3 things grief taught me about resilience

After Dr Lucy Hone’s 12-year-old daughter died tragically in a car crash, she learned the power of resilience – and how to achieve it.

Wellbeing and resilience expert Dr Lucy Hone thought she had found her calling, when she was supporting grieving and traumatised residents in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.

But just three years later, the mum of three was to experience her own significant personal tragedy.

A road accident claimed the life of her 12-year-old daughter Abi, along with close friends Ella and Sally Summerfield.

“In the blink of an eye, I found myself flung to the other side of the equation, waking up with a whole new identity,” Lucy says.

“Instead of being the resilience expert, I became the grieving mother, trying to wrap my head around unthinkable news, with my world smashed to smithereens.”

‘I didn’t need to be told how bad things were; I needed hope’

abi hone
Dr Lucy Hone’s late daughter, Abi.

Suddenly at the receiving end of expert bereavement advice, Lucy and husband Trevor were told they were now prime candidates for family estrangement, divorce and mental illness.

There were handed leaflets describing the five stages of grief.

“As an academic researcher working in the field of resilience psychology, that advice was insufficient to me,” says Lucy, co-director at the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience and adjunct senior fellow at the University of Canterbury.

“I didn’t need to be told how bad things were; I already knew things were truly terrible. “What I needed most was hope. I needed a journey through all of that anguish, pain and longing. Most of all, I wanted to be an active participant in my grief process.”

Turning her back on standard grief advice, Lucy decided to embark on a “self-experiment” using her research and resilience tools to navigate those darkest of days.

The ways of thinking and acting she used now underpin much of her work.

And they have led to a bestselling book, What Abi Taught Us, Strategies for Resilient Grieving – now available as Resilient Grieving – and a TED Talk on resilience that was voted one of the top 20 TED Talks globally in 2020.

Here, she shares the three “secrets” of resilient people:

Lucy’s three practical strategies for resilience when times are tough

“Contrary to what many people think, resilience isn’t a fixed or elusive trait that some people have and some people don’t; in reality it requires the willingness to try,” she says.

“If you ever find yourself in a situation where you think ‘there’s no way I’m ever coming back from this’, I urge you to lean into these strategies.”

1. Acknowledge that sh*t happens to everyone

Think “why not me?” instead of “why me?”, says Lucy.

Suffering is simply part of human existence. There’s solace to be found in the simple but powerful fact that you are not alone and that, sadly, none of us are entitled to a perfect life.

2. Look for – and accept – the good

Resilient people habitually appraise situations realistically, which means they’re pretty good at knowing what they can change and accepting the things they can’t change.

They’re also good at tuning into and noticing what’s still good in their world.

Know that you can find positives somewhere in your life – even if you have to delve deep.

3. Ask yourself: Is what you’re doing working for you?

Is the way you’re thinking or the way you are acting helping or harming you in your quest to get through adversity?

By asking yourself this simple question you place yourself back in the driver’s seat, allowing you at least a modicum of control over your decision-making and experiences.

This is particularly important during times when control can feel very thin on the ground.

Putting resilience strategies into action

“I won’t pretend that thinking like this is always easy and it doesn’t remove all the pain,” Lucy admits.

“However, I’ve learned that thinking this way really does help. More than anything, it’s shown me that it is possible to live and grieve at the same time. Ultimately, I chose life, not death, and hope to help others do the same.”

Lucy’s new online program, Coping with Loss, is now available.

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Written by Liz McGrath.