Living

How to deal with a major loss

Once, during a radio show promotion for our children’s book The Mischievous Mom At The Art Gallery, me and my co-author Erica Ehm were asked “What do you think is the depth of despair?”

Margaret Miller

Once, during a radio show promotion for our children’s book The Mischievous Mom At The Art Gallery, me and my co-author Erica Ehm were asked “What do you think is the depth of despair?” Neither of us really wanted to answer that question, because as mothers, we knew exactly what our answer would be.

I thought of that question when I got an e-mail from Margaret Miller about her book The Gift: A MADD Mother’s Journey of Healing. Miller lost her 26-year-old son Bruce to a drunk driver in 2004, and the book is about her journey from that first phone call to being MADD Canada’s national president to the present. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but in the end The Gift gives people hope for the future as she writes about motherhood and how she has coped with the loss of her son.

I have a difficult time reading or watching the news at this time of year — I get the same sick feeling every time September 11th arrives. There was just so much loss that I couldn’t comprehend then, and still can’t now — I find myself depressed on the days leading up to and after the anniversary. It makes me wonder how people deal with a major loss like the ones experienced by so many people on that September day 10 years ago.

Miller gave me her insights and advice on getting through a huge personal loss, and moving forward with life.

1. Death is always hard: Miller also has a hard time hearing of deaths, especially those involving impaired driving. “I ask myself ‘Why?’” she says. “Why didn’t they get the message? Why would anyone make the choice that leads to yet another needless death? How can so many people be so stupid? When will they ever learn?” Then she thinks about what else can she do, or what message can she send, to prevent this from happening again. “It is so frustrating!”

2. Everyone heals differently: “It’s a very personal journey,” says Miller. “For me, it took those first painful baby steps and gradually I was able to feel empowered with every new presentation. When I looked at the faces of students as I told them about Bruce and shared the horror of that night, I could see the tears on their faces and know that he didn’t die for nothing,” she says. Though her son’s voice is no longer, she adds, hers continues on. It became more important to Miller than anything else that her son could still make a difference, through her.

3. Watching the news can be depressing:
Like me, Miller often has a hard time listening to news. “When I see another family dealing with the loss of a child, it breaks my heart. I know the emptiness, the all-consuming grief and I know that their normal has just been changed forever,” she explains. But it makes her want to reach out. “That’s what The Gift is all about. It puts the experience of many families in their hands and hopefully helps them get through a little easier.”

4. Loss does change families: Miller says that her family is different after Bruce’s death. “There’s no way it can stay the same. We all grieved differently, but thankfully it didn’t tear us apart. There was a point when tempers were very short, but with patience and a lot of tears it didn’t last long.” They now appreciate each other even more. She says she’ll never take her husband or her daughters for granted ever again and she’ll never be on bad terms with them. “Life is too precious, too short and too fragile. There are no promises of tomorrow,” she says.

5. Talk to your kids about drunk driving: Make it very clear to your teens that drinking or doing drugs and driving is never an option, Miller tells parents. “They should talk about impaired driving realistically and should have an agreement in place that the parent agrees to pick up their child, anytime, anywhere, no questions asked. Remind teens that it’s not about getting caught. It’s about staying alive. There is nothing more important than getting that child home safely.”

6. Her advice for those dealing with loss: “Allow yourself permission to grieve, whether it is a parent, child, infant, miscarriage or anyone that’s important to you,” she says, and adds that one should deal with a loss “in any way that works for you.” No two people will grieve exactly the same way and there are no timelines. “As far as I’m concerned, the word ‘closure’ is a myth. I will never get over my loss, and knowing that brings with it a new understanding. I can be resolved that this is the way my life and future are now,” says Miller.

The Gift can be emotionally tough to read at some times, but it’s also inspiring. Miller’s strength and her willingness to share her story is really the true gift. You can order The Gift from Chapters or Amazon.