Updated: Dec 1, 2022
When someone dies in your family, you don't lose one person to grief, you lose everyone.
I share my story of family loss as it in many ways is the foundation of the training and knowledge I offer as resilience keynote speaker and specialist.
Thirty years ago, my older brother Mark was knocked down by a car outside our house. This was rural Ireland in the nineties. There was no Brené Brown talking about Vulnerability. My dad return to work two days later and my mother's hair started falling out.
As a four year old boy, my child mind couldn't make sense of what happened to my mother. I misread her depression, and concluded that it must be because she didn't love me. The success I went on to achieve at Oxford University, the Foreign Office and Extinction Rebellion was really a historical struggle to be worthy of her love.
As a resilience keynote speaker I often say that it is our family that is the foundation of our resilience. Our home base where our nervous system is wired and our sense of safety is shaped. It's where we get the feeling that we are enough just for simply being. Many of us did not have the ideal parents, or the ideal parenting environment, and spend every single day in a tragic compensation.
It's crucial to take the time to revisit our relationship with our mother and father and get to a point where we can feel the love that is always there. This palpable alive knowing is buried under blind spots and impeded by the difficulty we all find in being real and honest with each other.
For most of my twenties, I was lost in a story that my parents weren't good enough. It blinded me to fact that I wasn't showing up as a son. Absorbed in my London life, I would rarely return home. When I did, I subtly tried to change them. When they wouldn't oblige, I would return to my phone. I would eventually need to hear that I was arrogant, ungrateful and self-absorbed, and own it.
Our families are also crucial to our resilience in the very real and practical sense of often being the only people who will be truly there for us when things fall apart. We all have close friends, but even they have a limit if we need to be looked after for months and years on end. In India, on the brink of a private audience with the Dalai Lama, my every worldly ambition, everything, felt apart...
I became so sick, I had to return home to my parents doorstep to be looked after. I remember my mother driving me to the next village for therapy she had arranged with a family friend. It was a short distance, but somehow the gesture felt vast. With tears in my eyes I thanked her for being there for me. She said: "Ronan, if I could carry you on my back to Dublin, if that's what would help, I would." I understood in that moment that she always loved me, and always will.
In a digital age, family connections have been breathed a new lease of life. WhatsApp groups have become the new kitchen table, where holiday updates and pictures of grandchildren reweave the threads of togetherness.
We prefer to keep things light, but send them a message to tell them you're thinking of them.
Feel your foundations.
This is an A-Z guide to showcase some unfamiliar concepts in resilience, originally shared on my LinkedIn and inspired by day-to-day insights from my own experience with burnout and my work as a resilience keynote speaker. Also is this series: A (is for Auto-Regulation),B (is for the Breath), C (is for Coping), D (is for (the far side of) Despair), E (is for Endurance) and F (is for Forgiveness).