Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Any advice on how to keep bouncing back when life keeps sending bad news your way? I feel like that ambush scene in “Bonnie and Clyde,” when the cops keep shooting long after Bonnie and Clyde have probably died.

My father died of ALS in July; my mother has ovarian cancer and her chemotherapy isn’t working; our dog is 15 and on his last legs (no pun intended); my freelance business is in the tank due to the recession. I’m talking with a therapist each week but still feel swallowed up by the never-ending crap tsunami. Advice? Other than getting a bulk discount on Kleenex?


Crap tsunami, well said. It offers an answer, too: What can you do except scramble to the safest possible place and wait it out?

Since sewage isn’t actually lapping at your foundation (at least, not yet!), you can get a little more creative in the way you define “safest possible place.” I can’t say this enough: Strip your life of everything that either doesn’t matter or can wait for later. Spare from the ax one or two activities that have a renewing effect on you, and make them your refuge. Spend your remaining energy on giving and receiving love from those whose time is running out.

Also, take faultless care of yourself, based on the holistic trinity of sleep, exercise and healthy diet.

For your emotional state during this time, I offer two of the most enduringly useful pieces of advice I’ve gotten from people during my worst times:

1. Find a steeple to chase — i.e., use a fixed point in the distance as the thing that keeps you from losing yourself and keeps you moving toward a goal. It can just be, “Take great care of my mom,” or, “Stay close to my spouse/partner/best friend,” or, “Make it to my annual beach week.”

2. Know that everything external eventually passes. That includes bad times, good times, bulls, bears and every one of us.

In other words, steady yourself, then trust and live by the laws of change.

To Tsunami:

Volunteer. Do something you have always wanted to do to help those in worse shape than you. This is what I did when I was laid off with one day’s notice while in radiation treatment for breast cancer. I got myself down to the local animal shelter, and it saved my sanity. I even found out that I, a cat person, really like dogs, too.


A great suggestion if it doesn’t create time pressure that becomes another source of stress.

Since part of the tsunami is the ailing mother, caring for her can have the same benefit as giving charitably — it’s still getting out of your own head, and doing something tangibly good, which are the two main benefits of volunteering.

Volunteering is also a suggestion that will keep. When this awful phase is behind Tsunami, and his or her emphasis shifts from enduring to healing, an investment in a meaningful cause can put grief to good use. Through advocacy groups (the ALS Association is close to my heart), animal welfare work or small-business support, today’s bad news can be tomorrow’s purpose — a kind of life after death.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at