Gail’s story of finding hope despite grief and loss

Until the age of 19, I never really understood what true loss meant. Of course I had heard of it, and I obviously knew that death happened everyday. I was just not prepared for it to happen to me. I guess. When I would think of death, I think I just assumed that it would happen in a more natural, more orderly way.

On November 14, 1990, I would learn very quickly that no one on this planet is immune to death. More specifically, that no one is immune from unforeseen tragedy.

My older brother was murdered just outside our family home, not far from where we parked our cars. It was over a relationship that had went wrong (due to a girl), causing some bitter feelings. For some reason, it caused a man to take a gun and end the life of my brother, then take his own life in the very same way.

That moment, was when I instantly became one of the “other people” that bad things only happen to.

My younger brother (age 14 at the time) witnessed the shooting, as he was always not far behind his older brother everywhere he went. This was such a shock for my immediate family, and our community, as this was a rare occurrence. These types of things just didn’t happen, but they did happen to us. My younger brother would be the one who would bear the most emotional brunt from this.

Just over four years later, my mom (age 50) had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She did smoke from a young age, and I think her cancer was a combination of that and the heartbreak from the trauma of my older brother’s death. It was very difficult for me to watch the strongest person I knew become so weak and vulnerable. She passed away on January 6, 1995.

That would be the first Christmas without my mom, but I had been blessed with a new baby boy a couple weeks before. I had another little blessing around 14 months later, a baby girl. Being a mom helped me shift my focus. When you have a new purpose, it keeps you busy and you feel needed.

My little brother’s life took a sadder, darker turn. His life began coming apart piece by piece, and he turned to heavy drugs to find solace. It was the only thing that would give him some respite from his inner torture. He ended up dying in police custody. He was found unresponsive and when he was revived, he had gone without oxygen for too long. He was transferred to a hospital and kept on life support for 9 days. He passed away after we agreed to take him off life support. He died on February 18, 2000. It was my daughter’s 3rd birthday.

I thought it was important to give a brief back story, to help others understand how these events have affected me and shaped my life and mental health over the years… the decades.

My whole life I have been told how strong I must have been to carry on after so many losses. Truthfully though, what choice did I have? Everyone deals with things in their own way, and sometimes you just have to ride out the storm while waiting for the next one.

Over the past 8+ years or so, I started writing things down. I eventually thought, Hey maybe I should write a book about this! This was something I pondered off and on. I would get out a pen and pad of paper and just start jotting things down. There was something in the written word that seeps into your soul. For me writing=healing. If my writing could help me purge the years of sorrow and emptiness, then maybe it could help others who have gone through similar life-altering events. I wanted to prevent someone else from wasting years of their lives re-living the what if’s.

I published my first book in November of last year titled Not My Own so I could put my journey into words for the world to see.

I have always been such a private person, and the lives and deaths of both my brothers had been made so public. I pushed through this though, and felt I was called to put my story out there. I had finally figured out that I wasn’t alone, and that no one else should have to feel that way either. I now believe I was put on this path for a reason, still unbeknownst to me.

Being diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) over the years. This was a game changer. When you have such traumatizing events happen, it can make you so afraid of every little thing in life. I became hyperaware, hypervigilant and full of fear almost 24/7.

When bad things happen, it’s not just a single event (or events) that happens. It has a ripple effect. For me, it cut out a big chunk of my livelihood and who I feel I could have been. I was paralyzed by fear, and I was waiting for the next bad thing to happen in my life, to my family. It’s hard trying to sort that stuff out, and trying to be strong and not talk about how things affect our mental health.

If we have heart disease, diabetes, etc, we don’t often think too much about sharing it. BUT there’s such shame and stigma attached to the talk of mental health. Talking to a mental health professional is nothing to be ashamed about. You’re looking after a very important person. You are someone’s somebody, and you do matter. I see a great therapist every month or so, and he’s helped me greatly, Thanks, G! I finally found someone who understands and has the tools and patience to guide me in the right direction. I do travel an hour to see him due to my huge need for privacy and professionalism. I know I’m not the only one who does this for personal reasons. The important thing here is, help is being sought out. You need to be comfortable with the person you are confiding in. I have a friend that lives a few minutes away from there (my best friend Trina) so we usually meet up for coffee and a visit that same day. She is my stand-in therapist when I need someone to talk to or vent.

Every person who takes the time to listen, to care (or reach out to someone) is providing hope and strength to others. We have to give power to healing instead of hiding.

If I had never listened to podcasts, or read about others’ stories and strength, I wouldn’t have gotten the courage to do so myself. One person, one kind word or compliment; one hand held out, one life saved.

What keeps me going is the hope that someday all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together, and this journey will make more sense to me at least. Being mindful, realizing that today is all we really have. Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee for anyone of us. I’m trying really hard to remember that those little things in life are really the “big things” in the end. This is a daily thing for me, but I’m still in the game.