Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Please join us between Thanksgiving and New Year's when our authors present original holiday short stories. We hope they will add to the season's festivities! 11/28 Annette Dashofy, 12/3 E. B. Davis, 12/8 KM Rockwood, 12/13 Korina Moss, 12/18 Tammy Euliano, 12/23 Warren Bull, 12/28 Paula Gail Benson Have a wonderful holiday! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who Are the Survivors? By Gloria Alden

(We are republishing this post by Gloria Alden. Gloria was hospitalized this week. In the spirit of this blog, we send our wishes and prayers to her on recovery. E. B. Davis)

I deliver Mobile Meals every other Thursday. On my route I met a woman for the first time last week although I’ve been delivering meals to her and her husband for over a year. I met him briefly once, and at that time he told me to leave the meals in the basket by the back door and not to knock on the door. The woman – I only know their last names – was cleaning out the car and her little dog came up to greet me. I said “Hi” to her and asked about the dog and made some small talk to which she barely responded. However, she did follow me to the door where I put their meals. I got a glimpse of her husband inside the door, but he quickly disappeared. I mentioned that I knew of her sorrow, and that I had lost my oldest son, too, and I gave her a quick hug. She started to open up, but still did not lose the sadness and anger from her face. She said she and her husband had been married for 39 years and he never hugged her anymore. To tell the truth, the more I listened to her the more I understood his pulling away. She was not only in full grief after five years since her son died from suicide – an Iraq War vet – but she was angry at the whole community and went nowhere anymore. She ranted about how they weren’t there for her anymore and then ranted about how when they did come around they mentioned suicide. What is especially tragic, they have a younger son who now lives in California, and she doesn’t want him to come home because he’s not like her older son, who was special. Foolishly, I gave her my phone number when she said she wanted to call and console me sometimes. I don’t need consoling, but I didn’t tell her that.

I know there is no time line for grieving, but there is a time when one has to stop letting it rule your life. This past winter I joined a Grief Bereavement Team that was being started at my church. So far we’ve only been having meetings with some knowledgeable outsiders. One woman from Hospice was the most helpful. She not only had us all laughing – strange for a bereavement team, right? But she also gave us sound and good advice. One thing she did mention is that some people never let go of their grief and they can’t be helped.

Grieving isn’t just about death of a loved one. It can be over the breakup of a marriage, over an unhappy childhood where one never felt loved, or the loss of a friend who no longer cares to have you for a friend. Even the death of a beloved pet can cause grief.

So why do some people pick themselves up and go on with their life while others continually hold on to their grief, or anger, or their “poor me” outlook on life?

My granddaughter, Megan's and son, John's graves. 
The loss of a child can be one of the most devastating events in a parent’s life. I know and so does one of my daughters.  She lost her only child who at that time was just six. And yet both my daughter and I went on and live productive lives. Do we still think of our children and miss them and what might have been if they’d survived? Of course, we do.

I’ve experienced the loss of a child, my first grandchild, my parents, a dearly loved brother and a best friend of fifty years plus numerous other relatives. And yet I’m a cheerful and optimistic person who loves life. Did I love my son less than this woman still grieving loved her son? No.

I also experienced the loss of a long time marriage. My dad died on a Saturday night, his funeral was on Tuesday, a friend called me that night to express her condolences and in the conversation mentioned my husband was having an affair. I confronted him with it and the next day, a Wednesday we went to his lawyer where he’d already set everything up and then on Saturday our house went on the market. I survived that, too, and am now quite happily single.

So what I’m wondering about is what gives some of us the strength to go on? I started college for the first time after the death of my eighteen year old son. I got a degree in elementary education and spent twenty years teaching third grade and loving it. Does my inner strength come from my parents? They were great parents teaching us all the important values of life; a work ethic, honesty, compassion, a love of learning and books and so many other things. But I have several writing friends who had unhappy childhoods. Two women who are good friends of mine had wicked stepmothers who made life miserable for them while they were growing up, and yet both have positive outlooks and a good sense of humor making them a delight to be around and both live productive lives working and writing. 

Almost every week I read in the paper or somewhere about people who have survived incredible hardships and persevere to make productive lives for themselves, hardships that make what I’ve gone through puny by comparison. I tip my hat or lift a glass of wine to those people who overcame all odds and in one way or another survived with a positive attitude.


Why do you think some people are able to overcome life’s hardships while others can’t?


Jim Jackson said...

Some people mush have the world revolve around them – and so they close a circle with grief at the center. Others live within the world and find ways to cope and even prosper, as you have so clearly done.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I'm empathetic to those suffering grief. It's horrible, but at some point during the process of grief, the griever must chose to support himself and understand that although life will not be the same, it goes on with the possibility of it being good.

Faith is involved. It either makes you or breaks you. There is a point at which the griever stops grieving for the one lost and grieving for themselves--self indulgence. A bit of self awareness is required.

I think what determines those who survive is whether or not the griever defined themselves through the lost person/marriage/whatever. If his identity was established, it will re-emerge after the grief has been processed.

Ann G said...

I think we do have some freedom about how to respond to our circumstances, but I also think there's an element of luck - that some are just born with more emotional resilience than others, just as some of us are born with better physical health.

I picked up an analogy years ago that stuck with me, although I no longer recall where I read it. And I try to remember, that it's impossible to tell from the outside whether someone is playing a good hand very badly, or a bad hand really very well.

But when it comes to our own hand, there's no point in weeping and wailing about it - we just have to play as best we can.

Warren Bull said...

Family and friends can be supportive. You need at least one non-judgmental person who will stand by you as you and listen to your rants and ravings.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post but I think it is important to understand that resilience means different things to different people and happens in different ways over different lengths of time. It is not our place to judge. I once had the honor of meeting a troubled poet who, as a teen, bore her father's child and had to give the child away. Grieving for all her father stole from her-no matter how many years it takes- is certainly not self-indulgent. She writes when she can and engages with the world when she can. I think that she is one of the strongest people whom I have ever met. So let's not apply our standards to people with different starting points. What might look like stumbling on to an outsider may in fact be an on- going process of enduring and transcending loss.

KM Rockwood said...

It's tough to say what makes one person able to cope and another not. Some of it, I think has to do with the resources, especially those developed in childhood. I don't like the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." How about all the crippled people, both physically and mentally?

Paula Gail Benson said...

I appreciate so much this thoughtful post, Gloria, and all the comments. I think opening oneself to learning and to hope are important for dealing with any crisis.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I think that might be a reason. I never thought about it that way.

E.B. wise words. I never thought about the griever defining themselves as a part of the one that they lost in stead of having their own identity.

Ann, you are so right. We all have different hands dealt us and it's how we play them that counts.

Kara Cerise said...

That's a good question, Gloria, and I wish I had a good answer. I don’t think there is just one reason why some people seem to be better at coping with tragedy. It's probably a complex combination of many factors that help or hinder someone struggling to overcome hardships.

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, I've been lucky to have both family and friends there to support me when I needed it. Unfortunately, not everyone has that.

Anonymous you are right. That poet went through something I would have had trouble dealing with. I think my problem with that woman is that she seems to be rejecting the son she still has.

You're right, Kathleen. I was one of the lucky ones who had good parents and that counts for a lot. It would be hard to have strength - although many still do - if one had a disfunctional and terrible childhood.

Thank you, Paula. I'm finding the comments very enlightening.

Gigi Pandian said...

What a thoughtful post, Gloria. When I was recovering from a long treatment of chemotherapy to treat an aggressive cancer, I learned about the term "post-traumatic growth," the flip side of post-traumatic stress. It explained how I was able to throw myself into living life to the fullest after my life was turned upside down my future was uncertain. I don't know why that was my reaction to it, but I'm so glad that it was, and I hope it's something I'll be able to tap into when life throws something else unexpected my way.

Gloria Alden said...

Gigi, I consider you one of my heroes. I remember how you went through your battle with cancer with such a positive attitude. I'm not sure I could have done that without some moaning and complaining. You are a true survivor because of an inner core of strength.

Kait said...

What a wonderful, thoughtful post. First, Gloria, my sympathies. I work in probate and I see first hand the kinds of devastation you have experienced. It is hard to go on with your life, but that is the best gift you can give your loved one. That you love them enough to continue on. It sounds like a conundrum, but it isn't. Sorrow and pain is a cauldron, and from it the survivors emerge strengthened and compassionate. Thank you for a touching post.

Polly Iyer said...

I loved this post, Gloria. Your questions deserve answers, but there really aren't any that fit all situations. I consider myself a pragmatist, but I think there are some things in life that stretch emotions to the breaking point, and that point is different for each of us. Thankfully, you took the best from your life instead of dwelling on the worst. I've lost close friends but that's part of life's cycle; however, no parent should bury a child. Hugs to you.(To you too, Gigi. I'm delighted to have met both of you at Malice.)

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Kait. I don't feel heroic in any way, but credit it to the strength I got from my family - parents, siblings and children.

Polly, you're right about some people being stretched to the breaking point. This morning I was thinking of all our soldiers who suffer from PSD, something that comes from the horrific situation they found themselves in. My heart goes out to them.

KM Rockwood said...

What a survival story, Gloria!

I hope you recover quickly and get home to your animals, who I am sure miss you terribly.

Susan said...

Gloria, This is quite a remarkable post. I hear you are ailing and I hope you feel better soon. Each day feel better!