Take Your Time: Dealing with the loss of a loved one or a dramatic life change can overwhelm you. It is important that you take your time and respond to the grief in your own way. Since the heartache is unique to you, it is important that the road to recovery is also unique. The initial period after an unwanted change or loss can be difficult to get over. In such a situation you should avoid making major decisions as it may add to your stress. Instead take your time and don’t rush things.
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 Girish Dutt Shukla.
Girish Dutt Shukla is a computer engineer by education and a freelance digital marketer by profession. Girish regularly contributes to different websites and newspapers promoting psychology and mental health. Maroon In A Sky Of Blue is his debut novel.
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 blessed to have a carefree childhood as I was always surrounded by people who loved me unconditionally. My father was a government official and he would get transferred every few years which meant I had to change my school and house. This led me to making new friends everywhere we went. Fortunately, I never felt out of place for too long in the new environment. I was accepted into the different circles quite easily.
Be that as it may, I fell sick often and had to make frequent trips to the doctors and hospitals. It started with my stomach, then my knee and it was my stomach again. A weak immune system didn’t help as I struggled through my school years to play sports, specifically cricket and basketball. It hurt me as a child to not be able to do the things I wanted but I didn’t let it deter me from enjoying life and counting my blessings as I found refuge in arts and literature.
I would draw cartoons of my family members and write funny stories around their idiosyncratic behaviours. I would read plenty of fantasy and suspense stories and envision one day to write such books. As I grew older, this dream of mine got lost somewhere as I found myself preparing for engineering exams and then getting into a premier engineering college in India to study computer science.
In the first semester of college, I would become unwell time and again which allowed me to spend time by myself and reexamine life’s priorities and in some way discover myself. When I went back home after the semester got over, I had developed a lot of strength and character and was ready to face any challenge that life threw at me which it did in a spectacular fashion.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain; and never shut myself up in a numb core of nonfeeling, or stop questioning and criticizing life and take the easy way out. To learn and think: to think and live; to live and learn: this always, with new insight, new understanding, and new love.” — Sylvia Plath
When my life oscillated between being in the hospital for treatments and being in the home for recovery, all I could do was read inspiring stories and watch motivational videos. I came across the above quote during this difficult time and it gave me a sense of comfort right away. It made me believe that even if something happens to me, I would have felt all the emotions and lived a life that was fulfilling. With all the love that always surrounded me and the little ways I had touched the lives of other people, I knew my life wouldn’t have been a waste.
The morning of 6th January 2009, I was taken for a liver transplant operation. I still remember the days preceding that. There was an excitement that my pain and suffering of more than one and a half years would be finally over. However, at the same time, there was an unspoken fear inside of my friends and family, “What if things go wrong during the surgery?”
I had adopted a daily ritual during that period. Everyday, I would spend time praying and reading this quote. It gave me immense strength and prepared me for the things that were in store since I knew recovery after the surgery would be a long and arduous journey. It did wonders to my self belief and my healing was accelerated.
Fast forward to November 2017 when my elder sister was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I fell back to the same quote. This time, I shared it with my sister as well who during chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation experienced immense pain but this kept both of us going in our own ways.
When she lost her life in August 2019, I was deluged in grief, distress, and bitterness. For months, I lived in denial of what had happened and with it came an overpowering guilt that resided in me. One day, as I was going through my album of family pictures, I found a handwritten note from my sister that again had the quote. This reaffirmed that nobody could take the time I had spent with her which was filled with great love for each other. I still think about her every day but most often, it brings a smile to my face instead of tears.
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.
In my opinion, the top three qualities that have helped me achieve success are:
I have had the strength to see the things as they were without vacillating or procrastinating. I have always been taught that if I want something, I am the one who’s responsible for making it happen. I have always been focused on my goals and that has always led me to being consistent with my efforts.
It was January of 2015 when I decided I had to change my career. I had to make the shift from being a software engineer to a writer. The change was inspired by the thought that if I were in an environment where I’m writing to make a living, I would be able to do much justice to my debut book. This led me to start my blog where I posted a few articles on human conditions and psychology.
Thereafter, I updated my resume and started applying for all the jobs that required writing as the principal requirement. It didn’t matter to me if it was content writing or copywriting or script writing, I would send emails to everyone everyday at night once I returned home from the office. I believe I must have applied to more than a hundred applications and given a few interviews before I found a job in one of the biggest hospitality startups. However, after everything was communicated and finalised verbally, the startup told me that they wanted me to get my notice period reduced before they sent the offer letter. I couldn’t put in my resignation before getting the letter and eventually, I had to pass the opportunity.
My daily ritual of coming back from the office and applying to writing opportunities didn’t change. In fact, I even found a freelance writing gig but that wasn’t the answer to my calling. Again, I must have given a few interviews before getting selected in another startup as a content writer. I even got the offer letter on email and I accepted it gleefully. Just as things seemed to be moving in the right direction, one month after I had put in my resignation, I got an email from this startup that due to structural changes my offer had to be rescinded.
For a few days, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t go back to my decision of career change but the road ahead seemed too difficult to pass. With an unwavering resolve, I met my manager at the time and got my notice period extended by one month so that I had more time to apply and get a writing job.
I continued to write articles for my blog and the freelance client. In addition, there didn’t pass a day when I wouldn’t apply to more opportunities. Eventually, the willpower paid off when I found a copywriting cum social media management job in a digital marketing firm. My pay in the new company was less than half of what I was getting being a software engineer but that didn’t matter to me as I knew the new job would enable me to write better and do the best I could do at writing my debut novel.
I have always done things I love with passion. For me to have the success that I have had, my soul has always been on fire as far as writing is concerned. I have read a number of books, authored a great deal and written even when I didn’t feel like it, keeping in mind the sole purpose of getting better.
A few years ago I had made a promise to myself that come what may, I would write one page at the very least everyday. When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, I could hardly think straight that day. I remember my mouth had become dry due to crying since the news broke out. I didn’t know how to deal with it and that’s when I decided I’ll write a poem for my sister that would not only give her strength to fight the difficult times but also assuage my anxieties. For the next one week, I worked on it and shared it with her. I would never forget that smile on her face as I continued to write for her and myself.
The publishing journey has turned me into an incredibly patient man. I understand that failures and frustrations are a part of the journey towards success and I stopped taking all the ‘NOs’ personally.
To reiterate this point, I must share that I had finished my debut book Maroon In A Sky Of Blue in August of 2017 but it was only published in October of 2020. I found a literary agent soon after I had finished the manuscript and I thought now the publishing journey wouldn’t be as difficult. Much to my shock, it turned out to be a long and strenuous campaign. He didn’t take my work seriously and neither was he good at his job. Due to which, the publishing of my book got delayed and yet I never let that discourage me. I kept on pressing my agent and when I realised that it would do me no good, I took the matters in my hands. I got the books printed, registered myself as a seller on Amazon, got the books stored in an Amazon fulfillment centre, and ran an aggressive marketing campaign three months prior to the release of the book. This led me to learn a great deal about the nuances of publishing and marketing which will come in handy when I get ready to publish my next book.
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?
There are two parts to my story, the first of which occured in December 2007. I had come back home having finished the first semester of my college. The next day, I had chills with high fever which had recurred multiple times during the semester. I was taken to the hospital straight away and the doctors reiterated what the doctors had told me a few months ago while I was falling sick all the time in college. The short term treatment plan included taking out water from my body and the long term involved a liver transplant operation.
A liver transplant operation is a complex process involving plenty of medical and legal requirements and confirmations. Once the immediate family is unable to donate the liver on account of these, it becomes terribly difficult to find a donor. This is what happened to me and I spent 2008 in pain and suffering spending most of time either in the hospital or in the house.
I felt helpless as I could do nothing about missing the college. I knew all my friends from college would move to the next year while I waited to get my transplant done. As shared earlier, on 6th January, 2009 this life changing surgery was done and the only reason I could make it was the untiring love of my parents and sisters. I stayed in the ICU for 10 days followed by 20 days in a private room in the hospital. After which I was allowed to go home. However, complete recovery and healing took another 6–8 months during which I caught infections a couple of times but nothing too alarming.
The 2 year period taught me plenty about life and allowed me to discover myself and reignite the passion for writing. It also gave me indomitable strength and an unwavering belief in myself that I can overcome anything.
One of my elder sisters was by my side all the time while I faced the biggest adversity in my life. As life would have it, it was her chance to face the wretchedness of life. Just a few months after her first baby was born, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in November 2017. She fought with it like a lioness and even defeated her in the first round but the enemy was sly and filled with pride and attacked her again just a few months later. This time too my sister fought again like a lioness but it was too much for her body to take. The chemotherapy sessions, surgeries, and radiation therapies made her body too weak to fight anything let alone cancer and after a fierce battle with it for almost two years, she lost.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part when I was fighting for my life was observing the pain of my family members and not being able to do much to change that. I was afraid what would happen to them during the process of my own treatment. They were deeply emotional about the whole thing. The secret conversations they had with the doctors and the faces they had after that conveyed their state of mind even though they tried their best to conceal it.
To be honest, I never thought I’d succumb to the disease. I was terrified of the different tests that wreaked havoc on my already sickly body but the thought that I would cease to exist never crossed my mind. The worst I imagined was that I’d lose more time as I struggled to find a donor and then when the surgery happened, it’d take more time for me to regain my health and vigour. In fact, this fear of mine did come true as it took two years for the complete process to take place which should have only taken one year.
However, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer for the first time, I felt she had been sentenced to death. I feared for her life more than I ever did for mine when I struggled all that time almost a decade ago. I knew it would take every ounce of her strength to beat it. Moreover, this time I was privy to all the secret conversations that took place between the doctors and the family members and the situation seemed grim. The cancer was caught only in the third stage and it was an uphill battle.
I was prepared to support my sister in every way possible and yet at times, it felt it wouldn’t be enough especially when the cancer reappeared only after a few months of it receding. I thought I wouldn’t be able to accept my sister leave. I feared for my brother in law and my nephew as to how they would cope with the loss. I feared for my father and mother who were now even older and more susceptible to such disasters. Most importantly, I knew I would have to grapple with guilt as my efforts might not be enough to save my sister whereas hers were able to save me.
How did you react in the short term?
In the short term, I tried to be happy and make everyone around me happy. I have been blessed with a good sense of humour and I tried to make the best use of it. There were times when I got agitated and the anger built due to the different painful treatment techniques would spill out. There were days when it was challenging to keep the spirits high especially when I was in pain or fighting an infection. The thing that never changed now matter how tough the going got was my insatiable desire to read and watch inspirational stories of people who fought when the odds were stacked against them and came out on the other side victorious. I derived tremendous toughness from these tales and it did help me fight my battle.
When my sister started her fight, I was fascinated with the healing power of mind and law of attraction. Therefore, I shared with her a list of affirmations to say out loud and a video to alter her subconscious mind that would lend the belief that she would be alright. I also hired a reiki healer who would perform healing sessions everyday for her. Along with it, I had my sense of humour to keep my sister happy and the environment of the house positive. I was afraid for her but that didn’t deter me from doing what I thought would help her.
After she passed away, my tears wouldn’t stop. The realisation that she would never be around anymore didn’t hit for many days. I would watch the old pictures, read our conversations, feel her presence in the house and that would make my heart heavy with grief. I would also step out frequently to meet friends so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain that felt rampant whenever I was in the home. It was a sorry attempt to deal with the loss and I failed miserably in the short term.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
When I came out of the operation theatre and was on my way to recovery, I rarely thought about the things I had to endure in the last year and a half. My entire focus was on getting better as soon as possible and reaching optimum health levels. In this process, I connected with my old friends, made new ones on social media, went back to reading books and watching movies and writing poems, essays, and short stories every now and then. I looked forward to going back to my college and resuming my studies and the fun I had in the first semester. This would have accelerated my healing and as soon as I reached college for the second semester all I ever did from that experience was to extract strength.
After my sister left me, I spoke to a few close friends and they all were supportive. In fact, they helped me recognise that I was lucky to have lived 31 years with a sister who loved me with all her heart. Not everyone is blessed to have such a sibling. I introspected myself after the dust had settled and an epiphany struck me that if I wake everyday feeling sad and bitter, I wouldn’t be doing justice to the love she had for me. She always wanted me to be happy, lose a bit of weight, and become writer extraordinaire.
Along with this, I started meditating to go within and become more mindful of my thoughts and emotions. Meditation has played a significant role in me becoming calmer, having a peace of mind, and living in the present instead of living in the past. I still reminisce on the times I spent with her and it does make me sorrowful and joyous but I don’t allow it to rule my day.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
After a year had passed since my ordeal in the hospital and I had joined college after a two year gap, the new environment and the new people helped. Since they had no knowledge of what I had gone through, the unnecessary questions were far and few. This allowed me to get over the negative aspects of the event faster since I hardly relived that experience in my head. I got busy with the studies and the fun college life brings and the enormity of the event got shrouded somewhere. In addition, I had told myself that if ever think about the matter, I’d make sure that I only think about the positive aspects such as, it brought me closer to my family, it made me rediscover my creative side and most importantly, it gave the belief that no matter how dire the situation gets, I’ll always come on top.
After a considerable amount of time had passed since my sister’s demise, I got back to writing to my second book which is under the editing stage for the time being. It’s not easy to experience the breaking down of a family especially when it is ill timed. My sister was just 41 when she passed away and it didn’t seem that I would be apple to accept what had happened. However, I relied on meditation to focus on the positive aspects of the event such as it brought our family closer one more time, I got to spend a lot more time with her, and we fought with cancer tooth and nail until the last day. As I was meditating more with every passing day, the spiritual side of me became highly operative allowing me to navigate the questions of life and death and bringing a sort of acceptance that her journey is over on this planet but the rest of us must go on fulfilling our soul’s desires.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I was fairly young when the liver transplant surgery happened and hence I did not feel the brunt of what had happened mentally as much. I didn’t do much consciously to feel better. Instead, I went with the flow and was positive about what life had in store for me. Having undergone so much pain, I took it for granted that the future would hold me in good stead and it did. Whenever I did think or talk about the event, it gave me immense toughness and a surge of positivity took over me.
When the second tragedy happened, I depended on spirituality specifically meditation to help me cross the bridge unscathed. Practicing meditation, reading about life and death from the point of view of different religions, speaking to enlightened individuals and watching their videos on Youtube helped me gain a better understanding. Along with this, I created a daily routine to focus on the things I needed to do everyday so that my day was structured and had a purpose. Gratitude, journaling, listening to my favourite music, and going deep into the study of law of attraction helped me channelise my thoughts and behaviours which previously were astray. All of this helped me to create an internal, emotional shift which helped to feel better with time.
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?
I remember I had a bad infection episode when I was healing from the surgery and had to be rushed to the emergency of the hospital. My sister was there with me and she wouldn’t leave my side. She consoled me, repeatedly saying that it will get better in no time. Sure enough, the infection abated in about 8 hours and I was taken back home late evening. The next few days I was still weak and fragile, but my sister was always there, even helped me go to the washroom never complaining about anything. This just reaffirmed that no matter what happened tomorrow, today I’ll do everything in my power to heal from all post surgery complications.
A few days after my sister had passed on, I was in absolute shock and still unable to believe that it had happened. My days were spent crying and thinking about what I could have done differently to avoid it. I also wondered if I had tried every possible route to tame the monster cancer was. The burden of guilt coupled with grief was too hard for me to carry and there were times I was devoid of all hope for the life that lay ahead. My mum who had just lost her child said to me that at least now she is free of all suffering and has moved to a better place. She said that she would want you to accept what had happened and fulfill all of your life’s dreams and aspirations so that she can bless you with much success from the heavens above. The acceptance took a while to come but my mother’s words acted as a stimulant for me to look ahead.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Both the experiences led to unpleasant consequences but the support of people who were close to me helped me deal with them. By releasing the fact that I had complete control over my emotions and actions, I was able to harness the power of positive thinking. I diverted my mind by thinking about things that made me happy and excited about life. Something as simple as a good mystery novel or movie was able to achieve that for me. In the long run, I went to writing and pouring my emotions out in blogs, poems, short stories, and essays I wrote after the tragedy struck me on both the occasions.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I never knew I was mentally this tough to be able to overcome when the chances of survival were slim. It gave me incredible tenacity and filled me with a never give up attitude. This helped me navigate through life whenever difficult situations rose. One of them occurred when I was still in the engineering college and I was unable to clear the engineering graphics exam. I failed the subject a couple of times because my hands shook a little when I had to draw those figures. I had to clear the exam before the seventh semester began otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed to appear for placements. During the summer vacations preceding the seventh semester, I got in touch with a friend who explained to me the different concepts of engineering drawing. Along with that, I must have practiced drawing those figures many times using all the different equipment on those huge sheets of paper. I cut short my summer vacation holidays as I had to appear for the exam again and clear the subject. This time when I gave the exam, I scored 48/50 and cleared my Achilles heel. This made me eligible to appear for all placements and eventually, I landed a software developer position in one of India’s leading firms.
When my sister was around, I don’t think I told her enough how much I loved her and how much she mattered to me. After she was gone, I realised I should have spent that extra 5 minutes to let her know of that. Now, I don’t hold things back as much I used to know because I have experienced the sting of the words left unsaid. These days, whenever I say something I probably shouldn’t say, it doesn’t take me more than a minute to apologise and calm the situation. Since life is so uncertain especially with Covid-19 around, I make it a point to tell all my friends and family members that I love them and they all hold a special place in my heart. Losing my sister has taught me that if I am going to love someone, I should love them right and give everything I have to offer.
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.
1. Take Your Time: Dealing with the loss of a loved one or a dramatic life change can overwhelm you. It is important that you take your time and respond to the grief in your own way. Since the heartache is unique to you, it is important that the road to recovery is also unique. The initial period after an unwanted change or loss can be difficult to get over. In such a situation you should avoid making major decisions as it may add to your stress. Instead take your time and don’t rush things.
A couple of months after my sister had passed on, I was still grieving and didn’t have it in me to increase my clientele or begin a new writing project that was constrained by time. In such a situation, I had to decline a few marketing clients who wanted me to execute their digital campaigns since they would have added to my stress. Moreover, I had to say no to writing a short film which the filmmakers wanted to shoot in a month since I was running short on ideas and I didn’t have it in me at the time to think and come up with a script. This gave me ample time and space to deal with my loss and helped me in the healing process.
2. Share Your Burden: You may take it all upon yourself and accept responsibility for your family’s needs. However this can leave you overwhelmed and stressed. You don’t need to protect your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings will help them and you. In fact, sharing your responsibilities and burden with others to cope with the change will go a long way in accelerating recovery and healing.
I was never shy of telling my friends and family that I needed their time and unrelenting support to get over the monumental loss. I was unafraid to say no to any added burdens or responsibilities that usually come with the loved ones being around. I was always honest about how I was feeling and that lowered their expectations of me allowing me more space to grieve and come to terms with the loss.
3. Ask and Accept Help: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. There is no shame in asking for help and accepting it. If you feel you are struggling to cope with the change then talk to your loved ones as they may be able to help you out since they know you well. The freedom to express yourself and acknowledge your pain helps in picking up the pieces and moving forward.
When I came out of the hospital after the operation and when my sister passed away, I was always open that I was vulnerable. I leant on people who cared about me and instead of avoiding them, I spent time with them and was open about how I felt. All the guilt, anger, and bitterness was allowed to come out as I accepted the assistance that was given to me. Often people want to help but they just don’t know how to especially in such situations. I always told them what I needed whether it was a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to my pain without judgements.
4. Keep A Journal: Journaling to cope with a change or deal with a loss is an underrated but perhaps the most effective means of combating your emotions. It is a simple exercise that requires only a pen and a journal. It doesn’t require you to talk it out if you like to keep things to yourself. Moreover, there are scientifically proven psychological and physical benefits of grief journaling.
As a child growing up, I used to keep a journal and then somewhere I let go of that habit. However, when I was face to face with my life’s biggest challenge and as I was trying to handle grief and bereavement I turned to journaling. The whole exercise of writing how I felt as therapeutic as it allowed me to take a closer look at my grief related experiences and memories instead of avoiding them. After every session of writing, I felt lighter as if the capacity to let go was increasing within me. Sure enough, it also helped me sleep better as the thoughts that used to be incessant when I closed my eyes were now minimal.
5. Focus On The Positives: There’s comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that give you joy and bring you closer to others. This can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process. Shifting your priorities, developing new interests, and learning new skills can bring positive changes to your life.
With time, I was able to shift my attention to the marketing of my debut book and writing the next one. With everything that I had experienced, my perspectives about life had changed and that allowed me to write more defined characters that led to bringing more depth to my second book. Since my debut book was focused on PTSD, having experienced it first hand made me understand the things people want to hear after they lose a loved one and thus, I was able to imbibe that learning in my book and marketing campaigns.
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?
I would like to be associated with Breast Cancer Awareness Month observed in October and do my bit to spread knowledge and awareness about it. With breast cancer accounting for more than 2.5 million cases and almost 1 million deaths worldwide, there are still widespread misconceptions about the deadly disease. Having lost a family member because of it, I would be more than inclined to help women across the world beat this.
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 would love to have a private breakfast with Keanu Reeves because all the losses he has to do experience right from River Phoenix to his still born daughter and Jennifer Syme, he is still the kindest person in Hollywood. Those encounters with grief never made him bitter but instead made him more compassionate and empathetic along the way. I would love to know how he carries on after all he has endured and is still more than willing to help others. A deep conversation with him about life, death, and grief could go a long way in shaping my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Maroon In A Sky Of Blue is my debut book which deals with the mental health of an introverted teenager and in particular PTSD. It focuses on a recluse Onir who struggles through the untimely demise of his girlfriend, Palchinn. He then meets Ziya, a kind soul who has suffered a similar loss. She tries to help him by being the friend he desperately needs. Will she be able to save him or will he fall victim to his inner demons?
The book can be bought worldwide on Amazon.
I have a website https://girishduttshukla.com/ where I post articles on psychology and mental health and keep the visitors updated about new projects and books.
My social media handles are:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!