Three weeks ago, I got a call from my sister in Ohio that our brother had left us.
She had called me at work, and I burst into tears when I got off the phone. I had not seen him much since I had moved to NY over 20 years ago. Sure, I had been home a few times over past two decades, but looking back now, it doesn’t seem like enough. Of course, I would go to the funeral. Figuring out the logistics of leaving my wife and twin sons behind to mourn my brother’s passing was another issue.
I knew that leaving my wife alone with kids for a couple of days would be hard on her, but I also knew she could handle it. The boys had never spent more than a 10-hour work day away from me either, but I knew they’d survive as well. The question was, how would I handle it? Would I survive?
As air travel was financially out of the question, I planned on driving the 12 hour each way. That’s 12 hours alone in the car to think about not only where I was heading, but also who I was leaving behind. If you’ve never done it, let me tell you, 12 hours on the road gives you lots of time to think.
I took a break from packing, and was watching my twins play. They are eight, going on sixteen. (but most of the time sometimes act like they’re four). Upon hearing the news of their Uncle’s death, Archie offered to build a grave in Minecraft dedicated to him. To him, that was the ultimate tribute. Morty, Archie’s brother, could see how much I was hurting, and told me that he was sorry. Rather profound act from a boy who was pretending to be a cheetah just moments before.
My sons even at 8, were finding ways to get through this, and move on. I needed a strategy to do the same. These are the 6 steps to dealing with and surviving what life throws at you.
Step 1: Be Positive
In survival training, as in life, the first step has to be to be positive. This is perhaps the most important step because all of the others depend on your staying positive. Negativity is a dead-end street. No one wins. Nobody survives. No one is happy with negativity. On the other hand, it is easier said than done, especially in serious situations. What could possibly be positive about losing a loved one? He’s in a better place now. He had been battling physical ailments for years and they had cumulatively taken their toll on his body and his psyche. It was important for me to realize and acknowledge that indeed life goes on.
Step 2: Stay Purposeful
What is purpose? Defining it is easy. It’s your calling. Your goal. Your overriding objective and life’s work. Regardless of what you call it, purpose is what gives your life meaning. Your purpose is like a journey and any event in your life which doesn’t contribute to you travelling on your journey, like a failure or even death, is just a detour. A distraction. Those sad events will actually help you become the person you were meant to be when you reach your destination.
Life goes on and so does your dedication to your purpose. In the case of extreme sorrow, remembering your purpose and staying true to it or aligning with it, will help put life’s hardships in perspective. They are not your entire life, just obstacles along your path.
“If you want to find your true purpose in life, know this for certain: Your purpose will only be found in service to others, and in being connected to something far greater than your body/mind/ego.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
Step 3: Prioritize Your Life
Losing a family member is hard. Do you want to know what makes it even more difficult to deal with? Stress from everyday life. Yeah, we all have it. Nobody’s life is perfect. It’s how people take their imperfect lives, and put them in some semblance of order that makes them seem like they’ve got their lives together. It’s a lot easier to get through an issue if your mind is clear to deal with it. This can’t happen if your life is forever in a state of chaos.
It’s like you’re a juggler. Sometimes it’s hard to see all of the balls because they’re moving so fast. Don’t be afraid to write things down. Sometimes just having things on paper help to bring clarity. Now that everything is on paper, you can now look at each item and decide what needs immediate attention, and what can wait. You are now in control.
Step 4: Prepare
They say that preparation is half the battle. If you believe this, you’re almost right. The saying you want to listen to is “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” This one nails it on the head. Our survival skills are learned. We are not innately born with them like animals. Survival is less about skill sets you have and more about decision making after something happens, which is easier if you’re prepared.
I can’t tell you how many times I go over events and plans for the coming week so that I can anticipate what I will be doing and spending my time, energy and money on. Ok, I could tell you but I would be talking constantly. I’m anal retentive about preparing and planning. I also anticipate contingencies. I’m not always right and I can’t always anticipate, but there is peace of mind from taking the time, and gathering resources if need be, to prepare.
Step 5: Be Proactive
After people are dealt a blow like losing a family member, it’s so easy to shut down. Your body says your tired. You don’t want to do anything. It’s almost like you just want to go to sleep, and wake up after all of the hurt and pain are gone. However, after a major event in your life, especially a loss of a loved one, you must do something, anything. You could mulch your garden, paint your bathroom, repair your lawnmower, or even play Barbie with your kids.
Rest is beneficial. It helps us recharge our bodies and minds. Now is not the time for rest. At least not the rest you’re thinking of. Now is the time for action. To get your body and mind moving. It will take your mind actively off your frustration or disappointment and force you into the moment. Resting is good, but action is better, especially after a traumatic event.
Step 6: Play
This may seem like an illogical step. However, this is an important step because it will allow you to have fun (gasp!) and lose focus, attention and burden of that which is confronting you.
“Play” doesn’t have to mean playing in the proverbial sandbox, (though it could). Play means do those things which you enjoy and bring you pleasure. (Yes…even those things!)
This one was especially hard for me after I returned home from Ohio. I had a day off after I got back, and used that time to spend with my kids. We went to a park and watched a couple of movies.
If you have multiples, you have probably used these steps out of necessity and didn’t realize it. (It’s hard to realize anything when you’re tired and hungry from chasing them around the house all day)
Finally, a last piece of advice that doesn’t start with a “P”. Don’t forget to reach out. Sharing your feelings with other people is not such a bad thing. As isolated as loss can sometimes make you feel, most of us have been through it as well, and understand. Remember that you’re not alone and sometimes all it takes is to talk and let some of those emotions out to begin the healing process.
Good luck and hang in there.