‘Out of the blue, my 17-year career ended. I lost all three of my brothers by 40. It felt like a divorce’: Woman says ‘there is no way to compare grief’

“Grief. That word sucks. Nothing good comes with that word. ‘Hey, do you want a grief cake?’ No thanks. ‘What about a grief sandwich?’ Sounds terrible. It’s not a word used when you win the Powerball. Even the words ‘Good Grief’ is an acceptable ‘G’ rated curse word used by our mothers and grandmothers everywhere, followed by an eye roll, and a resounding ‘no.’

‘Grief is Love but nowhere to go with it.’ -My Mom.

Grief: defined in the dictionary as a feeling of deep sorrow, primarily caused by someone’s death. It can be applied to many factors outside of losing someone close. We all go through grief at some point, maybe at different times in our lives-younger or older, different experiences- sibling, parent, grandparent, and different circumstances- sudden or sick for a while. Grief is love with nowhere to go. And, it’s all difficult and hard to make sense out of. I experienced grief young, and tragically. So, my life was consumed by it due to its effects.

Two things I have learned about grief:

I know there is no way you can compare grief – I cannot judge my niece’s loss of her pet, who right now in her young life, she likens to ‘her child,’ to what I have been through in my life at 44. Sometimes your bar has just been set higher. Not their fault, they haven’t been through it. Be better, and pray they never have to go through it.

Whatever people have to believe in getting through it, as long as they are not hurting themselves or someone else, let them. If they want to believe Uncle Merv is on a purple magic carpet, and they feel a little comfort from that, let. It. Be. The only correct thing to say is ‘I am so sorry for your loss. How can I help?’ That’s it.

Most have heard of the five stages of grief.

I think the fantastic Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (P.I.R) helped distill an infinite range of emotions into digestible categories. But, the question has always been, what can you do with grief? Will it drive you into a ditch or empower you to do the thing you never thought you were capable of doing? And, what can drive the difference between the two outcomes?

LIFETYMES the Digital Marketplace where busy moms go to plan celebrations and parties and make happy memories was really born out of grief. Strangers say to me: ‘You have a tech company dedicated to celebrations? You must have had Huge Birthday Parties!’ I just smile because my family didn’t. In fact, the LIFETYMES journey of coming to be was a bit of out of something folks don’t expect.

Most people don’t know three things about me. One, I didn’t Celebrate Holidays or Birthdays due to religious reasons when I was growing up. I became obsessed as a child with what Christmas was or what a Birthday Party would be like. I never experienced it through the lens of a child. I didn’t start celebrating milestones until I had my boys, and I experienced them as a busy mom trying to pull them together.

Two, growing up, we moved around a lot during our school years due to my dad’s job. We didn’t stay in one place long enough to make long friendships, so my sister and my brothers were my siblings and my friends. We may not have had traditional celebrations, but we had many get-togethers growing up and tons of love around us. Being with my siblings is my favorite childhood memory. But, I was not afraid to walk in a room and be stared at for being the new kid, and I think I started building some confidence at a young age.

Three, I had lost all three of my brothers by 40, one of which I was in a horrific car crash at 17 that killed my brother Josh (15) and a friend when we lived in a small town. We lost a lot of kids in crashes over the years for a small school. Then, my grandfather unexpectedly died a year after Josh. So, grief was such a presence at such a young age, personally impacting my life. The only thing that ever helped me cope was the memories of those get-togethers and hope. People use grief in different ways, I knew I was young and had hoped I could still build a great future, so I went on to conquer life. I got married. I started a family. I started a corporate career. I did well. I put literally put tragedy behind me. I had used grief to push me and motivate me. I told myself survived for some reason. It worked for a time, but when my first son was born premature and in the NICU for a month, the fear of losing him, because I had witnessed it happen to my mom, was overwhelming. We got through it, but it was not fun.

Fifteen years later, looking around, I think I’ve done ok for myself and the family. I made my way through the hunger games of Corporate America so far. I am Head of This or That. I have looked at death in the face and conquered. Life hasn’t been perfect, but what is? At 40, the kids are older and kind of self-sufficient (somewhat), you should be hitting autopilot switch on the career in the next decade, you can go out to eat without checking your bank account first, you feel like your shit is together and BAM…

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Well, at least it did for me.

Out of the blue, my 17-year executive career ended with my company, which felt like a divorce, and I treated it as such. Fast forward almost exactly one year later, I had no idea that wouldn’t be one of the hardest days, my youngest brother, the last one left, and my best friend, died. I was an adult and a mother now. I couldn’t even imagine what the hell my parents were about to go through again. This kid we loved so dearly was gone. I can only explain it as uncontrollable pain. The emotional pain felt physical and hurt so badly inside. I recognized it from the accident. It is one of the things you can’t get back or buy back-they are gone. I skipped Grief stage 1 real quick and proceeded and stayed at Anger for a long time. I took another six months off to cope and help my parents get vertical after losing Jeremiah. By then I was starting to develop anxiety triggered by thoughts of losing something else in my life. I went back to work for a while, but being away from my family, traveling Sunday-Saturday, and missing my son’s Senior Year was not what I was willing to do. I took a step back. I wasn’t happy. I was making decisions based on who had the closest life raft and I didn’t care whose boat I was jumping in. I was unfulfilled.

After a while, I started thinking about Jeremiah’s funeral, and I started thinking about Life Celebrations. Specifically, how the average funeral is $9,500. It’s a terrible burden on a family. I want the cost driven down and completely disrupted. In the same timeframe, I volunteered to host a baby shower, which was chaotic with co-hosts, and it became clear to me there was not a clear digital solution to plan outside events and weddings with. I got excited about the research, the roadmap, and the design. I was smiling and laughing again. I was charged up, with a skip in my step.

I’d seen it again. It wasn’t becoming a CEO or Dream of Being a Millionaire or Tech Famous. I’d seen hope again, a hope I could take an opportunity I would be good at, apply my technical expertise and do something I care about, and it felt good addressing a gaping hole in the market.

We decided to start with Traditional Celebrations like Birthdays and Baby Showers, and plan to release Life Celebrations as well soon. Coupled with the loss of my brothers, I know how short life is and how important it is to celebrate every milestone and treasure those family memories.

I am humbled by being just a small part of making it easier for busy moms like myself to celebrate those milestones and make memories. I just got lucky enough to have experience and a passion matched an opportunity in the market. If I didn’t do it, I would regret it. I don’t want to live with that.

Grief is tough to write about, but I can recognize it, and I go towards it now. Here is a note I direct messaged to a parent that lost a child recently. I think it’s important to share because Grief does not stop at the funeral. My ultimate goal is to create a foundation where we can help plan life celebrations for parents who have lost a child.

You don’t know me from Adam, but I read your post on xxxxx. I wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to your family after losing your beautiful child. I haven’t lost a child, and it’s a pain you don’t know unless lived, god forbid, and it’s not something anyone would wish on your worst enemy. I’ve lost all my brothers and watched my parents lose all three of their sons, all young and unexpectedly. I’m incredibly close to my parents and have seen the agony. I understand from proxy of my parents the terrible emotions: second-guessing, guilt, regret, the ‘what if,’  and the concern for xxxxx’s siblings and how to cope. After the funeral, everyone goes on with their lives. The distraction of having people around helped and going back to the day to day routine is actually the hardest. Even having one moment of happiness is met with immediate ‘how can I smile’ and the only improvements are you might cry a little less, not every second, not every minute or five minutes, but time does help. Not in the beginning, not every day, but you just learn to live with it somehow. I do believe in what you wrote, talking about your xxxxx, keeping their memory alive, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people (not because they are morons, but they just can’t rationalize that kind of pain), and your message of the only actual currency we have is time and how we spend it is powerful. There is truth to the fact there are no words to express how sorry I am to hear of your families loss, and no doubt you will go through the terrible year of ‘the firsts,’ but you and your wife’s expression has touched my heart as I’m sure the hearts of everyone. I know offering to do anything is hallow because nobody could answer that call of bringing xxxxxx back. I sent this to my mom who called me crying because she thought your post was so beautifully written and wanted me to pass on her sincere thoughts and prayers for you and your beautiful family.”

Courtesy Katie Cunningham

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Cunningham. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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