What happens after the worst day of your life?
I have just finished reading this thought provoking, brave, insightful and honest book by journalist, Leigh Sales. It should have been a depressing and dark read, and although it was sad in places, I found it to be full of hope and above all else, kindness.
I could relate to this book in so many ways – when I saw the the words Blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life, I had a flashback to the worst day of my life.
It too started as any ordinary day and ended up in tragedy.
After 40 years of living with it inside me, I finally wrote about it earlier this year – What I’ve learnt from surviving a school trip that went terribly wrong
I understood much of what Leigh wrote in this book – the post traumatic growth and post traumatic stress; the thinking that happens when you survive such a terrible accident when others have lost their lives; the nothingness in the days afterwards when nobody talks to you about it, you even start to wonder if it actually happened.
The days afterwards were indeed dark. But here I am 40 years later, older, wiser and more empathetic as a result.
Leigh’s interviews with those who went through traumatic events – like surviving a landslide that claimed 18 lives including watching his wife die in his arms; being part of a terrorist hostage situation where 2 people were killed; having your whole family killed by a gunman; and many more people who started their day in an ordinary way only to have it end in tragedy – they were honest, open and inspiring.
I like the fact that these people were months and years down the track from their worst day and Leigh showed us through her interviews, just how they had processed their stories and managed to get on with their lives.
I enjoyed the way she broke the book into sections and addressed various issues with the personal stories and thoughts of those she interviewed. She also shared her own personal stories along the way in an honest and raw way, which gave us an insight into her not so perfect life too.
The first sentence in Leigh’s Introduction sets the scene: The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other.
How true is this?
The day your school excursion ends in a tragic bus accident killing three people….started like any other day.
The day your brother in law dies after being diagnosed with leukemia just the day before….starts as any other.
The day your father dies….
The day your father in law dies….while you are on the other side of the world.
I’ve been blindsided many times and often wondered what I’d done to warrant these sudden life changing events.
As Leigh breaks down the statistics of such life altering events, it all becomes a bit clearer.
As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories – and a terrifying brush with her own mortality – sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?
In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she’s learned about coping with life’s unexpected blows.
Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don’t know we have.
One of my favourite lines in the book is on page 225 where Wendy Liu, a Forensic Counsellor, states:
‘Somehow we need to be aware that we’re mortal, that this time is finite’ she says. ‘It’s knowing this is all going top end, so let’s make it matter.’
If I’ve learnt nothing else from my own personal blindsides and events along the way, the need to make each day count and enjoy those around you – it’s this!
Hannah Richell says it all so well in the section (pages 203/204) about losing her husband in a surfing accident:
“I understand now that happiness isn’t some goal that we’re working towards…it’s just in the daily living of life.
It’s as if surviving the hardest thing – the greatest pain – frees me to live more courageously. You can crumble and give up. Or you can keep living and loving. I chose the latter.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself!
Leigh ends the book with this – There’s only one lesson to take from all of this and that is to be grateful for the ordinary days and to savour every last moment of them. They’re not so ordinary, really. Hindsight makes them quite magical.
I’d highly recommend this book, it’s the best book I’ve read in ages by a long shot. Have you read it or do you think you could read it?
Feel free to leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from you.
Linking with Denyse for #Lifethisweek
Are you on Instagram? Check out Deb’s World here: Instagram for photo updates
You can also find Deb’s World here – let’s stay in touch!