How to Deal With An Unexpected Death.

“What we do in life, echoes in eternity.” – Maximus Decimus Meridius

Life sucks sometimes.

On September 12th, 2015, my friend Scott Dinsmore tragically passed at the far-too-young age of 32 while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Scott is one of my best “internet” friends, the creator of LiveYourLegend.net. He was on a trip around the world with his wife, doing what he loved. Chelsea, I’m so sorry for your loss 🙁

To say I am heartbroken is an understatement.

I like to think our businesses, lives, and communities grew up together; Scott was more like me than anybody else I knew in this online space. In fact, he was always pushing me to be a better version of myself and led by example: he was in amazing shape, with a beautiful family, a thriving business, and had a love of life that was unparalleled.

I’m still trying to make sense of this tragedy, and can’t imagine what his family is going through. My friend Chase Reeves (who designed both this Nerd Fitness site and Scott’s) captured Scott’s personality better than I ever could, and there are already dozens upon dozens of tributes to a man who impacted a lot of people.

Earlier this year I lost another friend at the age of 31. I’ve lost three grandparents since I started my adventures, and two good friends have died far too young. It’s never easy.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know I’m not alone in dealing with tragedy. Life is short, and it can be taken from anybody in an instant.

Today I wanted to write an article about how I’ve tried to cope with these situations in a healthy way, and encourage you to share your stories too.

Cry your eyes out, hug somebody.

This first part is the worst, and more often than not feels like a Falcon Punch to the gut.

I woke up on Sunday morning to an email from Scott’s wife Chelsea with news of his passing, and I burst into tears and just sat there numb. I kept waiting for more news to come in, or another email to say that it had been a hoax. How could Scott have died? The dude was bullet proof. It didn’t make sense to me.

I got angry at fate. I got angry at nature. I got angry at mountains. I got really really sad too. I kept waiting for things to be different – to not be as they were.

I later met up with my good friends from college and gave them all big hugs. I called my dad and talked to him for a good hour or so. I told my friends and family that I loved them and that I was happy for the time we have had together.

Being with people I loved helped.

We try to make sense of these terrible situations, or ask what the heck happened… what could have been, what if, and what else could have been done. It’s natural, it’s part of coping. It’s not supposed to make sense. And it always sucks.

If you are dealing with an unexpected loss, cry your eyes out. Get mad at the universe. Hug somebody and squeeze them tightly. Call somebody and vent. Once I got  confirmation and heard from other friends who knew Scott, reality set in, and I had to think about life without a dude who only made the world better.

Celebrate their life in a unique way

Paint wars, capes and good friends dominating the world at #wds2014

A photo posted by Live Your Legend (@live_your_legend) on

The above picture with Scott and James Clear is from a conference I attend each year and get to catch up with friends. You’ll notice both James and I are covered in paint, and Scott is wearing a cape. Why a cape? Because he just wanted to. Seriously. There was no theme or costume. He spent the night wearing a cape, throwing imaginary smoke bombs and disappearing like a ninja because that’s what he wanted to do. That’s Scott.

Earlier this year I lost my friend Tiffany unexpectedly while I was out at sea with a lot of her friends and former co-workers on the Rock Boat. We gathered for a moment at the back of the ship, watching the boat quietly slip through the Caribbean; despite the chaos happening everywhere else on the boat, we were alone in silence back there.  We shared stories, laughed, cried, and then all took a shot in her honor as members of the Shot Club, a “secret club” that Tiffany had helped create years prior. Although she was gone, it was a way to connect with her memory and share a happy moment with those who knew her well.

Scott was one of the most amazingly persuasive people I have ever met. In fact, the first time we met, he got me to go running! If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know running and I don’t necessarily get along; within minutes of us meeting, he had me convinced this was a swell idea. No joke, I haven’t run a mile since then. Then the last time we hung out together, he challenged me to a handstand contest at 3 AM. Sure enough, I said yes.

Last week I went for a jog through Central Park, and then did some handstands; it was seriously the first time I have just “gone for a run” since I met Scott four years ago. It was something that he and I had done together, and something I hadn’t done since. It gave me a chance to be thankful and reflect on the impact he had made on my life, pushing me to step outside of my comfort zone.

If you’ve lost a loved one, look for a specific activity that tied you to that person in a unique way. Like the Viking tribute to fallen warriors destined for Valhalla, or Maximus being carried out of the Coliseum.

Share a story with those who are grieving, and do something that connects you to the person who was lost. Like a paddle out circle in the surfing community, a 21-‘shot’ salute when golfer Payne Stuart died, the ordering of a special drink (it was “Dewers on the rocks, please” when my grandpa passed), or even just a quiet reflective moment in a specific location that was special to both of you.

Make it a point to do this deliberately.

What Would THey want you to do?

When there is a devastating loss, life is flipped upside down in an instant. At this point, it’s very easy to slip into major depression and get completely derailed. In fact, anything other than a complete shutdown can make us feel guilty, as if we’re not mourning the deceased enough. It’s tough not to ask or feel: “Did I mourn enough? Too much? What’s the protocol?”

Because we all grieve in different ways, it’s up to us to determine how to move forward, how to honor their passing, and how life will be different.

Unfortunately, the default for most of us is to spend days and days and days grieving, drinking, eating poorly, curling up in a ball, and shutting out reality. After all, if we avoid reality, then maybe it didn’t really happen, right? Unfortunately, we don’t have access to time-machines and we can’t change what happened, no matter how desperately we want to. We can’t change history. If we’re not careful these few days can turn into weeks, months, and years before we realize that we stopped living.

The best thing I’ve found to help me grieve is asking myself: “If I could talk to this person right now, what would they want me to do?” I know that if I could talk to Scott, his response to me would be “Live, you idiot! Get out there and make a great story. Maybe also wear a cape.” Scott’s site was called “Live Your Legend,” and he truly was a living legend.

I know Scott would be angry if I said no to an adventure as a result of his death. He lived every day as if it was his last, and he got to spend his last day on earth doing something he loved, with the person he loved more than anything, in one of the most beautiful locations in existence. We should be so lucky.

Make a fundamental change.

I remember the first time I saw Star Wars IV: A New Hope when I was 5 or 6 – specifically the moment when Obi Wan was struck down by Darth Vader:

I didn’t want to believe it. How could Obi Wan die? He was a freaking JEDI! It didn’t make sense to me, and I thought the movie was ruined as a result. I probably started crying. However, I also remembered Obi Wan’s words before he relented to Vader: “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

And sure enough, although this great Jedi passed away, his impact was felt through every molecule in the galaxy after that. In fact, it was Obi Wan’s impact on Luke (“Use the Force, Luke. Let go.”) that allowed him to successfully blow up the Death Star.

Although Obi Wan had died, he did in fact become more powerful than anybody could have imagined. It was through Luke and the other Jedi that his legacy lived on. Luke took fundamental steps to live a life that Obi Wan would have been proud of. He changed his fate.

When Scott passed away, I couldn’t help but think of the scene above. Although Scott is gone, it’s clear to me that he has already changed the world, and with 2.7 million views and counting on his TEDx talk, he will continue to change the world long after his passing. Just like Obi Wan, Scott’s impact will be measured through the people who choose to fundamentally change their lives as a result of knowing him.

Like Luke and Obi Wan, Scott will pop into my mind for the rest of my life, and I’ll ask: “What would Scott do in this situation?” And I’ll do my damndest to leave this planet a better place than when I arrived. Scott has become my Obi Wan, and it’s my responsibility to make a fundamental change to do and be better.

I challenge you to do the same. If you are dealing with a loss – most people say things like “things are going to be different now,” or “I’m going to make a change.” And within a week or two, no positive progress has been made. Think long and hard about the person who passed, and ask yourself “What would they want me to do?”

And then I want you to make a fundamental change to your day-to-day life. It can be a small change, but it needs to be something that sets you on a happier, healthier, and more grateful path. After all, that’s all we can ask of life. We have no idea when that game over screen will show up.

Enjoy Today.

Scott boat

Although I’ve watched the video, “A Story for Tomorrow,” probably 50 times since discovering it years ago, I think today is a good a day as any to share it again here on Nerd Fitness.

Ultimately, we hope we get to answer the question, “Did you enjoy your story?” With a “hell yeah.” I will forever think of my buddy Scott when I watch this video, because it seems like something he and his wife Chelsea would make.

We should all be so lucky to experience as much as Scott had in his 33 years on earth. Ben Franklin once said, “Some people are dead at 25, but aren’t buried until 75.” That was not Scott, and I’m thankful for the brief number of years that we got to spend together on this planet. He made my life better, and he made the world a better place before he left it.

This is a goal we can all aim for:

  • Do one thing daily that makes you happy and makes you feel alive.
  • Make somebody else’s life better today, in any way, big or small.

This is how I’ve chosen to deal with death and tragedy over the past handful of years. Do you have any stories or words of advice for your fellow Rebels? Are you going through a tough situation yourself?

I still know I’m going to break down crying at random moments, or when I’m next with other distant friends that knew Scott well, and that’s okay. I’m going to continue building my living legend, and try to help as many people as possible do the same.

Scott, I miss you man.

The Rebellion salutes you.

-Steve

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  • Destiny

    Thank you for this article. My grandma passed on today and I’m unsure. I’ve never had someone I care about pass on before and my emotions are quite erratic.
    Thank you for your words. “Did you enjoy your story?”.

  • Destiny

    Thank you for this article. My grandma passed on today and I’m unsure. I’ve never had someone I care about pass on before and my emotions are quite erratic.
    Thank you for your words. “Did you enjoy your story?”.

  • http://www.runningandamused.com Amanda Tallman

    {{{hugs}}} to you Steve! Dealing with any type of loss is never easy, whether it’s a friend, a family member, a pet, or even a job sometimes!

    My favorite grandfather passed away back in January (just a few hours before his 95th birthday in fact) and I still feel guilty for not being able to help the family out during his later years because I live and (at the time) worked over 2 hours away from them. For me, his passing was a wake-up call that I needed to make changes in my life, otherwise I’m going to miss out on other important life events. I’ll probably write a blog post about my experience in the near future, but reading what other people experience with the subject definitely helps me better understand my own experiences.

  • Kat

    Steve, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I recently found out the my closest friend passed away unexpectedly. I never had the pleasure of meeting him in real life though we had planned to do it next year when he son went off to college. We spoke every day and truly cared for one another. I came online today for the first time since finding out, looking for something that justified the grief I was feeling and I stumbled across your post.

    Your story has comforted me in a way I had not expected and given me something to think about. I can not help but feel my dear friends’ hand here as he had a similar outlook on life. So I thank-you for reminding me and I want you to know you made this persons life a little better today.

  • Pingback: A Nerd's Introduction To Mental Health | Nerd Fitness()

  • Patricia Christianson

    Thanks, Steve! I am sorry for your loss. My daughter’s grave stone was set today, two hours ago. She died November 13, 2015 at the age of 18 in a single car accident. She prized our small fruits orchard, so I am working to make it a beautiful place as a tribute to her.

  • Emma Jennet

    My father killed himself when I was 10.
    The call came in at 11:30 pm the day before Mother’s Day (coincidentally the same day he left my Mum when I was 5 or 6), and Mum and I were at her parents for the weekend. My grandfather (Dad’s dad) called the house and told Mum. She told me that he had been in a car crash, and he was in hospital and it wasn’t looking good.
    It wasn’t until she had her back to me, miming to her father that Dad had died, that I worked it out for myself. So I did the unexpected:
    I laughed.
    Then I cried, and then laughed some more.
    That was the first of three times I cried over him in the coming years. Afterwards, Mum stayed up with me until 2:30am playing cards. I lost each round.
    My father wasn’t a great man, or a great father, but I loved him. I bet he would’ve been happy with my reaction to his death, as he loved to make people laugh.

    DJA
    DOB: 27 Nov 1966
    DOD: 10 May 2008