fit and that those pieces make us who we are.

How we process the negative is due to our attitude and how we act to challenges. I made a conscious decision that I can and will overcome them, not despite of my trauma, or tragedy, rather it is because of them that I have found purpose and passion. My many wounds now are wisdom, wisdom that I use to help others.

This is what death, dying and grief taught me about resilience.


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