I live in arguably one of the best places on earth. And I have a pretty satisfying life – good friends, a rewarding lifestyle, playing in the ocean several days a week, beautiful views right out my door. But it’s only because I lost absolutely everything that I gained this amazing life.
Growing up, I never once thought, “I want to dedicate my career and time to grief and loss.” I spent my childhood yearning for the golden era of adulthood. I foolishly thought that’s when I’d finally be in control of my own destiny and get to pick and choose what I was responsible for. As the only child of divorced parents, the one thing I knew for sure was I wanted a big family to call my own.
I proceeded to get married at twenty-two, inheriting three step children all aged six and under whom I loved as my own. Four years later I gave birth to my one and only biological child, Alison Belle. How’s that for a big family to call my own? This is when I knew I was finally living my dream.
Three years later, Alison was diagnosed with a brain tumor and two years after that, she died.
Within three months of Alison’s death my marriage had fallen apart and I had gone from stay at home wife and mother, care taking a terminally ill child to a single girl going to college fulltime and law firm receptionist to put myself through school.
Over the next eight years I graduated and established a career. Then left that career, moving to Kaua’i to create ‘Ohana Oasis , a non-profit whose mission is to provide a safe space and offer the tools that worked for me to other bereaved parents.
We do that through week-long retreats and have an insane waiting list. While it’s not great for the parents waiting, it does afford me the opportunity of inviting a diverse group of parents to each retreat. I ensure the parents come from different locations and all of their deceased children ranged in age and cause of death. Why? Because it’s so very powerful for everyone to recognize and really get that their loss and their experience is just as valid as the parent sitting next to them. It will look and feel different for each person. But they are equally valid. Knowing this allows everyone to connect at an emotional and heart level, not through the particulars of their stories.
Why do I share these details with you?
First to give you some insight into my background. I’ve been through a thing or two, and have worked with others who have too.
More importantly, I want to establish that grief is grief and loss is loss. The grief and/or loss that brought you here today is just as relevant as the next person sitting at their phone or computer reading. And if you came here for insight into helping a loved one coping with loss, truly understanding and internalizing this is truth is critical.
What I’m about to say next may seem counter intuitive. Of course, losing my daughter Alison was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. And yet there were days and weeks, maybe even months where losing my support system as a casualty of the divorce hurt me more than the bigger loss of my daughter. There were days when the divorce knocked all of my underpinnings of self-confidence and feelings of value.
This brings me back to the notion that loss is loss and there’s nothing too devastating or overwhelming that can prevent you from eventually finding your way back to a life lived fully.
Your experience and heartache is valid and you’re still alive – what are you going to do with it?
‘The Haze’, what’s that? Check out tomorrow’s blog where I’ll jump into my version of the stages of grief.
Rather watch than read? You can also check out my YouTube channel!
I love hearing from people, so if you’ve got questions and comments please email them to me at: Heidi@ohanaoasis.org.
This is the third installment in a series of articles based on, “Good Grief – Embracing Life and Giving Good Support” a talk I gave on May 22, 2019. You can get caught up by starting with the introductory article here.