Sept. 3, 2015

JCS 020: When Our Superhero Dies and 5 Ways to Cope With Loss

JCS 020: When Our Superhero Dies and 5 Ways to Cope With Loss

Learn what you can do when someone very close to you dies.

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Note: This episode is from an article that I wrote and was originally published on the Huffington Post May 12, 2015.

Superheroes have a special place in my heart. I grew up fascinated by Stan Lee @TheRealStanLee and his creations in the Marvel comic world. There’s just something about the message of hope and goodwill that superheroes convey that’s so appealing to me.

We all have superheroes. I’m not referring to Ironman, Superman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman. I’m referring to people in our lives whom we look up to, who mean the world us.

The grandparent who always made you laugh, the aunt or uncle who always made time to sit with you and just talk about life, the best friend who was always there, the parent who always made you feel better.

We all have superheroes who make a big impact on our lives.

I have had many superheroes in my life. My grandpa who taught me how to fish, one of my closet friends in college who always shared a laugh, and of course, my dog. Hey, dogs can be superheroes, too, you know. Remember Underdog?

But what happens when our superhero dies?

My grandpa passed when I was a young teenager, my dog died shortly after, and my best friend in college died tragically in a car accident a year before I graduated.

There’s no secret formula, no magic potion, no hidden message that will bring your superhero back. This is real life, not a movie.

The agonizing pain and profound loss is so great and so overwhelming that it completely rocks our world.

I was reminded of this recently when I was speaking with a 13-year-old boy in my office who had just lost his superhero - his grandpa. Luke was trying to be strong, but his eyes revealed his profound sorrow.

So, how can we cope when our superhero dies? It’s never easy, but here are five steps that can help you cope with your profound loss.

This list is not to be confused with or replace of the five stages of grief coined by Elisabeth Kugler-Ross from her popular book, On Death and Dying.

Step 1:  Allow yourself to grieve. The biggest mistake that I see people make when they lose a loved one is to act like they are okay. No one is okay when they lose a loved one, so don’t act like it. Cry, and cry some more. It’s okay. Get angry, laugh, cry - do anything that will help you express your emotions. Just don’t stuff your feelings.

Step 2: Take a break.  Don’t go about your day as business as usual. Don’t avoid your hurt and sorrow by trying to do the same things you always do. If you can, take a break from work or school. Cancel everything on your schedule for the next one to two weeks. 

Step 3: Surround yourself with others. You should take a break, but don’t withdraw and isolate yourself from others. This is the time when you need love and support from others the most, so don’t shut them out.

Step 4: Re-engage in life. After you have spent time grieving, taking a break and receiving comfort from others, it’s time to re-engage in life. Go back to work, stay productive, start adding to your schedule. This is often the hardest part for many people. Re-engaging in life does not mean you’re done grieving.  It simply means that you are learning to live your life while you grieve.

Step 5: Build new memories.  This step often produces a false sense of guilt for many. People have told me that they’re afraid to build new memories because it will somehow mean that they’ll forget their superhero. I gently remind them that they will never forget, and their superhero would want them to build new and happy memories again.

It is so profoundly difficult to move forward after our superhero dies, but it is possible to live life again. You’ll always have a hole in your heart from your loss, but you’ll make it - you’ll even be happy again.

You’ll never forget your loved one, and the new memories that you build after their passing will be a lasting tribute to your one and only superhero.

Life is so much different without our superheroes, but life is not over. Who knows, one day the script of your life may even make you a superhero in someone else's life too.
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