The Value of Resilience

BY: Judy Beckman, MA, LSW

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

Death. I think about it a lot. It is a constant companion. It haunts us as individuals and in community with others. If we live long enough, we will all experience the deaths of loved ones. How is it that most of us are able to continue with our lives despite immense sadness and pain due to these losses? 

As a bereavement coordinator, I have the privilege and honor of working with people who are suffering the devastating loss of loved ones. I am humbled as they share their memories with me. They are reaching out to a stranger to share their most intimate feelings and vulnerabilities. They were able to get out of bed, get dressed, come for a visit, talk on the phone or do any of the activities that we take for granted. Often many other losses from the past, as well as other memories, are triggered by the recent grief. I ask them: "How have you managed to keep going?"

Often, the answer will be, "I don't know." Or, "What choice do I have?" So many of us do not recognize the amazing resilience we have that enable us to "keep on keepin' on" in spite of the hardships of life. Many people define resilience as the ability to "roll with the punches" or the "ability to bounce back from life's tragedies," including the death of a loved one. 

Resilience does not save one from suffering immense pain, sadness and other strong feelings. Rather, it is the notion that one is able to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other regardless of life's tragedies and setbacks. People with a high degree of resilience do not deal with these setbacks with a "stiff upper lip" or by themselves in isolation from others. The exact opposite appears to be true. They seem to have the ability to reach out to others, to talk about their thoughts and feelings and to set reasonable goals and commitments.

We are not born with resilience, although some of us may be predisposed to a sunnier outlook. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), "Developing resilience is a personal journey." Just as grief is a unique experience, so is building resilience. What might work for one person may not work for another. Culture as well as personality will affect the tools one uses. In the APA's "Road to Resilience," several ways are suggested including tools that grief counselors suggest as well.

These include: 

  • Make connections with others—not only with loved ones but others as well. 
  • Allow oneself to experience strong feelings. 
  • Look at ways that stress and loss were handled in the past to identify the factors that were helpful in coping. 
  • Take care of one's needs—including eating and exercising • Learn to accept change as inevitable. 

These are a few of the many ways to build resilience. If you are a bereaved person, reading this article is a step toward building resilience. To borrow a phrase from the 12-step programs, "Resilience is a process, not a sudden landing.

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