Bad things happen. Sometimes, really terrible things happen. This trauma can overwhelm us and make us feel as though we don’t have the capacity to survive. Having cancer was this way for me. It was also traumatic for my family, especially my children. We had to work to survive – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We had to learn new ways to manage the worries and anger and fears. One thing we learned was just how different each of us are, especially our children, when dealing with the storms of life.
When the Storm Comes
We waited as long we could before we told the them. We wanted to have a plan and all the information before we mentioned the word cancer. Their world was about to be shaken. Life would now be labeled on a timeline of “before cancer” and “after cancer”.
From my years working as a counselor I knew that traumatic events can make you stronger, teach you resiliency and faith. I’ve seen it. I have also watched as people melted and families were destroyed because they were unable to cope. I have seen both. I was now entering into my own trauma. I wanted to prepare my family for this storm. I knew there were things Shane and I could do for each of our children that would support them and help them manage the aftermath.
Different Levels of Trauma
Trauma is when something terrible happens and it overwhelms our ability to cope. When this stress occurs, our brain can’t manage the flood of emotions and thoughts. For our children, this can be extremely confusing. It can lead to repressing emotions and taking responsibility for events they had no control over.
Most of us have experienced some type of trauma in our lifetime. I think of trauma like earthquakes that can be measured on a type of emotional Richter scale. Some events are sevens and destroy everything. Some experiences measure at a two and are less intense but still scary. Things like death, divorce, abuse, accidents; all things that can be considered traumatic and have lasting effects on us. Presently, we are all experiencing a level of trauma as we deal with Covid, sickness, isolation, unemployment, and virtual learning.
My kids needed my help to navigate our earthquake of cancer. Your children need your help now as they try to navigate the rubble in their lives.
Thinkers. Feelers. Doers.
I had no idea how my children would react to all the life changes that cancer brought, but they each coped differently. Myla (and her daddy) waited and watched the entire earthquake happen. Then she looked around and wondered what we would do, how would we manage, how would things be different. Birdie saw the earthquake coming and ran to meet it. She fought with it. She thrashed through the rubble, her emotions creating her own storm. Cedar, and I, felt the tremors of the quake in our bodies. Then, we started moving. Searching through rubble for those caught underneath, cleaning up the debris, allowing our thoughts to process with each step we took.
We can all basically fit into three categories – thinkers, feelers, and doers. Each category handles stress differently and processes the information in unique ways.
Thinkers witness the stressful situation and freeze physically. They may have that glazed-over look. You can ask them a question and they won’t answer. The world is suspended as they think. They are trying to process everything. It’s like sensory overload. Before they can form a response, they need to gather all the information and think through the situations, beginning to end.
My thinker is my oldest, Myla Mae. Thinkers can be labeled as cold, slow, or emotionally distant. I have found none of this to be true. Thinkers need time and information to form their opinion. We can help our thinkers by having patience and providing them with the opportunity to process.
Feelers do just that, they feel first. Emotions come out through behavior or words before they even know what they think. This can look like tears or tantrums or immediate compassion. Birdie is and has always been led by her emotions. When I told her about my cancer diagnosis, she immediately began to cry and then had questions about her fears. We can help our feelers by providing stability, direction, and modeling healthy coping skills.
Doers process by doing. They are generally action first. I am a doer and I think Cedar is too. Before doers have a thoughtful response or show any emotion, they need to use their bodies. Play, run, organize, anything that engages their body. Cedar managed his worry by helping me when I was sick. He brought me water, rubbed my head, and made Lego creations for me. We can help our doers process their new stress by giving them opportunity to move and tasks to complete.
Be Brave, Deal with the Rubble
You know, as I do, just how different each child can be from the other. Their way of cleaning up the rubble will be different also. In order to make sense of what has happened and create the space in their brains and bodies to process, thinkers need to think, feelers need to feel, and doers need to do.
Stressful situations will find us all. Traumatic events will happen that we can’t explain. These storms aren’t meant to destroy us. They are tools God will use to make us stronger – if we allow it.
I pray these words will help you and your family meet your storms with confidence. Be brave and let’s help each other sort through the rubble.
To God be the Glory,