Eight years ago, my life changed. I had left the state of Virginia where I spent most of my life to start my clinical internship in Florida, which was the last step of my Ph.D. Moving was always difficult for me, but this move was particularly difficult as it was my furthest out-of-state move as an adult. I was leaving behind the safe bubble I had been cocooned in as well as practically everyone and everything I knew. However, what made the transition easier was that I was reunited with one of my dear friends from college, Kay. I was excited to find out that my internship site was where she was completing her post-doc, and she helped me to feel settled and comfortable in my new home. It was like old times again - we reminisced about our time at Virginia Tech, we cooked together, and we enjoyed culinary adventures at local eateries as we were both foodies. But, this blissful time was short-lived, as she was killed in a hit-and-run accident approximately 2 months later. I don't typically watch the news, but that morning, as soon as I turned on the TV the local news channel was broadcasting her death. I was devastated and my world fell apart. Although I had lived through the horrific Virginia Tech shooting a few years prior, Kay's death had an even more profound effect on me. Even though there were people to support me, I felt depressed, angry, scared, and deep grief. My safe bubble was shattered, and I began questioning my entire reality and worldview. I was in a lot of pain. This was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
I realize that tragedies can often be a catalyst for spiritual awakening, but I wish that I could prevent as much suffering as possible for myself and others. Often times, people wait to make positive changes in their lives until they are forced into a choice point by a painful situation (myself included). This became a motivating force in my work, as I want to help others become self-aware so that they can be active agents in creating the lives they want to live rather than passively allowing life to happen to them.
My grieving period was difficult and definitely not graceful. But the best thing I did for myself was honoring my feelings and allowing myself to feel them no matter how uncomfortable they were. So eight years later as I reflect on my loss, I still miss Kay's physical presence, but I no longer feel the desperate pain that accompanied it years ago. I also feel a deep gratitude towards her because if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be where I am today. I was actually surprised about the internship site that I was matched to for internship as I had applied to and interviewed at many sites. In retrospect, it completely makes sense because of how priceless my time was with Kay, and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. Moreover, this loss catalyzed me into questioning everything about myself and my reality, and I realized that I had been living very cautiously and passively, which ultimately led me to live more authentically, consciously, and self-lovingly.
So, for those of you that are deeply grieving, please know that I feel and understand the pain of losing someone special. I know that it can feel like this pain will never end, and I don't think you should rush through this process or force yourself to feel something you don't. What you are feeling is completely valid, and you have every right to feel this way. And you don't have to go through this pain alone. It's okay to let yourself fall apart and allow others to be there for you.
Akiho Tanaka, Ph.D.
Dr. Tanaka is a Clinical Psychologist in Orlando, FL. Her curious mind, keen intuition, and compassion for human suffering led her to enter the field of Psychology. She finds nothing more worthwhile than empowering others and facilitating their healing process so they can live more fulfilling lives.