“At the heart of it, our family grew because of trauma, not despite it, and during our journey, we were blessed with many unexpected, unintended positive outcomes. Perhaps that’s not the “right” thing to admit as a parent who lost a child, perhaps that’s not the “expected” thing to say as a brain tumor survivor, but it is our experience.”
– Susan Angel Miller, Permission to Thrive: My Journey from Grief to Growth
Discovering Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)
“Have you heard about Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)?” I hadn’t. I’d certainly heard about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its harmful effects–especially in relation to returning veterans. I had never heard about this more hopeful positive psychology concept.
In the years following my daughter Laura’s death and my own brain tumor diagnosis, I’d expected our family to crumble. Instead, we continued to parent our two younger daughters and take pleasure in our lives. Our response to tragedy didn’t seem either “normal” or socially acceptable. And, I’d felt guilty about that. Relief now washed over me.
Turning Trauma Into Strength
We had experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. Yet, we had gained a new appreciation for life, increased our compassion for others facing hardship, and increased our gratitude for what we still had. We’d deepened our relationships with family and friends, and gained more self-confidence in our ability to handle future challenges. And, most importantly, we had discovered a new purpose and direction in our lives. These positive outcomes did not miraculous occur. We had confronted the painful events and emotions and wrestled with their meaning. It is this struggle, that I believe propelled our resilience and growth.
Embracing the Emotional Paradox
We experienced PTG, but that didn’t mean the heartbreak was behind us. Emotional growth and distress often occur at the same time. Joy amidst suffering. Gratitude mixed with guilt. Life is not an “either-or” proposition. Emotions encompass the uncomfortable and messy. We would eventually learn to live with that messiness.
I share my family’s story and emphasize that it’s our personal story. Each person’s journey varies, and so do the reactions. The extent and timing of an individual’s healing should not be compared to one another or judged. Grief does not follow a prescribed calendar or road map. My memoir conveys a more universal message–that while life’s challenges are inevitable, our responses to these events do not have to be.