Learning from Loss & Grief

By Alana HuxtableOctober 6, 2022

I’m not going to sugar-coat the dreadfully painful experience of losing a loved one. It can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever experience. It isn’t rainbows and lollipops after the loss, that I know for sure.

It’s tough. Trying to place one foot in front of the other. Trying to find light – any light – in amongst the darkness. The overpowering longing you feel to be with that person who's now gone burns deep, and the sorrow you feel is overwhelming, especially knowing you won’t ever see them again. It’s hard. It’s painful. I’m not going to lie.

I know it well. Losing my father suddenly and tragically, when he was only in his 50s and I was in my 20s, was one of the most painful and shocking experiences I’ve ever had to endure. It happened immediately after his birthday too.

You can’t just snap back into your former life after a major loss: the truth is, everything changes – a lot. Family dynamics are impacted. Relationships change. People change.

You are suddenly facing challenges of getting through the loss itself. There’s an inner war going on within you as you feel deep sorrow but try to force yourself to be ‘positive’, which never works, FYI.

Even though it’s dreadfully tough, there’s always a flip side to every coin. While you will go through supreme difficulty in trying to adapt to an altered life, you also directly learn a lot about life and who you are as a person because of a tough family loss.

How so?

Well, it can change the way you live your very life — it might dawn on you that you should live happier, or kinder, or be more determined. People all too often get caught up in the petty issues of life: power, ego, issues, jealousy and all that time-wasting, negative stuff that does absolutely nothing worthwhile for anyone - but instead, ruthlessly destroys.

When people lose someone close – someone they love more than anything – well suddenly, it can make all that stuff seem completely senseless and crazy, because life is about the good memories, the achievements, the love, the care, the unity, and being a good quality human for yourself and others while you’re lucky enough to be alive. I knew this before personal loss - I've always been uncomplicated - but not everyone is the same as me.

It can also help you to realize that life is short, and you must live each moment to its fullest potential. Why waste time? Why sweat the small stuff? Why allow others to treat you poorly or upset you when we’re all on the clock?

There’s nothing like a close family loss to wake you up to the burning reality that life really is short, and you should make the most of it.

Grappling with the loss of a loved one can also introduce you to new meaningful relationships with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s incredible that when one door shuts another door always opens… even when you’re pushing like crazy on that first door, trying in vain to keep it ajar because you can't bear the thought of that loss.

Different experiences come along. They did for me. Had Dad stayed alive to this day, I’d still be in Adelaide. I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from him and he was very family orientated and loyal, just like me. He loved me being around as much as possible and never talked about the concept of me travelling away or moving!

But because of his death and how things changed, I moved interstate – twice. Different people came into my life, and I had new experiences.

The personal loss of a loved one can also shine a light on your true strength and your qualities. It shows you how remarkably brave you are as a person. It shows you what you’re made of and that you have deeply rooted survival capabilities. It teaches you resilience and character.

It can also take you on a journey for tools to help you survive challenges, heartbreak, adversity, and loss. These tools will assist you in every single aspect of life thereafter and for this reason, you’ll be able to get through just about anything.

For me, I went through one of the toughest losses of my life when I lost my father. That moment was an unmistakable turning point, and my life has never been the same since. I know that I have changed. I’ve been forced by that event and its related events and experiences, to become a hardier and stronger person. Bulletproof in fact. I was thrown in the deep end. It’s known as ‘personal growth’.

Very recently, I lost another close family member who was my uncle and my father’s best friend. My mother had texted me with the news, informing me that he had passed away peacefully, only an hour or so earlier that evening. It was wasn’t a shock, because I knew he had been unwell with a short illness. However, the idea of knowing someone you love is ill and could pass away, is very different to the actual reality of the loss itself when it happens. Grief hits you once they're gone. I felt sad. Very sad indeed.

All the memories of him flashed through my mind in an instant. I remembered visiting his house with my family for dinners and having him and various other family members to our house for bbqs, pool parties, billiards and table tennis. I remembered him picking me up and tossing me over his shoulder in a 'fireman’s carry', and having big family picnics together where he was always a prominent family figure.

I remembered his generous and caring nature, all the kind gifts over the years, and how he and my aunt hosted many Christmases (that involved a 3-course traditional lunch and seafood dinner) for our large extended family, and how he was the ultimate gentleman and host.

My uncle Allan was my maternal aunt’s husband and my father’s best friend. He treated his wife’s family with the highest respect and genuinely loved and cared about each and every one of us, as though we were his own blood. He was so embedded in the family establishment that he even took on the management of our family tree.

But what especially stands out in my mind is how he and my aunt rushed to me and my family upon the immediate news of my dad’s shock passing in the middle of that balmy fateful night in February 2005. He was there. He was visibly distressed and in shock like the rest of us, but he was there.

In the years after my father’s death, I had to make some big, bold life changes and did so by moving interstate (twice). For many years I didn’t get to see my uncle and other family, but it was the best thing for me to do at the time, and I knew they all had each other. I was only one person in a much bigger family picture, and at that time, I knew it wouldn't make a ripple.

And now, here I am living where my uncle was born, raised, and educated – in sunny Queensland – where he attended Brisbane Grammar School and graduated from the University of Queensland.

Early in his career, he met my maternal aunt, a retail book chain founder, who was in Queensland for her work. They fell in love, and he followed her back to my hometown of Adelaide where he remained ever since.

My uncle Allan then founded and directed Adelaide’s most iconic baby store, YCN, that ran televised ads frequently (just like my aunt’s retail bookstore chain did throughout my childhood and adolescence).

The ads starred my cousins (their nieces and nephews) as children and then later as grown adults. Both my uncle's and aunt’s companies were Adelaide institutions, and the YCN television commercial had what I would describe as the catchiest jingle in SA history. Everyone in SA knew about YCN. Everyone went there for their baby needs. It was a very successful company.

YCN Adelaide Television Commercial.

It’s a sad time right now… I think about my uncle Allan and have been reading many of his recent emails that I missed over the past year or two (he mistakenly continued sending them to my old email address that I wasn’t monitoring).

There were virtual birthday cards, updates on the family tree, and even a request for me to take it over sometime soon. The pandemic kept us apart too, so I hadn’t been back to Adelaide for some time.

Feeling the grief, grappling with life and death again, and remembering my own dad in the process, given those two were the best of friends, hasn’t been easy. Even though the loss of my uncle is very sad, memories of his life, achievements and kindness will raise me up. I know that from experience.

Why? Because losing a loved one is a painful experience, but it’s also one to learn from. Loss and grief teach you how to live: they remind you to appreciate your time on Earth, to love ferociously, and smile in the darkness – just like my father and uncle Allan always did.

My uncle’s generosity, kindness, and caring nature – which was much like my father’s and one of the reasons why they were the best of friends - will always be remembered.

I can smile knowing that my uncle’s life was a happy one, with family, love, travel, and adventures. He made a big impact to the lives of many, and in his contributions as business owner of Adelaide's most iconic baby store, YCN.

Forever in our hearts, dear Allan. And while I’m at it, thinking of you too Dad. Both together again. X

My Much Loved Uncle and his Staff.

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