About six months after my 19-year-old daughter Maya died, I remember walking home from the commuter train station in so much pain I was not sure I could make it. When I reached my driveway, I was choking back tears. I looked up and saw a giant Redwood tree, the furls and gnarls in the bark, the majestic branches, and the strength coming from that tree went straight to my soul. In that moment, I realized that, like the tree, I had to stand through all weather until the storm passed.
When the unimaginable happens, how do we go on? This is the question Swimming with Maya attempts to answer. How do we get back up after life knocks us down? As a memoir, my book is a very personal account of one woman’s journey. It is not a self-help book, but it is inspirational and motivational because it shows how I became more resilient than I ever thought I could be.
Resilience is mysterious! For me, it’s a combination of divine grace and luck of the draw. I’ve always been an optimist. Perhaps I was born that way, or maybe I absorbed it as a child by watching my mother and father.
Both my parents were professional actors and my Dad’s motto was “The show must go on.” Even under trying circumstances, my parents expected me to go out and do my best. I saw both my parents do this against tough odds so I picked it up early.
I learned to find humor in almost any situation. The saying “Tragedy plus time equals comedy” rings true for me. While I can’t quite get there with Maya’s death, I can remember plenty of other difficult experiences and laugh about them. Humor figures in some parts of Swimming with Maya, and in almost everything I write there is always a dollop of irony. I try not to take myself – or life – too seriously!
The geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, MD, writing in Psychiatric Times, says resilient people are characterized by commitment, dynamism, humor in the face of adversity, patience, optimism, faith and altruism. My type-A father was naturally gifted with six of the seven traits, but Dad was not a patient person.
As my father aged, he faced challenges that would have defeated many. He recovered from colon cancer surgery and a broken hip, and until his death at the age of 92, was president of the resident’s council at his nursing home, despite his advancing dementia. His final illnesses forced patience upon him.
Whether by nature or nurture, I have followed my father’s example by handling setbacks with renewed determination. My default setting is always humor and a belief that I’ll do better next time. Try telling me I can’t do something, and I will prove to you that I can!
The death of a child is considered one of life’s worst events. I won’t sugarcoat it. I thought losing Maya would kill me. And for the first two years after she tied, I clung to any life raft I could, including the image of that Redwood tree. But after 21 years of mining the gifts of grief, being inspired by people like my Dad, and learning to take really good care of myself, I can truthfully say my life is better than ever.
Deciding to donate Maya’s organs and tissues to strangers in need (altruism) was a huge factor in my recovery, and in the way my surviving daughter Meghan dealt with the loss of her sister. We were privileged to have something miraculous come out of something horrific. That gave us hope. Having hope motivated me to keep on keeping on.
In Swimming with Maya I recount our journey in detail. Please enter to win a copy of my book, and thanks to Mari for hosting me today at Create Write Now.