What I Wish I’d Known Before An Unexpected Loss

February 10, 2018

What I Wish I’d Known Before An Unexpected Loss

Happy Sunday my friends!

This week’s blog feels like a bit of a doozy, but to be honest, it’s a topic that I feel like I’ve been yearning to write about for close to 10 years. Perhaps for catharsis, or for inspiration, we will see. Truthfully, the impetus and inspiration for the blog this week came from a popular television show, as odd as that might sound! I am a super fan of the show This Is Us. I find it very relatable, cathartic, and thought provoking.

For those of you who don’t watch the show, the most recent episodes dealt with a very tragic and unexpected loss of one of the main characters.The loss of this character felt devastating, and while watching I kept wondering what I would do if in that situation. How would I deal? Can you imagine one day having someone in your life and then the next day not? Unimaginable loss.

After a moment, I realized that I didn’t have to imagine too hard. I brought myself back to my own reality. That story is my story. I have been there in my own way, and it took me a minute to own that I, too, am a person who has experienced tragic, unexpected loss. But I also know that I am not alone. It happens to people every day. Likely many of us have experienced an unexpected loss, a tragedy, an injustice, a sadness…and it is brutal.

I’ll share a bit about my own story and then I’ll delve into what I know now and what I wish I’d known then.

When I was 21 and just about to go back to college for my senior year, my mom and I booked a girls trip to California. Upon arrival after a five hour flight across the country, I turned on my phone to find dozens of concerning text messages regarding the wellbeing of my dad. I will never forget returning a call from my step-dad in a chipper tone to let him know we had arrived, only for him to respond with a very stoic, “I need to speak to your mother.” I will never forget the knowingness in my gut that something was very wrong, that was shortly confirmed by my mom’s expression on the phone. No words had been spoken, but I knew. My dad has unexpectedly passed in his sleep.

I will never forget the feeling of still sitting on an airplane on the tarmac at LAX trying to come to terms with the news and also trying to figure out how on earth would we be able to get home. We luckily were able

On the flight back to Florida after we received the news.

to find a flight back east that day, however, I’ll also never forget the five hour flight back (pre-wifi days), where I had to sit with myself in silence and in shock and contemplate what had just happened to my life.

My dad was a huge part of my life, we had our issues of course, but he was one of my favorite people. It feels like there is nothing that can prepare you for events such as these, but I’ve learned so much stemming from that day close to 11 years ago, on loss, grief, acceptance, growth, rage, and a whole slew of emotions. I’ve been a witness to its process. It’s probably been my biggest teacher.

So when I watched this TV show recently, and witnessed this loss again, it took me back to that moment on the plane, and it got me thinking. Tragedy is everywhere, and it feels insurmountable when it’s happening. Losses can rock us to our core, bring us to our knees, and immediately change the courses of our lives. There’s no way around it.

So I asked myself, what would I have wished I had known before life took it’s turn?

This is what I came up with:

Life is fragile. It sounds cliche but when it happens to you, you know that in any moment life can go upside down. Though much easier to do in retrospect, try to take in and savor the moments of your life that are unfolding right now.

Me and my dad (circa 1987)

Life is a gift. This really puts a lot into perspective for me. I find the pettiness and shallowness of ordinary life falls away when I remember that it is a blessing to be alive, especially with loved ones surrounding me.

Life is messy. It’s silly to expect every day to be rainbows and butterflies. The bad isn’t necessarily bad. It’s preparation. Take each hit and learn from it, you never know the value it will bring you in the future.

Life has purpose. Every moment is brought to us for a reason. We are living our own unique lives on purpose. Our stories are precious and our paths are unchartered.

Life is unpredictable. We just don’t know when life will swoop us up and change our course, so be present, be gracious, be passionate, and be grateful. Life is ever changing, this moment never stays the same.

After writing all this down, I then thought it might be nice to give you a little bonus! It’s great to have the lessons before, but it’s also really helpful to know the biggest lessons learned after too.

There are no rules to heartbreak. You don’t have to follow anyone’s mold of how to cope. Allow yourself to feel in your own time, space, and pace.

The new normal is uncomfortable. When managing a loss it’s very uncomfortable because there is something in your life that is missing, that can’t return. It’s a new normal. Be gentle with yourself and you slowly acquaint yourself with life as it is now.

Reflect back, but don’t live there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relived moments with my dad. Sometimes it feels very torturous, sometimes cathartic. Allow yourself to take in the memories, but try not to live there. Hold close to what has happened, but be present in the now.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s journey. There are times that I have downplayed my own heartbreak because in my mind it wasn’t “tragic enough.” Whatever that means. If you’re going through something that’s difficult for you, it’s exactly that. Difficult for you. It doesn’t matter the degree of difficulty. Comparison in heartbreak is a game that no one wins.

Allow yourself to feel. After my dad died I was really an emotional mess. I was young and going through a lot and had a lot of emotions. Sometimes I would get down on myself for “not being over it yet.” I vividly remember someone close to me saying that I get a whole year after he died to just cope. That brought me a sense of relief in the moment, but when that year passed I thought to myself, “Does this mean I all of a sudden have to act as if I’m okay”? The truth is the feelings are always just below the surface, even now, and I no longer try to push them away. When they come, I feel them, but I don’t let them consume me.

Get help as often as needed. Having a trusted team of support is crucial. I would not be a functioning human if it wasn’t for my family, my counselors, my therapists, my coaches, and my true friends. And I have no problem being vulnerable enough to ask for their help, when I need it. Even now. This also goes for outside the times of crisis, but especially true in these circumstances.

The last birthday that I was able to celebrate with my dad (2006).

Cultivate a new relationship on your own terms. It wouldn’t be a Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life blog without a little bit of woo. One of the most comforting aspects of losing a loved one is the ability to cultivate a relationship even after they’ve passed. I still talk to my dad, I ask for signs from him. We have a new relationship now, and it’s absolutely perfect. He is my cheerleader on the other side, and he helps me in so many ways. So if you’ve lost someone, you can miss their physicality, but remember you can still have them in spirit.

Phew! I told you this one would be a doozy! I really hope that any of you who have experienced a loss or something of this nature finds some sort of comfort from this blog. Please remember that this is all my own personal experience and not meant to be an all-encompassing “how-to” but simply my take on it all.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments on the subject, if you are comfortable sharing.



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