As I heard the news of the tragic and sudden death of the legendary NBA all-star Kobe Bryant, along with 8 other individuals perishing in a fatal helicopter crash – I felt a gut punch. My heart immediately sank upon hearing the news. I could quickly feel the pain and the agony of how their families were affected… It was a pain all too familiar to me.
They likely wondered what we all wonder when we face these traumatic endings, “What am I going to do?”
I personally faced not 1, not 2, but 3 complicated losses that left me feeling lonely, in the dark, and with an intense emptiness in my heart. I was extremely affected by these losses during this critical period of grief.
I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy to prepare the funerals and sort out 40 years of my family’s personal belongings while adjusting to life without any of my loving and immediate family members. I decided to take a leave of absence from my job and find a way to establish a new way of living alone. The first two years were filled up with the various stages of grief, such as denial, isolation, anger, and depression.
I did not have a supportive group of friends that I could share my feelings with, good or bad. They did not have the strength to handle the pain I was left to endure. I had to seek out highly trained professionals on how to navigate life in a dark and friendless world.
As I began seeing my therapist, I started to seek out grief groups to engage with other like-minded individuals. This was the first step in meeting strangers that could possibly turn into friends. I attended two different groups that allowed me to share and support each other with prolonged grief disorder. One group was in a church setting called GriefShare. It was a friendly, caring group of people who walk beside you through one of life’s most challenging experiences. Another group setting was in a hospital called the adult bereavement support group. It was an 8-week group facilitated by a Bereavement Specialist who designed it to support grief education in a safe and confidential environment. Once I completed the 8-week course, they offered other services to cope with grief, such as ways to navigate the holidays and death anniversaries of our loved ones.
After one year of participating in these two groups, I had to manage my way of connecting with people who were in the same boat as me. Of course, I connected with a few people who I wanted to stay in close contact with, but they could not be fully present during my time of need. However, I stayed in touch with my therapist and primary care doctor when it was appropriate. During the time of dealing with provoking loneliness, frustration, and self-loathing; it was a challenge to face the outside world. I had to figure out a way to build harmonious human connections with people who were open, vulnerable, honest, and available.
As I was cleaning up my sister’s belongings, I found some of her books on personal development. I took a strong interest in learning about living a purposeful life that was meaningful and engaging with others who were living an extraordinary life. I started a journal to navigate my emotional well being. I finally had mentors by my side to push me to the limits.
Six years after overwhelming losses, I am now highly engaged in an organization helping families and individuals affected by mental illness to build better lives. I still miss my family tremendously, but I am grateful for the firm foundation of having a family.
The three lessons I learned about the death of my family members and ways to handle the questions we are left with are:
- Grief has no timeline, and we have the final say about how we feel. As we process the unimaginable loss and disruption in our life, we can still approach each day to live in the present moment. Find a local support group that is fully present and is relatable in having those deep, meaningful conversations during this time.
- Becoming self-aware of our mental health is vital. When our perception of pain activates in our heads, depression, and anxiety set in. It’s best to start a routine of physical activity to stimulate the mind and body to emit a biochemical release of endorphins. The endorphins communicate with our brain to lessen the observations of pain. As we experience these challenging steps to recover from intense grief, it’s best to do as much as we can to be alert with our mental health and well being. Our healing process begins as we walk into establishing our emotional well being.
- Expressing feelings is so encouraging for those who are processing unimaginable grief. In our society, people feel awkward if we show our reaction to loss and pain openly. Be sure to be around people who are fully present to understand the grief journey. I learned the hard way that grief is not for everybody. As I shared my grief process with a family member, and the person had said I was playing the victim role mentality. Ouch, that was a big blow in my heart. However, I am grateful to understand who my grief warriors are.
There is no closure with grief – and that’s okay.
Grief is a normal and natural process that we are only ever taught until we go through it. In life, we all experience death, moving, loss of support groups, financial changes, trauma, and grief recovery from all the brokenness from my heart is a process and not the stages. The occurrence of loss usually produces a variety of psychosocial reactions, such as alienation from social activities, deep sadness, uncertainty about one’s role in life, and sudden bursts of loneliness. I always learned to have a grateful heart and be open to understanding and being more empathic with other people’s pain and suffering.
Pain is a gift for healing and purpose. It is an opportunity to be a champion and look in the darkness. Accept this fate, explore the hole, and see what is your destiny in life. You are human and have the power to heal from within.