3 Things to do When Tragedy Strikes Your Family
Hey, guys. Today we’re going to talk about 3 you can do when tragedy strikes your family or those close to you. I’m going to share some stories that I think are pretty sad, and I’m saying that because they’ve personally impacted me. In my profession, I hear sad stories, very tragic ones, pretty much every single day, and I guess the benefit of that is I can help people work through things and see them improve and move on with their life. That’s the benefit of it, but you do hear a lot of sad things and I’m going to tell you just because this is my profession doesn’t mean I don’t experience things. I’m no different than anybody else.
So just in the past couple of weeks I’ve had just kind of things come out of the blue. Three people, one that I know fairly well, but two that I’m extremely close to, one was diagnosed with stage four cancer that had spread to a lot of areas of their body, had been undiagnosed. This was just the first time. They ended up in the ER because of illness and they said, “Oh, by the way, you’ve got cancer that’s spread your entire body. We can try to treat it, but we don’t really know what the outcome’s going to be.” There’s somebody else, and this could happen, it could be age-related, it could be traumatic brain injury, it could be from a lot of different things, but a loss of cognitive functioning where short term memory is pretty much going away, and it’s happening fairly rapidly. I’m not saying like an Alzheimer’s type thing, but just more so over a time there’s been a continued deterioration of functioning, and this individual was very high functioning, owned several businesses, managed a number of people, was very active and involved throughout their life, and now they have a difficult time maintaining a very detailed conversation. They get lost fairly quickly, and just watching the emotional impact it has on that individual.
Then this one was tragic and very unexpected is another high functioning individual, very healthy and active, doing a lot of different things, who lost a limb, lost a leg in a tragic accident. The question might be, “Okay Jerry, why am I sharing these things?” The reason why I’m sharing these things is because, well, first of all, for those that you don’t know me, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso. I’m the clinical director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California, and I put out these videos because I want to de-stigmatize mental illness. I want to talk about it no different than physical illness and physical health. We have mental illness, things that people struggle with that are real. It’s not just getting over stuff, and we have emotional health. Now, in between we have a lot of things that impact us emotionally and the way we cope with things and so forth.
I always look at it too that in the event that I do have something that impacts me emotionally, if I don’t address it, like if there’s a tendency to avoid it, sometimes my coping skills may be poor. I end up engaging in self destructive behavior, and things get worse and my emotional distress goes and becomes a mental illness. Sadness or grief and loss that goes unresolved could end up turning into depression and can turn into severe anxiety and so forth. Then it can become debilitating or it could be impairing my life and so forth, so what I want to look at today is three different things that we could do to help overcome or at least manage some of these difficulties. I’m not going to change the outcome. The person that lost a limb, there’s no way they’re going to get that limb back. The person that’s experiencing cognitive decline, that is not at least physiologically going to be able to come back. It’s going to be managing it. The person with cancer, terminal. I know life itself is terminal, but this is going to push up the shortness of their life, the end of their life fairly quickly.
There’s certain things that you can’t change, but then the question is how do I handle all this stuff? Emotionally, it’s overwhelming. It’s extremely disturbing and distressing, and if you think about it, the first thing we do is we kind of go into shock. It’s this disbelief, like I can’t believe this is happening, but I’ve got this logical part that I know this isn’t made up. It’s real. So the three things, one, I’ve got to acknowledge what it is that’s going on. Two, I’ve got to be able to allow myself to grieve the losses and so forth. Three, I’ve gotta be able to look to the future and make a plan and stay engaged and have structure. I’m going to comment a little in bit more detail on these three things.
I want to make a quick qualifier on some things. Just because I’m sharing this stuff with you, that doesn’t mean these are the only things that you can do. It means these are some things that you can do, so it’s not a right or wrong here. You guys may say, “Hey, those don’t work for me. I do this, this, this and this.” Those would be great to share with the other viewers and so forth, so please put them in comments. This is to open up discussions about stuff that’s very difficult to talk about. The second thing I want to comment real quick about is that we have this tendency to pass judgment or dismiss things. So for example, I can say these stories are sad and you can say, “Hey, Jerry, I’m going to tell you a story that’s way worse than that,” and I’m going to acknowledge that there are stories way worse than someone having stage four cancer unexpectedly or someone experiencing cognitive declines or somebody losing a limb. Okay? There’s stuff that’s worse.
But if I’m in an emergency room because I broke them an arm, let’s say, and I’m in a lot of physical pain, if somebody comes in who’s doing worse than me, they’ve broken multiple bones, they’re in way more pain than I am, that doesn’t help my arm to feel better. I still feel the same amount of pain. This isn’t a comparison, meaning, “Oh, I’m going to dismiss my pain because someone else’s in worst pain.” It’s we both need to acknowledge the pain we’re in and do the best we can to cope with the situation and move past it. How do I get to healing, okay? So when it comes to these emotional things, like unexpected things that happen, tragedies and so forth, and it could be, I’d given you three examples. It could be the loss of a relationship or a marriage. It could be the loss of a significant other. It could be the loss of a job or career. It could be financial losses.
There could be a lot of things that impact us in a specific way, and I’m going to say that cause distress, sadness, anxiety, worry, feelings of helplessness, meaning like in this situation, I just feel like there’s nothing I can do. If you look at it in a very strict sense, I can’t fix the cancer. I can’t replace the limb. I can’t fix someone’s cognitive issues, but the thing is I have to look at what it is that I can do. Okay? So the number one thing, the first thing I got to do is I’ve got to acknowledge what’s going on. Then the second thing is I’ve got to be able to allow myself to grieve and work through something. Now, I’m going to tell you the natural tendency, and I think it’s an innate part of people, is that when stuff is toxic or detrimental to you, your body will automatically go into this avoidance mode. It makes sense. Of I eat poison, I’m going to throw up. I’m going to keep me away from it. When I get into something that’s emotionally difficult and so forth, my first tendency is going to be to want to avoid. People avoid in a lot of different ways. It could be excessive sleeping, it could be drinking, eating, it could be sex, it could be dysfunctional relationships. Some people may do it by just over engaging in work and so forth.
I’m not trying to say all of these things are detrimental, but what I’m saying is they can become self-destructive if I start taking these to an extreme in order to avoid the emotional pain I’m in. A Netflix marathon could be something that people use for avoidance. Not necessarily bad, but if it starts to become detrimental, it’s starting to impair my ability to function in other areas of my life cause I’m so disengaged, that becomes a big deal. People might isolate, like I just don’t feel like talking to anybody right now. I don’t feel like engaging in stuff. I’m not much company. People don’t are not going to want to talk to me anyways. I’ve got to be careful because the more I isolate, the less support I get from others, and the more I continue to withdraw from everything in my life. It comes to, okay, if I don’t avoid, then I’ve got to grieve. By grieving, I’ve got to be able to allow my brain, because my brain constantly, let’s say, thinks. It’s focusing on trying to find a solution. Shutting it off through medications or certain activities doesn’t make a ton of sense if it’s trying to get towards a solution.
Allowing myself to grieve, and it’s a hard thing for me to describe, so I may not do a great job with it, but what I’m trying to do is allow myself to kind of think through this. I’ve got to acknowledge what happened. It’s impacting me emotionally, and now I’ve got to think my way through. Thinking my way through is not necessarily changing it, but it’s coming to terms with this is where I’m at. Then now I want to get out of helplessness in let’s say hopelessness and more into what can I control? What can I do? What is the future going to look like, even if the future’s not going to look the same, because in these three individuals that I’m talking about, their lives aren’t going to look the same. My life with them is not going to look the same, so what I need to do is okay, if it’s not going to look the way it was, how am I going to design it to make it as healthy as possible, and what are steps that I can take?
That’s where we move into the third part is where I need to be very proactive. My natural tendency is going to be the disengage. I need to engage, and I’ve got to find some structure in my life, meaning I’ve got to start to make a plan. Okay, what am I going to do on a daily basis and maybe on an hourly basis. I may give myself time to grieve and be sad, but then, okay, how am I going to be proactive and try to restructure or integrate what’s going on into the relationship that I have with this individual? So again, we go through tragedies throughout life or losses that we experience. It’s just a part of it, which is unfortunate, but human beings can be very resilient. Normal sadness and so forth, we want to be able to make sure that we can be sad, grieve through something, but we don’t want the sadness to turn into where it becomes depression or anxiety. People will ask me sometimes, “Does it ever get that bad?” I’m going to say, yeah. We get people at Nsight where we’ll work with them. They’ll have experienced something very tragic or something that has caused them to be sad and so forth, significant losses. They may become very depressed or very anxious. They may have had a tendency to avoid it and engage in self destructive behavior, and then everything continues to decline at that point.
Then they find themselves in treatment. Now, the good part is with treatment, they’re able to kind of do the things that we’re talking about here. Acknowledge what it is that’s taken place, grieve the losses that they’ve had and kind of work through what’s happened, and then start to reestablish, okay, what is my life going to look like? How can I grow as an individual and move past these things, so at least I can get some fulfillment out of life, okay? So again, I want you guys to understand that when we’re talking about this stuff, no different than than medical illness or physical issues, physical illness. Mental illness is the same thing. We’ve got to get rid of the stigma. We got to talk about how do we move from mental illness to emotional health? There will be things, I could be a very emotionally healthy individual with great coping skills. That doesn’t mean life is not going to throw curve balls at me. It will.
The question is how do I acknowledge that it’s going on? How do I allow myself to grieve the loss, the changes, and then how do I allow myself to grow? I’ve got to be able to grow forward in order to not feel helpless, that I can feel like I can make some positive changes in the people around me, the people that are suffering. I can give them support, I will get support in return, and somehow we will grow. It’ll just be in a different direction than we had intended it to be if that’s understandable. The relationship is going to change. It doesn’t have to change significantly, but it is going to change, and I’ve just got to figure out how I can work towards making it happy and healthy and so forth.
Again, I share these videos with you because I’m trying to, again, demystify this whole myth of mental illness. Like, you should just be able to get over stuff. It shouldn’t bother you. People have it worse. You just need to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and so forth. All of these things that we’re told throughout life that they may have had their purpose somewhere in some situation, but you’ve got to understand, life can be difficult for the healthiest of people. Okay? Things happen that are unexpected, and there’s certain things that I’ve got to be able to do. These aren’t the only things. If you like this video, please share it with somebody else. If you don’t like it, you can give us a thumbs down. Likes, give us a thumbs up, but if you give us a thumbs down, at least write a comment. “Hey, this is what I didn’t like about it. I would’ve rather heard this,” or, “This is what works for me.” Let’s open up a discussion where people can benefit from other people’s ideas and thoughts as opposed to just judgment and dismiss.
So again, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso, Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. If you have specific questions or you’d like to see videos on specific content, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to respond to things. I really want to make meaningful content that you guys would find beneficial, stuff that you can say, “Hey, this makes sense to me,” or “This has helped me kind of adjust the way I’m thinking about something,” or “This has helped me work through something or somebody else.” Okay, so until I see you next time, I hope you guys have a terrific day.
Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology. Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).