When I was 13 years old, my mother and 2 younger sisters were killed in an Air Canada plane crash.

From the moment that my father got that horrible phone call telling him about the plane crash, he was beyond devastated. He was 44 years old and the overwhelming loss understandably traumatized him.

So really, I lost my dad that day too. He never recovered from the tragedy. He went on to live as a completely different man than he had been, and he even remarried, but he was never again the dad I had known as a child.
For the longest time I wanted to believe it was just a horrible nightmare.

But it wasn't.

Our family didn’t have much money, but our home and our lives had always felt rich and abundant. As a family, we lived a purposeful life where we reached out to help others. We were always involved in charity events and volunteer work.

My parents were happy, positive people – happily married – happy in their jobs – and we were all very close with our extended family.

There was a strong sense of harmony in our home. So we always felt safe and secure.

And then on Sunday, July 5th, 1970, it was all gone.

THEY were all gone.

We were no longer a family.

For me and my dad, life as we had known it was over.
We were forced to carry on for days, months, and even years, with the impact and effects of such profound loss, that never went away.

Though my father was not on the plane, his life ended that day as well.

And I had no one to talk to. In those days, people thought it was best to leave the subject of grief locked tightly in a box, never to be opened.

There were no grief counsellors or therapists brought in to do crisis intervention.

There was only me and my father.

And he withdrew into his own new world, feeling hopeless, helpless and consumed by despair, where he would barely talk to me. My jolly dad had become sad, weak and scared. He no longer giggled or whistled tunes. He never recovered from his heartbreak.

He went through the motions of “life”, but really, he simply went on to exist.

There’s a crucial difference between truly living and existence that is often mistaken for being alive.

At night time I would hear him crying in his bedroom. Weeping loudly. He was suffering terribly, but I didn't go in. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say or what to do, so I covered my head with my pillow so I wouldn’t have to hear him sobbing.

Looking back, I see that while my teenage years were obviously very difficult and challenging, somehow I found a way to move forward. To have faith and trust in the future.

And then came Barry. I met my husband Barry when we were teens. Barry too, had terrible tragedy in his childhood. Orphaned at 17, he was left to care for his brother with special needs.

Throughout our lives together, people have been shocked when they hear our stories.

When they ask how we've made it through all these years, and we seem so normal, we always said that you deal with what you have to deal with – what choice did we have?

But looking back, I realize that we did have choices. No matter what we are faced with, we always have choices. And we make choices. Even when people are faced with very similar situations, they don’t choose to deal with things the same way.

When I think back to those teen years, I realize that it occurred to me, even then, that my life was comparable to Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her little dog Toto, were caught in a tornado and swept away to a land beyond the rainbow - the land of Oz.She didn't just stand there. She didn't walk aimlessly in circles. She embarked on a courageous quest to find a way to return home. She chose to lean on the wonderful people she met as she followed the Yellow Brick Road - the people who were caring, positive and sincere - Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Munchkins, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Lion. Following the Yellow Brick Road together, they did their best to dodge the bad guys -- The Wicked Witch of the West and the Flying Monkeys - the ones who were miserable, negative or mean.

I also find it interesting that in the Wizard of Oz, sometimes Dorothy is the one in distress who has to be rescued by her friends, and other times it's the reverse, with Dorothy rescuing her friends.

Throughout the story, Dorothy chose a direction, she stayed focused and optimistic, and she held onto her hope with persistence and determination.

Yes, like Dorothy, I intuitively understood that the decisions and the planning for the direction of my life was up to me.

Even as a young teenager, I understood that in life, we have choices. We always have choices. And so I made – and continue to make -- some critical choices every day.
I never turned to drugs or alcohol. I was hopeful and determined. And no matter how hard it was, I was not going to give up. Giving up is NEVER a choice for me.

I talked to myself when I felt like I was ready to give up, and convinced myself that I could replace fear and panic with hope and dreams.

I learned to tell myself that I should never let go of my trust and faith in the future. I taught myself how to daydream about better times. I learned the value of holding onto your dreams with Positivity, Patience and Persistence.
I imagined having happiness and joy again in my life. And I never let go of that belief.

I knew that my mother and sisters would have wanted me to choose to be happy. They would have wanted me to choose life.

And I did.

None of us are ever free from bad circumstances or tough conditions – that’s life – but whatever life throws at us, the way we CHOOSE to react, is up to us.

As people, our power lies in how we respond to everything we are faced with, whether it’s a personal crisis or tragedy, a business challenge, or just everyday life.

Looking back at some of the things Barry and I did, and continue to do, in order to be happy and successful, and to be sure that we are leading a meaningful life, we’ve come up with 8 important HAPPINESS-INDUCING strategies for people who want to CHOOSE LIFE over sadness, bitterness or basic existence – for people who want to CHOOSE to be happy and fulfilled.

SPEND TIME WITH POSITIVE PEOPLE
STAY BUSY
HELP OTHERS
EXPRESS GRATITUDE
LOOK AHEAD – DON’T LOOK BACK
HAVE FAITH & PATIENCE
SPEND TIME WITH ANIMALS
CHOOSE YOUR THOUGHTS

Today, over forty years later, I still think about and miss my parents and little sisters every single day. But, life is precious and must be cherished. In the end, not that there really is an end, it’s all going to be about how much you smiled, how much you laughed, and how much you enjoyed your life.

There is no recipe or template to follow that will determine the course of any tragedy and the effect it has on one’s life. But the toughest decision a person has to make is whether or not they are choosing life.

Whether or not you respond to a crisis with hope, is a choice. It’s a choice about whether you want to live or die.
Forty years ago, I chose life. And I continue to choose LIFE every day. My parents and my sisters would expect no less.

Author's Bio: 

Lynda Fishman is a clinical social worker, an inspirational speaker, and the author of “Repairing Rainbows”. Lynda spent over 20 years as a summer camp director. She has published articles and training manuals on leadership, teamwork, bullying, trust, childhood health and wellness, communication and customer service.
Lynda is a survivor of an unspeakable personal tragedy. At age 13, Lynda's mother and two younger sisters were killed in an Air Canada plane crash. Lynda is living proof that people can survive and thrive after tragedy.