Moving on from tragedy is hard. But it’s necessary

They say, time heals. They say, if you really want to make it through the future you have to move on from the past. But what they don’t say is time can often feel like forever, the past is all you hold onto and the future is incredibly scary after tragedy.

Make no mistake, holding on to tragic loss — or any form of tragedy for that matter — is definitely the biggest mistake you can ever make and while facing the future with one less part of your life seems scary, moving on is totally necessary.

My sister passed away in November, 2011, at the age of 15 — just a month short of her Sweet 16. She had been battling cancer for about a year and quite literally passed on in my arms while she was being treated at an advanced cancer clinic in Seoul, South Korea. Her unexpected death (at that point) completely shattered our family but we had no idea the effects would still be felt eight years on.

Although Kim left us with a song she recorded 10 days before she passed away, for me to move on I had to find more. I had to do more. So I wrote a book, filled with chapters, featuring her story and the journey our family began. Although the book stopped short of covering her final moments in the amazing city of Seoul (I will still write this sometime), while the world around us continued to tick over, my battle to move on was long underway.

There’s no manual for this and there’s no right or wrong way. The only way is what feels right for you but that shouldn’t stop you from doing the basics and embracing the future because if you don’t, the reality is a lonely and depressing future.

So if it went right for me, did it go right for everyone else? For the most part, yes, but for my Mom moving on would prove impossible. It wouldn’t matter what you said, it wouldn’t matter what the internet suggested; she would do it her way and she would do it in her own time. This past December 14 (2019) saw us celebrating what would have been Kim’s 24th birthday. To mark the special day, Mom took her biggest step in eight years — with the help of my brother and sister-in-law, Mom cleaned out Kim’s room. From top to bottom. No dress was overlooked and everything from socks to toys had finally been packed away and laid aside for young girls in need. It goes without reason that this probably should have, or could have, been done a fair bit earlier in Mom’s journey, but she wasn’t ready — until now.

Mom took a major step in her journey to move forward as she cleaned out Kim’s room with plenty of items making their way to the young girls in the poverty-stricken community of Lavender Hill while my brother Ricky made a delivery to SA Kinderhuis — a children’s home in the Cape Town city centre.

So what’s next? Well, there’s no doubt Mom has a long journey ahead of her if she’s truly going to be able to move on. The memories of losing your daughter will haunt you forever but when you truly understand the magnitude of moving on, you’ll realise that memories never fade — they help you build for the future and become a pivotal part of the future you.

In order for Mom to take her next ‘moving-on’ step, she probably will need to open up about her feelings, share them with a professional, and rebuild her confidence and love for herself. But this first step, the one of cleaning out the room, is a form of acceptance in my eyes. It’s a way of saying I now accept what happened and I’m willing to acknowledge this tragedy. And so, with this, even though I’m no psychology expert, I end off by breaking down what I deem to be the important steps in moving on — because as impossible, difficult and teary as it might be — it’s absolutely necessary.

GRIEVE your tragedy. This phase is vital. Take the time you need, shut out your nearest and dearest, but don’t rely on this as your way-out because grieving is just the first step and if you’re not careful; everyone around you will rush through these steps and you’ll be left feeling alone if you take too long.

ACCEPT that life has thrown this tragedy on your lap and believe it’s now about how you bounce back which will define who you are mentally and in a physical manner. Whether you believe in God or not, the world is constantly challenging us to improve, to do more and to generally just be better humans. Use this stage of acceptance as a means to come to terms with your tragedy and accept that this was the will-of-the-world.

ACKNOWLEDGE the tragedy you’ve come to accept by opening up and seeking professional guidance. Keep a journal of your days, speak to a counsellor and reinvent yourself. For in this phase, you will start to fall in love with yourself all over again. You will begin to find the confidence to wake up every morning with a smile on your face and a spring in your step as you finally find yourself able to embrace the future.

It’s with this approach I was able to grieve, accept and acknowledge my sister’s passing; and while some may take longer than others to go through each stage of moving on, it’s the only way you’ll find peace with your future self.

By Justin Asher

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