By Dr Lucy Hone
Over the last seven years, 10 months and 26 days I have been on a mission to give the bereaved a sense of hope. Ever since the last day of May 2014 – the day our gorgeous 12 year old daughter was tragically killed in a car accident – my career has taken a dramatic change in direction.
It was a Queen’s Birthday weekend and we were heading away with family friends on a mountain biking trip when, at the last minute, Abi decided to hop in the car with her best friend Ella. As they drove south, a driver sped through a STOP sign on a back country lane, instantly killing Abi, Ella, and Ella’s mum Sally. I will never forget the moment the policeman came to see us. How quickly and permanently our lives can change.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have also lost someone you love. My heart goes out to you. While death is the only thing we can all count on happening, somehow we feel so unprepared to cope when it does. We were told to buckle up for the ride and prepare to write five years off to our grief, and that, as bereaved parents, we were now prime candidates for divorce, mental illness and family estrangement.
Fortunately, this is where my work as a resilience researcher became useful. When everyone around us painted a picture of doom, making me feel helpless and lost, my training kicked in, suggesting instead that there were ways of thinking and acting that might make learning to live without her more possible. The tools of my field gave me hope, a vital resource when you are forced to face an unwanted and unimaginable future. It became my mission to test those tools to establish what helps us navigate our darkest days.
The good news is that my hunch proved right. There are things you can do to help you adjust to this loss. Our team have trained thousands of people globally in the skills of coping with loss, challenge and change. No, these tools won’t take all your pain away, but they can help you live and grieve at the same time.
What’s more, it’s plain to see that our work responds to an enormous demand among the bereaved for well-researched, active coping skills. My TED talk on the topic is now the most watched of any New Zealander and, due to the COVID pandemic, became one of the Top 20 most watched globally of 2020. I don’t say this to brag, but to give you hope!
While it’s natural and understandable to fear you may never survive this loss, the truth is that only a small minority struggle to adapt over the long term: typically around 10-15% of the population. Most people have it within them to survive. They find ways to cope, and coping requires just everyday processes such as leaning on friends, looking after others, having someone or something to live for, and finding ways to keep their memories alive.
My advice is to find your own way to grieve. I’m not going to lie, this does take work, but please hear me when I say it is possible. Don’t get strung up on Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s Five Stages of Grief – they have been widely discredited as an over-simplification of the grief process. In fact, the Five Stages are just one of many myths often perpetuated by well-meaning friends (and even health practitioners) that people on our courses tell us have caused them more harm than good.
Come and join our Coping With Loss Community to find out how you can live and grieve at the same time. On your own terms, in your own time. I look forward to seeing you there.
About the Author: Dr. Lucy Hone is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the University of Canterbury, co-founder of Coping With Loss and author of the best-selling book, Resilient Grieving. See more of Lucy’s work at www.copingwithloss.co or join the Coping With Loss free online community