It's a pretty safe bet that you will have had several doses of unpleasant news and experiences by the time you celebrate your 50th birthday. Perhaps someone broke your heart. Maybe you experienced an unwelcome health challenge. A child, a close friend or a parent could have died. Your business may have gone bankrupt, or you may have lost your job. Whatever it is, bad news can shake us to our core. But there are ways to weather even the roughest storms.
Like most of you, I've faced my fair share of challenges. By the time I was 65, I'd wrestled with death (both my parents), divorce, unemployment, a major health crisis and the realization that journalism had undergone seismic changes that would adversely affect my career. I would love to be able to tell you that I breezed through these challenges unscathed, but that would be a lie. What did help me survive was watching how my cousin, Terry Orth, coped with a major life-altering event that took her by surprise.
Terry and her husband, Joe, lived in a picture-perfect mountainous area south of San Francisco. Their large cabin had been our family's Thanksgiving-dinner meeting place for decades. I was stunned when she called — shortly after Joe retired — to let me know that their beautiful home had burned to the ground. They literally escaped with just the clothes on their backs.
Fortunately, they eventually managed to rebuild their home, but there was no way to replace all the cherished items that were devoured by the flames. When I asked Terry how she coped with such a devastating loss, she gave me five valuable tips for staying emotionally afloat when you are on the brink of drowning.
1. Don't hide. When bad things happen, it's natural to want to remain isolated. We don't want to answer questions, even if they are well-meaning. But sometimes just being visible to our community, our friends and our neighbors can be healing for us and also send a healing message to them.
2. Do one positive thing each day. While in the midst of bad news, try to dilute the pain — whether mental or physical — by doing something life-affirming. It could be as simple as sending a thank-you note to someone whose work you've taken for granted, baking something for your co-workers or simply making sure that everyone you meet gets a smile.
3. Honor your connections. It's way too easy to focus on ourselves and our sorrow when we get hit with really bad news. But those are the times when we need to make sure that others know we haven't forgotten about them. Don't cancel social commitments just because you are hurting or in a bad place. That is the time to celebrate your relationships, not ignore them.
4. Practice Optimism. Looking ahead with an upbeat frame of mind can pay big dividends. Nobody wants to be around Debbie Downers, as they can drag everyone else's spirits down. The song "Tomorrow" from the movie "Annie" needs to be our background music whenever pessimism shows up.
5. Believe. I keep a small sign with this word on it next to my recliner to help me remember that my thoughts have power in good times and in bad. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't — you're right." So why not believe that things will get better?
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.