My “Afterlife” Series ~ Silver Linings

By Susan Keats, Contributor &  Seize-the-Day Propagandist

It was a dark and stormy night.

No it wasn’t. It was a fine night as far as the weather goes, but as we sat our two daughters down in the living room to tell them that I had breast cancer, the storm raging inside my brain was pretty harrowing. I attempted a brave face while my husband told the girls what was happening with me and I watched their faces fall and shock cloud their eyes. And then he said it….through the turbulent whirlwind of anxiety in my head, I heard my husband say it. “Girls, mom may be too sick to do the laundry or clean the house, so we will really need your help to pitch in. You will need to start doing your own laundry.”

What? I might be too sick to clean and do laundry? Really? AWESOME!! YIPPEE!!!!! Yes, that is exactly where my mind went. You know, there’s that part of your brain that we usually tell to hush up, or simmer down? Well, my little unedited thought bubble was doing a gleeful dance and telling it like it is. I didn’t realize it at that moment, but in this particular ordeal, this was my first of many silver linings.

They are always there, those silver linings. You just have to be paying attention. So consider this your heads up. No matter what bad stuff happens in your life, there is always one to find. A friend of mine, who has also struggled with cancer, told me that the only good she could figure that came from her experience was that she now wantsto be there to support anyone else who is going through the same thing.

Another friend recently lost her husband in a vehicle accident. He did not die, but his injuries were such that his entire personality changed once he finally recovered and he became prone to violence. She was forced to divorce him to keep herself and her children safe. Through her ordeal, she also lost her home, her job, too much weight, and if you can even stand to think of it, many of her friends. She told me “The journey we took was made all the more dynamic with me finding out who my friends really are.” It is through sheer strength and determination that she is rebuilding her life and has discovered a power from within that she previously didn’t know was there. That’s a pretty good silver lining.

A fellow I knew with a very sick mother once said to me, “I fail to see how any of this can be misconstrued as anything positive.” I think of what he said often because it reinforces all the more that you have to extract from all experiences something that you can use to better yourself or someone else. The alternative is hopelessness, and I’m really not up for that.

For me, the best silver lining I have discovered is the one that has turned illness into the great clarifier. When your life is on the line, you can see without any struggle what is important and what is not. Holding grudges? What a waste of energy. Worried about what other people think? Argh! Who cares? I have to say, it’s much easier for me to make decisions these days without all of that other noise crowding my mind.

Look, I know that there are circumstances too unbearable to even contemplate. I know you want to take what I said above and scream, what about this thing that happened to my friend, or that thing that happened in the news? How are you going to turn THAT into a supposed “silver lining?” But silver linings are not how to make something horrible into something good. A silver lining is a very personal and individual realization. It’s about what gleaming smidge of hope or lesson can you discover that would not have otherwise shown itself to you when all was hunky-dory.

So, believe it or not, I have to go throw a load of laundry into the machine. Yea, I got better and my kids stopped doing their laundry. But, they will do it if I ask and they can also vacuum, dust, and scrub all that needs scrubbing. Now that’s one small bright and gleaming accomplishment.

I’m very interested to know what silver linings you have discovered in your own life following a traumatic or difficult event? Will you please share your experiences with me in the comments section below?

Go here to follow all of Susan's Afterlife series.

Susan-KeatsSusan Keats ~ In 2010 Susan received life-changing news after a routine mammogram. She had breast cancer. After plenty of tears, anxiety and soul searching, she finished treatments and is now entering a year of renewal, growth, and recovery. Susan hopes that those who are just stepping into the experience of illnesses or crises will find the same comfort and inspiration that she felt when others shared their experiences and wisdom with her. She is looking forward to rediscovering parts of herself that she had allowed to fall away. This is going to be a great year!

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13 Responses to My “Afterlife” Series ~ Silver Linings

  1. Cyndi says:

    I’ve been very fortunate to have not experienced much in the way of tragedy or hardship in my life thus far (touching wood over here :)). But I can share with you one epiphany or silver lining I discovered years ago, when my 3 children were small and my husband had finally realized just how pervasive were his mental health issues. He finally decided to take a medical leave and hospitalize himself for a 3 week program 3 hours away. I had 2 in school and a toddler, and found myself juggling all their needs, my own emotional needs, trying to get down there to visit without kids every few days (6 hours round trip). Then the starter decided to die on my only car. My son decided to toss rocks up in the air and smash the windshield on same car. It was like “What else???” But I asked my neighbors to watch the kids and they loaned me their car. I figured out how to call insurance and get the windshield fixed. The silver lining was realizing that I COULD handle these things on my own. I had moved from my parents house to dorm life to living with my husband – no period of independence. Those three weeks showed me I had the strength within to take care of my family all by myself if necessary. Not that I’d want to – but that’s when I realized I could – and that was huge.

    • The Succulent Wife says:

      Cyndi, Thanks for sharing your “yes I can” story. it’s a bitter sweet realization that we need such events to wake us up to our potential. Go girl!

  2. Gina B. says:

    Great post, Susan!

    Ironically, tomorrow, 2/18/12, is the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death from breast cancer. I was like the friend you mention — the one with the dying mother who failed to see a silver lining in his situation. I couldn’t get past wondering why her? Why such a painful, debilitating illness? And the most horrible memory is of her asking, in her worst moments, what she had done to deserve it.

    As I think about it (because since 2008, it has been my tradition that this is a week of reflection), there are a few brief flashes of silver shining from inside of an otherwise dark cloud.

    The one that resonates strongly is that I’m an adult. I wasn’t an adult on 5/12/07 — the day before I found out that my mother was sick. I had a 10 month crash course on adulthood, and now I know that if I’m nothing else, I’m a grown woman.

    I also learned the joy of mundane activities. Along with my father I was my mom’s daily caretaker, and I suppose that I subconsciously needed to find departures from my obligations. I found solace in and became very manic about weird experiences that I had never savored — like taking hot showers or eating really good meals. Oddly, I can still conjure that excitement if necessary.

    Also, I got to witness — firsthand — the true meaning of ’til death do you part.’ Unfortunately a rare experience these days. Like most couples, my parents’ relationship had its ups and downs over many decades. But at the end of her life my father provided unwavering support, and at the very end, he was the only person that she would respond to. Growing up I had moments of thinking that their remaining together was all about me. I learned that I had been wrong. I was a small byproduct of their relationship, and despite their differences, it became crystal clear that their union had always been ALL about them.

    As I reflect even deeper, despite all of the great learnings that resulted from my mother’s illness and ultimate death, I think I would still choose to be less evolved and self-aware if I could have her back. That said, I would consider mine to be reluctant silver linings.

  3. Abby says:

    You are an inspiration!

  4. Way to go my friend. I knew you could do this and more. Keep going for it!!!
    My 29 year old little brother died of an AIDS related consequence… ignorance. Yes, my father is a doctor, my grandfather was a doctors I quite a few cousins and uncles that are doctors… and my brother died, four weeks after his first infection in the hands of my father’s best friend. A Harvard trained physician.
    This was in 1992.
    My family and my brother, were all embarrassed by the diagnosis, yes, embarrassed, that was their first reaction. A reaction that was further reinforced by the physician and the Hospital that was “caring” for him. We were not allowed in the pantry, because we could contaminate it. In the meanwhile my brother was burning with 110 degrees fever, and we were not allowed to use the pantry’s ice machine. We were not even allowed to take the elevator, whilst carrying 10 pound bags of ice.
    “Fastly”, (not slowly) we watched my brother die. The fevers killed him.
    The fevers were not the result of the infection, but an allergic reaction to the treatments. What treatments you may ask? Well, because they couldn’t do a broncos-copy for fear of contaminating the equipment, they were treating him empirically, which means they were pumping three kinds of antibiotics and Septra. He turned out allergic to Septra. And even though we kept telling the nurses and the Doctors that the fever would spike when he was treated– they ignored our ignorant comments.
    We called no one, we asked no one for help… until it was too late.
    Three years later (and this was my silver lining) when my niece caught meningocoximia, I called everyone– I asked, inquired, pushed, threatened– to the point that my niece was being treated by the heads of departments and examined by the best of the best. We even had access to an antibiotic that is only available for the military!!! She is now 13, of the 8 cases that week, she was the only survivor.
    My brothers death, saved my niece. Because, never again, will I go down quietly, or allow someones embarrassment to stop me from trying to save someones life.

  5. Susan says:

    I am overwhelmed and thrilled to read these amazing stories of personal strength that you have all shared. I hope people will read these and find inspiration too! Thank you! Please everyone, post more!

  6. nancy says:

    My mother suffered with some sort of dementia consisting of hullucinations and paranoia. I tried to reason with her which escalated into exasperation all of which was to no avail. “You cannot reason with crazy”. How crazy am I that I felt compelled to keep trying. Eventually, through watching the nurses and my husband and my son appease my mom, I did learn to “yes” my mother along. The silver lining is that I learned to listen and empathise like my son did. I was never as good as he was but I improved and this is a great consolation for me after the resent passing of my 86 year old mom. Perhaps, her sickness taught me to listen a little better. My daughter told me that, “I need to accept my limitations” and a coworker said that, “the dead are very forgiving”. I intend to work on listening better for the rest of my life.

  7. Audrey says:

    How inspiring Susan! Thank you for sharing. This helps put things in perspective for me. Everyday has little challenges and struggles of their own and instead of focusing on the negative I will now look at the positive – that silver lining that I know is now there! Thank you for being a part of The Succulent Wife and enlightening me.

  8. Wow, I love this post. I think the biggest thing I have received from my life challenges is inner strength, absolutely knowing I can handle anything, deep friendships (after those more superficial ones burned away), and compassion for others.

  9. aileen casey says:

    I think the most important thing I’ve learned about silver linings is they don’t have to be big, last forever or cure the pain etc. to matter. Silver linings for me come in every day moments, little tiny segments and sometimes in the faces of people I know and who love me. In that I have great comfort. Facing Cancer has been the trickiest thing so far in my life. It SUCKS, some people die, some people don’t. You never know which side you are on. Silver linings help you get through it. A good cup of coffee (silver lining), goofing around with my daughter (silver lining), a nice glass of wine (big silver lining) – all of these silver linings help me keep my balance. It’s like a game now, “try and find the silver lining” and WOW is it powerful. I challenge anyone who reads this blog to take the “silver lining” challenge. Look for them, acknowledge them and you’ll find that life becomes a little bit sweeter, if only for a moment, it will be worth it!

  10. Susan says:

    Please everyone keep sharing these stories! They are remarkable. Inspirational. Powerful.

  11. Ellen says:

    Yes, cancer and silver linings do go hand-in-hand. Some of them are big, in-your-face silver linings…the family, friends, and strangers who are there to support you; the realization that “I am one brave chick”; and the kindness and skill of your doctors and nurses. Some of them are subtle…cozy flannel pajamas and a nice warm bed when you’re sick. When the silver linings are a little harder to find, use laughter to wipe away the tarnish…it’s contagious and helps those around you who are also struggling.
    And sometimes a silver lining sneaks up on you and is so profound that you can carry it with you forever. I think of these as the sterling silver linings. A few months after finishing chemo and radiation, I turned down a side road leading to a blue heron nesting area. I had driven past it before, but never stopped. I parked on the side of the road, got out, and watched as they built their nests. I was so mesmerized and so in awe of the sheer beauty and grace of these birds and the beauty of the day that nothing else mattered. I was alive! And that’s when I learned what it means to “live in the moment.” To banish all the noise and daily worries rattling around in my head and just “be.” Now when life gets crazy, I step back and savor the moment…I play with my dogs, or watch the birds in the back yard, or listen to the wind rustling through the trees. Because I don’t want to just pass through this life, I want to live every minute of it.

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