Tuesday, my son choked on a piece of candy. My mom literally saved his life by flawlessly performing the Heimlich Maneuver. It was a technique she’d never even practiced before that moment, the instant when her eldest grandchild needed her to get it right. Naturally, the incident left all parties quite shaken.
As the children filled me in later that night, I could hear the residual fear in their voices. That is the tricky thing about traumatic incidents. Once it’s over, everything seems fine. The risk appears to have passed, suggesting it is okay to just move on. Some would even pause to feel the proper humility, duly grateful for the optimal outcome.
I believe it is not that simple. The fear stays behind, quietly eroding your spirit, leaving you cautious and uncertain. This fear keeps people from living fully.
That evening, I acknowledged that the experience was incredibly scary for everyone involved and also that their Gran was a rock star for helping him through the crisis. After we’d processed the details at length, it was time to explore a way to move forward. I felt unwilling surrender our hard earned family peacefulness to this experience.
I said, “Now, we need to figure what that big exciting experience came in to our lives to teach us. What could we learn from this story about how to deal with other emergencies in the future?”We spoke of all sorts of alternatives, including how deal with them in case no adults were here to help. How would it be different if there was a sibling or young friend with them? What if they were outside playing when it happened? What if someone was cut or burned? What would they do if I was choking and they were the only ones with me? It went on for quite some time, this epic game of “what if… ,” and it was quite fun. They even decided to run emergency drills this weekend with the neighborhood kids. Who doesn’t love a good roll play, right?
This flipped everything about this experience for them. Instead of focusing on how powerless my son was to help himself, how afraid my daughter felt while he was choking, or even how he’d barely escaped with his life (thanks again, Mom). We turned the experience into something of a call to action. It became an invitation to grow. We used it as a tool to prepare for something that may happen in the future which otherwise, we might not be ready for.
First, we took time to process the experience, to honor the fears and overwhelm. And that step is very, very important. Then, when everyone was ready, we found a way to move forward together.
So, think about a recent difficult, frightening, or simply unfortunate event. Look again at the details of that situation for something you can use next time. What could you learn that might change the outcome of some unknown future incident, perhaps one with more at risk or even more dire consequences? Convert that one fear-filled experience into an opportunity for growth. It’s a simple thing we can all do to keep from getting stuck in yesterday’s unfortunate situation.