Moving Forward After a Loss

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By Anita Manley

Sadly, many of us have experienced loss in our lifetime. Perhaps it was the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving away and losing a friendship, the death of a parent, a spouse or the tragic and untimely loss of a sibling or a child. Currently, due to pandemic restrictions, we are all (in some areas) losing our freedom: to connect with others, to hug and laugh with our friends and family, in-person. All of these losses are extremely challenging to live through.

I thought about writing this post while reading the book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper is quoted as saying (on page 85):

“I remember learning years ago that sharks have to keep moving forward to stay alive; it’s the only way they can force water through their gills and breathe. Ever since, that is how I’ve imagined myself: a shark gliding through dark, silent seas.”

Cooper lost his Dad, Wyatt, when he was only 10 years old and then lost his older brother, Carter, to suicide 10 years later.

As many of you know, I’ve experienced many losses as well. I experienced the loss of my beloved Dad when I was 32, followed by the loss of my mind (yes, really!), then a divorce, then the loss of access to my children and my ability to parent. Also, I was forced to go on long-term disability from work, I lost my housing, I lost most of my possessions including my cat and eventually my car; and the most hurtful: l lost communication with all my family and friends. Then in 2013, I lost my dear Mom.

Like Anderson Cooper, I grew up secure in the love of my parents. They believed in me, they asked for my opinions and listened to me, and most importantly–they loved me unconditionally. I carry that security and confidence with me today and I know that it has helped me through the many losses I’ve experienced in my lifetime. That, and the hope I held for a better future–a future where I would resurface stronger and more at ease.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
  2. Take it one day at a time.
  3. Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
  4. Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
  5. Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
  6. Learn to live with disappointment–don’t let it stop you from moving forward.

I have a friend, Aubyn Baker-Riley, who tragically and horrifically lost her 14 month old son, Liam in a car accident. That was 27 years ago, and she remembers it like it was yesterday.

During my conversation with Aubyn, she passed along some tips to help move through a loss of this magnitude:

  1. Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
  2. Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
  3. Planning birthdays and anniversaries the way you want to spend the day–be it a spa day with a friend, alone or with family. You get to decide how you want to honour the loss of your loved one.
  4. Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
  5. Be willing to ask for professional help. It does not mean you are weak. There are times when more help is needed to heal your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical self.
  6. Hold onto Hope. “It was a freak accident and it was not anyone’s fault. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen–it was not the end of my story– I held onto hope for a brighter future.”

    For more about hope, stay tuned for next week’s GUEST BLOG.

    In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo”- “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
“Just keep swimming.” – Dory from “Finding Nemo”

Living a Life with Purpose

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By Anita Manley

We recently lost a good friend named Gillian. She passed away suddenly at the age of 75. Her celebration of life was the best I’ve ever attended and many others agreed. People were laughing and some dancing. Her longtime friends and musicians played some of her favourite songs as part of “The Band” — songs including Anthem by Leonard Cohen and Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan. The speakers were brilliant, telling funny stories of a woman who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Gillian lived a life with purpose. Although she was living on a low income as a former Social Worker and ESL teacher, she rented out her “downtown luxury loft” (note: a humble, well decorated one bedroom apartment in downtown Ottawa) during the winter months to travel to India, Thailand, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, to name a few. In these places, she lived modestly and volunteered to help out in orphanages and schools. She went on tours and paddling trips with long time friends with whom she laughed a lot. She loved her two sons, Simon and Oliver (Patti) and two grand-daughters fiercely. Sadly, Simon died tragically about 10 years ago in his forties. Gillian never got over the pain of this incident. She often gathered with Oliver and Patti and their two daughters on Sunday nights for dinner. She enjoyed tea, rather than coffee, and would always put the kettle on if you arrived for a visit.

I knew Gillian from our friend Jerry’s cottage, on Lac Brule, Quebec. She was a very kind person and you knew just by her views of the world and the way she talked that she had trained as a Social Worker. She was wise and very good with people, having a sense of the right thing to say. She knew how to connect and she had empathy. I felt comfortable sharing my story with her and she listened without judgment. I was kayaking with her just a few months ago, as she had perched her tent by the water’s edge where she still slept in a sleeping bag. While kayaking with Gillian (who had been paddling for years), I expressed my frustration at not being adept at paddling (or at least not as good as her). She said, “Now Anita, enough of this discouraging talk. Didn’t you tell me you were new to kayaking? I have been paddling my whole life! What I notice, is that you are better today than yesterday.” I will always remember those wise words… and try not to be so hard on future Anita.

Upon reflection of Gillian’s moving memorial service, I promptly decided that I want to be remembered for making a difference in peoples lives as did she. When I stated this to my good friend and neighbour, she said, “Anita, I think you are well on your way.” I do feel as though I am making a difference in the lives of women at The Royal, and at Cornerstone Housing for Women. I guess I just hope that at my celebration of life, people are laughing and dancing and remembering a life well lived, too. Just like dear Gillian.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

My fashionable, bohemian friend, Gillian.