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Developing Purpose out of Grief and Loss

How I Came to Develop My Own Sense of Purpose Through Grief and Loss

My personal and professional mantra for myself and for those I help professionally

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” – Plato

I discovered my purpose, both personally and professionally, through living a traumatic and grief-filled childhood. It ignited my internal drive to thrive, not just survive, which shapes my purpose in life, even today. Living with purpose has allowed me to fully experience the power of all that life has to offer. It’s allowed me to teach this purpose to the world around me every day.

I grew up in a small, south Texas town as a big fish in a little pond, just like the rest of my family. My father was an auto dealership owner, my grandfather a surgeon, great-grandfather an oilman, all of whom loved sex, drugs and rock and roll. My mother was a beauty queen, head cheerleader, Lady in the mirror, and Miss South Texas. She radiated beauty with blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and thick, blonde hair. Although it was made clear for her to never speak in public unless my father said to speak. The women in my childhood enjoyed the same habits of the men in my family. I was the youngest of four. I had three older sisters, the two middle sisters, who were twins.

In June 1976, I was 10 years old. My father, just forty, had just delivered my oldest sister to her fifth attempt at drug rehab. She had been pulled over with a significant amount of cocaine in her vehicle just a week earlier. As many times before, without any consequences, the police quietly and politely delivered her to my father’s home with the message “Take her to rehab or we’re going to have to arrest her this time”. He left before sunrise, and drove her seven hours to an exclusive rehab in Dallas, Texas. He quickly admitted her and drove the seven hours home the same day.

I remember that evening as if it were yesterday: he walked in the house and made his whisky and seven as usual. My sisters and I, along with our parents, sat down for dinner. My mother poured her usual vodka and sat at her end of the table with my father at the opposite end of the table, both with a cigarette on their lips. After a few minutes of casual, shallow conversation, my father reached for his chest, looked at my mother, then me, and fell to the floor and died. My mother? She stood up tall, leaned forward to see him on the floor, swigged the entire vodka cocktail in one drink, and in her best Texas accent let out “Well F*#k! What do we do now?”.

My sister, Brenda, came home from treatment for the funeral and never went back to treatment, instead continued to use drugs as a part of her daily life. Eventually, she moved from south Texas to Portland, Oregon to start a new life. Portland is not known as the best place in the country for a drug addict to get a fresh start. My grandparents rented her a one bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of a building in downtown. Two weeks after beginning her new life, she fell from her balcony eight stories to her death on the street below.

Growing up in South Texas, we often spent Easter Sunday at my grandparents’ home. Although I was in college, the Easter of 1984 was no different. Becky, one of the twins, reported stomach pains all day. She asked my grandfather, the surgeon, to evaluate her many times throughout the day. Finally, late in the afternoon, he palpated her abdominal area and immediately felt a tumor the size of a grapefruit. Two days later, we were in Houston at M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital where she was undergoing surgery to remove the tumor. She spent the next five years of her life at M.D. Anderson, taking morphine for pain, undergoing multiple surgeries, followed by chemo therapy and radiation treatments leading to excruciating post chemotherapy neuropathic pain syndrome. Sadly, she died a few days after her and her twin sister’s 30th birthday.

Early in my life, I felt a lack of purpose and believed life would always be filled with grief and loss. I felt depressed, anxious and alone. It was through the experience of talking with my high school counselor, and later my sister’s pain physician, who had become a mentor, that I discovered my experiences could actually help others and give me a greater sense of purpose in my own life. Through witnessing the effects of severe drug and alcohol use, a dysfunctional upbringing and an internal desire to never experiment with drugs and alcohol, I decided to dedicate my life and education to mental health, addiction, chronic pain and wellness. I use that education every day to ensure those who experience mental health difficulties, addiction or chronic pain, understand there is path to a healthy, functional life where one can experience the power of thriving in life, not just surviving.

Daily, I practice mediation, mindfulness, and physical exercise to stay aligned with my sense of purpose. I honor the lives of my family, and the families of others by teaching the benefits and power of a truly inspirational mind-body-spirit approach to daily living.

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways — either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” – The Dalai Lama

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