Describe a circumstance, obstacle or conflict in your life, and the skills and resources you used to resolve it. Did it change you? If so, how?
At 8:35 AM, on a Tuesday during the school year, November 29, 2011 to be exact, I not-so-vividly recall shuffling around under the covers as a young teenager often does after waking up in the morning and looking over at the clock. After seeing that time, that “I wonder why I’m not at school; might as well take advantage of it” time, I rolled back over and tried to get a little extra rest. I figured that my mom would wake me up when she needed me, so I would simply enjoy the pleasant surprise of being able to sleep in.
As I lay there, I thought of possible explanations as to why I wasn’t in my green plaid skirt and blue oxford shirt crammed into one of those desk-chair contraptions in a classroom at St. Monica’s. Did my mom just forget to wake me up? Not likely because that had never happened before. Had the power gone out at St. Monica’s? This theory was slightly more plausible, yet I literally lived right next to the school, and my own power still worked. All of a sudden, it hit me: SNOW DAY! Dallas usually had at least one snowfall during winter, and November didn’t necessarily seem too early. I leaped out of my bed and pulled open my blinds. No snow…
Deciding it was time to figure out why I had been allowed to sleep in, I forced myself out of my room and into the living room, where I assumed my mom was. All of a sudden, I saw not one, but both of my parents standing in front of me. Noticing me almost immediately, they both rushed forward and burst into tears. You can imagine my dreams of a pleasant day off of school were crushed in about a half second. Now, I’m not really a fan of constricting or “comforting” hugs, so I gently pealed them away from their suffocating embrace and mildly demanded to know what was wrong. “Your cousin Colin died in a car crash last night,” my dad choked out.
Though he was my cousin, Colin was the closest I had to a brother figure, and this was the first time I had lost someone so close to me. At the time, I really had no idea how to cope with the tragedy and was not one for opening up to people. That being said, I recognized that I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing about my feelings. Later that afternoon, we went over to my cousins’ house, and immediately I realized that there were others, like Colin’s sisters and even my own father, whose grief was more extensive than mine and who desperately needed someone to be there for them. All of a sudden, I felt pulled into filling that role. It wasn’t that they themselves asked me to, but instead something inside me that whispered, “Trust me; do this for them.”
For example, a few days after the accident, Colin’s sister and I were sitting in her bedroom carrying on the random discussions that young teenagers so often have. We decided music was imperative to our pleasantly lighthearted conversation, so my cousin pulled out her phone and picked the song “I Won’t Let Go” by Rascal Flatts, declaring that it was her new favorite. However, not long after it started playing, tears started sliding down her face. Had this happened a few weeks before, I probably would have gotten fairly uncomfortable and would not have known what to do. Something inside me clicked though and I heard that whisper in my head. I reached out to her and pulled her close to me. It didn’t take long for her to stop crying, but I know that reassuring her that I was there to stay with her through sadness helped ease at least a portion of her pain. Empathy at this level was new to me, but I put my best effort into it.
And I’m so glad I did. While the death of my cousin was not a situation to be “resolved,” in focusing on recognizing my own feelings in others and actively seeking to help them in their own process of grief back to happiness, I found an amazing ability to motivate myself in seeking the same goal. From the moment I found out my cousin had died, I have been a changed person. Over the past few years, I’ve felt that same pull in other situations, whether it be with my friends or my family and, through trial and error, I’ve learned how to (and definitely how not to) be empathetic. In being open to experiencing sadness and supporting others through theirs, I ultimately came into my own state of resilient happiness, which is not just a fleeting feeling, but a part of who I am. The situation and circumstances I was thrown into helped me mature as a person and learn more about myself.
There are still times when I think about how Colin will never have the chance to go to college or have a family, and I allow myself to feel sad about those things. However, I remember how to bring myself back to happiness and do so. While I would trade my ability for my cousin’s life in an instant if I could, I like to thank him for teaching me how to cope and giving me the gift of empathy.