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They Died, I 'Crawled Back'

Updated: Feb 2

A happy and secure childhood contributed to my resiliency.

A few evenings ago, I told my story to a group of Masters of Thanatology students at a university in the Toronto area. A couple of times a year I become a focus of study.

There’s always dead silence and intense focus while the class listens to my recollection of the days, months, and years following my parents’ deaths after a catastrophic car crash many years ago. It’s no reflection of my verbal eloquence, trust me, it’s just such an unusual and ‘worst nightmare’ story.

I swear I can almost hear their thoughts as all the details of the story build on top of one another.

A week before her 15th birthday?

There were four kids? The youngest was seven?!

Her dad went into a coma after her mom died?

She was in a car accident the day after her parents’ accident?

She picked out their coffins?

Can you see the students’ concerned and thoughtful faces? I always feel like I want to stop speaking to reassure them that I’m ok.


Now I’m ok.

The focus of tonight’s class is family resilience and I’ve been asked to pick up on that topic in relation to what my siblings and I went through all those years ago.

To be resilient is to be able to ‘bounce back’ after a hardship (‘crawl back’ is likely more accurate). Family resiliency, as described by Dr. Froma Walsh, a leading expert on this topic, is the family’s ability to “withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges, strengthened and more resourceful” (Resilience and Mental Health, 2011, p 149).

Many of the examples in my (limited) research on family resilience describe the coming together of close relatives to weather and eventually grow from the particular storm a family finds themselves navigating. A parent helping his/her kids through the loss of the other parent or how each parent might help their kids transition through divorce.

The way these transitions happen, the ability to safely communicate feelings, and the family dynamic up until the point of trauma all contribute to how resilient a family will be.

But what if your family, post-trauma, has been whittled down to four scared kids between 7 and 16 years of age? Kids who get bounced around among different relatives for the next several years — sometimes together but in the end, separated?

What if the ‘other parent’ who is supposed to be there to help you through is also buried underground?

What if you’d moved across the country just a couple of months before the accident and had no close family or friends to be resilient with?

How our little souls dealt with the tumultuous inconsistencies in those years following my parents’ accident leaves me in wonder. How did we bounce back? How did we get the strength to move forward? The four of us weren’t together enough to clasp hands and forge our way through.

The more years that go by, the more I look back on this time analytically, without sadness. Wounds are mostly closed though scars remain. Enough time has passed that I don‘t get emotional while retelling the most harrowing of days.

We were even resilient? Is ‘forced resiliency’ a thing? Because that’s how I’d describe our experience. We all made it through. We were forced to. Today we are all able to hold jobs, each of us is happily married and we love our kids.

But how did we make it through those early years?

Maybe there was a resiliency in our family pre-trauma. Our dad got transferred between jobs quite often. We’d moved eight times through three provinces in my 14 years of having parents.

I’d been the ‘new girl’ at six schools by then.

I was adaptable and used to breaking the ice and I got good at fitting into my surroundings as quickly as possible.

We were a tight family because we were each other’s only friends in every new town that we landed. I remember playing Euchre and Rumoli and Rummy with my mom and dad. If I was fourteen when they died, then we must have been playing cards together since I was eleven or twelve. Did laughing around a card table with my family make me resilient?

We’d been brought up to believe in a Creator. Most Sundays, if whatever church we’d nestled into after a move had two church services, we’d most definitely be at both of them. Although I do not doubt that faith must play a massive role in the ability to be resilient, I can’t say I was reaching out to God very often throughout that time.

I was blank. My insides were empty. There was simply nothing there.

This is not meant to downplay the countless relatives and the church community who gathered around us to help with our survival. To remind us to eat. To get out of bed. To walk with us through excruciating situations and life-altering decisions.

It would have been so much worse if we’d still been in Manitoba. Thank God we’d moved so much closer to relatives on both sides of the family two months before the crash.

Could the years that our family of six spent together — not perfect but happy, each other’s first friends, feeling secure and sure and safe — be what got us through the most unimaginable of circumstances?

Did fourteen years of being well-loved by my mother and father create resiliency in me/us?

Having their intentional time?

I think so. I believe it played a major part in our ‘bounce back’.

Resiliency must begin in the most normal of days with the closest of loved ones.

It isn’t fabricated after a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness or after a job loss in a single-income family.

It starts building up inside someone from the time they’re itty-bitty.

Perhaps a person’s ability to thrive post-trauma is embedded pre-trauma.

Before the divorce.

Before the accident.

The home environment must shape a person’s ability to be resilient.

Surely parents who love unconditionally, communicate consistently, and guide with hands wide open — even though they‘re imperfect, messy, and feel parentally unsure so much of the time (me…that’s totally me) — are the world’s most undervalued people group.

And most definitely, parenting this way does not guarantee the outcome. Kids make choices that can take them severely off course.

But build the foundation anyway and always.

I find it hard to decipher if there was any family resiliency for me and my siblings after the car accident. When I think about it I feel confused.

Without realizing it, I guess my husband and I have been building up resiliency in our home with our kids. I’ve never thought of it that way before today.

Card games around the table. High fives for the big wins. Standing side-by-side through the crushing losses. Allowing our kids’ hard questions and differences of opinion about faith/sex/politics spur conversation instead of confrontation.

Not doing any of it perfectly. But we’re present. Doing it. 

Please, Lord, let my kids not have to go through anything close to what I went through.

If an unexpected life change does come along, I hope the foundation we’ve built under their feet has been solid enough to have built up their resilience.

To move forward, to bounce/crawl back. 

Spend time together. Doing nothing and doing everything.

Our kids’ futures depend on it. 

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Feb 08
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love, love, LOVE reading your outside voice and thoughts. Your wordsmithing and vulnerability, all the while delivering impactful and meaningful, thought provoking and trigger one's own self assesement....... As I mentioned to you the other day, please, Oh please, dont stop providing us with your insights to life.

David V

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Ahhh thanks David. This means sooo much :)


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


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Hey bro...Cows may not care but I know you do ;)


Feb 04

Aaaaw Julie, my friend you write with such conviction and confidance, of just being loved and I think that's the key understanding to resilience...

Love you always precious friend,

Donna Lahana - from Seattle

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Donna! I hope you're all sooo well. Thanks so much for taking a minute to send me a note xo


Feb 04
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Readings of your experiences assure me you are a resilient women!! Hugs💕

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Thank you so much 💕


Feb 03

Sounds like you are more than a survivor. You are a thriver!

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A new chance to thrive every day 😊

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