The Road to Greater Resilience
I stood on my tiptoes and reached for the familiar black box, the box that had ‘lived’ in our laundry room cabinet for the past 20 years. The clippers inside the box were used countless times over those years to give my two sons their summer haircuts- the kind that don’t require a comb for the months of June, July, and August!
This time, however, I wasn’t grabbing the box for my sons.
This time I was grabbing those familiar clippers to shave my daughter’s head.
Her long, thick hair had begun falling out shortly after her cancer diagnosis, first in strands and then in larger clumps. She read that if she got it cut to a shorter length, it might slow down the speed with which she was losing it so she had already gone from hair down her back to hair at her chin level.
The bob cut didn’t work, though. And so, on this day, I heard, “Today’s the day, Mom. I need to get rid of this awful straw on my head.”
I sprang into action doing what I know how to do. I’d cut the boys’ hair for years. I even cut their dad’s. I knew how to use those clippers. Yet as I stood on my tiptoes to reach for the box, I felt the sting of tears beginning to form at the corners of my eyes. Could I really do this? Should we go somewhere to get it done? Are there experts out there who cut off a woman’s hair and then assure her it’s all going to be okay?
Now, two years later, I ask myself how I made it through days like that. She had it the worst, of course. She’s the one who went through the chemo and the after-effects of it. She put her life on hold and even moved back in with her dad and me so we could help with her care. She lay in her bed many days while the rest of us went to work (Cancer doesn’t mean the bills stop coming.), and she was all alone. I give her props. She made it through. And so did I. But now I can’t help but ask myself, how did I do it?
I chalk it up to resilience.
Being strong in the face of adversity is what we do when we know there’s no other choice. No one has a life that flows along on a perfectly smooth road. We all have bumps at one time or another. It’s important when hitting those bumps that we ramp up our own level of resilience. I found I was able to do just that by following these guidelines:
1. Stay strong and concentrate on what’s going well.
Sure, my daughter had cancer, but God had given us a way to help her through that tumultuous time by welcoming her and her family into our home. Many nights we enjoyed dinner together laughing and sharing stories of our day just as we did when she and her brothers were growing up. Our grandson snuggled with us in the mornings, and we happily agreed with our daughter when she figured out it’s a lot cheaper to be bald- no shampoo, no hair products, and no ponytail holders needed! As we travel the bumpy road, it’s important that we do our best to find the really amazing things on the side of that road.
2. Focus on your ‘destination’.
With each chemo treatment, we talked about how many were down and how many we had to go. We knew our destination, and at the beginning it seemed a long way to have to ‘travel’. We stuck with it, though, made it to the end, and hugged and cried and said prayers of gratitude when her final scan came back clear. It’s easy to fall off our ‘path’ so we must keep our eyes locked in to that final destination and then tell ourselves- sometimes over and over again- that we’re going to be all right.
3. Take care of yourself.
Those bumps in the road often belong to other people. And as we do all we can to help them over the bumps, we can forget about what WE need. Take a deep breath. Be mindful of the splendor all around us. Go for that walk or bike ride or run or work out at the gym. Get a good, healthy night’s sleep, and eat foods that build us up rather than drag us down. Taking care of others only works when we take care of ourselves, too.
Her hair is back to her chin level. It came in thick just like it’s always been, but it also came in curly. For years and years, she wanted curly hair. We’d curl it, and those curls would fall right out almost immediately. And now after all of the pain and difficulties we endured, she got her childhood dream. It just took a ride on a really bumpy road to get there.