In the middle of what should be the happiest time of Jordin Sparks’s life, as she’s expecting her first child with new husband Dana Isaiah, she is having one of the most tragic weeks imaginable. The American Idol winner lost four people she cares about within seven days, she shared on Instagram.
“Four Angels in a week,” she wrote. “My heart is just so heavy & broken. I’m in shock, numb and feel everything all at the same time.”
Sparks’s 16-year-old stepsister, Bryanna Jackson-Frias, died on Tuesday after complications from sickle cell anemia. Then, at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, R&B singer Leah LaBelle and her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler, died in a car crash in Los Angeles. Sparks also said that her cousin “Q” died, but did not disclose any additional details.
Sparks asked her followers to “continue to cover their families and our family with thoughts and prayers,” both of which, in addition to community support, will certainly help her deal with such a blow. Yahoo Lifestyle spoke to New York-based psychotherapist Jane Dorlester, who runs Brooklyn Bereavement, about other ways to cope after multiple losses.
“Regular grief is like being hit by a car, but a multiple loss is like you’re hit by a Mack truck,” Dorlester says. “Especially with sudden death, there’s a startle response. That would be increased if it’s multiple deaths.”
A sudden personal loss can trigger the brain’s “fight-or-flight” mode, which could spur a person to get superbusy and not deal with grief, or it could make them freeze like a possum and not be able to get out of bed.
“It’s almost like your system gets overwhelmed, and you can’t cope anymore,” Dorlester explains. “It would be important for the person going through it to have a lot of compassion for themselves and to know that it’s going to be very upsetting.”
Self-compassion takes the form of recognizing that it’s OK to cry, to get triggered by random memories, and to feel other emotions intensely.
Another important source of comfort is in talking to others who have gone through something similar.
“A young person who has never had an experience of loss might say things like, ‘Oh, you’ll get over it. Why aren’t you smiling? What’s wrong with you?’” Dorlester warns. “You would want to avoid those kind of people and try to look for people who have some experience in loss and find support.”
Rituals are another tried-and-true way to get through grief. This can mean established religious rituals, like special prayers and candle lighting, but also ones people can make up for themselves.
“They can be creative. I had one person who lost a brother who would go to the same park bench every week and write a letter to him,” Dorlester says.
For Sparks, there’s an added air of tragedy because she’s pregnant, but Dorlester offered ideas for how she might be able to honor her lost loved ones while celebrating her child’s arrival. She could, of course, name her son after one or more of her late loved ones, or she could opt for an even simpler gesture.
“There could be something mentioned at the shower for the people who aren’t there,” she says, like a moment of silence or a toast. “There should be an acknowledgement that that person isn’t there but at the same time an internalization that that person is still with us and alive in our memories.”
That internalization can continue as she raises her son and tells him about the people who were part of her life before he was born.
None of these methods is shortcut to being rid of grief, unfortunately.
“The most important thing is to acknowledge that you’re going through something and to deal with it,” Dorlester says. “You can’t go over it, like be really busy. You can’t go under it and not deal with it. You’ve got to go through it.”
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