Adversity will happen It's guaranteed. The more important and interesting question is how will you choose to engage with it. What will you do to turn adversity into a learning opportunity?
Anyone who has ever been a caregiver to someone has faced great strain. This spring, I embarked on a journey that no one "chooses" but also one that over 44 million Americans are on currently. As a beloved, childless, widowed uncle embarked into a cancer journey, my husband and I choose to step up. As the closest (and healthiest) family member, I was the most obvious and able person to assume the role of caregiver. In the process, I learned more about adversity and what it means to engage with it than I imagine possible.
4 Things that Happen When you Navigate Undesirable and Stressful Experiences
You see the core character of those around you. Who they are, what they believe, and how they live--all these things quickly come into view. Let's face it, stress, illness and uncertainty do not bring out the best in most people. In my experience, as a professional psychologist and as family member, stress, illness and uncertainty can strip us to our core and reveal who we are. Many speak decisively of how they want to help, but few show up. Many people disappear. Some who do show up aren't pretty.
But the experience is not necessarily negative. For everyone who disappoints, there are others who come through. During the experience of caring for my uncle, my husband's core character was revealed. I am profoundly grateful to see yet again who he is, what he values, and how much he loves, respects and supports me.
You reconnect to what matters. Most people I know have more than they want to do than there is time in the day. We are all forced to make chooses. Adversity and caring for a loved one presents a new opportunity to focus on what matters most, who matters most and why we exist.
You find new fortitude within. As we juggled caring for an aging and sick relative with our existing work and childcare demands, volumes of responsibilities landed on our plate. I needed to find new energy sources. Rather than reaching for a snickers, you have to dig deep. There is strength to muscle through the long days, to juggle the extra demands, and to get everything done. I found it harder to manage my own perpetual stress as I was trying to think through all the questions, anticipate different scenarios, and manage my uncle's care.
During the longest days, I felt most connected to my father. Even though my father has been dead for almost two years, I felt his loving presence stronger than I had in months. I knew that he is profoundly proud of how I was showing up and loving his brother and his best friend.
Compassion comes from unexpected places. As my uncle's "point person," I was committing to keeping his inner circle of friends current on his status and his needs. Over several months, I forged friendships with people I have never met but with whom I shared a common love--a love for my uncle. Interestingly, the greatest compassion and appreciation that I received for my efforts came from this group of faceless friends.
Did I encounter adversity caring for my uncle? Absolutely. The process was exhausting, demanding and punctuated by events that one can never schedule or control in advance. Over the course of the treatments, however, I also grew and so did those closest to me.