I have known many heroes. There was my surgeon, Dr. John Constable, who saved my life when I was little, and provided me with kindness and care. There was my older brother, Marc-Emile Deguire, who diligently parented me. There was even a stranger, whose name I never knew, who gave me flowers when he witnessed me being taunted and bullied in kindergarten. So many people have been so kind.
L. is for Love, the fourth element of resilience that I want to highlight. (This is the fourth of a five-part series on building resilience skills, based on the mnemonic, G.O.A.L.S.) Resilient people feel loved and cared for. Resilient people believe they are lovable and they offer love in return, building and preserving a lifetime of warm relationships.
Most people think that resiliency will come with having a family who loves and cares for us. But what if you do not feel loved and cared for by your family? What if, in fact, you truly are not loved and cared for by your family? For example, there are plenty of LGBTQ folk whose families refuse to love them as they are. And there are people whose parents die young, leaving them orphaned in the world. And there are people like me, whose parents meant well, but who caused (unintentional) deep damage just the same.
I think one of the great keys in life is the ability to connect to people, regardless of whether they are family or not. Just because a person doesn’t share your blood, does not mean they can’t be like a mother to you. Just because a person isn’t a friend yet, doesn’t mean they can’t become the best friend you ever had.
L. is for Love.
After my brother died, I spent years visiting his friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (To learn more about Marc’s death, click here: https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/staying-alive-lessons-from-my-brother-s-suicide ) Marc’s college friends welcomed me into their social circle, even though I was just 14 years old. I had met one of them, Cindy, the previous spring. She was 19 years old and a pre-med student. She was short on money and worked a part time job to help pay her tuition. Somehow, though, Cindy was never too busy for me.
I can still see her running toward me, three days after my brother’s death. My father and I had made a long mournful drive from Long Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We came to M.I.T. to identify his broken body and to pack my brother’s belongings. Cindy heard that I was on campus. She rushed over to the Dean’s building. She raced down the long white corridor, long hair flying, both arms outstretched, and enfolded me into her.
For the next four years, Cindy welcomed my visits whenever I wanted, which included one entire summer. I took the train up to Boston. I slept on a futon in the living room, or in a spare room, or wherever. She made me pasta. We watched M*A*S*H* together and she took me to parties. She introduced me to Joni Mitchell, playing me "Big Yellow Taxi" and singing along in her clear soprano voice. Most notably, she essentially took over my medical care.
For all my childhood, I received my burn care (50 plus operations) at either Massachusetts General Hospital, or at Shriners Burns, both in Boston. My family lived in New Jersey, and they did not stay with me when I was hospitalized. My parents would take turns visiting me on the weekends, but I was otherwise completely alone. That sounds strange now, in the era when mothers routinely move into their sick child’s hospital room. I can explain it several ways: times were different, my parents both worked, and my parents were self-focused and not emotionally available for their children. Regardless of the explanation, I was a lonely child. Now, with the death of my brother, I was even more alone.
When I had my next surgery in Boston, three months after Marc’s death, Cindy quietly took over. Unlike my parents, whom I rarely saw, Cindy visited me every single day. She visited even during a massive blizzard, when she literally trudged over the iced Charles River that separates Cambridge from Boston. I don’t know how she managed all these visits, because she was taking classes and working at the time. But every evening, Cindy appeared in my hospital room, bringing stories of her day and asking how I was feeling.
Even now, my eyes fill with tears at the generosity of her spirit. Cindy was there for me when my parents could (would?) not be. Her love carried me through the darkest days of my life.
A few years ago, I reached out to thank her. “Cindy, I want to thank you for everything you did for me. All the hospital visits, for letting me live with you. You took such care of me and you were just a kid yourself, only 19 years old. I am so grateful to you.”
There was a pause. Her voice was gentle. “Lise, I really liked you.”
“OK, yes. I know. But you were incredibly kind and generous.”
“I just liked you, that’s all.”
L. is for Love. We are born into our families, who may, or may not, emotionally match our needs. Let’s not even blame them; our parents are who they are, through whatever forces shaped them. They did the best they could, or maybe they didn’t. Still, they are who they are.
The beautiful thing about our world is that it is full of people, people who may be more capable of loving us the way we need to be loved. There are Cindys. The key is not to give up on finding those people. Or being one of those people.
One thing about finding love outside your family is that it requires effort. It takes hope and an open heart, even if you have been hurt in the past. And, let’s face it, you need to be… lovable. People outside your family won’t gravitate to you if you are grumpy and nasty. This is where all the elements of resiliency start to loop together, interacting with each other in a complex web.
Remember G. for Gratitude? (https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/finding-gratitude-in-a-desolate-time-building-resilience-skills-part-1) This is where we started. Grateful people are resilient people. In addition, grateful people are more lovable. It is more rewarding for someone to love us if we express gratitude for their kindness. If instead, we complain, “You didn’t give me enough, and I deserve more,” a person will turn away, feeling unappreciated. But if we voice gratitude, people want to keep us in their lives.
Remember O. for Optimism? (https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/o-is-for-optimism-building-resilience-skills-part-2 ) Optimistic people are simply more pleasant to be around. Many of us can be patient with gloomy people, but we probably won’t invite them to live with us for the summer. Cheerful people make us feel better and are just. . . more appealing.
Remember A. for Active Coping? (https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/how-are-you-coping-building-resilience-skills-part-3 ) People who actively manage their lives also inspire more affection from others. We admire hardy problem solvers, and we want to help those who are attempting to help themselves. Active Copers are usually the ones forging positive connections with people. They are more likely to find their Cindy, who can give them the love they need to keep going.
One of the impetuses for me to write my memoir was to tell the love stories of my life. I don’t mean the romantic love stories, but stories of true kindness. The universe gifted me with many true friends, people who kept me going, who loved me even though I was not their blood. I look forward to sharing more about Cindy, Dr. Constable, and especially my brother, Marc. Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor will be released in September 2020. It is a happier story than you might think, full of people like Cindy, and other heroes.
In the meantime, stay turned for the final part of this 5-part resilience series on G.O.A.L.S. G is for gratitude, O is for optimism, A is for active coping, and L is for love. What do you think S is for?