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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Living with Loss

Like many of you, I have had to deal with loss of various kinds; jobs, loves, money, and now my most profound loss, that of my father. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, he knew he had the disease, before begin given the news it was terminal, he braced my mother and I for the reality he knew was coming. From the day he was given the formal diagnosis, he lived exactly 30 days.

There are people we run into in our lives that we intellectually know will one day pass away, emotionally you just can’t process the thought of them not being there. My Dad was one of those people. Stoic in hardship and inexorable in his ethos, but a lover of sweets and laughter; tough and rarely bending as a father, he was a natural grandfather. His loss has been difficult for all who knew him.

It is from this frame of mind that I offer the following to help you get through the grief in your life in a healthy, even positive, manner. In the first few days, as your grief is raw, try to get through day-by-day or even hour by hour if you have to. If you can’t sleep well, at least get plenty of rest. Keep your regular schedule as much as possible.

Eating with an eye to good nutrition as well as drinking plenty of water will give you energy and provide your body with the nutrients to stay physically healthy as you heal emotionally. Try to exercise, even if you are just walking, as the exercise will help relieve stress. Try to contact a support group that speaks to your loss and allow the loving people in your life to help you.

After the first few days, you may wish to help with the planning of the funeral or memorial service. If the service was pre-planned, then you can create a roadside memorial or plant a tree/flowers in memory of your loved one. However, make sure you check with local authorities or the landowner before you trespass.

In my Dad’s case, we set up a scholarship fund to send Boy Scouts who can’t afford it, to scout summer camp; however, donating to any cause important to the deceased in their name is appropriate. Along these same lines, performing acts of kindness to people you wouldn’t have usually in the memory of your loved one is a private way to honor their memory. Make sure you thank any medical or emergency personnel who cared for your loved one; they would likely have done so if they were able and even if they wouldn’t have, it will make you feel better.

These last few items really will increase your resilience, so try to do a few of them: volunteer your expertise or services to someone less fortunate, take a CPR or first aid class as it has the potential to help someone in the future. Last, make sure you tell your loved ones how much you love them and what they mean to you.

Life is finite and far too short, so most of us will experience the pain of losing someone important. It is my hope you will use these tips to be proactive and increase your resilience, then to heal when needed so you may more quickly get past the pain and only have left the special memories of your loved one.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

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