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Overcoming Tragedy: 3 Ways to Create Your Own Silver Lining

Silver Lining

“In the midst of winter I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” ~Albert Camus

These words may ring true for anyone who has been through difficult times, then found themselves stronger as a person, or doing things they would have never thought possible.

In May 2011 my brother was kidnapped from his home while working in Nigeria. After a truly horrific ten months he was murdered during a rescue attempt. It was an experience that has left scars we expect never to fully heal.

What happened next genuinely surprised and moved me. I saw the ordinary people around me transform their grief into something new, something they can always look back on and remember that they survived this tragedy.

I am really excited to share just three of the inspirational stories I have seen with you. Hopefully, they can help to bring positivity into your life, as well.

Get Active

Whether it is a 5K run around a local park or a fortnight-long bike ride across the Pyrenees, completing a challenge in memory of a loved one is probably the most popular way to start healing and make some sense of tragedy.

Many people undertake a challenge to support a charity. Millions of heroes each year will complete a race for life or other sponsored event to raise money for a cause that is dear to their heart.

However, not all physical challenges need to be about money. I am certainly no psychologist, but I would bet that there is something healing in the way people stretch themselves when they undertake something extraordinary in memory of a loved one.

Alastair’s Story

Alastair lived with us for a couple of years while we were younger. After finding out about Chris and being unable to attend the Charity Football match we arranged, he decided to challenge himself to an unearthly task.

He set himself the challenge of running from his home in Penrith to Boundary Park Stadium in Oldham to arrive during a game. This is a whopping distance of 107 miles, up and down hills all of the way.

Memories of Chris as a child spending hours talking about Oldham Athletic FC or kicking around a football in the back garden kept him going, and though he had to walk some of the way, he completed his monumental challenge.

Thirty-six hours after he left his home he arrived at Boundary Park, barely able to stand, feet bloody, legs aching, exhausted, triumphant.

Say Yes

Sometimes a death or tragedy can give someone the push to ask some questions about your life. It seems like a cliché but it really is a good time to take stock, look at areas where you are not happy, and make positive changes in your life.

Throughout the last couple of years I have seen people getting a new job, learning a new language, changing a relationship, giving up smoking, or losing weight after suffering a loss, because often a loss helps us remember how precious life is.

Alannah and Marc’s Story

Chris was a born traveller. He started young, taking down tents in France, followed by a year in New Zealand and his ill-fated time in Nigeria. He made us all jealous in his ability to get up and leave everything behind to conquer new places, never letting anything get in his way.

Alannah and Marc were two of Chris’ closest friends. Both were hugely affected by his loss. While Alannah is well travelled throughout the world, Mark has not really experienced other cultures but always planned to at some point.

After Chris’ death they decided that they could not put things off any longer and needed to take action if they were going to see other countries. They have worked tirelessly and are now only a couple of weeks away from packing in their jobs and setting off with a one-way ticket to see the world.

Unleash Your Creativity

Sometimes tragedy can unlock creativity. So many stories and pieces of art or music are rooted in sorrow that the list of examples would be vast.

The ability to express yourself, to channel your despair, is a gift borne out of love.

Justine’s Story

Justine is our younger sister and, like all of us, she was crushed when we found out that Chris would not be coming home. In his place we got his suitcases filled with the clothes he would not be wearing again.

We each took from these clothes what we wanted to, either to wear or just to keep a bit of him close.

Justine took the rest of the clothes away with her and started working to turn them into blankets for our mum, herself, and Chris’ girlfriend—pillows for me and our mum as birthday presents and twenty heart shaped pillows for Chris’ cousins.

It is an act of such beauty to spend countless hours creating these magnificent gifts, which we will all treasure. I don’t even want to imagine how many tears were shed cutting up shirts or ties, but the end result is as close to a hug from Chris as we are ever going to get.

My Story

I will end today with my story, not because it is in any way remarkable but because it is mine.

After losing Chris I wanted to tell his story.  I wanted everyone to know about the person he was, not just a picture in the paper. The words on a gravestone were not enough; I wanted his story to be told properly.

I looked at the online memorials available but they were not right for me, not good enough for Chris. I didn’t want a portion of the Internet stagnating as time goes by. I wanted a physical presence that would be around to tell the story of his life and his death to future generations.

Not finding what I wanted, I set up my own website, which was a whole new world for me. Over a period of a few months, working evenings and weekends, I managed to set up a website that allowed me to tell the story I wanted to tell.

Importantly for me, it also has the physical presence I wanted by linking to a QR code, which is printed on a plaque and placed on a bench in his favorite park.

Now people in the park can scan the code with a phone and find out about the man Chris was. The reason for setting up the website has been fulfilled. I have learned how to design websites and have been able to offer comfort to other families who have lost loved ones by telling their stories.

If you can find a way to help others, change your life in a positive way, or create something that will leave lasting memories, then you can find a silver lining to your tragedy. It will not bring your loved one back, but if you can do something that would make them proud then you can start to heal as well.

Photo by Llima Orosa

About Benet McManus

Benet McManus is the creator of Always Remembered; a website dedicated to helping families; telling the stories of their loved ones through QR codes which link to online memorials. Benet lives in Manchester, England and hopes it will stop raining one day. Follow him on Twitter here.

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  • Jeff

    Wow. I am humbled and in tears after reading your gut-wrenching story. Though I have lost people in my life, I can not begin to comprehend the horror of what you went through. And to turn a tragedy into something so positive is an inspitration to me and to anyone who will see this.

  • Benet McManus

    Hi Jeff, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post. It is the first time I have written publicly so it is lovely to hear such positive words.

    Sure, we have been through some dark days and they are still just around the corner but I felt that we should recognise the good things we have done, celebrate the kindnesses and applaud the exceptional. If we forget about these then all we have to focus on is the horror of emptiness.

  • Philosopher

    This is just so true…I’m amazed at how you’ve put everything to words. I would love it if you’d visit my blog as well, http://mariam03rehman.wordpress.com/

  • Amy.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Grief can consume a person, paralyzing them and prevent them from moving forward. Your thoughts and suggestions are very much appreciated.

  • Benet McManus

    Thanks Amy, I am
    a firm believer that telling your story can help ease the pain. The sole reason
    for setting up Always Remembered was because we wanted to tell Chris’ story and
    this has helped me immeasurably.

    I would advise
    anyone who is going through grief not to be too hard on themselves, don’t try
    and rush through or ignore the grieving process. Celebrate the fact that you
    are on a journey, each new day is another step towards a life without
    grief.

    Moving on is
    different than forgetting, I know that Chris would want me to shine, I can’t do
    that if I am under the clouds of grief.

  • nana

    Am so sorry about your brother. I was feeling so down for sometime now and came across your writing….was greatly affected by it. thank you…..the irony of it is I am a Nigerian. I am also sad that such a thing happened in my country. May God give you the grace to continue being an inspiration. I really am not good with words, but…on behalf of the good Nigerians out there..we are sorry, please find it in your heart to forgive. God bless.

  • Benet McManus

    Hi Nana, Chris loved his time in Nigeria up to that point and the people there were very kind to him.

    I don’t think this is particularly the forum for a political debate but in my opinion, murder and extremism, whatever the roots, grounds or reasons, lead only to a spiral of fear and hate that can take generations to heal.

    You ask me to forgive Nigeria, I would say that my problem is not with Nigeria as a country. I wish you all the best Nana, hopefully 2014 is a good year for you and your country.

    By the way, your writing was good, why would you say you were not good with words?

  • Stephanie

    I lost my grandparents, both were true parents to me than my birth parents ever could be. I suffered emotional abuse growing up, and I am glad I don’t live with them anymore. My grandma passed away two years ago in December and I was devastated. After reading your story, I am glad I can find ways to let go and do something in memory for both of them.