How resilience helped me when my darkest fear became my reality
This summer my world changed forever. I went from a happy and confident person who truly believed life was all about what you make it and that very few things were out of my control, to suddenly knowing that the end is not always something you can change and you just have to face it. My mum had always been one of the must central and dependable people in my life. Someone who I could always guarantee would have an opinion on everything, yet would support me no matter what. Someone whose opinions weren’t always wanted but were sometimes needed and who had the immense gift of being able to take away life’s worries with the best hug ever! She meant the world to me.
Two years ago, my mum went through chemotherapy and to her and everyone around her, she was now well and looking forward to enjoying life once again. But fast forward to April this year, I received the phone call that would change everything. I returned to the UK to nurse my mum for the first 3 weeks at home. I watched her braving the pain yet seeing her waste away in front of my very eyes before she had to be taken into hospital. The disease we all thought she had beaten was now going to take her away from me and there was nothing I could do. My life was turned upside down and the idea of me being able to save her was blown to pieces.
The fabric of my close-knit family began to loosen and fray. My Dad simply could not cope and as someone who had enjoyed having his best friend and wife steadfastly by his side since he was 11 years old, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how he must have felt. He just couldn’t watch her fade away. As a daughter so usually full of conviction and strength, it was now down to me.
How do you draw strength when one of your biggest fears is staring you in the face?
The days and nights blurred into one but I remember the moment when it completely and utterly hit me that she was leaving us very soon. The room was dark and clinical. My mum was sleeping and I felt so alone and overwhelmed. I felt like a victim and an outsider, a spare wheel to the end result. Against such a backdrop of sadness and despair, what I am about to say might seem a bit flippant but its so very important and it’s the very reason why I professionally find myself totally and utterly believing in what I do. Put simply, when the light at the end of the tunnel had most certainly gone out.
My resilience felt like it was the only thing left that I could take control over and it felt like a saviour
When all hope of my mum’s recovery had violently disappeared and I was faced with the cold and heartless truth. My resilience felt like it was the only thing left that I could take control over and it felt like a saviour. I realised that whilst my emotions were all over the place and the world around me had turned to chaos. I found myself pulling on every single resilience skill I knew and they were working! I was starting to claw back control. Although it was a time filled with total and utter despair, I was able to dig deep and find the strengths I knew so well that had become so lost and forgotten amongst the fear, anger and uncertainty.
Despite everything, things weren’t spiralling out of my control, I had a job to do and I was going to do it to the best of my ability. It was possible for me to make a difference with what little time I had left with my mum. I took control of every single minute I had with her, from decisions around medication through to getting her rolled over at night to ease her discomfort and the more I took control the better I felt. I was doing this for me but more to the point, for her. Signs went up on her door for no one to enter unless it was necessary and visitors were turned away at her request. Many small things that would make a huge difference and I implemented them.
I stayed with her for 2 long weeks that now don’t feel enough. I slept beside her and loved and cared for her for every minute I had left with her. In those 2 weeks, I mainly had only myself to talk to as my mum slipped in and out of consciousness. I will always be thankful of the love and support I had from friends and family but they weren’t there in the middle of the night or when I left the room to sob or when my mum opened her eyes for the very last time and told me she loved me. It was me and my resilience skills that allowed me to understand my thoughts and emotions and give me a clear vision of what needed to be done.
It was these resilience skills that gave me the confidence and clear head to take control
To be able to sit and hold her hand for hours on end whether she knew I was there or not. When my Mum’s last breath came, it didn’t end there. There was no respite, just relief that she was no longer in pain. I still had to be strong. I had a funeral to organise and a family that spread further than just me and mine to look out for. A brother that was devastated, a father that had lost his wife and best friend and my son who saw my mum as his second mum. It’s a huge responsibility and a heavy stone to carry but I did it. I did it with the help and belief that makes me go to work every day. The knowledge that we all face adversity in our lives and times when the darkness settles and we can’t see a way out.
This sad memory and experience will sit with me for the rest of my life but one of the big things I learnt was don’t ever tell yourself you can’t find some element of control in your life no matter how bad things get. You are just looking at it from the wrong angle. Being able to draw on my many resilience skills saved me in so many ways. It gave me the gift of time with my mum. The piece of mind and reassurance that the little time I had left with my mum had meaning and it mattered. I made a difference and was able to see that, no matter how bad things got. The main reason I’m sharing this with you…. Our ability to be resilient is never more important than when we are faced with adversity. But it’s important to know that my experience of losing my mum is an extreme one.
The reality is that we all face adversity every single day
Times when we lose our heads and can’t think straight. Times when our worries get too much or everything all seems so uncertain and we just don’t know what to do. Too many of us coast through life either ignoring our worries or waiting until the pressure gets too much and only to find ourselves breaking down and not functioning at all. Learning the skills behind being resilient gave me the gift of making the short time I had left with my mum count. It allowed me to step up to the plate and do what was needed without totally burning myself out. In so many ways it acted as a protective buffer against the extreme situation I found myself in. This is why I do what I do every single day and totally and utterly believe that everyone should learn the skills behind being resilient.