New Book Reflects on the Limitless Potential of the Human Spirit

Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life by Harriet Cabelly, is a collection of interviews with 37 people. Many are well known such as Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author and activist, who talks about how to support a friend through illness, and journalist and TV personality Meredith Vieira, who shares her views on caregiving.

Cabelly is a social worker and positive psychology coach, who was inspired by the words of Dr. Viktor Frankl early in her life. “The work of Dr. Frankel has been a foundational stone of my life from the first time I picked up his book, Man’s Search for Meaning when I was 18. Only now has it all come together, with positive psychology, and informed my life.” She calls it her guidepost for living well despite adversity. Cabelly is a coaching expert on the WOR radio show, Change Your Attitude, Change your Life and has appeared on ABC News as a parenting coach. This is her first book. In her Introduction, Cabelly writes “What does it mean then to live well? It means living with a sense of meaning and purpose, with an ability to experience joy and satisfaction. It means to embrace the positive and deal with the negative; to live aligned with one’s values; to live with intention and be an active creator.”

Cabelly asked Pogrebin what advice she would offer someone going through a critical illness. Pogrebin encourages absolute honesty on the part of both patients and their friends and families. “Patients should feel entitled to admit what they want and don’t want from the people in their lives; what feels good and what doesn’t; when they want company and when they would prefer to be alone.” Pogrebin said friends should be able to say three things to the patient: Tell me what’s helpful and what’s not. Tell me when you want to be alone and when you want company. Tell me what to bring and when to leave.” She feels this kind of candor can be a great relief and enormous support to someone going through a critical illness. The subject of friendship and illness came to the forefront for Pogrebin as she went through her own battle with breast cancer and she developed that into her book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.

Meredith Vieira, whose husband Richard Cohen has been living with MS for more than 30 years, talks about the impact of caregiving on the family. “It’s important to be able to communicate. Illness is a family affair. You need to keep the communication going and open on all sides,” she said “I think a lot of people who are caregivers feel tremendous guilt when they allow their personal feelings to rise above those of their spouse. It’s sort of like, ‘how dare you?’ That’s the person who’s ill, not you; so what right do you have? And I think you have every right, whatever your emotions are.” Cohen, a TV producer and writer, wrote a memoir about his illness, Blindsided, and then Strong at the Broken Places, which is a profile of five people with chronic illness.

Cheryl Stayed’s best seller Wild, describes her journey through grief back to life after the tragic loss of her mother. When Cabelly asked Strayed about her day to day coping skills she said, “Acceptance was probably the most important coping skill. I found solace in simply sitting with my sorrow. There’s a lot of strength in crying the tears that need to be cried and letting go of what cannot any longer be held.” Strayed helped herself by connecting with nature. Something we know now as eco-therapy has grown into a complementary form of treatment, which encourages people suffering from all sorts of distress.

Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was the victim of a horrific anti-gay hate crime that took his life in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, founded and directs the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Cabelly asked if there was a specific moment, thought, or epiphany that helped guide her to a better place mentally or did it slowly evolve. “I’m not sure I would say my mental state is better. I grieved, I cried and I still do, but I have figured out a way which works for me to keep Matt and his dreams alive. I have an opportunity to be a game changer in my own way,” Shepherd said. “My goal and that of the foundation, is to make the world a more accepting place for everyone. I can’t bring Matt back but I can preserve his legacy with my actions,” she added.

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and bestselling author about autism was teased and bullied at school when she was young and found comfort through animals. “People are always looking for that single magic turning point, and there really isn’t one. It’s a much more gradual learning. You learn more and more things every day.”

Other interviews include:

In her Epilog, Cabelly writes, “My hope is that these interviews have shown that regardless of circumstances, life can be lived well. It is possible to rebuild and turn pain to purpose and ultimately reclaim a rich meaningful life. The human spirit is limitless and we have reservoirs of untapped potential.”

Some of the stories are on Cabelly’s website,


Marian Betancourt is associate editor of PlainViews® and a professional writer and editor who has published many books and scores of newspaper and magazine articles. Her book, What to Do When Love Turns Violent, published in 2001 by HarperCollins was called “the best single resource” by The New York Times and is available as an e-book. Her latest book is Heroes of New York Harbor: Tales from the City’s Port. A new novel follows in 2017.




“This article was originally published in PlainViews®, the professional chaplaincy and palliative care publication of HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM, September 20, 2017. It is re-printed with permission.”

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