Laugh often. Mostly at yourself. Moreover, never view any failure or bump in the road as the final stop in your journey.
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 interviewing Frank J. Dimaio, DC, MS.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Frank J. Dimaio has lived a storied and eclectic life. After working as a Chiropractic Physician for more than a decade, a freak accident forced him to give up his practice and his life took a new turn, full of adventures. He is a healer, a photographer, a sailor, an author and a sculptor whose work is in private collections in the United States and Canada. His book “The Best Ships” will be released late 2021, with an anthology of coming of age essays to follow.
Frank holds a BA degree in Psychology from Providence College, His Doctorate from New York Chiropractic College and a Master of Science degree from Troy State University. He received his training in the Bowen Technique from The Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia (BTAA) and certification in ASD from Geneva Centre for Autism in Toronto, Canada and the HANDLE Institute.
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 was born during a blizzard in December of 1949, in Providence, Rhode Island to a Greek mother and Italian father. It was a complicated birth in every way. My mother was in labor for four days and in the hospital for two weeks after. Growing up in a Mediterranean household was a wonderful experience. Sunday dinners were legendary; lots of good food, laughter, card games, and familial bonding. I also have many fond memories of my childhood boyhood in Rhode Island.
I should mention that my parents’ marriage was not without a certain amount of controversy, since my mother’s family was Greek and found it hard to accept my Italian-American father. Their romantic backstory is actually very sweet; my mother was helping at her father’s diner, and my father would come in often just to see her. One day, when he ordered blueberry pie, she gave him an extra big slice, and some extra whipped cream. He said something like, “That’s all? Just pie? You won’t go on a date with me?” She explained that her father would not permit it, but somehow they managed to find a way to date on the sneak, and later got married.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are more than one, but if I had to pick — I like Jimmy Dean’s quote: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” A close second is “Be yourself — everyone is already taken” by Oscar Wilde.
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.
Determination, persistence, and faith.
- Determination: While in my first year of college, as students we were required to do community service. As a psych major, I chose to volunteer at a mental institution. This was in 1970 when the vocabulary of psychological classification did not yet include the concept of special needs. The patients were considered mild, moderate or severely and profoundly “retarded.” I felt that working at the institution was a good fit for me. Neither my school counselor nor the director of the institution agreed, the main reason being that there could potential insurance issues if they allowed outside volunteers to assist. When I hear the word “no” or “can’t” I dig my heels in. I offered an alternative, which was to provide my own insurance coverage. It all worked out; the school agreed and the director was happy to have me. It was a wonderful and enriching learning experience. It transcended my classroom responsibilities, and I stayed beyond the original timeframe.
- Persistence: There are many instances reflecting my determination. They are tied together by one common characteristic: my unwillingness to accept “no” or “you can’t” as a final answer.
- Faith: When I was in my 20s, to my dismay, I started to lose my hair. I asked my Greek grandmother, (Yia Yia), “Why am I losing my hair?” Her response was “nothing grows on a busy street. Have faith; your mind is busy with wonderful things. They need your faith to become real and concrete.” Then with a big smile, she placed her hand on my cheek and said, “Your ideas will be wonderful.” That moment is forever etched in my mind; it takes a back seat on the occasion other situations require a different approach, it comes back when it is most needed, as a reminder of my Yia Yia’s love and gentle guidance.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
There have been several, but for the purposes of this interview, I will narrow it down to the top three.
At the top of the list is the death of my beloved wife, Judith. We had just moved into the first home we purchased together when she developed an aggressive form of breast cancer. When in remission, she later suffered a brain tumor, and the cancer returned. From that moment on, life as I knew it changed — in every way. My relationships, my career path — all of it. My priority in life was to help her through the illness, and later, fulfill promises that I made to her in death. Following her passing, I went through the proverbial wringer.
The second most traumatic and life-altering loss arose from a freak accident that forced me to give up a profession I loved, i.e., Chiropractic. I had been lifting weights, was attempting to put them away, sneezed, and the weights and I hit the floor at the same time. Simply put, my life was blown sideways. The accident set an unfortunate series of events set in motion and I ultimately lost 80 per cent of my thriving practice, and therefore a large portion of my income, and for a time, both my purpose in life and of course, my confidence and feeling of self-worth.
The first traumatic event that shifted the trajectory of my life, occurred was when I was only 20 years old. I was a college student on a summer break, exhausted from working three jobs to pay for the fall semester. One fateful night, I fell asleep at the wheel of my car only couple of hundred yards from my home and crashed into a tree.
I was either in a coma or unconscious for 4 days (depending on who you ask in my family), and the list of trauma from my accident was long. I sustained fractures of my forearm, my femur, which exploded on impact, causing serious damage to the surrounding musculature, facial fractures of cheek and nose. Complete fracture of the heel, and tears of the ligaments and tendons around the knee. During the surgery of the femur, the procedure required the need of thirty pints of blood. According to the doctor, my heart stopped and required resuscitation that led to blood clots and they installed a screen into my Vena Cava. To this day, the screen remains in my body and, as a result, I struggle with the swelling of my calves and ankles.
It was quite an ordeal, and the kicker was that after I left the hospital, 145 pounds and on crutches, I was summoned to appear before the draft board. This was in the Vietnam era when many young men were faking illness and injury to avoid the draft. I sat in a room with 100 other recruits, and after many hours, it was determined that I was not fit to serve.
Before the accident, I lived somewhat of a fear-based life in that I did exactly and only what others expected of me, playing the role of dutiful son, dutiful student, and dutiful citizen. After the ordeal, which changed my physical body forever, my spirit changed as well. Always a bit of a daredevil, I became a daredevil on steroids. I resolved to experience as much as I possibly could and try everything while I was still fortunate enough to walk the earth. I embraced the words of George A. Custer: “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count; it’s how many times you get back up.” Since then, my life has been one adventure after another, and I am present for all of them.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part of my wife’s battle with cancer, other than the obvious grief and pain of losing her, was the loss of control. I am, by nature, logical and able to plan things out once I choose a path. However, cancer does not “fight fair” for lack of a better description. There was nothing I could do; I was powerless and being manipulated by an evil demon (or a dragon as I called it).
When I was no longer able to work as a Chiropractor, the scariest part of the situation was that I had no idea how I was going to continue to support my family or myself. That put me into a complete state of fear and panic.
After my accident, at first the scariest part of the accident was wondering if I would live or die. Once I was on the mend, was the fear of living with one leg shorter than the other. My manhood was threatened; sports and girls were my whole life; I stressed about the prospect of being stared at and ostracized due to my short leg and having to wear such a large lift. In my mind, it was the end of life, as I knew it. I was a “cripple” and that others would view me that way, and treat me differently. “What girl would date a cripple,” I kept asking myself (and sometimes others). “Who will hire me for work besides my parents’ restaurant?” I became depressed, and felt worthless.
How did you react in the short term?
In all three instances, I put on a brave front, but inside I was falling apart.
When my wife passed, I went on a downward spiral, which lasted for about five years. I had anger-control issues, anxiety attacks. I drank too much. I became a recluse. I was locked in a prison of my own device. No one could help me; I would not allow it. Somehow, on some level, I think I blamed myself for what happened, even though that was not a rational thought.
When I lost my practice, I went around telling everyone that it would be ok…that “it’s all good” — yet none of it felt good of course.
After the car crash, I was angry and frustrated and, at times, wishing I had not survived. I shunned friends, did not leave the house, much less date. I had a pity party, writing depressing (and very) bad poetry while in the hospital and at home recuperating.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
After my wife’s death, therapy helped, but more significantly, I wrote a very long book about the ordeal, which included happy anecdotes from our marriage, details about the illness, my thoughts and feelings about death, and advice to husbands/wives on how to be present for a terminally ill spouse. It was a cathartic experience, and honestly, it took me almost several years and several drafts to get it all down, and then I put it into deep storage for a time, not sure if it would be of any value to others. I am currently working with an editor to divide it into various stories, since in its current state it is almost as long as Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (smile).
When I lost my ability to practice Chiropractic, I started to follow the path of my first love, which is art. There are many twists and turns that arose (another whole story there) but to fast-forward to the result — I was able to find another profession that allowed me to work with my hands, which is sculpting. Currently, my work is in galleries in the U.S. and Canada, and there is more to come. While my new studio is under construction, I am creating small commissioned pieces.
After the car accident, I threw myself into school. I decided that I needed to change colleges. I went to night school to get the necessary credits I needed, and after a lot of Sturm und Drang, I got into Providence College, where I had wanted to take classes before the accident.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I was able to let go when I fulfilled a promise, I had made to my late wife to sail to Bermuda. It took me three years to complete this journey, between finding the right vessel to various stalls and false starts, but it was one of the most glorious and therapeutic adventures of my life. You will be able to read about it soon, in a book I am writing (shameless self-promotion, sorry!)
In terms of “letting go” of trauma after my other losses — I live each day to the fullest as though it is my last. It has made for an exciting journey, which continues…
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I fell back on everything I had learned, as a child from my strong grandparents and in particular, my father. I relied on my experiences as a healer. Moreover, as hokey and cliché as this might sound, I let go and let God. I pretty much said “Take me, I’m yours” and let life unfold.
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?
So many people helped me along the way that it is hard to pinpoint one. However, if I had to choose one person for each challenge:
My friend Mike, who forced me to sail to Bermuda when I was ready to give up, after several false starts. Also — a second person to mention — my father. He initially discouraged me saying, “Son, you have no idea what the Atlantic can stir up.” Ultimately, he gave it his blessing, which gave me strength.
My grammar school art teacher, Mrs. Kelly, came back to me in memory when I got back into art.
My mother who drove me back and forth to night classes when I was disabled after the car accident. She was there for me, and I am happy to say that at 97, she is still a pillar of strength and supportive of all my endeavors, no matter how crazy she sometimes deems them to be.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
The positive situation that came out of my wife’s death was that because I had promised her that I would sail to Bermuda, I was forced to challenge myself. The experience had many twists and turns, and I had only myself to rely on. This was a valuable life lesson because it taught me that I could go on, even if it meant doing it alone, and that one is never alone.
The positive situation that came out of my losing my ability to practice Chiropractor is that I was “reunited” with my first love, i.e. art, which grounds me and fulfills my soul like nothing else. I have total Present Time Consciousness and lose myself in the process; it is quite remarkable for me, because I generally have a short attention span. Working on my art grounds me and brings me great joy.
After the accident, I stood up and was eventually able to walk without crutches, and started to live life to the fullest. My life was one “carpe diem” moment after another. In fact, two years later, I performed an Evel Knievel type stunt, albeit unintentionally, while riding a motorcycle. Again, that is a story for another time.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned the beautiful symmetry that comes out of hanging on. Another of my favorite “life quotes” is by FDR. “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” There were times when I had fleeting suicidal thoughts, and I was too weak or too weary to ask for help.
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.
First — you need to grieve the loss, whatever it might have been. The loss of a beloved family member — the loss of a job — the loss of a home in a fire — the loss of a limb or the ability to walk. There are no shortcuts here.
Second — you need to surrender your power to let others help you. That is simply not easy for me. Even now, I have a difficult time asking for help with anything because it makes me feel weak. I had to hit rock bottom before I was able to rely on others to help me, and once I did, the healing began.
Third — lower your expectations about “getting over” a loss. You never really get over it, but it will no longer define your life. When something bad happens, you do not necessarily “get over” it — but you can move on, in a different direction, and find an open window if you look for it, to let some sunshine in.
Fourth — don’t place blame — on yourself or anyone else. It is a natural tendency for people to blame others — or even more so — to blame themselves when bad things happen. On the other hand, maybe that is just my Catholic guilt talking; I was an altar boy and raised on “mea culpas.”
Fifth — Laugh often. Mostly at yourself. Moreover, never view any failure or bump in the road as the final stop in your journey.
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 is difficult for me to think of myself as a person of “great influence.” However — if I have influenced anyone — I would say that it was mostly through my love of healing, and by example. For this interview, I only shared three of the most traumatic experiences in my life. There have been others — and many other triumphs. Because of all of the crazy things that happened to me (so far) if I could inspire a movement, it would be the “live life to the fullest” movement, or the “I’m still standing” movement. What do you think?
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. 🙂
There are so many, but Richard Branson is number one on the list. He is amazing, and has been an inspiration to me. In addition, if Deepak Chopra wanted to eat lentils and kale with me I would be happy to cook for him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
At this point, everything is a “under construction,” including my sculpture compound, my new blog, and my book “The Best Ships” about my sail to Bermuda is set to publish in the fall, for now — follow me on LinkedIn. Stay tuned!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!