Bob Dees is a retired 3-star Major General who is one of today’s top thought leaders on resilience. His mission in life is to teach individuals, businesses, and even nations how to become resilient. He believes that resilience is a skill that can be learned but is often not taught today.
This past Saturday, I attended Bob’s resilience conference. The content Bob shared was thought-provoking and insightful.
What made this conference significant to me is the timing. Four years ago, today, July 30, 2015, I experienced one of the most devastating days of my life. It was a day when my entire life changed.
Preparing and Getting Ready for the Storm
During Bob’s conference, he shared the three phases of becoming resilient. He calls this the Resilient Life Cycle.
This first part is Getting Ready and Preparing for the Storm.
Many of you know that my son, Thomas, was born with congenital heart disease. Because of his complex heart condition, Thomas needed three heart surgeries and two other major life-saving operations.
Thomas had his first two heart surgeries and the two major life-saving operations before he turned one year old. During this time, he stayed in the hospital for about 8 months out of the first year of his life.
The stress of watching my son fight for his life each day was unbelievable.
Parents, who have children with complex medical needs, face so many different challenges. Personally, there is only one other time in my life where I felt more stress and was more challenged emotionally, physically, and mentally than the 1st year of Thomas’ life.
This stress and these experiences during this first year were preparing me for the real storm that was about to occur in my life.
Holding On and Weathering the Storm
The second phase Bob shared was Holding On and Weathering The Storm.
Once Thomas was able to come home after his second heart surgery, he was still very sick. To survive, he had an oxygen tank, a pulse ox, a lot of other equipment, and many different drugs. But Thomas slowly recovered and gained strength each day.
The next two years, although stressful, were the best two years of my life. There is no greater honor than being Thomas’ Dad. This is the highest calling of my life.
During this time, Thomas recovered, and he began to thrive. He was weaned off the drugs. He could breathe on his own and required very little equipment to function. He was a happy, charming, and engaging boy, full of life and personality. He loved everyone and even got strong enough to run and play with other children. He loved life!
In fact, in November of 2014, the developmental pediatrician told me that Thomas had cognitively caught up with other children his age. I will never forget the words “Receptive skills age-appropriate.”
Through all of the challenges and tough decisions, my wife and I did everything possible to give Thomas the best chance at life, and it worked!
This ranks as one of the happiest days of my life.
The Approaching Category 5 Hurricane
As Christmas of 2015 approached, I knew the third heart surgery was lurking in the distance once Thomas turned three-years-old. We were now in the home stretch of this third and final surgery.
On July 13, 2015, Thomas had his third heart surgery. According to the pediatric cardiologists, this was supposed to be the easiest of the three heart surgeries. For Thomas, it was the most difficult.
During Bob’s conference, he shared part of the second phase of weathering the storm is learning to adapt.
After Thomas’ heart surgery, instead of recovering, he became weaker. This required the pediatric surgeon and the rest of the team to intervene. On this day, the intervention was successful. Thomas bounced back quickly and started gaining strength and recovering.
On July 29, Thomas was doing extremely well. He was moved to the less critical area of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We were told, before the weekend, we would be moved to the step-down unit and then be on our way home soon. This was the best day Thomas experienced in the hospital after his surgery. He was alert, engaging, and talkative. Thomas and our family returning home were within our sights, or so we thought.
July 30, was a whole new day. Thomas awoke with a high temperature. Doctors were concerned. About 11: 05 AM, Thomas started struggling to breathe. We quickly notified the doctors who put him on oxygen and then a ventilator. For the next few moments, we thought everything was going to be okay until Thomas’ heart stopped beating.
For the next 48 minutes, the team of doctors and nurses did everything possible to save Thomas’ life. I stayed in the room and watched in hopes that my presence would inspire Thomas to continue to fight. I never gave up hope, and I always believed in him. I still do!
Finally, Thomas was placed on an ECHMO machine. This is a life-saving machine that acts as a pump to push the blood throughout the body so that the heart can rest.
The next day, Thomas was taken off the ECHMO, and he survived. His heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys were working on their own. The problem was his brain didn’t receive enough oxygen during the code, and he was declared brain dead.
On August 3, three weeks from the day of his third heart surgery, Thomas took his last breath.
This is the most devastating day and event of my life.
The third stage of resilience is bouncing back.
Bob uses the metaphor of a tennis ball when bouncing back. Often when you bounce a tennis ball, it bounces much higher after the first bounce. The goal of resilience is not to return to the same level you once were but to make your life even better than before. This is difficult to achieve but can be accomplished.
Thomas dying affected me in profound ways.
First, the emotional lows were unbelievably low, and like nothing, I have ever experienced. I had to learn to navigate these emotions in a healthy, positive way, and not let self-destructive emotions and behaviors become a reality. This was unbelievably challenging, but I succeeded.
Thomas’ death challenged some of my fundamental thoughts about life.
It challenged my views of success and failure. Plus, I had to rediscover who I am and reaffirm my core skills. I was called to use my marketing skills to help organizations who provide support for families experiencing similar situations. Again, I succeeded, and these other organizations helped more families.
Finally, it made me come to terms with who I am and prepare myself for the next phase of my life.
Accepting and Embracing the Bounce
Even though I didn’t realize at the time, a big part of Bob’s conference, Saturday, was me accepting and embracing the bounce.
Ever since, Thomas’ death, I have realized the magnitude and impact of what I was experiencing. A child dying affects the parents for the rest of their lives. Some people never do recover. I did not want this for my life.
One of the ways that I have prepared myself for this bounce is reaching out to people with different expertise who could help me.
This has included a grief counselor, a pastoral care counselor, a psychologist, several pastors, family and friends, a church family, new people in my life, joining a gym, and most importantly relying on God through scripture and prayer.
Moreover, it required, my wife and l to learn how to connect in new and different ways, so we could support each other, and so we could maintain our marriage.
Learning One of Life’s Biggest Lessons
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is not the events in our life that determines the outcome, but our response to the events is what determines the outcome of our life.
Over the last several years, as I have started building my business again, I have been searching for the right mindset coach. Over the last three or four months, it is has become clearer and clearer that I’ve have found that person in Elizabeth Louis. Elizabeth has a Masters degree in positive psychology and helps people reach their goals.
I have no doubt with us working together, there is no height to which either of our lives or businesses can bounce. By working together, we are both going to check the boxes next to many of our collaborative and individual goals and dreams.
Also, I am grateful for Bob Dees. I am thankful for his conference, his knowledge, and his dedication to helping people find their bounce. I’m also grateful for our new found relationship as we help each other bounce higher, reach more people, and impact more lives!
This is exciting!
After experiencing almost a decade of trials and tribulations, I’m excited about the bounce and the possibilities of the future. Onward!