A 20th century explorer, mountaineer and adventurer, Edmund Hillary was the first to summit Mt. Everest with Tenzing Norgay, a Tibetan Sherpa. Hillary, along with his wife and 3 children, were dedicated to serving the Sherpa people, building schools, hospitals and transport hubs in Nepal. After countless amazing, successful adventures and significant philanthropic work, life gave a blow that even this courageous and accomplished man found almost insurmountable. In 1975, while en route to join him in the village of Phaphlu to help build a hospital, he suffered an intense and devastating loss when his wife, Louise and daughter, Belinda were killed in a plane crash shortly after take-off. How do you come back from that? How do you deal with the loss and despair of lives that have been altered so profoundly?
The recent horrific fires in Sonoma and Redding - actually throughout the state of California, along the tragic death of our friend and colleague, Dr. Jennifer Gonzales-Shushereba has caused me to pause as I try to make sense and meaning of these events. I find myself confused and very sad. These events and the people left are in unbelievable pain and despair. It takes me back the beginning of my own brush with death and the time right after when the only question I kept asking was 'why?' Why me? Why is my family having to deal with this? It has only been with the passing of time and learning from so many people and communities who have suffered enormous losses that I don't think there is an answer to 'why'. At least not right at first when one is reeling from the devastation, defeat and life changes. The question is actually 'how?'. How does one begin to come back; to move forward? What I know from my own experience and all the courageous survivors I have encountered - it takes time, enormous effort, strength of will and courageous perseverance. One is not the same. Families and communities are not the same. The event along with the aftermath of grief and despair changed them. However, I have also noted that there is actually an evolution, a transformation that occurs brought about by the event and one's response.
With this knowledge, my advice is to take time to grieve. You have to. It is expected and necessary in order to heal. Then eventually find something to do. Take action. Your choice. The loss created a space. How do you fill that space? Only you can answer that question but what I choose to do is to fill it with positive, productive thoughts and activities that assist other survivors and communities to move forward. One small step at a time; that's how to start - how to get traction. You will begin to bravely manage your day and emotions with help from insightful and loving friends and family, courageously mastering your fate by finding meaning, purpose and once again, some joy in life.
Sir Edmund Hillary overtime and with great effort, triumphed once again. Not by climbing a great mountain or navigating a dangerous waterway; perhaps his greatest triumph was living and dealing with the profound and overwhelming hopelessness brought forth by the loss of his wife and daughter. His ultimate triumph was over despair. Let that be yours.