Drop the self-pity. Life isn’t fair! These words were stuck in my head after Jennifer died. I was bitter, angry, and felt sorry for myself. One day someone said something about my feeling sorry for myself, I cannot remember the words they said but I do remember how hurt I was by the words. How dare they say that.
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 Lynn Gantner.
Lynn is a IAHC certified holistic healthy aging coach who is passionate about helping women age healthily and beautifully. She has overcome adversity, abuse, and the death of a child to not only survive but thrive. She currently lives in Carlsbad, California, loves to travel and discover amazing vegan cuisine and beautiful beaches, all over the world.
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?
Even though I was painfully shy my childhood up until age 12 was amazing! I’m the oldest of four kids and have great memories from when we lived out in the country, had an organic garden with big jugs of apple cider vinegar fermenting in the basement, shelves of homemade jams and sauces. My mom was outspoken and believed in the value of hard work. My dad was a musician, creative and soft-spoken. I loved spending time with him while he sang and played his guitar. One of my favorite memories is him chasing after the school bus to give me Sweethearts for Valentine’s day before he went on an overnight trip.
That all changed shortly before my 13th birthday when dad suddenly left. They didn’t tell us kids why until we were adults, we could feel the veil of shame shrouded over our family though. That feeling of shame followed me through many years of my adult life. As an adult we finally learned what all the whispers were about, my dad was transgender. Back in the mid-seventies this was not accepted by society, so this made our family’s life difficult.
With my dad gone, I became the babysitter while my mom worked often, we rarely saw my dad. We moved from New Jersey to Florida with my stepdad who was a violent drunk. He never hit us kids but would beat my mom over things we did wrong. We would leave and he would woo her back with new school clothes and trips to Disneyland for us. During one of the periods when they were split up, he kidnapped me, I was terrified, the police rescued me, but no charges were pressed, and my mom went back to him.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many quotes that have made an impact in my life. The one quote that has kept me going through all obstacles I’ve faced is Winston Churchill’s, “Never, never, never give up”!!
But it was a poem by Portia Nelson that triggered the biggest changes in my life, it’s called There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk. I absolutely love this poem and recommend it to anyone that is struggling! I discovered this poem after leaving a horribly abusive relationship, I hung a copy of it on my refrigerator and read it every day. This helped me see patterns in life that I had been repeating. It also helped me realize that through self-growth and self-discovery I can avoid falling into the same holes repeatedly and I can choose to improve my life by making better choices.
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.
Love of learning, stubbornness and resilience have helped me get through everything that life has thrown at me and come out ahead. The success I’m most proud of is learning my own strength and value. Learning that people will treat me as I allow them to treat me. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn because of my stubbornness, so I went through obstacle after obstacle. Some knocked to my knees, others had me face down on the floor, but each time I got knocked down, because of that same stubbornness, I got back up, put a smile on my face even if I had to fake it, and buried myself in every resource available to me to learn how to improve myself. Particularly reading, I’ve always loved to read, especially books on health and self-improvement. I did not always use the advice in the books, I now realize that was because I just wasn’t ready, but because I kept reading, and rereading books, when the time was right, the message was there.
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?
Yes, if this helps just one person, it’s worth sharing. From the time my dad left my life seemed like one dramatic life change after another, there was one loss that has been the most devastating.
Married at 19, to a verbally abusive man, 3 kids and 14 years later, I finally tired of his infidelities and left. Naive and emotionally vulnerable I quickly fell for a narcissistic sociopath. He fed on my vulnerability and manipulated me, using every tactic in the book from physical to extreme psychological abuse.
He convinced me to work as a dancer even though at 36 I thought I was too old. I had been working 2 jobs but was struggling financially and this gave me the money I needed to pay the bills, until he manipulated, stole, and when that didn’t work, beat me, to take it from me. My life quickly became a nightmare as he became increasingly jealous and possessive, the worst beatings began when I was pregnant with our daughter.
Luckily, one night after nine and half years of tolerating his abuse, he was arrested, and a customer and coworker convinced me to kick him out. My ex continued to put me through hell. I decided to move to Illinois to make a new start and to escape him and the stream of broken men that seemed to be magnetically attracted to me. Jennifer was 21 at the time and wanted to stay in California. So, it was just my youngest daughter and I, she loved her new school and new friends, I was making good money, doing well in school, we were happy.
That changed when my ex-husband called to let me know that my 21-year-old daughter was using heroin. I broke out in tears; I knew nothing about heroin except that people died using it. I didn’t realize how inexpensive and easily available it is or how popular it had become.
Jennifer moved to live with me in Illinois. When she arrived, she looked a little tired but nothing like I thought a heroin addict would look. She came down with what I thought was a flu the first few days, I now know that she was going through withdrawals.
Jennifer enrolled in college and seemed to be doing great. In the few months she was with us we celebrated her twenty-second birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I am so thankful to have those memories. Jennifer begged me to let her go back to her dad’s house in California for Christmas, she would not let up. After a couple weeks I finally gave in. The drive to the airport, that was the last time I ever saw Jennifer alive again. Our last conversation was a phone call on the Friday before she died. I gave her a hard time and lectured her on being irresponsible, it breaks my heart that our last conversation was not a happy one.
The day I received the news is imprinted in my mind forever. It was a Sunday, I had just started an online biology course, spent the morning studying then had a sudden urge to go out and build a snowman with my youngest daughter. It was a beautiful day sunny with a beautiful blue sky and a few big puffy white clouds in the sky, the snow sparkled in the sun, it was almost magical. The time outside in the snow was so magical that I believe Jennifer had to have been with us in spirit.
Later as we watched a movie, the phone rang, and I got the news that Jennifer was found dead. No, no, no I screamed, the pain was unbearable, this didn’t seem real, couldn’t be real, this had to be a bad nightmare. For the next couple days, I’d go from sobbing, to screaming, to sitting motionless staring into space. To top it all off a woman backed into my car in a parking lot and refused to give me her insurance info insisting it was my fault she backed into me.
Funeral arrangements had to be made, while running errands and mulling over what dress Jennifer would wear in her casket, I overheard a woman chatting about helping her daughter choose her wedding dress. I broke out in tears and could not stop thinking that I’ll never have that experience with Jennifer, all my hopes and dreams for her were gone. It wasn’t fair, there were so many things that she never got to experience.
The walk down the aisle to view her lying in the casket had to be the longest walk I’ve ever taken. My legs felt weak as I took step after step, closer and closer to my daughter’s cold lifeless body. Seeing her laying there in the casket made this real, it wasn’t some sort of sick game or bad dream. She felt so cold and lifeless, my thoughts flashed back to my pregnancy with her, the realization that a part of me had died hit me, my baby was gone forever. I now knew how the saying “it feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.” and “heavy heart” came about. I could feel my emotional pain physically, my chest felt tight and heavy, and it took everything I had to not collapse onto the floor from the weight of all the emotion.
The next few weeks were a blur. I pasted a fake smile on my face at work, drinking straight vodka to get through the night. It felt as though I would never feel happiness again.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The realization that life is so fragile, that we never know if this is the last time, we will see a loved one. Eventually there will be a last time because none of us are going to live forever. Even now 9 years later, each time a family member or an unknown number calls I have a very brief few seconds of a panic. I hoard text messages and voicemails from loved ones, just in case. At times, I feel like I’m living with this feeling that’s sort of like when you’re watching a horror movie and you know a character is going to die but don’t know when.
How did you react in the short term?
In the first few months after Jennifer’s death, I drank too much, screamed, cried, beat the steering wheel and my pillow, I felt sorry for myself, I blamed everyone, especially myself for Jennifer’s death. I was devastated, the pain was unbearable at times. It seemed that nobody could understand my pain. My world had come to a stop, yet the rest of the world just kept going like nothing had happened.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
I focused on gratitude for what I still did have and decided to honor my daughter by living my life to the fullest. During one of my periods of anger, I made a choice that I was not going to let this destroy me, that I wanted more out of life and this was not going to stop me. This wasn’t a one-time decision, I had to continue making this same choice each time I felt like the pain is just too much.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
By focusing on the good in life and my dreams for the future I was able to begin healing. I had to come to the realization that it doesn’t matter how much I dwell on the past or how sad, bitter, or angry I feel, it isn’t going to change the fact that Jennifer is gone.
I also had to forgive others and myself, and know that we are all doing our best, sometimes that best isn’t perfect. I can’t change the past, so I must learn from it and let all of the negative feelings go. This wasn’t easy and I still relapse at times, with time it gets easier to push the thoughts of anger away.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I spent many hours in yoga, meditation, listening and reading anything that I thought would helptake away the unbearable pain.
Traveling helped, being in a totally different culture and environment helped to shift my thinking and gave me a new perspective. It also gave me the opportunity to sprinkle a bit of Jennifer’s ashes all over the world. She was so adventurous, outgoing, and carefree, I know if she had not died at 22, she would have traveled the world by now.
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 partner Bill, who I met shortly after the death of my daughter. Bill didn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself or to play the victim card. Each time I did he would call me out on it. He helped me to see the hard truth that I was the one that allowed my ex to treat me as he had.
He always believes in me and my potential. When I decided to pursue a career in health coaching, he encouraged me to go for it. In fact, it was his health challenges that led me to a career that I am passionate about. I thought that if I became a health coach, he would take my health advice more seriously.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
I could never consider the loss of my daughter a positive experience. However, the experience has brought out my inner strengths and has taught me the value of life and to not take time or loved ones for granted.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
For many years, I was a doormat to men. I dated the wrong men because they said the right things. I would quickly become immersed in their life taking on everything they enjoyed, giving up many of the things I liked. I would try to become their version of the perfect woman, of course never succeeding. When Jennifer died, I realized that I am mentally strong and made the decision that I was no longer going to be a doormat. I met my current partner shortly after that, we have been together for 9 years and I have maintained my autonomy and am treated with the respect I deserve.
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.
- Drop the self-pity. Life isn’t fair! These words were stuck in my head after Jennifer died. I was bitter, angry, and felt sorry for myself. One day someone said something about my feeling sorry for myself, I cannot remember the words they said but I do remember how hurt I was by the words. How dare they say that. I have every right in the world to feel sorry for myself!! I ranted in my head over this for a week or so, then one day the meaning of the words they said finally hit me. I can be a victim, or I can be a victor, but I cannot be both. I chose to be victorious over my circumstances and let go of what was not serving me, the self-pity, anger, and bitterness.
- You need to decide that this will not be what defines me and focus on a dream for the future. I joined a lot of online bereavement groups after Jennifer died. Most of the groups were filled with women that had given up on life, they were miserable, I felt pity for them. I quickly realized I did not want to be one of those women. I created a dream board. It felt selfish and wrong, but I did it anyway. Giving up on life was not going to change the past or bring Jennifer back.
- You deserve happiness. After Jennifer died it was difficult to feel happy. It seemed wrong, each time I felt happiness, guilt would kick in. A little voice in my head would tell me that I should not feel happy, my daughter is dead, I’m not allowed to be happy anymore. I thought I would never be able to experience a complete feeling of happiness again. Until one day I heard a medium say that our loved ones want us to be happy, I realized that Jennifer was a person that loved life and lived it to it’s fullest. She would not want me to give up on life and be unhappy. The best way to honor my daughter is to live life and be happy.
- Find a positive emotional release. Mine was hot yoga. I cried through many hours of yoga; the sweat hid the tears. Afterwards, I would have such a feeling of relief. My regular yoga practice made a huge difference in both healing from the death of my daughter and from years of abuse. For some people this could be spending time in nature or their religious faith. I strongly believe that having something that brings you closer to a greater power, whatever that is to you, is a must on the journey to healing.
- Forgiveness. When Jennifer died, I felt like I had failed as a parent. I was so angry at myself for every poor decision I made. I hated my ex and was angry at myself for staying with him for so long. I had a bad case of the “if only’s.” If only I had realized how Jennifer was struggling, if only I had not of let her go back to California, if only I had been a better parent… sometimes it felt like my head was going to explode with all the regret and guilt I was carrying I didn’t want to be a bitter, hate filled woman, so I decided to forgive all, this is something I do continually. Every morning I forgive one person during my morning meditation. Often the person I forgive is me.
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 love to inspire a movement of love!! Self-love, love your neighbor, love your enemy, love all animals so much that they are no longer murdered for food or put through horrible abuse in lab experiments. This would eliminate much of the violence and poverty that exist in the world, and everyone would be much happier and healthier.
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. 🙂
It would be a dream come true to have lunch with Oprah. Oprah is an incredible woman!! She overcame poverty, trauma, racial bias, and sexism to not only become hugely successful, but she is also a genuinely good person. She did not sacrifice her integrity for fame and fortune.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!