The pain of losing a loved one can feel insufferable and coping with that loss is one of life’s biggest challenges. Grief can disrupt every state of your well-being, from mental to emotional and even physical health. In the last year, my nephew, Michael McGuire, experienced an extraordinarily rare tragedy when he lost both his son and wife during child birth. Despite unbearable heartbreak, I had never seen someone respond so heroically. In today’s profound conversation, I ask him to share his story in hopes that people can find inspiration in his strength.
I’ve never seen someone be so heroically strong for all the other people in their lives. How did you find that strength amongst tragedy?
Michael: I remember calling out my family motto, justice and fortitude is invincible, and realizing that strength in the face of this is really what I needed to do for myself, for her family, and for her.
It was a leap of faith. A lot of it came from love, a lot of it came from the strength that she had taught me throughout her life. She was an amazingly kind and giving person. I wanted to do her proud and I want to make sure that I lived in her memory. I want her actions to carry on through me.
Travis: I’d never seen a tragedy like this and not really knowing how to react, you kind of follow Michael as an example. You see him giving people hugs, embracing the sadness and how much inspiration he gets from hearing stories from other people. All of a sudden, people are grieving in this really healthy way. You’re still celebrating Mary Anne and it was completely different then what I thought tragedy would be like. It showed me that you can make a choice.
Do you need to understand why this happened?
Michael: Having a reason why is definitely a natural instinct, but for me it doesn’t change anything. Mary Anne lived an incredible life, we lived an incredible life, however short. Now she’s gone and finding out why and how, aside from a learning experience for medical professionals, isn’t going to change anything for me. It doesn’t change the fact that I now have to move on and start a new life and continue living the way I want to.
Do you believe in God? Can you imagine some people would be angry at God?
Michael: I do. Mary Anne and Oliver are with God right now. The priest at the Catholic funeral on the night of the prayers said a very powerful thing that I remember. He said sometimes the hardest prayer is thy will be done, the acceptance that this is outside of our control and to let God do His will. It’s an incredibly large burden to carry but that’s a choice. It’s a choice to make it feel like a burden or it’s a choice to make it feel like a privilege to be able to honor her memory in every way, shape or form you can.
What have you learned about grief?
Michael: Everyone grieves differently. The other incredibly important thing to know is that grieving never ends. I will always grieve for Mary Anne for the rest of my life. That grief may change and it may become a different form but I will never stop grieving. Every time my thoughts go to Mary and there is sadness, there is always happiness with it as well.
Can you only be as happy as you are sad?
Michael: I definitely find myself smiling a lot more often these past couple months than I have before. To have that emotional balance, that extreme on one side, it comes out on the other side too. It’s a lot more little things that put a smile on my face here and there. I can find myself just grinning wildly looking at a forest on a drive or something like that that brings back a great memory the two of us had. I think that is a very true statement.
What is a healthy way to grieve?
Michael: I got a piece of paper from my grief counsellor and it showed two different sides of grief. It was a forward moving side and grief itself. Part of the conversation she had with me was that when you’re leaning on the grief too much and you’re not doing enough forward moving, it starts to become unhealthy.
It’s good to set the time aside to think about someone who’s passed, to memorialize them, and to acknowledge the loss. You need to also move forward though. Life goes on and that balance is what makes grieving very healthy.
Is one of the reasons that people die to remind us how to live?
Michael: I would agree with that statement. I think what allows me to remember to live right now is all the living that I got to do with her during our time together. All of those memories, it was never something that I had to wait for, it was something that we just did. Death definitely brings perspective and I would highly recommend living as much as you can while you can.
What is the meaning of life?
Michael: I think it’s just to help others and to enjoy yourself. It’s to do whatever you enjoy the most and to get everything that you can out of it. It’s to have as much love, laughter and joy in our life as you possibly can. And if you live that way, everyone around you will live that way and hopefully it’s just the most contagious thing that ever happens.
Travis: I think the answer could be different for everyone but how you answer it is going to determine how you live. For me, it’s doing things with lasting fulfillment just because it seems to fill me with more energy, and when I have more energy I feel more connected to people.
What advice would you give people going through significant challenges that feel they want to give up?
Michael: I would definitely tell them that there is hope. There is personal strength and there is a choice and sometimes that choice is an incredibly hard choice. If you’re going through a tough time and you can comfort other people, any other person who is suffering that same loss that you are, it goes so far. I think selflessness in a nutshell, it’s probably the greatest gift someone can give themselves if they’re going through a tough time
Related Episode: EP. 01: The Key to Happiness
Conclusion – Sadness is the Path of Joy:
This is a heavier podcast and more profound conversation than any I’ve done before, and my intent has been and is that people could be inspired to change their own story. My hope is that whenever somebody is in a tough spot and they want to get out of sadness, they can stop and remember that their sadness is the path of joy. Just like night and day, you can only appreciate daylight because you’ve experienced darkness. You’ve gone through your darkness and you can see the bright light.