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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

GROW Bolder - Not Older

Lola celebrated her 86th birthday by standing up and moving her feet to music while husband Hank hand held her hands. She awkwardly danced to tunes blaring from a CD player. As I watched, I cried.

Might not sound like much, but to my amazing resilient friend, it was a triumph.

Two years earlier, a crash totaled their car, whipped her neck, and left her bedridden with a growing pressure wound on her heel. When you've lived a life that started two months too early at a birth weight of 1.7 oz, and a cerebral hemorrhage that damaged her left side, the accident was yet another crushing blow.

Starting from the time she was three with surgery to stretch the tendons in her left foot, she's endured pain, severe falls, and 19 surgeries that included operations for breast cancer and a triple lumbar fusion. I've seen her in casts, in slings, both with stiches and bruises. And yet, in all of this, she manages to pull herself up, bare four gigantic sons, and remain married to her handful of a Dutch husband.

How does she do it? What lessons can she teach about resiliency?


Positive self-talk is critical.

Lola speaks out loud her intentions for healing and for seeing herself strong. She also asks others to echo back what she says, as if the reverberation will settle deep into her mind.

Laughter lightens the load.

Lola insists her name means "laugh out loud a lot!" That's perfect for a woman who has made her living as a humorist and a teacher. Her laugh and deep North Carolina accent fill a room. She also "snorts" when something strikes her as very funny... a snort I love to imitate which brings up more laughter.

Set goals and work on them with a fierce determination.

Lola was making progress and her heel had healed but her left foot dropped even more. Then a series of TIAs (mini strokes) sent her backward-a lot. Depression set in but she worked hard to get out of it. She became determined that she would "dance" on her 86-th birthday. She counted off the days. She took her walker and an aide and went to the exercise room to use a recumbent bicycle. She took any and all advice and tried everything.

Create stretch goals.

To push yourself even further I have watched Lola accept assignments that almost seem foolhardy:

  • Craft a one-woman show to raise money for the local Rotary,

  • Join a band of younger and more raucous woman to perform as "The Funniest Housewives in Orange County".

  • Serve as emcee and warm-up for nationally-recognized comedians.

  • Volunteer at her assisted living residence to run a talent show.

When I ask her why she does it, her reply, "I will learn something."

Have faith and believe.

Raised Catholic, Lola has a deep faith that doesn't need the four walls of a church. She believes God put her on earth for a purpose. Why else would she survive all the incidents that began with her birth? Imagine, no incubators for a premature baby so her parents put the crib in a closet and nailed heaters on all walls.

As we enter the season of Spring, I trust that the resiliency lessons gleaned from Lola Gillebaard, my hero, will put a spring in your step, a smile on your face, and determination in your heart. Don't grow older. Grow bolder.

Happy Birthday, Lola!

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