The life that I knew disappeared forever on March 14th.
This is my first article for MummyPages since the events of that fateful day and it feels wrong to simply pick up where I left off, just choose a topic and write about strategies to deal with the issue at hand. Instead I would like to share the learnings that I have gained in the intervening months since I have contributed a piece to the MummyPages website.
On Tuesday March 14th I was woken at 6am by a phone call from my sister who lives four doors away from me. Our sister Dara was a Captain with the Irish Coast Guard and the Rescue 116 helicopter that she was flying on a mission during the night had gone down, was out of radio contact, and was missing. No one knew any more at that time and all we could do as a family was to gather together at that house four doors away from me, where Dara and my other sister lived with Dara’s young son.
Deep down we knew. We just knew that this would not turn out ok. I described it as being like sitting locked in a car that was stuck on a railway track, looking out the window as I could see the train coming down the tracks towards us. I could see it but was absolutely powerless to stop it, I could only sit there waiting, watching, with the cold hands of fear closed in around my heart as I wondered when the train would hit. Approximately six and a half hours after that 6am phone call, the train hit. Two men from the helicopter company came up the path to Dara’s house and into her kitchen where her loved ones were gathered waiting for news, and they told us that the body that had been recovered from the sea was Dara. That train hit with a ferocious impact, a viciousness that was palpable, as we learned that our beloved Dara was gone and that our family and all of our lives had truly changed forever.
The next few hours, days, weeks and in some ways months, went by in a blur. Somehow though, time marched on and it brought us with it, carrying us along like twigs in a stream, taking us along this path from that first day when we heard the news that Dara had died, to the present one where we are learning to live life without her in it. To my surprise, tears run down my face as I type those words…….. “Dara had died”. After all this time I know of course that it is true, but even now it seems unbelievable. It takes my breath away that we will never again see her beautiful smile, hug her, laugh with her, sit around the table and share meals and coffees and chats with her. Such an utter waste.
2017 wasn’t finished, and after Dara’s death, other significant changes in my life have occurred and life as I knew it has changed beyond recognition. If someone had told me a year ago that all this would happen and that my life would turn out like this I would have run away. No question. But mercifully I had no clue of any of what was to come and so when it did, there was only one choice. Face it all head on and deal with it in the most useful way, making sure to not make a horrific situation worse.
Unwittingly and unconsciously, when it came to dealing with the loss of my sister and the challenges that life sent my way, I picked up some of the psychological skills and approach that I have been teaching clients for over 25 years and I firmly believe that it is this that has allowed me to be still standing despite the utter horror and trauma of this year. These skills allowed me to navigate my way through this past eight months without doing what we often do in life – make it worse through our thinking. Below are some of the strategies that I used and they are helpful anytime that hard times hit in life. So, have a read and next time you need to find some resilience, root these out. This is not about strategies for dealing with grief, that is something that we all just have to go through. This is more about sharing some approaches that make dealing with difficult times somewhat more manageable.
1. Feel the feelings
Whatever the emotion, let yourself feel it fully and resist the temptation to avoid the feelings no matter how unpleasant they may be. They are present anyway whether you acknowledge them or not, but avoiding or numbing them with distraction or substances only serves to prolong the moment when they hit. You don’t have to wallow, but neither is it good to avoid.
2. Control the controllables
Whatever the difficult situation that you find yourself in, there will be elements that are out of your control as well as aspects that you can influence. Don’t waste your time on things that are outside of your control, give your full attention to those that you can do something about. Life is already challenging and wishing that things could be different when they cannot possibly be, is a mammoth waste of time and only serves to make things worse.
3. Focus on what is in front of you
Don’t let your mind go down the rabbit hole and race on ahead, keep your focus of attention on what is directly in front of you. Going too far ahead means that you are not living in the present and in difficult times it is vital that you do so, as wandering ahead and reacting to possible scenarios is another waste of time. Respond to what is in front of you rather than to what is imagined, take it one day at a time, one step at a time.
4. Chunk it down
Whatever situation you find yourself dealing with, it will feel too huge when you look at it as a whole. So, chunk it down into manageable slices of time or task and deal with each one at a time. This makes it all seem a bit less overwhelming and a bit more manageable.
5. Practice self care
This is about putting your own oxygen mask on first. In hard times your responsibility is to get yourself into the best possible state to deal with the challenges of the situation. Being depleted is not the desired state, so whether you feel like it or not, ensure that you get good food, hydration, some rest and some exercise as all will build you up.
6. Gather support
Even if you were the most independent person before the hard times hit, let others gather around you and support you. Feeling connected, having other opinions and perspectives, and getting some practical help, all contribute to letting you feel that you can indeed navigate through this current challenge.
7. Get professional help
Whatever your situation, if you are going through hard times consider seeing a psychologist, counsellor or psychotherapist to guide you on that journey. I went to a psychologist myself and found it to be hugely beneficial and I still go whenever I need that bit of space to express my feelings and to find some clarity.
Thinking and behaving in ways that are useful allow you to not get in your own way, to not make tough times even harder, to be resilient, to adapt, to bounce back. So, apply the strategies above to your life when hard times hit and you will give yourself the best chance of navigating through into calmer times. Through that journey you will find a strength in yourself that you had no idea you possessed. This won’t change the situation nor make it all ok, but it will help you to feel that whatever life throws at you from now on, you can find a way to handle it and there is most definitely some small comfort in this.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice” (Bob Marley).