Making Meaning From Grief
Happiness has been my goal for most of my life. I’ve been privileged enough to travel the world and see the beautiful sites, meet life-changing people, and eat delicious food. Time seems to elongate when I travel, and one day can feel like a week (in a good way) because there are so many new things to absorb. I never feel more alive or happier than when I travel, so I assumed I had life figured out.
Coming home after traveling for a few months by myself in Central America I felt invincible and worldly. Nothing could bring me down from being high on life. Of course, in my naiveté, I was wrong, but I didn’t know just how wrong I was.
My world shifted on its axis on Christmas Day. My family and I were in our pajamas Christmas morning, all atwitter with love and excitement for the day. It was a typical California Christmas with the sun shining and the temperature just cold enough for a sweatshirt. The phone rang, and my mother picked it up. The tone of the room changed instantly. While my siblings and I didn’t know what was being said on the other end of the phone, we knew it was bad. My mom fell to her knees, sobbing. All I could say is, ‘who is it?! Who is it?!’
Nick. My cousin. My age. My childhood. Every memory from birthdays to recess at school involved him and his brother Tyler. He struggled with addiction for years, and unlike my happy-go-lucky attitude to the world, his life was more about survival. From a young age, he and his brother bounced around to different foster homes until my Uncle was able to take them back. Our childhoods were opposites, but intrinsically intertwined.
His death struck me hard and brought me down to earth quickly. I had a hard time adjusting to my life after he died. I would have panic attacks, have a hard time breathing, and I did not know how to ask for help. I cried on my birthday for the first few years because it was another year he didn’t get to be the same age as me. He’d always be 23, and I kept getting older.
I adapted to my life without him, as one has to, but grief and meaning took up more time in my thoughts. I decided to go back to school to become a nurse, and unfortunately, we had two more deaths while I was in school. Nick’s brother Tyler and my childhood best friend, Daniel died within a few weeks of each other. These deaths on top of Nick’s were overwhelming. I finished school but I had a giant hole in my heart I needed to fill, so I decided to go to the source and learn about grief.
After compiling information from over a year’s worth of research from grief counseling handbooks and evidence-based practice, I felt I had too much information to keep to myself. I watched my uncle, and my best friend’s mom continue to grieve and try to adjust to life without their sons. I needed a place to share what I learned and delivered it in an easily digestible way.
I decided to create GriefGuide-an app to help navigate the grieving process. It is based around daily prompts that target a specific aspect of grieving, layered with grief education. The education helps to let you know if something is typical or expected. There are also weekly check-ins to help yourself track how well you’re taking care of yourself from sleeping to eating.
The prompts also focus on how to take control of your life. When someone dies, it becomes evident that there are things we have no control over, so it is essential to exert control over things that you can. Things such as habits and routines are emphasized to help create a sense of normalcy and predictability. Prompts include gratitude as well as its proven that being grateful while grieving increases happiness. Exercise, creating support networks, and showing compassion to yourself are also included in the prompts. I want to share GriefGuide with you and anyone you know who needs it. To do that, I would love your help to make it tangible. We are raising money through Kickstarter to help make GriefGuide a reality. How can you help? Share it with your community. Donate to it, no matter how small the donation, every dollar helps. To learn more, share and donate, visit bit.ly/griefguide1.
I still place happiness on a high pedestal and strive for it daily. I still love to travel, but I do feel less invincible. From what I’ve learned from the heartache of losing Nick, Tyler, and Daniel, there is more to life than happiness. There is meaning and depth-during the good times and the bad.