When Resilience Really Counts.

Resilience PicI have had to deliver a lot of bad news to patients during my practice career. I’ve told hundreds of patients that they have tumor or cancer, that their spouse has died, that their sibling has died or that their child has died.

I have had to directly inform patients that they were dying, providing them an opportunity to tidy things up before the precious few days they have remaining end. They have no time to waste.

Once, a little girl was solemnly brought to my office by her mother. She pulled me aside and asked me to inform her daughter that her father had been killed earlier that day in an automobile accident. She just couldn’t bear to deliver the horrible news herself.

Everyone will face tragedy or crisis in their life at some point. This is a requisite symptom of the human condition. Since everyone is unique, everyone will handle a crisis in their own way but some common themes do emerge.

When bad news is delivered some people will stare at the floor or their hands and go silent, trying to weigh the precise meaning of the words I just uttered and how they will be affected by them as they seem to settle into a kind of benign resignation.

Some people will glower at me, blinking but emotionless at first, as they begin to question the accuracy and validity of the news. They will reach a state of denial rather quickly. It is the quintessential defense mechanism on full display.

Others will become more animated and begin to ask questions ever more rapidly, sometimes even before I can fully answer the last one. They are rushing headlong into the future with their bad news in tow in hopes of learning something that will change the course of their destiny.

A few will immediately and dramatically decompensate with completely uninhibited and loud weeping, wailing and bemoaning. Good or bad, it becomes a spectacle for all to witness.

Oddly, some will actually look relived, even smile, because in a strange way their worst fears have been confirmed, their morbid prognostications verified, their inner convictions validated. They are happy that they were right. They are vindicated.

Panic will cross the face of many as the full impact of the unhappy and unwelcome news is felt. Almost everyone sheds tears before they leave the office. I always have a box of tissues handy for them, and sometimes for me.

The day before yesterday I had to tell a patient that her breast biopsy was positive for cancer. She became tearful but her overall look was one of resolve. She had no intention of throwing in the towel.

She squared her shoulders, faced me directly and asked appropriate questions. She wanted to know exactly what she needed to do in order to ensure her chances of survival. I could tell that she was determined to survive and that is always a great sign for a more positive outcome.

I have noticed that when faced with the possibility of death, very few people will actually give up completely. Whether for themselves or for their loved ones, most will fight for survival, fiercely in fact. That is called resilience.

I have often thought that I want to be that resilient if and when my time comes, like the last example of the lady with the breast cancer. Yet, when I look back on my own life I can see where I have given up over choices and situations that were much less threatening to me. I didn’t fight.

Many bad and undesirable things have happened to me over the course of my life just as they have to you, dear reader. Most were because of the choices I made, others because of the actions of others that I could not control.

There were so many times that acted, or failed to act, out of fear because resilience was outside of my comfort zone. I often chose not to be resilient. As a result, I reacted to crisis and tragedy in almost every one of the non-resilient ways I have just described.

I made a decision sometime ago to try and face every challenge with resilience. I have not always been successful. Old habits are sometimes hard to break.

But, when I have chosen the path of resilience in the face of crisis or tragedy, difficult situations always improve more quickly, more possibilities for surviving and thriving emerge, recovery is more complete and lessons are always learned leaving me better off than before.

I have learned when resilience really counts – always.

Do you feel you are resilient? How do you handle a crisis or tragedy?

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