Fani Mari: “Being able to say goodbye”

…Being able to say goodbye — Attending her memorial was probably the thing that helped me the most even though it was incredibly sad. Seeing her mom broke my heart but having all her closed loved ones together brought a spark of joy and hope too. We went out to the open sea to scatter her ashes. […]

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…Being able to say goodbye — Attending her memorial was probably the thing that helped me the most even though it was incredibly sad. Seeing her mom broke my heart but having all her closed loved ones together brought a spark of joy and hope too. We went out to the open sea to scatter her ashes. It was a warm day, a small group of her closest family and me. The sun was shining, the sea was clear, a close friend was playing Purple Rain on the ukulele. And these are the moments I keep in my head — not the sadness, not the crying, not the loss. Maybe the hope that there is something else, the love, the moments.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives. How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewingFani Mari.

Hailing from Greece, Fani is a beauty and lifestyle journalist, brand consultant and blogger/influencer. Though her professional career focuses on beauty, she’s very interested in mental health and believes we all need to work to remove the stigma. When she doesn’t read up on ingredients and new products, she reads books, watches Netflix, bakes and follows the sun (ideally on a beach).

Fani has over 5 years of experience in fashion and beauty, writing for various international magazines, as well as working with clients on their press releases, social media, and strategy. She’s also very big on sustainability. She spent the last decade in London, studying and working with luxury brands and helping beauty and skincare start-ups develop their message in terms of marketing and social media. Her work has been published in publications such as HuffPost US, The Independent, Dazed, Coveteur, Hypebae, PopSugar and others.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in sunny Athens, Greece with a much younger brother, spending my summers by the sea. When I moved to London in 2010, I constantly missed the sunshine, as you can imagine London is not as sunny as the Mediterranean! I’ve wanted to study journalism since my teens, which is why London was the perfect choice. One summer, I remember speaking to a cousin when I was about 13, who had just graduated from journalism school. The thought of seeing my words and name in a newspaper, sparked my interest in the field. I actually did two journalism degrees, an undergrad at City University and a postgrad in Fashion Journalism at Central Saint Martins. I was determined to work in the fashion industry and was lucky to work alongside a famous fashion photography and videographer, Nick Knight for a few months. After a couple years in the fashion industry, I realized I wanted something more; fashion is incredibly destructive for the environment and eventually realized my interests had pivoted to beauty and skincare. I now want to train to become a facialist, alongside my journalism — I already learn so much about skincare when I do research for articles, but I think proper training is essential if you want to give advice to people and I love helping others create their skincare routines.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s a cliché, but “Everything Happens For a Reason” has been my favorite quote/mantra. Even when I was in high school, I had ingrained this idea in my head that it’s not good to have regrets. It is better to have tried and lost, than to regret not trying. I try to remember this in every aspect of my life; from work, to relationships and everything in between. Even when I get disappointed that something didn’t evolve like I hoped it would, I know the reason will become obvious eventually.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Perseverance: As a journalist I’ve found out how vital it is to persevere and follow up! It can be daunting, especially when one’s a young professional, but persevering is what got me my first internship, which was an incredibly rewarding experience.

Sensitivity: Being sensitive can often be seen as a disadvantage. I’ve come to accept my sensitivity as an advantage though, I can lead with my heart and my head and I believe I’m actually stronger than people may believe at first.

Organized: Being organized and methodical helps me in practically all aspects of my life. It can be a little annoying though, as I can’t go to bed if my room is messy for example! But generally, it’s one of my greatest qualities.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

I do. When I read about the specifics of this interview, I knew it was the right thing to do and though I’m incredibly fortunate in most areas of my life, I unfortunately experienced a very tragic loss, that of a really close friend when we were just 25.

It’s cliche but death is a part of life, and sadly the sooner we experience the more used to it we become. I had lost my grandma in the past but knowing that my friend didn’t exist anymore was a harder pill to swallow, she was just 25.

When I heard the news, via message from the mom I couldn’t believe it. Her heart stopped. They didn’t know exactly why or what had happened. How? How could she not exist anymore? I won’t forget that exact moment that I found out. I remember looking at the Facebook Messenger message in disbelief, her mom said, she’d want me to know. I immediately sat on my bed, feeling lightheaded. For a few minutes I couldn’t even cry, but soon enough I couldn’t stop.

I didn’t know what to say. She lived in the US, so we hadn’t seen each other in a couple of months. I wanted to find out more about the situation, trying to make some sense out of it. A few days later I got back in touch with her family, while they were also unsure of the specifics, it was obvious there were congenital heart problems that I didn’t know about. For her to be completely healthy, she shouldn’t be running, drinking coffee, drinking or nothing that puts any strain on your heart. But she lived her short life fully — she didn’t compromise, she followed her dreams and did the best she could in every situation. For her to still be alive, her life should have been pretty boring, very safe and nothing like it were. Knowing that, brought some peace.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

I suppose the worse thing that could happen, happened. I had an emotional break-down that lasted a few weeks, I wasn’t officially diagnosed with depression, but having been depressed previously I knew the feeling all too well. But I also knew that my friend wouldn’t want me to be upset. I could hear her voice in my head telling me to cheer up, telling me she’s okay and I should just go on with my life. Of course, I wanted to listen to that voice, but I was just numb. Not knowing exactly what happened when she died made me really sad as well. She was getting ready to go to a party with a friend. I spoke to the friend that was with her, trying to understand the situation more. But it only messed with my head and confused me. I was constantly thinking, could they have called an ambulance faster? How long did it take? Did she faint? What exactly happened, I’ll never know.

How did you react in the short term?

As you can imagine I was devastated. I was in disbelief, in denial, I was in a little cloud for a few weeks. I also felt guilty for feeling sad. I was just her friend, what about her parents, her family, they were allowed to be devastated! I even shared those feelings with her sister, who assured me that pain and grief isn’t measurable nor related to the relationship level. I couldn’t quite comprehend what happened and I didn’t want to tell my manager or colleagues at work. I didn’t want to get that “I’m sorry” look, because it all reminded me of what really happened. I was also angry. Angry at the world and at myself, for not speaking to her more on the phone. Some things you can never change, but that was one detail that really upset me. Our last text message was discussing Grey’s Anatomy and saying we’d speak on Tuesday after her class. We were both busy, but Friday I heard news of her passing. So don’t leave conversations unanswered — call your friends!!

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

Honestly, I didn’t cope well at first! But I was asked to write a piece dedicated to her life, almost like a eulogy and even though I wasn’t ready to talk nor write about it, it really helped me.

It was just a couple of weeks after her death and I had to find the strength, courage and inspiration to write about her life. It was very cleansing and I’m glad I didn’t decline the opportunity to do that, despite not feeling ready. I think even if what you write, won’t be read by anyone, it’s a good way to cope with a situation. Putting your feelings on the page is cathartic and healing, even if no one reads it afterwards, not even you. Traditional pen and paper are preferred!

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

I held on to the positive memories I had with my friend, all the talks, endless hours of laughter and the relaxing holidays and getaways we had together. I held on to things in my mind, that reminded me of her. I’m almost glad she didn’t die in a horrible accident, as too many young people die in car crashes and at least I know she was at home, peaceful. Because we lived far away (I was in the UK and she was in the US), we’d only see each other a couple times a year. That made it easier to heal and let go. If it was someone I’d see on a weekly basis, I think it would have taken a lot longer to let go of the negative aspects of the situation. Seeing the situation in a more spiritual way also helped. Believing that it was her time to go and that’s why it happened this way.

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

As mentioned, emotionally it was important to discuss my feelings –both on my own as well as in therapy– and understand them, observe them. In such situations it’s important to let go and feel it all. There’s no point suppressing your emotions, trying to convince yourself you’re fine when you’re not. It’s difficult when we have a million things to do; work, family, but your close friends will understand that you need to take it easy. Death is never easy on anyone. Just allow yourself to grieve, to feel, to be sad, annoyed and totally consumed in the situation. It will get better.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

Yes, my therapist helped me a lot. It was important to discuss the situation and the events that took place, in order to process them properly and heal the wounds they left behind.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

It was hard, probably the hardest thing I ever had to do, so it took me a while to turn it in a positive situation. I remembered all the great moments we shared with my friend and eventually, after a long time, I managed to remember her in a positive light, thinking of the beautiful life she had, with a few friends, that loved her very much. It really puts things into perspective, thinking that from one day to the next we can simply stop existing. Some days I still find it hard to believe that I’ll never see her again. Remember to keep your friends and family close and tell them how much you love them. As we saw in the past year, health is the most important thing.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I learnt I’m a lot stronger, mentally, than I ever thought possible. Going through something like this changes your outlook for good. I suppose it was a good outcome, knowing how strong I am, despite being overly sensitive at times. I realized that having gone through a situation like that, I have to do all the things I ever dreamt of doing, for the sake of my friend, who can’t anymore.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

It’s been over three years and though I’m not completely over it (I don’t think you ever get over death, you just get used to it, you cope with it) here are the things that helped me when I needed it the most:

  1. Therapy

The number one thing and something I would urge everyone to do if they can afford to. I recognize how expensive therapy can be, depending on your location, but it’s essential, especially in a difficult situation like this. I believe everyone needs therapy as we get bombarded by things and feelings and tasks every single day and having a professional, helps immensely. Supporting your mental health is so important and a vital investment towards your mental and physical wellbeing. In terms of grieving, or any type of loss, they will help you process your feelings and direct you in the right way to eventually surpass your feelings and be better.

2. Sharing good memories

I am lucky to have been close with her family, in that I can share and speak to her sister about funny moments and good times we had. It’s true what they say — a person isn’t really gone for good unless you forget them. I screenshotted all of our conversations, photos we had together on the various social media channels she had, before they were taken down. I held on to every moment I had, in my mind. I made notes of conversations, things I wanted to remember from her life. It was a difficult process but cathartic and, in a way, almost positive. Within that, I remembered to be grateful for knowing her and for the good times we had together.

3. Support group

A support grief group helps a lot. It’s very hard to convey the feelings of loss to people that haven’t experienced it and even if they have, each situation is so different. However, being in group discussion helps a lot. Especially in seeing things from another perspective and being able to express all your feelings to people going through the same/similar situations.

4. Focusing on work

That was the hardest part as I didn’t want to speak about the situation at work and just wanted to keep busy. In hind side, I should have taken some days off work to process it all but keeping busy makes you switch your focus. A healthy balance is needed in such a situation, but of course everyone processes things in a different way. I should have taken some days off and then tell my manager, while focusing on work as much as possible. Some days I was very obviously a wreck at work and keeping my grief private made things harder.

5. Being able to say goodbye

Attending her memorial was probably the thing that helped me the most even though it was incredibly sad. Seeing her mom broke my heart but having all her closed loved ones together brought a spark of joy and hope too. We went out to the open sea to scatter her ashes. It was a warm day, a small group of her closest family and me. The sun was shining, the sea was clear, a close friend was playing Purple Rain on the ukulele. And these are the moments I keep in my head — not the sadness, not the crying, not the loss. Maybe the hope that there is something else, the love, the moments.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

It may seem small or frivolous, but the thing I’d change if I could, is make people more accepting of their physical flaws, especially when it comes to skin conditions like acne. Having had acne for over 15 years, I know how absolutely devastating it can be and how painful it is; both physically and mentally. People don’t quite realize what a negative effect it can have to one’s self-esteem, it’s not just a simple physical thing!! Also, all these filters on social media are terrible and terrifying. I just wish people of great influence –celebrities included– would call them out and get them banned once and for all. Young kids growing up with these filters, thinking they aren’t good enough is devastating. Also, if I could just have two things — I can’t even imagine how tiring it must be for people to be profiled and racially targeted, just because of the color of their skin. Which has absolutely nothing to do with their abilities, skills or worth. As we keep fighting for gender equality, we should also fight against constitutional racism and call it out when we see it, even when it doesn’t directly affect us.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Danessa Myricks! She’s an incredible makeup artist, brand founder and overall an amazing creative. Her makeup products are not only inclusive, but they promote creativity and personal expression. I’d talk to her about her vision and her business (that was recently picked up by Sephora). After lunch I’d let her paint my face!!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thanks! I include links to my recent work on my beauty blog — BREAKEVEN and also my Instagram page @fani_breakeven, where I review skincare products, talk about new launches and share fun makeup looks.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you! And you as well

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