I had many amazing experiences in 2011 including attending Burning Man for the first time, had a great time at Summit Series, spent a ton of time with my wife and kids (my top priority), spent lots of time with my parents, sold my company – Leverage Software, made new friends, deepened relationships, enjoyed Costa Rica with a great group of friends, had a great year professionally, started a new gig with an amazing company and people doing amazing stuff (more on that in a future post) and many other fantastic things. This post, however, is about the loss that I suffered with a focus on what I learned. Until 2011, I hadn’t lost anyone close to me in a tragic way and have always considered myself blessed in this way.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I lost my big brother Billy to a snowmobile accident in February of 2011. He left a wife and 4 beautiful girls. It was the most painful experience of my life, by 100-fold. You can read about that here and here so I won’t get into it in this post. I’ll sum it up by saying that it was devastating and I have to believe that he’s in a good place, and hanging out with others that we know and love.
In November, I lost my good friend Tom to a suicide. I had spent about 200 of the last 300 days with him and this was a shock to everyone. You can read more here but I’ll just say that I think about Tom every day, as I do Billy, and miss him a ton.
In October, my wife lost her step-brother to suicide. Though I didn’t know him well at all, I’m close to his mom (Luann’s step-mom) and it was and remains devastating to the family, I’m sure.
So, that’s a lot of loss for one person in a year and I want to share what I learned through this – good and bad (and not in any order of importance in my view — just free flow thought).
What I’ve learned through all this loss and pain.
1) I learned that you absolutely must let people know how you feel about them. You cannot wait until tomorrow because it may not arrive. Both Billy and Tom knew how much they meant to me – that I loved them. I can’t imagine how I would handle this if I hadn’t expressed how much I cared for them. Billy and I discussed it last Thanksgiving and Tom and I lived it every day during daily walks as I was trying to help him through some difficult moments.
2) I learned that lots of people are in pain and there is help, if you know where to look and how to recognize it. Following the suicides, I had many conversations with friends who shared that they have experienced high anxiety and stress and have learned how to overcome it. I believe that they could have been helpful to Tom had they spoken with him – just to express that they knew exactly how he felt (I didn’t) and that it would get better – actually get better over time. What I learned from this is that there simply isn’t enough awareness about anxiety, mental illness or suicide prevention. There’s a stigma that needs to be removed. There needs to be celebrity support and “coming out” on this topic. I’m really glad to see TWLOHA.org addressing this and Miley Cyrus using her voice to build the awareness – we need more of it and I’m helping them with that.
3) I learned that there is an abundance of love available when you need it. So many people offered support during these trying times – many hundreds of people. My friends were there for me, of course, as were people I didn’t know very well. They shared their stories and offered their time and attention. I’ve developed new friendships through this process- some which will be lifelong friendships built around a special relationship. Of course, my immediate family was incredibly supportive and loving during these times.
4) I learned that the person that you think is being an asshole may just be having a really bad day. It’s easy to flip someone off (well, it is for me) for doing something annoying but it’s worth a pause to remember that they may be experiencing a hardship or tragedy and it’s a good idea to cut people some slack – at least give them the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean that I won’t throw an f-bomb out to the hipster slowly crossing the street while texting his buddy with one hand and a latte in the other. I hate that shit – get out of the street already. In short, I think it’s worth giving people the benefit of the doubt and even try to help improve the situation when you can.
5) I learned that some people will always be assholes. Or, in my case, only one person (fortunately). That’s just who some people are. I suppose you need to know one asshole to provide a healthy contrast to most people in your life. You know who you are and how to reach me.
6) I learned that you simply have to spend your time in a way that makes you happy. In my case, I measure success by the amount of JOY that I experience and the amount that I bring to others, now and in the future. I felt that way before this all happened but now I absolutely know that it’s the correct way for me to measure success. It’s also really simple – how often am I happy (almost always) and how many smiles can I deliver. It may not be the right metric for you, but it works for me.
7) I learned even more about generosity – the generosity of others. I’m writing a book about generosity and have been interviewing people who you likely know or will know, for the book. The generosity that I’m talking about is from the the “regular” people – you and me, who just want to lend a hand to support others (me, in this case) during tough times. It also includes the immense generosity of people I didn’t even know, but wanted to support my efforts. Here are some of those people, and here’s the link to see the entire list as well as the story behind the giving. The generosity goes well beyond giving financially, it also includes those who sent private notes, made phone calls, posted on facebook and shared my stories. Your generosity was way more important than you can even imagine – it really was. It’s amazing how much of a positive impact a simple text can have in such difficult times. I appreciated every one of those moments of your generosity – thank you!
I also learned that I can be even more generous. In my view, we live pretty well – never really wanting for much (of course, I would love to have a back yard that the kids can really play in or a couple of extra rooms or extra bath). There are so many people out there struggling for the basics though; whether it’s food, shelter, time with their family, dignity or something else. I would prefer to have a bit less square footage and give what we can – in time, social capital, effort and money. It seems that we can always give just a bit more – besides, it feels really good to give.
9) I learned to believe that maybe things do happen for a reason. I’ve never really subscribed much to the idea that things happen for a reason. To me, it sounds like too much of an excuse for things not going one’s way because of lack of preparation, laziness, carelessness or some other negative trait. Now, I’m not so sure. I find that I now believe that Billy was taken for a reason. To think that he’s just gone and that’s it is unacceptable to me. Call me bananas but I actually think that he, Tom and John are enjoying themselves somewhere, and we’ll eventually catch up – that they had to take off early to go take care of something else.
10) I learned that some dreams are a special gift. Without getting into the details, I’ve had one amazing dream about each Tom and Billy, within which they told me that they were really happy. In the case of Billy, he told me that we’ll be spending lots of time together where he is (which was at the ocean, in his case). We’re both Pisces and both love the ocean. In the case of Tom, we laughed and smiled a bunch. In both cases, we were so happy to be spending time together and I awoke in a really good mood.
11) I learned that sharing is very healthy. Being able to share my pain with you all, and to have your supportive responses has been very healing for me. Without this, it would have been very much more difficult, I’m sure. I have also heard from many, and continue to hear from people, who want to share their stories with me because it’s healing. I consider it a gift to be able to be there for people in any small way.
12) I learned that everything is a learning experience. This was the most difficult year of my life – by a longshot – as far as loss and pain go. There’s no way I would absorb that loss and pain without doing something with it and turning it into good.
13) I learned that we can keep the memory alive forever, for those of those whom have passed on. By giving and helping others, we can immortalize those and their memories. This drives me to do more for others than ever before.
14) Relationships strengthen through loss. The first part of this is obvious, the second part may not be so obvious. My relationships with my family (parents, brother, cousins, sons, wife, nieces, aunts and uncles, Tom’s family) have all strengthened during this period of loss and grieving. The time I spend with my sons is more important that ever. The relationship that they have with each other is more valued. I’m more sensitive to their arguments, and to their moments of kindness to each other – everything is intensified.
Many other relationships with acquaintances have also strengthened. Some of those acquaintances are now friends. My relationship with many friends have strengthened as they (you) have shown incredible support. I know where to go when I need that support.
15) There is community built around loss. I really wish that I wasn’t part of the community, but it is beautiful that a community exists for those whom have lost. This community is both formal and informal. Formally, support groups exist wherein we can share. Though I haven’t participated, my Mom has and she finds it very valuable. The community that I do participate in is the informal community. It’s Laura on the boat who lost her sister 10 years ago, who I just met, but bonded with immediately. We shared, laughed, cried, and joked. It’s amazing how quickly a bond can be built around mutual understanding. It’s my friends (6-7) who have lost siblings or a parent at an early age that didn’t talk much about it until they learned of my loss. It’s those of you whom have lost a loved one and shared with me privately. We all wish that we didn’t need the community, but I sure am glad that it exists.
I hope none of you have to share this type of loss in your lives, and certainly hope that it’s over for me. If you do experience loss, however, know that you’re not alone and reach out. If you know of others that may be having a difficult time, please reach out. If it’s uncomfortable for you, come directly to me and we’ll come up with a way to do it that works.
Thanks for being there for me – I appreciate it! Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.
much love and peace,
Thanks you for all of your likes, comments, shares and private messages – I appreciate every one of them!