“I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains.” ~Anne Frank
Despite pink and orange being my two favorite colors, there was a period in my life when I only wanted to wear black, from head to toe.
On Super Bowl Sunday 2002, my life changed forever. My husband of fourteen years died in his sleep of a massive heart attack, and I became a suddenly single mom of a six-year old and an eleven-year old.
Although we all acknowledge that death is a part of life, few of us spend any amount of time preparing for it. I was no exception.
When I married my husband in 1988 and we began planning our life together, the words “till death do us part,” were just that, words.
Who really thinks of death during the happy times?
We had plans to raise our children and watch them grow into young men and start their own families. We envisioned for them what we had for ourselves, the picture perfect life.
Instead, on the biggest day in American sports, I found myself wondering what the future held for my young sons and me. On the days following my husband’s funeral, I often begged for someone to wake me from the horrific nightmare that I felt I was living, only to realize this was now my reality.
Thankfully, I had an amazing circle of friends and family who were my greatest cheerleaders. They were there to support not just me, but my children as well. I had a great job, which provided me with the needed financial security. I was grateful because I was well aware that so many other women whose lives are interrupted by such tragedy are not as fortunate.
In the years to come, my life became consumed by work and raising my children. Initially, this seemed to be the best approach to take. However, as is the case with most mothers, regardless of their marital status, self-care stopped being a priority for me.
My needs and my dreams were put on a shelf, with a to-be-determined future date affixed to them.
Then in August 2014, as I prepared for my son to leave for college, I wondered what was next for me.
While my next steps were unclear, I was confident that I needed to be in charge of my destiny and not vice versa. Being proactive was a necessity, and defining my purpose was a must.
I was at an impasse and my goal was to go from being stuck to unstoppable.
In the past year, I have accomplished more personally and professionally than I could have ever imagined.
I started my own business and now inspire other moms to live their best lives. I am, once again, in a happy place in my life. My oldest son has graduated college and is now working for his dream company. My youngest son is now a college sophomore and is a soon to be an author.
Since the death of my husband, I have lost my mom, my brother, and an aunt. Each of my sons has experienced the death of a close friend.
Death does not discriminate. It touches the lives of the young and old, and often snatches from us those who are healthy, happy, and ever so vibrant, occasionally without warning.
Here are the ten critical steps I took that enabled my sons and me to move forward in our lives. They may prove beneficial to anyone else who has also experienced a tragic loss.
Step 1: Allow yourself to grieve.
Grieving is normal. How and for how long you grieve is an individual decision. There is no time limit on grief, although the intensity of it tends to lessen with time. Any signs of depression and/or the prolonged inability to complete basic daily tasks, however, may warrant professional intervention.
Step 2: Define, destroy, or drive.
Loss often requires us to make a choice between one of the following: Will this loss define me, destroy me, or drive me? What would your loved one want for you? What will you choose? For most of us, it would be the latter.
Step 3: Find and embrace your village.
Friends, family, and grief-related community organizations can provide much-needed support during this time of loss. Be willing to accept it.
Step 4: Avoid prolonged isolation.
It’s natural for you to want to grieve in silence or to be simply alone to reflect on treasured memories, and that’s okay.
Alone time is something we all crave on occasion, even when we aren’t dealing with loss. However, in time, strive to be in the company of others when it makes sense. The goal is to ensure that you are not slipping into a state of loneliness, which, when prolonged, can lead to depression.
Step 5: Set realistic goals.
And by realistic, I mean anything that feels real for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. What will you do with your loved one’s possessions? Have you tied up all loose ends pertaining to their business affairs? Take action according to your calendar and what makes most sense to you.
Step 6: Get reacquainted with self-care.
This is so important. Self-care is easy to overlook, especially during this time. However, remember, when you are not taking care of yourself, everyone in your circle suffers.
Schedule and keep your own medical and dental appointments. Remember to get proper sleep. Lack of sleep has the potential to lead to a host of other problems, especially health-related. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot catch up on all sleep that is already lost. Make self-care a non-negotiable task.
Step 7: Implement processes that enable you to manage yourself, your family, and your career.
Putting systems and processes in place, such as daily schedules and automation of finances, will help you stay organized and connected to what is most important. Normalcy is a good thing.
Step 8: Honor your loved one’s memory.
Find a cause or organization that is related to your loved one’s interests. Volunteer; host a fundraiser in their name.
One year my oldest son organized a teddy bear drive. He collected over fifty and donated them to the children’s bereavement program that he and his brother participated in. Most recently, my youngest son raised funds via a walk-a-thon for the American Heart Association. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Step 9: Create a sense of purpose.
We all have one. What’s yours? Loss, unfortunately, reminds us that life is finite. Follow your passions to create a sense of purpose, and begin to live it every single day. You are worthy!
Step 10: Give yourself permission to move forward with your life, guilt-free.
Whether we want it to or not, life does go on—with or without our input. However, the world would definitely be a better place with it!
If you’ve experienced a loss, I encourage you to allow yourself to mourn, get professional help, if needed, be present for your family, and take care of yourself.
Most importantly, remember that as difficult as it may seem now, loss does not have to equal lost.
Sad woman silhouette via Shutterstock