Winning At Home: Choose better, not bitter

·3 min read

A friend of mine named Holly had a turn of phrase that I’ll never forget. She would say, “Don’t get bitter; Get better.”

You may be tempted to read that and feel the need to object and tell me that I don’t know your story. You might want to sarcastically say, “Wow, that’s some great advice from somebody who has obviously never been through anything hard.” I’m sure that if I didn’t know Holly’s story, I might just agree with you.

Dan Seaborn.
Dan Seaborn.

In fact, if you only knew her life story up through high school, you could almost imagine how the rest of her life would be pretty easy. When Holly was 18, she had just graduated from high school where she was head cheerleader, ran for class president and played the lead role in her high school play.

She had a heart full of dreams and a body full of energy. She was planning to attend college, get married, live in Tennessee, have a couple of children and paint her picket fence while her dog frolicked in the yard. Her dreams weren’t that different from many other young women her age.

But a sudden bout of clumsiness led her to visit a specialist. He was able to rule out a brain tumor and multiple sclerosis but wasn’t completely satisfied that nothing was wrong. Eventually, she received a diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA).

FA is a degenerative neuro-muscular genetic disorder that occurs in only one in 50,000 people in the United States. Some of the symptoms include loss of coordination, fatigue, vision impairment, hearing loss and slurred speech. After her doctor told her that there were no treatment options and no cure, he told her to go live her life.

I knew Holly at the time of her diagnosis, and I watched as her coordination declined and muscles atrophied to the point that she was confined to a wheelchair. There were days when her circumstances left her feeling confused and scared, but anybody who ever met Holly can tell you that she was full of joy and life. She was fun and loud and hilarious.

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I can tell you that when Holly passed away at the age of 44, she had lived a life following her own advice about being better, not bitter. In fact, despite all of the challenges that she already faced as her muscles stopped cooperating with her, she underwent tests and research in order to help the medical community understand more about her disorder in hopes that they could find a cure that would help others.

When I think of courage in the face of pain and uncertainty, I think of my friend, Holly.

Obviously, I don’t know what you are dealing with in your own life, but I do know that tough situations give us the opportunity to choose between “bitter” and “better.” That one little letter makes a huge difference. Not just for us, but also for the people around us.

So, I want to challenge everybody reading this (and myself!) to follow Holly’s advice, no matter what life throws at us! Each tough situation provides us with a chance to choose to grow or shut down and get caught up in complaining and comparing.

I believe that if we choose “better” instead of “bitter,” we will have a positive impact on our families and friends, which will help us to win more often at home.

— Dan Seaborn is the founder of the Zeeland-based group Winning At Home Inc., which supports and nurtures marriages and families. Email questions or comments to

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Winning At Home: Choose better, not bitter