How does resilience help widowed people heal?
The Soaring Spirits Resilience Center research team asked widowed people to help us define resilience as it applies to the widowed experience and the results are inspiring. –Soaring Spirits Website
The time I first heard about the Soaring Spirits Resilience Center in the Texas Hill Country, I wanted to see it in person. This morning, I’m ready to plan a field trip.
Last week’s blog ended with homework
which was the task of studying my own resilience, using the list from The American Psychological Association’s Road to Resilience Initiative, which identifies 10 ways to build resilience. I hung the list on my wall, but before long it occurred to me that Soaring Spirits has a Resilience Center. It became immediately clear that I should first speak with Dr. Carrie West who, with Michele Neff Hernandez, was at the heart of Soaring Spirits’ Resilience Center at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas.
The American Psychological Association’s Road to Resilience Initiative identified 10 ways to build resilience:
- Make Connections
- Avoid seeing crisis as insurmountable problems
- Accept that change is a part of living
- Move toward your goals
- Take decisive actions
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery
- Nurture a positive view of yourself
- Keep things in perspective
- Maintain a hopeful outlook
- Take care of yourself
What interests me most about Dr. West’s replies is how fascinating resilience is — a gift that keeps giving. The entire project left me with one question: Who wants to go on a field trip to Kerrville, Texas?
The wiley topic of resilience whose tricks of turning trauma to treasure reminds me there is so much more to be revealed.
A three-question interview with Dr. Carrie West using the lens of APA’s Road to Resilience
- Did any of the 10 findings from the APA show up for you in your initial experience and/or research? If so, which one and why?
Yes, in fact, one of the first concepts I was interested in was relational support or making connections. In my initial research, social support didn’t come through as a significant factor in resilience and that really puzzled me because we know that good social support has so many emotional, mental, and physical benefits. So I followed up on this particular topic and found that while the number of connections we have wasn’t relevant, what was relevant was having just a few high quality relationships.I also found that setting small and then large goals (and understanding that there is a possibility of a happy future, aka, hope) was one of the concepts that is most related to resilience. It seems obvious, but that also relates to maintaining a hopeful outlook and taking decisive actions.In our Widowed Resilience Scale, one of the main factors for predicting resilience is maintaining a positive outlook. One of our findings about what contributes to resilience is others “acting with a sense of agency” which includes:
- being self-aware as you adapt to your new identity as a widowed person,
- learning to do new things as part of that new identy, and then
- taking charge of decisions in your life.
Another factor is living in the present and finding joy in the moments.
- Comparing your research with APA’s list, is there anything important that feels missing?
Two of the main factors we have found that aren’t clearly represented in this list are helping others and integrating our past, present, and future. It’s vital that we don’t overlook these because, first, they aren’t ones that come up regularly in discussion but are significant paths to resilience, and second, because this is HOW, I think, we accomplish many of the other ways to be resilient.
When I look at the list you sent, or the other factors in our scale, I can see that we build these through our helping of others and especially through integration. First, for widowed people, particularly those who are beyond their early widowhood, being able to help others who lose a partner validates their experience and helps them find meaning in that experience. It also helps us build a community where we feel like we can lean on someone else because at some point they may also need to lean on me. It helps us realize how much we have grown and how valuable our insights can be.
The last one though, integration, is one of my favorites and really also helps us get closer to accomplishing some of the other behaviors. For example, having a positive outlook and keeping perspective is a great idea; but sometimes it feels the same as when someone tells us to cheer up and not be sad. Sure, great idea, but I don’t know how to get there from here. Integration is our path. Integration is about being able to hold your love of your late partner in your heart and make room for new relationships at the same time. It’s about honoring your past and your traditions and memories but also valuing your new relationships. It’s about realizing how who you were and what you’ve been through makes you who you are now and has also given you tools to deal with the hard things you’re going to have to face in the future. So I really see that by spending some time with our memories, seeing how far we’ve come, thinking about the future, living in the moment, and not neglecting any of those time frames helps us make more room in our life for new relationships without dishonoring what came before, and it helps us accept who we are now. Through integration we keep perspective. It keeps us out of the “either/or” mindset and helps us look at having “both/and”.
Through integration we keep perspective.
— Dr. Carrie West
- Which actions did you find most life-giving in your own process of grief?
Interesting question. I think for me, one of the most helpful factors was that I was lucky enough to have an amazing support system. I was able to hold on to the notion that even though I was sad and there was no escaping that sadness, eventually I could see that I was going to be okay and that gave me confidence. I very quickly found purpose in trying to help other widowed people and I felt like that really helped me set goals and find my identity while I was still honoring my late husband and the life we shared. It gave me permission to make new memories.
Thank you, Dr. West, for your thoughtful answers and for the research you accomplished that is bringing help in real-time to widows who come to Soaring Spirits for help and hope. Thank you, Michele, for the vision and wisdom that continues to guide Soaring Spirits toward help and hope.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions and discoveries as you consider resilience in your own life. For those who are registered with DISQUS, start or join in the conversation in the thread below. Otherwise, feel free to contact me here for more conversation.
Until next time . . .
West, C. L. (2013). The old and the new: Balancing family identity in bereaved remarried stepfamilies. In More than blood: Today’s reality and tomorrow’s vision of family, S. Marrow and D. Leautsakas (Eds). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.
Hernandez, Michele Neff, On Grief, in N. Bauer-Maglin (Ed), Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, The First Year, The Long Haul, and Everything in Between. Rutgers University Press, Newark, NJ.
West, C.L. (in press), Nine Things Resilient People Do After Losing a Spouse or Partner in Nine Things Resilient People Do After Losing a Spouse or Partner in N. Bauer-Maglin (Ed), Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, The First Year, The Long Haul, and Everything in Between. Rutgers University Press, Newark, NJ.
Links for the previous posts in this series:
A Widowed Introvert: Part One
A Widowed Introvert: Part Two
A Widowed Introvert: Part Three