“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~Unknown
My daughter Nava suffered a medical crisis and was hospitalized for one year. She was in a drug-induced, paralyzed coma on a ventilator for three months, teetering on the seesaw of life and death, much closer to the death side.
Miraculously surviving, she moved on to a rehab hospital for the next nine months where she had to relearn each and every body and motor function. Two miracles occurred: one, she survived; and two, she had a complete recovery, with her life back as before.
Because I have my daughter back, whole and intact, I feel like I’ve been given a second lease on life.
I live my life with zest, fervor, and a sense of urgency. There’s nothing like bearing witness to the fragility of life to make one live better.
Despite the pain, hardship, adversity, and challenges that life dishes out, we have to find and create the good.
1. Find ways to do.
It’s always easier to come up with ways not to do. They’re called excuses. Create a to-do mind-set and the walls will start tumbling down.
We wanted to go see the Macy’s fireworks on the fourth of July. It would’ve been so easy to say no and stay home and watch it on TV. It required driving into the city, taking a train, walking a whole lot, and then taking a train or ferry back at midnight and driving back home from the city.
That’s a lot of traveling for a half-hour of fireworks. But we decided to make a night’s adventure out of it. We had dinner in the city (after finding a great parking spot). Then we took the Path train into New Jersey and felt like total tourists, as we had never taken it before.
We met up with a walking group and walked three miles along the Hudson till we got to our viewing spot. We had a great view of the fireworks—right in front of one of the barges from which the fireworks were set off. It was as if it was coming right at us.
We then made our way, along with the crowds, to a trolley type of train, at which point the train people said we can all get on for free so everyone can get home. How often does that happen?
We decided to take the ferry back to NYC. Why take the train when we could take a beautiful ferry ride late at night and see the city lit up while the water breeze cooled us off from the hot humid day? Again, a first for us—we’ve never taken a ferry into the dark waters of the Hudson.
A brisk walk, along with hoards of people and cops, in the streets of Manhattan brought us back to our car. What a fabulous night out on the town! And much of it was in the journey.
2. Allow for fun and silliness. It’s freeing.
My husband and I did a Patch Adams clowning trip to Italy. The only requirement was to wear a costume and be silly. This certainly challenged my shy side, as I stretched myself to pull people in to dance in a Sicilian square.
The smiles on people’s faces in the hospitals, hospices, orphanages, and other such places as we blew bubbles, spoke to them, and handed out Yankees caps was worth a million. No, it’s not my new career, but it did open me up more to myself and others.
3. Seek out opportunities to do good; don’t wait to be asked. It feels good to extend yourself.
I must admit that my mother was my main teacher of this one. But I only really started recognizing it and acting upon it after my daughter’s illness. I looked and continue to seek out meaningful acts, both big and small.
From talking to a homeless person about his life while breaking bread to fostering a yellow lab that went on to become a service dog to a boy with cerebral palsy, the feeling is exuberant.
4. There’s always time for work. Make time for play—and play hard.
We can’t wait to have time for play. We have to build it in. If I know I have a hectic day of work ahead of me, I will set aside even a half hour for something playful–a walk at night or something else that brings me joy and pleasure.
If I have to take my daughter to one of her activities, I turn my waiting time into fun time. Just last week, we took her into the city for a social event. Instead of groaning about schlepping into the city, we grabbed a thirty-minute kayak ride on the Hudson River. (Free kayaking from the parks department!)
It’s all in what you make of it. Make it good.
5. Pursue interests and passions. It keeps you feeling excited and alive.
Take that class you always wanted to take. Build it into your life. It’s about priorities. Ballroom dancing has been on my “bucket list” for many years. I don’t wait anymore and I don’t put things off. So I found a class right in my own backyard.
I wanted to take a mindfulness course that I found in the city. That became part of my schedule for eight weeks. I made my travels into the city after work a leisure activity.
Go for it; the time is now.
About Harriet Cabelly
Harriet Cabelly, LCSW is a therapist specializing in grief, loss. and critical life situations. She's also a speaker, author, and group leader. Harriet works from the lens of positive psychology and existentialism. She has a private practice seeing clients both in-person and virtually. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through critical life-changing circumstances. Harriet is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Visit her at rebuildlifenow.com.