Funerals are always so sad to me, but not for the obvious reasons.  As I sit and listen to the caring acts or multiple ways that a person’s life has intersected with others, I always think how awesome it would have been for that person to know how others felt while they were living. To know your life had purpose while you were living…how powerful…what an incredible gift.

Over the last year, I have lived my funeral and I must tell you… IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. Although I didn’t die, I thought at many times that the pain would overtake me,  swallow me up in a huge wave, and I would surely die. Instead, the waves just thrashed me around and spit me out in what felt like a desolate forest with absolutely no map.

Though I would never wish to relive the pain, because of the dire situation I found myself in, I received the most incredible gift.  I got to SEE… to FEEL… and EXPERIENCE the depth of love that so many people have for me and my children.

I have lived my life as a giver, and it returned to me in ways that I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams.

I am a minimizer. I am going to undercut a compliment. Me…no… I am not really that smart I am just an overachiever. Oh, this old thing? Had it for years. But one thing that I will own is that I LOVE people. Call me crazy but I think that every human being should feel loved, accepted, and live into their God given capacity. If this is a fatal flaw, I prefer not to be flawless. No, thank you Cover Girl…I will happily keep this flaw.

From a young age, I have never met a stranger. My poor, poor, mother (insert shaking head emoji). I was a child abductors dream come true. I mean seriously, I am so lucky that my picture did not wind up on the side of a milk carton as a missing child! I would spark a conversation with anyone (still true). Sure mister, I will help you find your lost puppy.

I guess at the end of the day I just long for connection. I am the person, who until last year still enjoyed snail mailing out over 100 Christmas cards and I love reconnecting with people that I have lost touch with over the years via social media.

There is nothing that makes me feel more alive than to share in another person’s joy or pain. No surprise that 2 Corinthians 1:4 is one of my favorite scriptures.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

I have always been the helper. I began caregiving at a young age for my Granny who struggled with mental illness. I was hooked from that moment forward. This amazing high of feeling needed and important likely created an addiction.

Just as the addict progresses from gateway drugs to the hard stuff, so it was a natural progression of serving. First as a teacher, then counselor, and now mission worker.  I am one hundred percent comfortable as the giver. The receiver…yeah…not so much.

Last August my life as I knew it was ripped open. The actual events are not important, as grief is grief. A broken human heart, no matter the reason, is the worst pain imaginable for a human being. A pain so intense that your own mind tries to destroy you. Just like an auto immune disorder turns the body’s defense mechanisms on itself, so the traumatized brain turns on itself until you find yourself fighting for your very life.

The waves come over and over. Some small, and tolerable… some more than you can take. Every time you think you are on solid ground you are knocked back down, sometimes harder than before. Even before these events, I was no stranger to grief. I watched my father wither away and succumb to cancer at age 49 . Then I spent the next 11 years caring for my mother as she faded away from mental illness and grief into her early grave at age 52.

As a trauma therapist I have sat with many people through the most unthinkable events. Dead children, husbands, and wives, sexual abuse, war, you name it.   Yes, I am 100 percent comfortable with that side. So, bring it on grief…I am not afraid of you…we have met before and I have survived.

But nothing…and I mean nothing… could prepare me for the deep earthquake of pain that I was about to endure. Greater yet, I could never have predicted the Tsunami of love that would follow to fill this incredible deep fracture or how difficult it would be to allow myself to open my heart to these unspeakable gifts.

To now be the receiver…WOAH…WAIT WHAT?… there must be a mistake…the roles have been wrongly assigned.  This is not my usual role. New script please!

This year has exposed me to a vulnerability that I never knew existed in me. I am not comfortable in the role of receiver. After all, you only had to go to church once to know, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” The humility was instant.

In 2018, I founded Resiliency Counseling & Consulting because I believe deeply in the human capacity for resiliency. I believe with the right tools and protective factors, even in the most adverse experiences, people can not only survive but thrive.  I have witnessed it firsthand in my clients, African orphans, and even in myself.

Well, be careful what you study or aspire to because I promise you my friends, you will be tested…and tested hard. This situation was and continues to be the greatest test of my personal resilience and faith. It was also the perfect situation for people to say …”Hmmm.. Where is your God now?” … “Hey, how are those resiliency skills working for you now?”

Well thank you very much they worked out great…The end…well not so fast.

Please do not think for one second that those things made this year easier. Just ask any of my closest tribe. There were many nights of wrestling, questioning, nonstop tears, raging anger, frustration, and downright distrust. Let’s also not forget the complete breakdown over a food app that refused to allow me to submit my turkey sub order, but that story is for another day!

One thing I have always believed is that a faith not tested and owned by the believer is not worth believing. However, if we are refined by fire, I need for you to understand that Eastern NC summers have nothing on the flames of this fire of refinement!

No matter what this experience and year makes me question, I will never question the importance of protective factors. Within the definition of resiliency, a significant part of protective factors includes social connections and concrete support in times of need. I can assure you… I would not be alive without these deep resources. I do not need a randomized controlled research trial to tell you …THIS WORKS!

“What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger”, “You will be a better person for this” and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. I have heard them all this year… well-meaning platitudes and I cringingly admit I have over the years said them as well. I mean what else do you say to those who are going through a difficult time?

There is this innate human need to ease negative feelings and add value when things happen that we cannot understand or comprehend. Often in our effort to encourage someone in distress, we underestimate the most powerful tool that we could deploy… the simple gift of human presence. “I don’t know what to say but I am going to walk with you and I will not leave you.” is a powerful statement.

So many people have told me…you are strong but what they did not realize it that they are a part of that fabric of strength. Strength is not an inborn quality; it is created by our test and trails and supportive people are a huge part of that fabric.

Diamonds are created under intense pressure and heat which causes the carbon atoms to bond together to form crystals.  Just like these atoms bond together under pressure to create a beautiful diamond so the support of others in our times of trouble create the strength needed to get from moment to moment.

It is not necessarily WHAT we go through but WHO we have surrounded ourselves with that defines how we walk through the trials. This is best summed up by this quote by Noam Shpancer, PhD:

“Mayhem and chaos don’t toughen you up, and they don’t prepare you well to deal with the terror of this world. Tender love and care toughen you up, because they nurture and strengthen your capacity to learn and adapt—including learning how to fight, and adapting to later hardship.”

To all my protective factors past, present, and future, THANK YOU.  I am deeply grateful to each of you.

For all those I have been blessed to be a protective factor for in your life…I assure you it was completely my pleasure, remember that is my comfort zone!

Now… go…GIVE… be someone’s support today. Even if you don’t know what to say or feel like what you have to offer matters. Your words are not necessary but your presence most certainly matters. JUST SHOW UP!

And, as time marches on and  the tables turn and you find yourself in need…yes my giver friend, they eventually  will, I pray that you will open your heart just as wide to RECEIVE back that love as you did when you gave it away. Trust me, it will be beautiful.

As always, may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.

Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. Like Resiliency Counseling and Consulting, PLLC

The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.