Below is a tribute to Abigail, published with permission from her mom, dad, and sister – all extraordinary examples of resilience and its impact in the world.
I’d like to share with you a true story about resilience. It’s not a list of things that resilient people do or traits of resilient people. Instead, it’s a tribute to Abigail, a 16-year-old girl who embodied resilience, and the incredible ripple effect that her too-short life had in the world.
Resilience is about adapting well to adversity – trauma, loss, threats, even day-to-day stress. Resilience isn’t about ignoring pain or sadness. It’s doesn’t mean the absence of difficulty. Quite the opposite, actually. Resilience often involves considerable difficulty and suffering.
Whether we become resilient or not depends on the way we respond to the adversity, not on the challenge or difficulty itself. The way we respond can mean the difference between adapting well and not.
If resilience is about adapting well to adversity, then Abigail is the most resilient person I’ve ever met.
Abigail was born with significant developmental challenges. As the extent of these challenges became apparent, doctors told her parents she would never be able to walk. But Abigail proved them all wrong and learned to walk.
As she grew, doctors told her parents she wouldn’t be able to talk. And Abigail learned to communicate, although not through words.
She faced challenges in everyday tasks, learning and growing by her own standards, not conventional ones, week by week and year by year. And without uttering a word, Abigail communicated her thoughts and emotions quite clearly. She loved her life.
Shortly after her 10th birthday, Abigail was diagnosed with progressive lung disease. The disease deteriorated her lungs, requiring her to use oxygen from a tank. Simple respiratory viruses became her biggest enemy, causing regular trips to the hospital for treatment.
For years, her little body withstood super-human quantities of steroids and antibiotics to battle the bugs that most of us would recover from naturally, within a week or two. With each setback, Abigail bounced back.
Despite her deteriorating physical condition overall, she bounced back well. Her mom said that the more diseased her lungs became, the happier she became – dancing, singing, appreciating and loving her life even more.
In early February of this year, Abigail breathed her last labored breath when a respiratory virus overcame her weakened lungs. She left the world in a much better place than she found it.
In sixteen short years, without saying a word, Abigail created deep closeness and connection within her considerable circle of influence:
- Through her zeal for parades, a good swing set in the local parks, and community events, she endeared herself to the local police and fire department. Their pride in serving and protecting her, as well as the community, was evident in the police escort her family was given to the cemetery.
- Through her frequent hospital admissions, she became a celebrity of sorts to the medical staff at the world-renowned children’s hospital where she was treated. She was an anomaly, defying medical predictions and protocols. It seems that the medical professionals who treated Abigail were the students, and she was the teacher.
- Through her obsession with Fritos and love of music, she befriended the marching band members at Northwestern University, near her home. She was a huge fan, but they also became her fans, even providing a surprise ending to her funeral as they marched through the church playing her favorite song.
- To her amazing mom, dad, sister, and all of their family, friends and colleagues, she represented both challenge and inspiration, love and heartbreak, laughter and tears. Abigail showed everyone how to navigate through all of life with strength and dignity.
Abigail’s earthly presence is a gift to us all. She demonstrated the potential of the human body and mind to overcome adversity and suffering. To bounce back and live a good life. And she inspired so many others to embody resilience like she did.
I like to think that in a world with too much cynicism, “busyness” and unimportant distractions, Abigail’s mission is to help us take a time out for things that are truly important. Relationships, love, and laughter. Positive contributions. Meaning.
Although she never uttered a word and lived only 16 years, Abigail demonstrated the extraordinary ripple effect of resilience and made the world a better place. We should all live so well.
You’ve made your imprint on my heart forever, Abigail. May you rest in peace.