Susan Saint James on Handling Tragedy

As I was turning 40, I started reaching out to women around me and asked them to describe what they had learned in their lives thus far. It expanded into a book called PRIME and through the journey of creating the book, I came to see that life is how you look at it.

As Viktor E. Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Just ask Susan Saint James who we photographed yesterday. Susan is 65 and every ounce of that life shows through her radiant eyes. She came to the door in curlers and not a shred of make up. Susan is a celebrated actress who has worked with everyone from Rock Hudson to Alan Alda.  She and her friend Jane Fonda took the braless movement to mainstream TV. She is the wife of Dick Ebersol and mother of five. In 2004 her youngest son, Teddy, was killed in a plane crash in Telluride, CO.

During our photo shoot, she opened up about her personal tragedy. When the plane crashed she went straight to the hospital to discover the news. When she saw her husband and middle son, her first reaction was to explain to them that they must not blame the pilots. As hard as it was, they wouldn’t point fingers. She knew that if she started down the road of anger and blame, she would never be able to live.

Having come out of many years as an alcoholic, she was in AA long enough to have the language that she believes saved her from this tragedy. “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” Susan never expected to wear the clothes of a bereaved mother or use the coping skills she learned in AA to handle the death of her son. Ultimately, her sobriety saved her in ways she never thought possible. Listening to her I realized, there are many things we will not be able to control in our lives.

As Victor Frankel says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Attitude is everything.

What personal philosophy gets you through difficult times in your life?

Learn more about Victor Frankel here and check out his book here.

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