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Overcoming Tragedy: Mellissa's Journey Through Grief to Thriving After Loss

We all face challenges in life. But not all challenges are the same. What would you do if someone close to you, like a spouse or child, committed suicide? Could you get over something like that? Would you die along with the person, condemned by that even, and forever defined by it? How would it impact your physical, mental, and spiritual health?

Not too long ago, Mellissa—British, born in Kentucky, but raising her family in Belgium—faced a devastating loss. Her husband and the father of their three young children publicly committed a violent act of suicide. I learned this when she contacted me on shortly after the event.

At the time of this blog, it has been about eighteen months since the event, and I have remained in touch with Mellissa. She and her family are not only surviving but thriving. I asked her to share the secrets to her ability to move on. The first six in the list below are some of her actions. I have added the others from my personal and professional experience and observations.

1. Get back to routine ASAP

Her kids went back to school the very next day. She went back to work a week later. They did sports, they did what they usually did, even attending children’s birthday parties. Because you cannot change what has happened, being in a routine helps pass the time because time goes by very slowly…and you must have a routine to pass the time.

2. Surround yourself with support

In other words, children, family, in-laws, neighbors, colleagues, and friends who can be there with you 24/7 when the shock of the situation comes flooding back. She could call out of her bedroom window at 3 am, and her neighbor(s) would come running over. Her colleagues waited for her every morning at 8 am to have a coffee. They would phone and come looking for her if she was not, thereby 8:30 am.

3. Open discussion about what has happened with your children

No, they are not too young and will respect you for being open with them and then about their feelings. There is no sugar coating. Open dialog.

4. Start making a list of the good things you still have in your life

Mellissa said this was the key for her. After all, isn’t that the power of gratitude? At first, her list was just 1: her kids. But then 2 came: her health. But now…her list is over 30+. She carries this list with her everywhere she goes. She keeps it on her desk at work, and whenever she feels ‘wobbly,’ she reads the list and even adds some more.

5. Have a good therapist who specializes in victims of suicide (or trauma or grief, for instance)

She had never known violence in her life until her husband’s suicide. Hence, the violence of this mental illness and the publicly violent action of killing himself was incompressible to her. Talking to a psychiatrist trained in this area helped her to understand and come to terms with it.

6. Time

Although the memory never fades, time does lessen its effect as long as you do the work.

7. Let go fully and completely

This means letting go of guilt, resentment, or anger—much easier said than done. The tendency is for you to feel as though you contributed to the person’s death or that you could have done more to prevent it. But it happened, and there is no going back. You may feel extreme anger or resentment. Yet, again, there is no going back. Unless you are to die along with the person, your only option is to stop replaying the past, let go, and move on.

8. Permit yourself to be happy again

When you begin enjoying anything in life, thoughts will creep in to try to steal your happiness—as though, ‘how could you be happy?’ Your brain will attempt to pull you from being happy again because it processes happiness as something causing vulnerability. Don’t follow its lead but continue to follow the steps above. Make sure you tell yourself there is “no danger, there is no threat” when you retreat from happy times.


Sometimes, life deals us severe blows, often blindsiding us. But these events need not destroy us. While we are alive, we owe it to ourselves to keep living. Mellissa has chosen to do that, and you can, too. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying that you can choose to keep living, growing, and thriving even when faced with the most devastating life challenges. My books can also help.

© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD

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