The last thing in the world I expected to hear.
Almost 7 years ago my dad died. I was flying home to New Zealand to spend time with my nana who was dying of cancer. As I stood outside my office with my suitcase, waiting for my taxi to Melbourne airport, looking forward to my holiday and to spending time with Nana, I returned my mum’s odd phone message only for her to tell me Dad had just died of a heart attack.
And my world changed forever.
That was only the beginning for my family. My nana almost died the day after dad’s funeral. She survived and lived another 4 months. But in that time we lost another 4 family members so that when Nana died she was the 6th death in 4 months for us.
My journey into grief started normally and isn’t different to many other people’s. I went through one version or another of hell for a couple of years. People around me thought I was handling it well. I’ve never been a big one for falling apart in public and I was in pieces behind the scenes. My life felt like it stopped, like everything had stopped.
I was paying for lots of help that didn’t really help, thinking my life was kinda ruined and that I’d never totally get over all this, missing the people I’d lost and wanting to escape it all. Did I have it easy? Hell no.
But I found myself drawn on to keep looking for something else. Something in me knew there had to be more than this, this pain, this waiting, this idea that time would magically change something for me. Seriously, as if my dad would have wanted to end up as a painful memory for his daughter and his family. And I was very lucky to find my way eventually into teachings that introduced me to a totally different way of understanding the deaths in my life.
Robert A. Neimeyer said highly individual processes of meaning making are at the heart of grief dynamics.Our experience of death, our grief, is about the meanings that it holds for us, the meanings we give every part of it. I didn’t set out to get rid of, heal, cope with, manage, or learn to live with my painful emotions. I set out to make it different and to get my dad back, and what I ended up doing was changing the meaning of what had happened. I learnt to look for and understand the elements of grief that nobody acknowledges. And what I found blew me away and changed my life forever. And the painful part of grief left me completely and I was, and am, totally pain-free.
The deaths in my family were the worst thing that had ever happened to me. At the time. Where my search took me was to a place where they are now the most profound, important, and meaningful events of my life. I do not regret them. And when I think about every aspect of my dadâ€™s life, including his death, I smile. Rather than dishonour him, this has brought huge meaning to his life and his death for me. I see him, connect to him, and remember him in a way that, unfortunately so far, few get to experience.
When I look on it now my full grief experience was a journey to find meaning, purpose, beauty and truth in one of life’s biggest lessons – death. It was the most powerful, life-affirming and inspiring thing I have ever been through. It began with pain but ended with freedom from pain, a deep constant connection to my dad, and utter gratitude for the events of my life.
Already being a life coach and with a background in mental health and case management, I realised I was passionate about specifically helping other people to positively change their own experience of grief. Using everything I had learnt I went on to create the 9-step process that I now take other people through. Their results continue to inspire and astound me as I see client after client come out of their pain and find new meaning and understanding of the death/s in their life.
No matter who you have lost, what that experience has been like, what you have believed and been told, it can be totally different. You can move to a place of freedom, connection and gratitude and make the legacy of the person you have lost so much more beautiful and powerful.
Kristie was on Dream Corner in September 2011. You can listen to our very personal and lovely interview here – Interview with Kristie West