by Phyllis Goldberg, PHD
Just hours after learning that her mother had died of a sudden massive heart attack, Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette was back on the ice. One of the favorites to win an Olympic medal, she practiced her jumps over and over again while her father watched with tears in his eyes.
Joannie’s fellow athletes concurred that she was doing the right thing by staying in the competition. They spoke about her inner strength, remarkable courage and determined attitude. Fans around the world appreciated that, with a heavy heart, she was facing the most difficult skates of her life. If, like Joannie Rochette, you are in shock or have been numbed by an unexpected loss, what follows are some tips that may help you begin to turn your upside down world right again:
1. Take control of what is within your reach. Joannie had the drive to win for her mom. She kept herself emotionally insulated, and the fact that she is a superior athlete helped her succeed. You, too, can keep going, no matter how hard it is. Identify your strengths and make them work for you. And have the wisdom to know the difference between what you can manage and what you cannot.
2. Relish the support that comes from those who care about you. Joannie’s loss resonated for athletes and fans alike. And everyone in the Pacific Coliseum was cheering her on. She said that all the love and support made it easier to give her best. Recognize that family and friends want to see you succeed and will be there to help sustain you. You can also find comfort in your spiritual community, a therapist or a bereavement group. You do not have to do it all alone – make the decision to ask for help whenever you need it.
3. Face your uncertainty with the best attitude you can muster. Despite the unthinkable, Joannie still maintained a single-minded focus in the skating competition. And now she will be able to grieve her loss. You cannot change what has happened but you can have some control over the way you handle it. Of course, you may be feeling angry, sad or afraid of what is to come. Be aware that your reactions are normal and common. And try to face them directly as you work through your feelings.
4. Make a public commitment to those who want to see you do well. Joannie’s exquisite performances, and the standing ovations, said it all. You can tell others about your intentions and create a strong reality that will motivate you. The initial goal is to uncover the courage to begin. Re-establish routine in your life, both at work and with family. Set new long range goals and short term objectives. Enlist your staying power. Your positive experiences will give you the incentive to continue. Although there may be stumbling blocks along the way, never give up.
5. Listen to others but primarily rely on your own instincts. Joannie believed in what she was doing and concentrated on the competition. She felt that she was where she belonged. That’s what her mother would have wanted her to do. What is familiar can be calming – have faith in what you are doing to heal. Realize your hidden internal strength as you trust yourself and look inside for answers. Emotional discomfort can be an opportunity and serve as an invitation to grow.
6. Increase your capacity to be resilient. It must have been extremely difficult for Joannie to maintain her composure and grace under these circumstances. Just as she has, take it one day at a time. Begin to develop strategies to manage stress and release tension. And you can call on your faith or spirituality Step by step, you will be able to turn your hopes and dreams into reality.
In both programs, with not much sleep or energy, Joannie hit the ice with determination. She proceeded to skate what turned out to be her personal best during the most trying time of her life. She felt as if her mother was there helping her. Skating through her emotional pain, she won the bronze medal. Joannie was stunning on the podium – responding to the cheers of the crowd, smiling as she wiped away the tears. Hers was a symbol of a poignant victory, and she touched the emotions of people across the globe.
In the news conference, Joannie repeated that her mother was her greatest fan and her death a monumental loss. Just like for her, you may feel that you are standing alone on the biggest stage you have ever been on, carrying the weight of losing your very foundation. But you too can get back on the ice and skate like you never have before.
© 2010, Her Mentor Center
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D is the founder of http://HerMentorCenter.com, a website for midlife women and http://NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com, a blog for the Sandwich Generation. She publishes a complimentary monthly newsletter and is the author of a forthcoming book about family relationships. As a psychotherapist, she has over 25 years of private practice experience.
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