What My Brother’s Death Taught Me About Gratitude.

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

       “Incredible good comes from unspeakable tragedies.”

      (from the movie The Shack)

June can be a crazy & emotionally tough month for me & I would like to share with you why. I will be sharing a bit of my personal story in this post in hopes that it may be able to help if you have suffered from loss in your life. I will sharing with you why my brother’s death taught me so much about gratitude.

Many of my friends may not even know some of this story so here we go….

My family was & still is everything to me:  They are all so supportive, fun, positive, & we all did everything together all of the time.  My brothers, my parents, my husband, kiddos, & I were truly the crew of fun! In my eyes, we had it all! We were the “perfect” family! A happy go-lucky, one of a kind, All-American family, & we always had been.

I loved them all so much & looked forward to seeing them each & every day. My little brother was 14 years younger than me so he was like my own kiddo at times! We would always have him spend weekends with us & go to all of his baseball games, take him to the desert & river with us. You name it, we did it with him since he was born.

My kids were 10 years younger than Kurt & they thought he was so cool. He was their super hero for sure! He came to all of my kid’s baseball games, played with them, & helped coach their teams. I loved watching him become a man. We were so proud of him & loved him more than you could ever imagine. He was extremely talented in everything he chose to do & could ride a wake board like no other. He was incredible.

Grieving to Gratitude

The day after Father’s Day,  June 19, 2006, we received a call in the middle of the night that changed our lives forever. The unspeakable had happened & just like that my little brother was gone.

That was the day that changed our lives forever! It changed our friends, our family, even our location.

When my little brother passed away he was so young,  just 21 years old & handsome as all get out. He really did have so much going for him & was so full of life. His sudden death was such an incredible shock to all of us.

I remember not understanding any of it. Why did he have to go, such a beautiful, young soul. I remember sitting on the beach at sundown, numb, watching the waves roll in & out. It was exactly how my emotions were at that point, wondering about the tides of life.

How could this happen? Who could let this happen? How are we all to go on with our lives? How was I supposed to help my children & parents get through this, when I didn’t have any idea how I would even get through it?

I continued sitting in that spot for hours, never moving, until way after dark. My mind was reeling, trying to figure it all out. After many hours of numbness, I had this crazy feeling that literally took over my entire being. I knew all of a sudden that I had to make everything OK. Kurt’s life here on earth could not have been for nothing. He was so much more than that & I wanted to make sure that his life continued here on earth with us.

I knew that there were many lessons that we all could learn from his beautiful life. I made the decision at that point that I would change my life & live every day to the fullest in his honor. When I made that pledge to Kurt, I vowed that I would never let him down. That is how he would have wanted it!

That is the decision that changed my life!  It has helped me get through some very tough times over the last 11 years! Don’t get me wrong, there are always hard, dark times along the way, but when we are at those darkest, toughest times is when we experience the most growth within.

June 19th marks 11 years since Kurt passed. Those feelings of sadness have never gone away for me; but, I have learned how to manage them in a more positive way. I still have moments that I can go from laughing out loud to complete tears of sadness before I even know what has hit me! It happens more than I would like to admit…but I know it is necessary.

These are important moments of growth & what helps us in the healing process so don’t ignore them.

Depending on what you believe, those moments may be your loved ones showing us that they will always be with us. I totally believe this & it truly helps comfort me in those times of sadness!

I have learned & grown so much during these times of grief. Even though it is such an emotional time, it can also be so powerful & moving as well. My brother’s passing led me on a beautiful journey of growth which I love. I was inspired to be better, learn more, to help others see the beauty in the tiniest things, have gratitude, & to really live my life to the fullest.

However, the month of June still was such an emotional month for me; something I really had a hard time overcoming.

Until June 2015, I absolutely dreaded the month of June. The anticipation of that month arriving every year just about killed me! It is so unfortunate because June was one of my happiest months before my brother had passed, it is my wedding anniversary, my birthday, my niece’s birthday, & my mom’s birthday. All of the sudden I dreaded all of these celebrations, I dreaded the whole month of June because all I could remember is the pain & change it brought to my family & I.

On June 19, 2015 I decided to take my younger kiddos that were 7 & 12 on a road trip back to San Diego. We drove for 18 straight hours to get there (yep…I was crazy 🙂 ). Along that journey there was a lot of laughter, fun, stories, a little crankiness, & a few tears. As I got closer to our destination I could feel the pressure mounting within me as this is where we all lived when Kurt died. And…I arrived to a call saying that my grandma had passed that day.

How crazy that it would be on the same day as when Kurt passed! That started the emotions within me flowing once again: The emotions that only those whom have lost loved ones know.

Crazy as this seems the very next day I received a call from my husband saying that our house was on fire in Colorado. What the heck? I kept thinking, is this for real?

Another great lesson in character building 101 for me…actually maybe 1002. 🙂

At this point I decided that this HAD to be a turning point for me! I could not go on letting this month bring me down anymore, Kurt would not want this & neither did I. Even though I kept my vow to him on most days to live my life to the fullest & with gratitude, for some reason I seemed to fail in the month of June! I could not let go of the sadness & change that the month of June brought to me.

So I changed it all at that point!

I may still be a few days of sadness in June & there should be…but I was no longer going to make the entire month a “grieving month” anymore.

Coming home from that vacation to uncharted territory with our house, literally a blank slate, with no belongings, no house, no clothes, toys, nothing, truly inspired me to have gratitude for every little thing in my life! Things are just things, right? I still had my children, husband, animals, & memories. It was so incredibly scary but therapeutic to just let it all go. I really didn’t have much choice.

It was as if everything had been stripped away from me, everything was so raw & surreal. I knew I had nowhere to go but up.

It was such a POWERFUL time for me because I had a choice to make.

Either let this be the last straw & get to me emotionally & physically or let it be the beginning of something beautiful & healing. 🙂

Since that day I have spent every spare moment thinking, growing, changing, evolving, studying, & learning different ways to help myself, my parents, my children get through grieving & overcoming obstacles & loss in a different, more positive way. I have been looking for ways to “heal the hurt” from losing someone who you love, how to fill that void of loss, cure the loneliness within, & change your attitude to one of gratitude.

The fire, my grandma’s passing, & Kurt’s anniversary all at the same time set me on a new start in life, & looking back now I am so grateful for it! 🙂

So, here are a 6 important steps that I have used to help me get through this ever-changing journey of life. I really hope that if you are going through any type of grieving that you will find this helpful to you.

What My Brother’s Death Taught Me About Life &Gratitude:

1. Give Yourself Time!

Unfortunately, there is no way to prepare yourself for the loss of a loved one. Even when my husband I knew that his father’s time here was at an end & hospice was at our house preparing us, nothing prepared us for the crazy range of emotions we felt when he actually passed. We were not ready for any of it.

There are so many stages of grieving & the process is such a personal journey. I believe that this is one of the scariest aspects of grieving because no one person can cure or fix you. It is a process of growing, patience & healing that only you can do. This is why it is so important to just take a deep breath & take it one single step at a time!

I promise you that I have read every book out there trying to speed up the grieving process because the pain I felt was so deep & so harsh. All I wanted to do was wake up to see that it was just a horrible nightmare all along. I know that if you have suffered a loss then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to grieving. You must take those baby steps & be grateful for each one that you take, as each step is a step towards healing.

Walk slowly, don’t rush this journey, this is where we grow & learn such important lessons about life. Take a deep breath each day & be grateful for being alive & healthy. Anything you can think of to be grateful for: Do it! Be grateful for every memory that you shared with your loved one. Think of all the beautiful lessons that you learned from them, & celebrate them a little each & every day.

Everyone says that time heals the pain but I don’t believe that to be true. I believe that it transforms the pain into whatever you choose. So take your time, walk this journey slowly, see the beauty in your growth, & know that after every thunderstorm is a beautiful rainbow. 🙂

2. Don’t Compare or Judge Your Grieving to Someone Else’s.

One thing that I have learned through it all is to stop listening to others tell you how you should be feeling. Everyone’s journey is different, there is no right or wrong to grieve. It is a journey of healing, realization, growth, & acceptance. We all have to go through it at our own pace. It is a journey of many little baby steps.

I remember the feeling that would I get when I watched others around me start reliving their lives, having some fun, having a “normal” life day-to-day life again. I am not going to lie, I felt anger & a bit of resentment towards them. How could they pick up the pieces so quickly & move on? Were they forgetting what had just happened?

That is a horrible way to think, I know, & as I got further into my journey I realized this. I realized that we all are going through this process by ourselves & we all grieve differently. Just because they are trying to move on doesn’t mean that they are not grieving anymore or that they have forgotten what has happened.

               “I felt anger & a bit of resentment towards them.”

It is good to go do things & have fun, because life does have to go on & I promise you that whomever you’re grieving for would want you to continue to live & be happy. This is a healthy transition & you should do this!

I also found that I was comparing myself with others & wondering why I wasn’t able to move on as fast as others were. The simple truth is that some of us show our emotions more than others & some of us grieve more quietly & internally. Remember, there is no right or wrong when it comes to grieving. The only way that you can measure your progress is by taking steps in the right direction every single day & remembering to be grateful for things throughout your day.

Comparing & judging others during this time of healing is only taking away from your progress & fostering more negative feelings within. Let everyone grieve their own way. Be there for them. Be present for them. Love them. But do not judge yourself or compare yourself to them as you don’t know the journey that they are on. FOCUS on YOU & your JOURNEY only.

3. Keep A Journal of  Your Thoughts!

If you have read my previous posts you know how important I think keeping a journal is! It is so beneficial because it helps you to release your emotions & thoughts which is vital for healing.

I remember after our funeral for Kurt everyone started their travels home & it suddenly became so surreal that we were going to have to finish this journey by ourselves. It became lonely & I was afraid.  The only thing that I could think of doing at that point was to stop at the store & purchase a journal, & so I did! I began pouring my heart out into it every single night.

“It is so beneficial because it helps you to release your emotions & thoughts which is vital for healing.”

I continued to write in my journal each & every night for years. What I found was that it healed my soul. I could write anything that I wanted in that journal. No one could judge me or say that I was wrong for feeling what I felt at that point in time. I would write & cry my heart out with every word that was written. I remember how good it felt & how I felt a sense of healing & I longed for more of that feeling. It was beautiful. It felt good! 🙂

I was able to measure my growth after writing in my journals for such a long period of time & it was phenomenal to see my journey. It truly is the MOST BENEFICIAL tool to use when going through the grieving process as it heals your soul each & every day. It is cleansing & replenishing at the same time. It is a must. I promise as I have been there!

4. Find Someone That You Can Confide in & Share Your Journey With!

This is so important! We all know that we have our family that we can share our grieving process with but it is important to have someone else that is not so connected with you to confide in as well.

When we are grieving alongside our family & close friends, many times you aren’t able to share certain feelings or concerns with. We can actually hold each other back or get frustrated with one another instead of being able to support one another. Healing can become stagnant & we can get stuck on our journey as it is easy to fall backwards into more grief or depression.

It is important to find someone who you can trust to share your feelings with, someone who really listens to you, someone who has gone through what you are going through & can help guide you through this process. This is an amazing feeling to talk to someone who has gone through the same feelings! Truly, it is life changing!

This can be a counselor, friend, peer, support group. It doesn’t matter as long as it is a good fit for you & you feel comfortable & safe sharing your feelings with them.

My very dear friend Kirsten is that person for me. Her son was Kurt’s great friend & was also killed in combat 3 months after Kurt died. The last time any of us saw her son Joe was when he flew home for 48 hours from Iraq for Kurt’s funeral. What a double-edged sword that was, but we were all so thankful to have been able to share time with him…we didn’t realize that it would be our last.

Together, we said good-bye to both of these beautiful young men, & it created a bond between us like no other. I was able to pick her up when she was having a hard time & she did the same for me. It was a blessing for the both of us as we have turned our grieving journeys into journeys of honoring their beautiful lives: Making every minute count & enjoying the journey.

Kirsten & I are co-writing a book called From Grief to Gratitude. A powerful book about our very different, yet similar, stories & our journey towards healing & enlightenment. We are so excited about sharing our journey & you will be the first ones that we share it with. 🙂

5. Believe.

I remember all to well having so many questions after Kurt died. Questions about mortality, faith, love, life, dreams…You name it, I questioned it. I was on the journey of trying to understand this life that we live & the purpose of it all. I had so many questions & so little answers.

After a few months of questioning every single thing about life & reading everything that I could get my hands on, I finally gave in. I gave in to what I was thinking but to scared to truly believe.

I gave in to believing that our loved ones are never truly gone. Their spirits are always with us. They surround us & guide us through this lifetime. We are only separated physically for short period of time. Spiritually, we are always together, through eternity.

“I gave in to what I was thinking but to scared to truly believe.”

That each dream that we have…is a connection with them.  Every penny or special item we find, every saying or song, are gifts from them letting us know they are still here with us & always will be.

That they are safe, happy, & living their lives to the fullest. They are free from any physical burdens that they had here in this life. We should embrace each memory, each dream, each penny that is left for us, every song that comes on the radio. Embrace these moments; that is their way of showing us they are here for us.

As soon as I accepted this I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. There will always be grief but to know that there is still a connection that we can have with them truly began another level of healing within me; a calmness that I so needed. When I am in need of guidance & I take the time to be aware, I can always find a sign that Kurt is with me & I LOVE it!

So whatever your beliefs may be, it truly makes a difference if you can just BELIEVE. Believe in whatever makes you feel calm & better. It is a beautiful feeling & there are many lessons that we can learn from it.

6. Gratitude.

All in all, the single most important thing I learned from my brother’s passing was to have gratitude. In the beginning, I had tremendous guilt, as I realized that I had not been as grateful as I should have been for the moments we had shared. It was definitely a time of reflection for me. It had all gone so fast. I had so many questions.

As I began reflecting on my life, suddenly I became overwhelmed with gratitude. There was a shift in my being, & I became so grateful for every single minute in my life, for all of my friends & family, for every experience I had, every memory, every breath that I was taking, for every single thing I have, & for Kurt & his short, but beautiful life.

The despair you feel after a loss is numbing, a feeling like no other, but when you replace it with gratitude, the feelings of despair start to subside. The hurt & pain are replaced with healing & a sense of calmness. Gratitude was the most beautiful gift I have ever been given.

It turned the tide of grieving for me, & I truly believe it was a gift from my little brother. This was the one gift that changed my life forever!

I continue to use gratitude each & every day in my life & it has enhanced my life 100%! It is such an easy but beautiful concept. Be grateful every day for all that you have & you”ll be given more to be grateful for!

        “The more gratitude you have for life the more you”ll be given to be grateful for.”

I hope that some of these suggestions can help you on your journey! I want you to know that I would love to hear your stories & tips that have helped you through grieving. That is why I am sharing my personal journey with you. When we all come together we can truly make a difference & help each other on our journeys. 🙂

If you trust the process of grieving, start growing, reflecting, loving, having gratitude, & believing in yourself you will see an incredible rainbow at the end of the storm. I promise.

Thank your taking the time to read my story. We are all in this together! 🙂

If you are ready to change your life, find happiness, live life with gratitude & purpose, create your dreams, & start achieving them, then you’ve come to the right place!  Join me here at The Giggling Life to receive weekly tips & stories, as well many freebies to get you started on the right path!

We are a community all striving for the same thing…so let’s do this together! Sign up here to join in our fun & start changing your life! I am excited to start this journey with you all! 🙂

I would love to hear from you all!  You got this!

XOXO,

Kristi

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Thanks so much for sharing!

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