Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Lessons in resilience:

Sometimes there isn't a happy ending, but how we deal with it is what helps us to learn, grow and thrive.
By Caroline McMahon
Date: June 30 2014
Tags: family life,
Editor Rating:

This week has panned out like a movie script. A really bad movie. One that I don't get to re-write to ensure a happy ending. This week has surpassed our previous annus horribilis that presented a few years ago.

Nearly four years ago, a 36-hour period turned us upside down. In brief, my sons and I were carjacked in the driveway of my parents’ home, just a few blocks away from ours. While no one was physically hurt, the psychological scars stay with us; my damaged car eventually was fixed. My youngest son has been plagued by the events of that day every day since then, and will never be the same. He is mistrustful of strangers and new situations. I wish his exuberance and confidence would return, I fear it may never come back to him.

Our assailant was charged with attempted armed robbery and a lengthy court process commenced, requiring my sons and I to relive this more often than we wished to. At the last minute we were spared being witnesses in his trial. A small blessing.

The car jacking was on the Saturday evening and by early Monday morning I was taking my husband to hospital after a fall at a building site. The green dust used by forensic police was still fresh on the driver's side of my car, I hadn't even had a chance to clean it off, as I drove him to hospital.

Major surgery to a badly dislocated shoulder followed and my one-armed bricklayer husband then required five months to recover before returning to work. While he diligently rehabilitated, it was hard on our family, especially in those early weeks trying to manage our traumatised sons, supporting my injured husband in hospital who was physically in a lot of pain but mentally tortured as to his working and financial future.

The culmination of this was when I took my eldest son to see his dad in hospital as they had not seen each other for a few days. Not long after arriving in my husband's hospital room, Liam started to faint. I saw him look blank and was able to guide my then 14-year-old, 184cm son safely to the floor.

His pale face took a long time to return to its pinkish colour and regain consciousness, nurses flying around me getting oxygen, my husband crying in his bed, wanting to help but not being able to. And me just crumpled in a heap on the floor, trying to support my son's weight and wake him up. The shock of seeing his normally robust and gregarious father lying weak and helpless in a hospital bed was just too overwhelming for him. A low point.

But this week took a new twist.

It started on the Monday, with me receiving a call at work to say that Nic had fallen at school and a very sore ankle; that I needed to collect him. As I headed toward his school I had hoped it was a mild sprain. Not to be. A broken ankle in two places was identified swiftly on x-Ray. The broken ankle was not so much of the problem - but the trip away planned for the next week.

Nic had trained hard to be selected to travel around Europe on a five-week water polo training camp. This was a certainty that he could no longer go. A brave Nic at school, he hobbled to the car in great pain but once we were en route to the nearest hospital broke down and cried. He knew the outcome of a broken ankle. My heart broke in two places then too. Years of training and dreaming of his time for this opportunity, had abruptly come to a halt.

The next evening Liam complained of a sore chest. Having sustained a chest injury a few years earlier, he occasionally gets a flare of nerve trouble that causes his chest to spasm, and requires medication to control. The side effect of the medication is sedation and a lowered heart rate.

We have learned that he needs to be medicated quickly and after resting for a few days it usually resolves enough to return to school. In his final year of school this is a concern. After some days the chest pain kept getting worse and I was up checking on him through the night, frightened of what would be waiting for me on my nocturnal checks.

He was then found to have a new and rare problem requiring cortisone injections into his chest to reduce the pain that he is experiencing. As I held his hand while the needles were inserted, I remembered the first time I held his tiny, curled up hand. His hand now larger than mine, his elegant and long fingers wrapped tightly around my own ageing hand, still seeking reassurance and motherly love. The fear in his eyes upset what little strength and resolve that I have left.

My shoulders and heart are heavy, for the second time this week I have supported my sons through great pain.

By that same night my mum had taken my dad to hospital with his deteriorating health. His Alzheimer's had worsened and was now in complete delerium. I physically restrained him as he tried to climb off the emergency department trolley, stopping him from pulling out his drip and containing him from lashing out at the already frazzled hospital staff, and my mother, his wife of 48 years. My mental and physical exhaustion had hit a new low.

This 36-hour period in our life has well overtaking our previous lousy 36- hour dramas.

My husband had also grown distant and angry; he too, overwhelmed with the situation, which seemed to be worsening by the day. I feel like I am swimming alone, around an island of trouble, with no life raft in sight.

As I drove off to work the next morning, thinking about the day ahead, the clients that I needed to see and follow up with, how I was going to fit everything in my already busy day, I noticed a local young man who is intellectually challenged, standing at the bus stop.

His parents would never have stressed over him missing the sporting tour of a lifetime, as he would never be able to play sport at that level. Nor would his family have worried how much school he would miss with a mystery illness, as he would never sit his final year 12 exams. It quickly brought into perspective how short term and insignificant our family problems were.

While our trials are real, intense and overwhelming, the weeks ahead will lessen from its current intensity, and peace will return to our home. We will bear a few scars and we will limp along for a while, but expect a full recovery.

The young man at the bus stop will live with his disability.

Our family friends are recovering from their youngest son being diagnosed with a brain tumour, his long-term recovery still uncertain. That is the big stuff.

I am constantly surprised by a close few friends that turned up on my door step with a meal and a hug. Knowing they couldn't make things better, but could make sure I had one thing less to do and show how much they cared. Even cooking a meal for my mum. That is the big stuff.

So today things started to turn.

Liam's pain has improved after the cortisone injections and he has nearly caught up on his missed schooling.

Nic has grieved and mourned for the Europe trip he was looking forward to, and he has finally emerged from his room and resuming his interaction with the family. The flight took off as planned with his mates; he was not on it. Finality that no last minute miracle came to save him from his grief. The last stage of his grieving process came late in the day. Acceptance. We have seen him classically moving through the stages of grief and loss, denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Acceptance is now here, the healing process has begun.

The growing up and maturity that my husband and I had hoped that he would gain on his European travels have appeared this week in our own home. He has accepted an expected adverse outcome, and while not happy about it, he has dealt with it maturely and as best he can.

The lesson of resilience has been big. As it is not the knock that sends you down, but how you get back up that is important.

For Liam, the resilience of dealing with illness at inconvenient times is part of being an adult. That coping with pain and then catching up on school work will have long term benefits. It is not what you feel like doing, but you just have to do it.
For my husband, the frustration of not being able to make the dramas that we faced improve or go away, overcomes him. His retreat away from me rather than working together is tough, but the resilience of over twenty years of marriage tells me that things will calm down and we will continue to move forward together and as a family. This is the big stuff.

The sun is out on this winter's day.

I think I will head to the beach with my dogs and feel the sun's rays on my face and heat on my bones. The wind and the crashing waves will help clear my crowded mind.

I am like a computer screen with too many tabs open, darting from one screen to the other. I just need to simplify, take a big breath and look forward to a healing week ahead. I know there will be more difficult times in years to come and I ask the universe to let us just move in from these troubled weeks before it sends the next turbulent waves, and let us feel the calm waters of peace again, even for just a little while.

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