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It's not what life throws at you; it's how you catch it

That’s the best summary of what I learned from more than three decades in the therapist’s chair. And it’s a fitting description for what I’m interested in writing about now.

My clients showed me what it takes to survive illness, loss, trauma, and dysfunction. These days, while I can still see evidence of the same kinds of trouble featured on the nightly news, I just don’t get to see the backstory that explains the survival. I miss it.

I may catch a fragment from the last 30 seconds of the broadcast – the heart-warming account of the little boy who was able to call 911 to save his Grandma because he learned about it that very day at school. Or of the strangers who risked their safety to pull someone from a sinking car. But I’m left with with questions: What might I have done in that situation? And what allowed these people to step up as they did?

In the world I’ve seen through my clients’ eyes however, survival doesn’t usually result from another person’s heroics. And it doesn’t come in one moment, but in days and months and sometimes years of effort and persistence. It comes from reaching inward and finding more strength and backbone that they would have guessed was there. That is what interests me the most.

In the book I'm writing, I trace a number of the challenges that result from loss and the grief that follows. I get to tell numerous stories about the ideas and practices that are part of survival. These losses can range from the obvious – loss of a loved one through death – to loss of health, or safety, or livelihood, or love, all the way to the loss of pets who become loved ones too.

The story I tell is that there are also gains as we grieve – of wisdom, perspective, empathy and compassion. It is these gains that underlie survival, and explain how we can withstand so much more than we know. As the book goes out into the world of publishing seeking its home, I will report on its progress here. And tell the occasional story about survival.

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