Thursday, December 2, 2021

How Growing Up Without a Mother Helped Me Adapt to a Pandemic and Reclaim Joy

Ask the Life Coach

Charles Darwin, English naturalist, geologist, and biologist wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Right now, as we experience the effects of an ongoing global pandemic, the challenge to become this person Darwin writes about, the one who is “most adaptable to change,” is a constant. Older people, and those with underlying conditions, are adapting to a life of isolation. Those who are considered essential workers are adapting to working in potentially unsafe environments. We’re all adapting to an unknown future.

In the beginning, students and parents were asked to adapt to virtual learning. Now, they are making difficult choices about school going forward as they evaluate in-person learning and/or virtual education. Special needs children, children who depend on meals at school, and children living in unsafe home environments are particularly impacted and may not have the capacity to adapt. 

When the Rug Was Pulled Out

At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt the rug had been pulled out from under me. I’m a 75-year-old, very active—now isolated—woman who misses her past life. 

However, with no kids to educate, no business to lose, good health, and isolating with a kind and easy-to-live-with husband, I’m counting my blessings. Even with these positives, I spent the early months mourning my losses—a long-planned cruise, a family reunion/75th birthday party, summer with my grandchildren, an in-person book tour, and all the other activities that kept me a vital person. 

My History

Three dramatic life experiences taught me how to adapt to this pandemic.

  1. I first learned how to adapt to sudden and unprecedented change when my 34-year-old mother died and left my dad and me alone. I was 8. 
  2. The second lesson was finding myself divorced after 25 years of marriage. I had to adapt to the challenges and insecurities of being a self-employed, single mother of three. 
  3. Lesson three came when, at 55, after only ten months of marriage, I suddenly became a widow when my 53-year-old husband literally dropped dead of a heart attack. 

I’ve had a lifetime to learn resilience, perseverance, and how to quickly adapt to change.

When COVID-19 closed us down in mid-March, I was about to publish “Mom’s Gone, Now What?” a book that details ten steps to help daughters move forward after loss. At first, I didn’t make the connection to the sense of loss I was feeling due to the pandemic and the advice I had spent 3 years researching and writing about. However, after a few weeks, I started tapping into six of the ten steps from my book. 

Six Steps That Helped Me Adapt to Change: And Can Help You Too 

#1 Get Creative

As a child, I watched my dad model how creativity helps a person move forward after loss. A widower and single parent at 36, he found respite by making something on a wood lathe most every day. This hobby not only helped him get through losing his young wife, it served him years later when his second wife died. Creative endeavors soothe me too. Today, I cook, paint, color, and write to give my life focus and joy. 

#2 Help Others

As a teenager without a mother, I found meaning in volunteering at a Veterans Hospital. Helping others helps me move forward after loss and avoid the “Why me?” question. I’ve found that simple acts of kindness such as dropping off cookies, making a phone call, or sending a card to an isolated friend can keep us out of the doldrums. 

#3 Reach Out for Help

Many motherless daughters, and others who have had a significant loss, turn to therapy, counseling, or grief groups to help them heal. My losses due to COVID are minor in comparison to the great loss of a loved one. Even so, I’m finding solace in reaching out to friends and family when I’m feeling down and in need of a pick-me-up. Even a quick text that puts a smile on my face is therapeutic. 

#4 Stay Mentally, Physically, Spiritually Healthy

The doors to my church are closed, my gym membership is canceled, my vibrant social network is gone. I had to learn to find satisfaction in seeing friends and family on Zoom and exercise on my own stationary bike. At first, virtual church felt stale and uninviting without “real” music and hugs. Lately, I started singing along with the person on screen and find myself engaged in the service. Most Sunday services bring me to tears—the good kind—just as they did in the church building. 

#5 Accept the Hand You’re Dealt

To me, adaptability is knowing how to make lemonade out of lemons. So I asked myself, “How can I use this situation to my advantage?” I published my book in July, right at the height of Florida’s COVID surge. As I contemplated how to do a book tour, meet with groups, and make presentations, Zoom proved to be my lemonade. I’m also taking advantage of the free webinars’ experts are producing in lieu of conferences. I’m not always crazy about my isolation but I’m accepting the hand I was dealt.

#6 Tell Your Story

My book begins with “Tell Your Story.” Now, I’m concluding with this step because I think it’s what we are naturally doing. To help us regain our equilibrium, we tell and retell our COVID stories. We’re sharing what we’re missing, what we’re looking forward to, and affirming our realization about what is really important. After Hurricane Irma hit the area, it was all we talked about for weeks, even months. COVID is like that. Telling our stories helps to relieve some of the fear and anxiety. We bond over our common experience. Storytelling is critical in our healing and adaptation to a new reality. 

What I Know to Be True 

I know from past experience that I am resilient. As Darwin said, I will survive and thrive because I know how to adapt. You can too as you remind yourself of your past life experiences and how you coped. How was your ability to adapt in the past serving you now? What steps will you take to thrive in this season of change? 

Mershon Niesner is a Certified Life Coach and author of “Mom’s Gone, Now What? Ten Steps to Help Daughters Move Forward After Mother Loss,” available on Amazon. She writes the Ask the Life Coach column for the Coastal Breeze.

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