Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dealing With Loss

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

My last post got me thinking a lot about loss and how we deal with it. Loss is a part of life. It surrounds us. It’s always with us. Sometimes it’s expected, and our lives are changed only a little by its impact. At other times, it strikes like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky, shocking us with its randomness and apparent cruelty.

During the past two weeks as recovery crews have dug through mountains of mud looking for the remains of the Oso mudslide victims here in Washington state. We’ve been inundated with images and stories of loss in the media, and how the people of nearby towns of Darrington and Arlington are coping with the enormity of what has happened to their lives.

Similar scenes have played out recently in Midwest towns hit by tornadoes, in Malaysia as families still seek answers to what happened to the Malaysia Air flight, in Chile where thousands were rocked by a huge earthquake. And the list goes on.

The natural human inclination is to fight for a return to normalcy, to get our lives back to some semblance of what they were before loss or tragedy occurred. The people who seem to recover from loss the best and thrive afterward are those who acknowledge the loss, find a way to work through their grief, and fight the hardest to resume a normal life.

They may choose to become activists for a cause as a result—the family of a breast cancer victim establishing a research fund, for example. But it’s the resumption of a “normal” life that I think is important here. Yesterday, for example, the Darrington, WA, high school baseball team had its first game since the Oso mudslide, a sign of life returning to normal despite tragedy (they won 7 to 3).

An inspirational example of this return to normal life is Amy Purdy, the Paralympic snowboarder who’s appearing on “Dancing With the Stars” these days. She lost both legs to meningitis, but has learned to function “normally” with prosthetic legs. Man, can that girl dance! These are the heroic stories that go unsung every day—the person who after being blinded in an accident learns to get around perfectly well without sight; the cancer survivor who returns to her family after beating the disease into remission and takes up where she left off.

That’s not to say we aren’t affected by loss, even after we’ve resumed a normal life. Then the question becomes how we incorporate that loss into our new life. I’ve been wrestling with this question on two fronts recently.

In my first Blake Sanders thriller, Blake is still grieving the loss of his son a year after his son’s suicide. A reader told me he really liked Night Blind, and he liked Blake as a hero, but he said, “You’re not going to make him go through this again, are you? He’ll just be a kick-ass hero from now on, right?”

How long does it take to get over the loss of someone you love? I’ve heard it said that there’s no timetable for grief. It takes as long as it takes. And my thought for Blake has always been that the effects of his loss, while they will diminish over time, will always be with him. In the book I’m working on now (#4), that grief is compounded by post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) due to what he’s endured in the first three books. Too much? Not if I want to create a three-dimensional hero, one who must overcome his own frailties as well as the villainy he faces.

I’ve been confronting personal loss in my life as well, and as things stand now, I can’t envision life ever going back to “normal.” And as I write this, I don’t yet know how I’ll be able to adjust to what the new normal will be. I don’t know how I’ll be able to live with the changes that loss has brought into my life.

When I see the examples all around me of people dealing with loss, I know that it’s going to be a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and pushing onward. Doing that, with gratitude for what I still have, may prove my best course of action.

How have you dealt with loss in your life?

Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at or you can follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.


  1. Michael, you've written a powerful post. Thank you.

    The Shaka Franklin Foundation is a local organization here in Colorado that has had an international influence. Shaka Franklin was a high school student; popular and on the football team. His parents, Les and Marianne, had no reason to be concerned. Until the day Shaka committed suicide.

    Les left his big-deal, high-income, corporate job to start a foundation to help prevent teen suicide and develop a lifeline for families dealing with the loss. They also funded a school for children in Africa.

    One snowy day in February, a few years after the loss of Shaka, Les and Marianne returned home from Africa and pulled into their garage. There they discovered their older son, also dead by his own hand.

    Les is a big man in physical features, voice and personality. Yet these losses can lay him low even today. They make him barricade himself from the rest of the world. Holidays are the worst. But he, with the help of Marianne, has figured out a way to survive and even more—make a difference.

    My mom died six years ago. Your statement about putting one foot in front of the other is exactly the reason I fell in love with a song by William Joseph called Sweet Remembrance of You. No lyrics, but in that song I see my mom as a young girl with idyllic dreams, then the crush of reality, followed by putting one foot in front of the other and coming out the other end intact, strong, and more importantly, at peace. The song allows me to bawl my eyes out when that's what I need to do. And then I put that one foot forward.

    Sorry for rambling. This was just such an amazing post.

  2. This is hard for me to even read about, let alone write about, so I commend you for this post. I lost my sister to cancer seven year ago. I deal with it by remembering that she would want me to live life to the fullest. And by taking care of her children and grandchildren. I still dream about her and wake up sad some days. But then I hear her voice mocking me to quit whining and go do something.

  3. Loss is never easy. I’ve learned grief is a personal journey but it is also of a universal nature. I’ve had several losses, grandparents, my father in 1978 at the age of 57, my husband, Don Pendleton in 1995, and my mother in 2012 at the age of 93, and a few others close to me. After Don’s death especially, I turned my grief into a positive creative outlet. I wrote and published a grief book, A Walk Through Grief: Crossing the Bridge Between Worlds. The writing of the book was part of my healing journey, and the book has helped many others on their journey. I found the following six years or so were the most creative of my life. I also discovered that love and consciousness survives death of the physical body. Part of that understanding came from credible research we had done on our nonfiction books.

    I came to understand that life does go on and we have a choice: to go on living with hope and joy as difficult as that may seem at times, or to give up. Thankfully, that understanding also made it easier for me six years ago when my leg was amputated below the knee, and when my mother passed nearly two years ago. There have been times when tragic and horrific events happen such as 9-11, the school shootings, and now stabbings, the Boston Marathon bombing, even the recent mudslide, and I’ll be stopped in my tracks with sadness. And I try not to fight or reject the tears, and soon the heroes come into view. My heart suffered with the Boston bombings as I empathized with the numerous amputees, knowing what they would face for several months of rehabilitation. And seeing someone like Amy Purdy out there on the dance floor, and snowboarding, is so inspirational, and shows what determination can do. The Serenity prayer is always a reminder for me: “accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” It’s that wisdom that gets us through.

  4. My siblings and parents are still alive, though the latter are less than fit and well, which is to be expected at their age. So far, I've suffered the loss of my grandparents and an uncle, with these losses having happened many years ago. I live in the UK and my parents live in Mauritius. My greatest fear is knowing that if they were to become suddenly unwell, it would take me about 12-24 hours to get to their bedside, depending on flight availability: I may miss their passing. It's something my sister (who lives in Canada) and I have prepared ourselves for mentally. But however much we prepare, the reality of the situation will be something else. We both know that we will, eventually, work through our grief, however long it may take. Like you said Michael, there is no timetable for grief and there is no point "forcing" someone through the process unless they have sunk into such severe depression that it is causing them physical harm.

    The one place where I do see Death a lot is at work, in the NICU. We still get cards from parents who we've helped through the process of saying goodbye to their dying baby. For me, it's one of the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding aspects of that job. Because as a team, we try our very best to minimise unnecessary trauma and grief to the family. We want their memories of their final moments with their child to be positive ones.


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