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 contact form on our home page.
Amanda Burke Livingston
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I live near San Francisco, CA and work as a freelance communications consultant. I work with clients on things like social media, influencer relations, and PR. I have two big dogs that I love to go hiking with and take to the beach.
Who in your life has passed away? When did this happen?
My husband, Alex, passed away in June 2016 after a two-year battle with melanoma. We had been together for 7 years and married for just 2.
Describe your life during this time.
Excruciating, overwhelming, heartbreaking.
What helped guide you through the grieving process? What advice would you provide others dealing with loss?
> Make your grief your #1 priority. Alex made cancer his full-time job. I was inspired to approach my grief with the same energy and conviction that Alex applied to his fight with cancer. I was determined to not allow the grief to define me or to become someone who people just felt pity for.
> Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to feel all of it. Don’t try and put on a happy face when you don’t feel it. You have a pass for at least the next year (and longer if you ask me) to tap out of things early, decline invitations, whatever you need to attend to your own emotions/well-being. My friends and family have been incredible about this and really and truly have never made me feel guilty about it. Grief removes a bit of your filter which has been great because its allowed me to get much closer to family and friends.
> Food. My friends had a Meal Train set up for me for 3 months after Alex passed. I didn’t want everyone coming in to chat when they dropped off food, so we put a big cooler on the porch that I would put out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That way even if my friend could only drop something off at 7am on their way to work or late at night, they didn’t have to worry about disturbing me or not being able to help because they work during the hours that I worked best for me. A lot of friends just did Instacart – Whole Foods delivery which was incredible! My BFF had a list of my regular groceries and would just interface with people as questions came up. That was a tremendous help because I had a hard time even pushing myself to go to the grocery store in those first few weeks. There are so many quirky grief things that you just can’t even account for until you’ve been through it. My dad’s advice was also to continue to spend money on quality food for myself. Maybe even a little bit more than I normally would. If you let your own health slip it can lead to a whole host of other issues so you want to be aware of getting what your body needs.
> Move. I have two big dogs that love to hike, and they didn’t care that I was having a bad day – they needed exercise…every…day. It was a huge gift. I was outside every day hiking or just in the world and sunshine even when I didn’t want to be. Physical activity was a huge part of my recovery. I signed on for a 40 Days of Yoga program about 9 months after Alex passed. The structure was physically, emotionally, spiritually beneficial for me. For a long time, I had a hard time making plans far in advance and committing to things. It might have been a side effect of having lived such an unpredictable life for 2 years, but also, I never knew how I would feel. The 40 Days program held me accountable to show up every single day and know that when I do, I’m always glad I did. Daily meditation was also a big part of it.
> Therapy. I highly recommend getting a therapist who specializes in grief. I am not someone who had ever done therapy until Alex got sick. My therapist was invaluable in terms of me understanding grief and how to manage it, so you’re not stifled by it. When you learn those skills, you can start to move forward with your life.
>Laugh. Friends, bad reality TV, whatever makes you laugh is good.
Young Hot Widow’s Club – Facebook group. Widows + widowers are welcome and it’s an incredibly raw and supportive network of other’s who have experienced loss.
The Dinner Party – groups in all major cities to connect millennials who have experienced loss for small group dinners. I haven’t been to one yet but they are doing great things.
Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday – They do the interviews in podcast form too, but she interviews all types of spiritual thought leaders and it’s great.
Books to read: When Things Fall Apart - Pema Chodron; Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian Weiss M.D.; Option B – Sheryl Sandberg; Bearing the Unbearable – Joanne Cacciatore
What advice would you provide those who want to comfort those dealing with loss?
Most people don’t know what to say – so they don’t say or do anything. The best way you can comfort or provide support for someone dealing with loss is by very simply just sending a card or a text. It can be hard to pick up the phone. I don’t think I answered mine for months. Letting that person know that they are in your thoughts/prayers is plenty and always appreciated. Don’t feel like you need to say anything profound – we feel like shit and have no expectation that you’ll say the one thing that will boost our spirits so don’t put too much pressure on yourselves. The fact that you care enough to reach out is all that matters. Even acknowledging that this sucks – is very helpful. There is no silver lining in those first months.
If it’s a closer friend, setting up some kind of system to “run their life” so they don’t have to is huge. When people are dealing with major loss, just getting out of bed can be difficult so managing things like groceries, or helping with some of the administrative work that comes with someone passing away is very helpful. Mail can pile up really quickly and become overwhelming, plus having to call 15 different companies to tell them your husband died so you need to change the account information can be a little bit torturous. If they have dogs or kids, offering to help by taking them off their hands for a few hours.
The grief never goes away, you just develop the tools to better manage it over time. Everyone who has lost someone, across the board, says the worst part is when people stop talking about the person you've lost. People don't want to "remind you" that the person is gone or of what happened, but the reality is you never forget, you think about it every day, and an opportunity to talk about that person is always a comfort and a relief. As I branch out into the big wide world and make new friends and start to build a new life - there's a very interesting phenomenon that happens. People who know I've lost Alex but haven't talked to me about it directly, just don't ask me questions about myself...at all. It becomes this awkward dynamic where I'm asking everyone a million questions to keep a conversation going and walk away going...oh I really like that person...but wait they know nothing about me? The first couple of times I was a little hurt by it but when I realized it was this side effect of people not wanting to ask the wrong questions, which will lead to me having to say..."I was married, my husband passed away, he had cancer". The fastest way to shut down a lively dinner table conversation is to mention your dead spouse. I totally understand it's really hard to know how to respond to that. But honestly, the best way to handle that is to get it out of the way at the beginning of the conversation, and if you know, just say, "hey I heard about your husband, I'm so sorry to hear that I can't even imagine what that's like." and move on...we all have Facebook and Instagram so I know that everyone knows about Alex. That's very intentional. So please don't feel the need to dance around it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
My time as a caregiver was equally taxing. Many people don't think about supporting both the patient and the caregiver during the treatment years/months/etc. As a caregiver, I was SO focused on just trying to keep Alex alive and comfortable and doing whatever it takes (even if that means crisscrossing the country to visit the best hospitals, uprooting from your home for months for surgeries and clinical trials, etc.). Not to mention keeping a full-time workload. Granted I was able to be 100% remote but let's just say thank God for WIFI, email, and video conference and a lot of really compassionate colleagues. All of that was incredibly taxing on me emotionally and physically in ways that I'm still recovering from. My theory was always that when patients get out of surgery they should set up a chair right next to their bed with an IV of sedatives for the caregiver :). Everyone will be a caregiver at some time in their life whether it's for a sick grandparent, parent, child, sibling, spouse, friend, etc. and that is a 24/7 job that is very often overlooked.