change, elizabeth edwards, breast cancer, family, children, aging, loving, vulnerable, resilience, communication, resentment, dying letter, transition, communication, family problems, emotions, challenge, crisis
Elizabeth Edwards, diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, died December 7th at the age of 61. She ended an extraordinary struggle, having lived with high political ambition, marital betrayal and advancing disease. She often said that she didn't want to be defined by cancer or her husband's affair.
When her book Resilience was published, the media spotlight was on her husband's infidelity and how she was handling the aftermath. But it was the other challenges she faced that most symbolized her inner strength and resilience. She was a role model, demonstrating to others that they too could get through their pain.
As Sandwiched Boomers, your issues may not be as dramatic. But you're likely dealing with the challenges of parents growing older and children growing up. Working through these transitions can be stressful. And any crisis in the family is usually accompanied by heightened emotions. The following ideas may help as you manage the difficult times:
1. It can be hard to face family problems. Are you giving up control, your sense of identity, feelings of wellbeing, even expectations of what the future will hold? Try to understand your complex emotions and then explain how you feel to those who care most about you.
2. If family members are struggling, you may be afraid of what could happen. It makes sense to pull back in order to protect yourself. But emotional distancing can feel like rejection, further complicating the circumstances. Although talking about your deeper feelings isn’t easy, it can eventually bring you closer to loved ones.
3. Look at what’s going on from the perspective of others as well as your own. It can be painful to see family members in distress or feeling vulnerable. But try to put yourself in their shoes. And figure out together what it is that you need from each other.
4. Keep communication open and honest. You may not want to face what’s going on directly, hoping it will be OK. Try to talk things over before anyone begins to feel misunderstood or upset. Use the conversational etiquette and active listening skills you know well.
5. Examine your negative feelings. Are you being overly sensitive or easy to anger? Figure out what that's all about. Express yourself and then let go of any resentment. Learn to forgive others and apologize for mistakes you’ve made. Holding on just makes it worse for everyone.
When the build up of distrust in her marriage became toxic, Elizabeth Edwards decided to break free and reclaim her identity. In the end, she figured out a new way of interacting with her estranged husband that was healthy for her children. For years she had been preparing them for what was to come, and what Elizabeth called her 'dying letter' was really a lesson in living.
In a recent interview she said that she wanted to be remembered as someone who stood in the storm and, when the wind didn't blow her way, adjusted her sails. A source of inspiration, her lasting legacy was that she weathered life's storms with grace.
Perspective is valuable, whether you're hit in the face with a crisis, adjusting to changes in your family or making a transition into the next phase of your life. A cascade of feelings is normal - anxiety, the desire to hold on, resentment, sadness, fear. If, like Elizabeth, you have the fortitude to step back, take a deep breath and face the situation squarely, you can't help but grow from the challenges.
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