resilience in the new year…and other thoughts

At last year’s shift from one year to the next I was still pretty numb from my dad’s death in early December 2016. I don’t think I began to feel physically “myself” until sometime mid-year.

Although my dad is still missed, and always will be, as I’ve watched my mother take on new challenges this year I’ve admired her resilience.

On December 31st, on the eve of another calendar year, mom and I went to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens for a brief walk through some of our favorite portions of the park-like grounds. We took advantage of the time alone to talk and somewhat review the year before it closed.

It’s not always easy to accept change, but it’s necessary for sound mental health to be able to exhibit flexibility in thinking. Holding onto the past, at least too tightly, prevents the future from offering surprise.

My parents were married 65 years, marrying when they were 18 and 19 years old. Prior to my dad’s death, mom had never been on her own. I’ve watched her this past year re-envisioning life and embracing opportunities to not simply accept her state of independence, but tackle challenges with a level of determination that continues to surprise me. 

In effect, in her 80’s she is starting over.

I’m always interested in how people exhibit resilience–or not. I’ve written about this before after I first met Elizabeth Edwards at a book signing. At that occasion she spoke optimistically and with hope that she’d survive advanced breast Cancer and be able to raise her two young children. It wasn’t until about a year later that her world and life as she expected it to be splintered when her Senator husband  threw a virtual grenade into their marriage. Before she died she wrote a wonderful book addressing how she developed a spirit of resiliency after losing her health, marriage and sense of security.

Recent California events have sparked (no pun intended) some thoughts on this subject, as well.

I’m presuming that most readers have some knowledge of the recent California wildfires. They’ve been horrific. During these last two months I have appreciated the emails and private messages asking about our welfare, and to reiterate, although the affected fire areas are popular with us recreationally, they aren’t near our home.

There was a point when I had to stop reading and listening to the reports. Hearing what people were experiencing was distressing to me. The loss of animal life, including dozens of prized racehorses, was just too much to hear day after day after day.

The Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County is no longer threatening populated areas, but is indeed still burning. The final statistics have yet to be tallied, but it is the largest wildfire in California modern history, burning more than 281,893 acres, destroying at least 1,063 structures and damaging nearly 300 more. I’m not clear on injury or loss of life.

The burn areas have impacted some of the most beautiful areas we love to visit, and more importantly, changed hundreds (thousands?) of lives.

View from the front lawn of the Santa Barbara Mission

After avoiding detailed news reports for weeks, I’ve started reading again because the accounts have shifted from the horrific details of an ongoing disaster to the amazing stories–amazing to me, anyway–of people, many still in some degree of shock, I’m sure, confronting their losses and looking at the rest of their lives with changed eyes.

In October, before the Southern California Thomas Fire, the Tubbs Fire in Northern California devastated portions of the Sonoma, Calistoga and Santa Rosa wine areas.

I’ve shared from Sonoma in previous posts. It’s such a beautiful area!

One of the stories that surfaced during that awful October fire told of a couple who survived by spending hours in a neighbor’s pool. Their survival was considered a miracle, as everything around them burned. Photos truly look like the aftermath of a nuclear blast–no exaggeration.

The couple, John Pascoe and his wife, Jan LeHecka Pascoe, tell a story of survival that speaks beyond the details of the lifesaving measures and fire event. John quotes Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” “When you ain’t got nothing,  you got nothing to lose…”

They speak of the joy of returning to their children, their friends and neighbors, and of learning how to accept the kindness of others. They are on a new path. I highly recommend meeting the Pascoe’s HERE to follow links for their brief story.

I’ve read dozens of articles with accounts of people losing it all. Some of these communities were heavily populated with artists, like the Pascoe’s, who have lost their entire life’s work, yet they speak hopefully of starting over, and some can even say there is an odd freedom in knowing they are no longer defined by the past. The past, for them, hardly exists.

I must say I try not to dwell on the “what ifs?”

Still, I think it’s worth thinking about from time to time. I enjoy  looking for examples of resiliency in lives well-lived, and often these accounts come from ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

A favorite quote:

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” Elizabeth Edwards

Wishing you peace–and resilience– in 2018, my friends. Debra












49 thoughts on “resilience in the new year…and other thoughts

  1. The beauty and thoughtfulness of your writing continues to amaze me and make me appreciate you more and more. Thank you for this gift to start the new year.

    • Thank you so much, Judy. It’s so nice to be able to share with you. I miss our times together. I do hope that 2018 is a year of peace and contentment of you and your wonderful family. We’ll have to visit very soon. ox

    • It is so nice to hear from you! It’s been awhile and I do hope you are well. I thank you for the encouragement. May 2018 be a year of health and peace, my friend.

  2. The courage of people in these situations always astounds me, Debbie. To have the world in flames around you is the stuff of nightmares yet for so many it has become reality and not a horror movie. I distance myself from the political arena as far as I can because my husband follows everything avidly. I find it far too depressing. But there are many kind and good people out there, and lots of survivors too. Wishing you peace and hope for the future in 2018. 🙂 🙂

    • I have to smile…your husband and I might enjoy each other’s company. It wouldn’t necessarily be good for either of us, but I have a hard time tuning out politics. I sometimes can’t find anyone else to talk to about my avid observations–that, or they’re sick of hearing my opinions. LOL! I often feel angry, I admit, but I don’t get brought down too low emotionally because I think every day there’s an opportunity for the story to change…and it often does. But when it comes to disasters and I see how people’s lives are so terribly impacted, I can only take the stories in small bytes. There are wonderful stories emerging, however, as I stated, and I am finding others’ courage along with the stories of people banding together in support of one another, as great encouragement. Thank you for the new year best wishes, Jo, and I return them to you and your family, as well!

  3. A wonderful post! My mother was widowed at age 47. Back then life was different. She had to learn how to drive, get credit in her own name (and it wasn’t easy) and get a job (with minimal business skills). I was always amazed and inspired by her courage and tenacity. My dad would have been proud (even if her driving was less than stellar!). I had to stop reading about the wildfires too. Even living here on the east coast I shed more than a few tears for all the life, human and animal that was affected in so many ways. We are resilient but sometimes it’s so painful.

    • You’ve spoken so lovingly of your mom in many posts, Kate, and I never caught on that she’d been widowed so young. Then factoring in the way she had so many challenges in learning new things must have been so difficult. You’ve also talked about your mother’s sense of humor, which I think must surely add to a person’s resiliency.

      Honestly, I thought of you with some of the animal stories that were being broadcast from the fire areas. They were so terrible and sensational that I was quite positive they made the national news and I knew you’d be troubled. I completely agree with you that we are made to “bend and not break” but that doesn’t imply in any way that it is less than difficult! 😦

      • I saw one heartwarming story of a guy who scooped up a rabbit as he was fleeing from the fire himself. I was touched that someone would do that when their own life was in peril. My mother was a trooper and very resilient. She taught me that. She bounced back from a lot of heartache. We were probably closer because my brothers were out of the house and it was just my mother and I. It shortened my childhood considerably (I was 11) but I’m not resentful. Everyone is dealt some tough hands.

  4. Your mother’s resilience is an inspiration and your pictures of the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens make me want to schedule a return visit (it’s been years since I’ve been there).

    My husband and I were recently traveling in the areas affected by the wildfires in Northern California. The randomness of the destruction was hard to fathom.

    • I am so proud of my mother, Janis, and I should add very surprised! I do think I probably completely misjudged her strength and ability to manage her profound loss with grace, but it was only because I had never seen her without my dad! She puts a smile on my face so often when I see what she is capable of, and it strengthens me to realize that we may not always know our strength until we’re put to the test.

      I do hope you can get to the Huntington at some point again. It’s always worth the effort. And I haven’t yet seen any of the fire-affected areas. I think when I next do it is going to be a shock!

  5. Beautiful write, Debra.

    Like you, I often avoid the news for awhile to reclaim my equilibrium in the midst of chaos, confusion, sadness, and sorrow. The unprecedented natural disasters around the globe in 2017 are a great reminder to seize the day . . . since you never know what’s around the next corner.

    All the best in 2018.

    • It actually doesn’t take a lot to unsettle me if I remain too close to really dreadful news. Often I subconsciously begin to expect bad news. I try to remind myself that often what’s coming is really good news, and I don’t want to miss it! 🙂 Thank for the best wishes for the new year, and I certainly hope the same for you.

  6. You write so beautifully here, flowing from your father, to your mother, to life, to fires, and the resiliency. There is so much to ‘see’ here, in your words.

    This comes at a very good time for me Debra. I need to NOT focus on ‘what if’s” and pay attention to what is and what will be. Thank you.

    • i have to almost constantly pull my fears back, Colleen. I think it’s one reason I pay attention to others who exhibit what to me is very “brave” behaviors. I hope that in our blogging we can be mutually supportive, and I know that I listen to you very closely, as well! It’s a gift. 🙂 Thank you.

      • I would bet that others have seen some of your behaviors as ‘brave’ as well. I think, unless we live in a bubble, we all exhibit something that is brave to someone else. What we may see as doable, someone else may have crushing fears or anxiety about.

        Like you, I find mutual support and understanding ‘here’. 🙂 You’re welcome AND thank you.

  7. Debra, I admire your mom for starting over after a lifetime with your father. She sounds like a remarkable woman, and, no surprise, so are you. I spent three summers in Santa Rosa working in community theater, so the fires felt personal. My friend Marcia alternately hosed down her home and her sisters, who was away meeting her first grandchild. Their homes were spared. I saw the devastation first hand on a visit in November. It’s surreal and sad seeing an entire neighborhood reduced to ash and rubble. We’ve had a tough year, California, with flooding, fires and the terrible repercussions of the election and threats to DACA. I take small breaks from the media, or I’ll descend in to sorrow.

    Thanks for your beautiful words and perspectives, not to mention your gorgeous photos. I keep scrolling back up to the hummingbird.

    Wishing you a lighter year.

    • Thank you, Alys. I have learned a lot from my mother this past year, and it’s lovely for me to be able to share that. Your personal connected to the Santa Rosa fire areas must indeed hurt your heart! I am so glad to know that Marcia and her sisters were spared the loss of their homes! I see photos and just cannot believe what I’m seeing. And now with the rain, our SoCal fire areas have had flooding and I’m sure it’s the same up there! We will be up in Sonoma County next month and I am wondering what we’ll see. I completely relate to the small media breaks. It’s just too much! I hope you also have a healthy and peace-filled 2018, my friend.

      • Debra, the mudslides were only a warning when I wrote this post, but as you know they’ve turned into a tragic loss of life. It’s devastating to see that level of damage. The ground has had no time to recover.

        Enjoy your time in Sonoma. I’m sure you’ll see some of the fire damage as you go about your day. Thanks for your well wishes.

    • Thank you, Frank. I do have a theory that resilience must be practiced all along our years, but as we age, maybe we need to practice it a little more deliberately. There are times I simply do not want to cooperate with my circumstances! 🙂 So I have to remind myself that without resilience we really do break!

  8. Oh Debra two words we can all work on to make are days brighter. Happy to hear about your time with your mother in the gardens…such hopeful photos especially the hummingbird! Keep searching for examples of resilience and march on my friend!

    • Thank you so much, Cristina. I hope the holidays were very enjoyable with your very sweet family. I don’t know precisely where you’ve “landed” but I do hope that you’re “weathering” the storms well! My other California friends now living on the other coast have had some real adjusting to do! I would imagine you’re practicing resilience each and every day! 🙂 ox

  9. Your personal summing up 2017 really touched me. What a year it has been for you. It is impressing when people show resilience even in the face of the worst disasters. At her age you mother is truly impressive. I wish a less challenging 2018 for you, Debra!

    • I appreciate your kind comment, Otto. By watching my mom this past year and being so impressed with the many ways she’s allowed herself to grieve her losses while still bravely moving forward into many uncomfortable and new learning challenges, I’ve also been encouraged to think about how all of us, as we age, have the opportunity to continue loving forward across the lifespan, developing our character and strengthening ourselves. Sometimes the very act of getting older requires resilience even under the best of circumstances. I hope that you and your loved ones also enjoy a peaceful and healthy 2018, as well.

  10. What a lovely post, Debra; a clear and clarion call to me, personally. While I recognize the need time to sit for awhile in the quietness of my own grief, I know that I also need to move on and embrace that which is! You give me courage, my friend, as does your mom. She is, indeed, resilient, as are you. I appreciate how well your wrapped up 2017 and I wish you and your family the very best in 2018.

    • Thank you, Penny, and it’s so good to hear your “voice” this evening, knowing your time is so limited right now. I hope you’ll not in any way feel the requirement to shortcut your own very important period of quiet and attention to your grief, my friend. You have previously encouraged me in my own steps in the process of bereavement by sharing how many times you’ve had to “hold on” minute by minute. My mom has taught me a lot in this year and I pay attention to how others cope with loss, and you were one I thought of so often, recalling how young you were when you lost both of your parents. I certainly hope that 2018 is a year for you and your dear family to “circle the wagons” where necessary, and give yourselves the time it takes to find peace and rest. ox

  11. My thoughts and best wishes to you and yours Debra. Even the simplest of changes can require a degree of resilience from us. I have recently discovered that retirement is not as simple as no longer going to work! Here’s to a good 2018 🙂

    • I do know what you mean about retirement, Martin. It took us awhile to be comfortable with the freedom! I do hope that you and your dear family enjoy a full of year of good health and peace. Thank you for stopping by to lead a thoughtful comment.

  12. Debra – thank you for this. I so very much needed to read this today. Although it has been a rough start for us with rounds of sickness and final surgery coming up for the little one, I know there is so much more to be thankful for. Everything you shared here brought so much perspective. Praying all the best for you in this year to come dear friend!

  13. Dear Debra, as the years of my reading your postings have passed, I find myself growing more and more inspired by your generosity of spirit, your interest in all things, your curiosity about what lies beyond the next bend or over the green, flower-decked hill, and your love for your fellow human travelers and the world in which you live. You inspire me always to be grateful for my life and for my friends, you among them. Your spirit-founded and funded philosophy touches so many of us and we are blessed by your graciousness. I cherish your thoughts and words. Peace.

  14. What a horror to live through those fires, as we all did even if we were on the other side of the country. We take far too much for granted, and appreciate far too little. Those who lost everything taught everyone else a harsh lesson and also gave a huge round of admiration, hope and luck that will help them achieve their next levels.

  15. I found this to be the most meaningful New Year’s post, Debra. 🌟
    I believe in thinking positive thoughts and trying not to get too sad when we sometimes don’t have anything to give and help out.
    The stories you chose, including Elizabeth Edwards, were so special! I liked the couple who were in the pool’s attitude, too. 💞
    Having a hope, another chance to try something new for your mother sounds scary yet like she is willing to try. I’m so glad she has you to listen and help her, too. Best wishes for resilience, health and happy moments. 🌈

  16. The past year and now into the new one has certainly be hard physically and well as mentally for Californians to say the least. You just need to appreciate the good moments and not let the bad ones take over. Happy that your mother is handling her new life without your father in a good way.

  17. Ronnie, Karen, etiliyle and I arrived here the end of the second week of January. . . I always go back to where I last was to see the blog author’s comment. . . 💕 🤗

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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