INTERVIEW - JO'S STORY
We regularly interview people who have experienced loss or burnout. Everyone experiences and responds to hardships in different ways, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve or handle stress. We share these stories in hopes that their experiences will support you in your journey – which ever side you are on – working through the process or supporting a loved one. If you are interested in sharing your story, please reach out via our home page.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in Brisbane, Qld, Australia with my two daughters who are 12 and 15 and our staffy, Mako. I am in the process of trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up! In the meantime, I love adventures, writing, spending time with those I love, music, travel and I’m currently trying to figure out a way to love running, because it is essential for my mental health. I’m often curled up with a book, living in an alternate universe. I am passionate about walking alongside others on their grief journey and am a Management Committee member for First Light Widowed Association. I share my experience and journey with loss on Instagram, @whenhopeshines.
Who in your life has passed away? When did this happen?
September 2013, my husband Daniel died instantly in a motorbike accident, two and a half weeks after my 36th birthday. To say husband does not seem to do him justice. He was my biggest cheerleader in life, he stood me up and moved me forward when I fell. He was my best friend, the one who could hug me and make the world right again, my love, the father of my children, and the man I have loved since I was 17 years old.
In 3-5 words, describe your life during this time.
Confusing, exhausting, hollow, surreal.
What helped guide you through the grieving process?
I know it sounds completely cliché, but time. Now let me explain, because I do not subscribe to the idea that times heals all. I am still grieving and will grieve for the rest of my life, no amount of time will change that. Time and determination allow you to become stronger, as you take those baby steps, as you stumble and fall, as you figure out what works and doesn’t work for you, time marches on and you learn how to incorporate and use the pain to move through your days.
In the beginning I found that getting outside each and every day, seeking the beauty of the sunshine on my face and the birds overhead, was huge in reminding myself that I was still alive. I walked a lot. It was good for my mind and my spirit. Sometimes I walked too far, thinking I could out-walk my grief. You can’t. It becomes the constant, but you figure out ways to bring joy back into your life.
I connected with others online at about 20 months. I needed the comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in this, but couldn’t find any support networks in my local area. When we moved to Brisbane two years ago I sought support networks again and found it the most beneficial thing I have done so far in my journey. It really is an amazing and soul calming moment to sit with someone who just gets it, without a single word spoken.
What helps me most now is being there for others. I’m still learning, I’m still figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. But I get so much out of being there for others who are grieving. I felt so isolated and lost when Daniel died, like no-one else could possibly understand. I’m heavily involved with First Light Widowed Association, a nonprofit that helps connect young, widowed Australians. I have found so much hope by being involved. Connecting with others when you are ready, takes tremendous courage, but the benefits can be endless.
What advice would you provide others dealing with loss?
There is nothing anyone can say that will make it better or change the fact that you have to go through your grief. But know you are not alone. Others are walking the path ahead of you and many will walk it behind you. It took me too long to reach out to others because I didn’t believe anyone could be feeling the same. Connecting with others has been a major step in my journey.
The most important thing I think you can take on board is to be gentle, so very gentle with yourself. Take things moment by moment until you are strong enough to start taking things day by day. Don’t rush yourself.
Remember your grief and the way you grieve is unique to you. Try to not compare yourself with others and where they are on their journey. It will only cause more pain. I played the “I should be” game for too long and it leads to nowhere healthy.
Fresh air and feeling the sunshine on my face became a part of my every day, even from very early in my grief. I knew it was essential to get some type of exercise, even if it was a short walk around the block and to really tune into my surroundings and what was going on. The little things…. the birds making noise, the butterfly floating past, the rustle of the leaves, the greeting from a stranger. Take the little things as reminders that you are still alive.
What advice would you provide those who want to comfort those dealing with loss?
Be gentle with your person. They are living in a world they do not understand right now and may not for quite some time. Chances are, they don’t know what they need nor want, at any point in time.
Don’t judge or offer unsolicited advice. Your person is doing the absolute best they can and unsolicited advice and judgement can make them feel like they are failing or doing something wrong.
One of the things I struggled with most was when people said “call if you need anything, we are here.” I didn’t know what I needed and there was no chance I was going to call when I figured it out. I didn’t know what day it was, let alone who had offered to do what. If you are able, do the little things. Arrange to drop some groceries over, cook a dish, mow the lawn, look after the pets, hang out with the kids.
That said, also be aware of boundaries and not pushing things. Decide if there’s something you would like to help with, be specific and then run it past your person to make sure it’s ok. “I’d love to take the kids to the park?” “Can I pop over one day to mow the lawn?” It’s completely possible that your person is just not ready for help or to relinquish control. It’s confusing I know, but the world is suddenly very confusing for your person.