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What to Do When Life’s Surprises Kick Your Ass

Resilience | 2 comments

I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like life is kicking my ass.

Trigger Warning: murder, child loss.

2016-2019 were mostly a living hell for me. I kind of knew this was going to happen, because losing a child to murder leaves you with court, the media, unanswered questions and unbelievable grief. Since it’s been beyond my control and very foreign to me, I had no idea what was in store for me. It’s true that the only thing we can control is ourselves – our choices, responses, actions, thoughts, and how we choose to live, given whatever circumstances we have at any moment.

The thing is, I know it’s not just me going through a lot. The world is in crisis. The old systems are making a lot of noise as they fall apart.

We’re kind of the cleanup crew, the ones who came here to evolve into a new kind of human being and create a world no longer based in fear. You know, the kind of human being who gets that the real gift of humanity is allowing other people to experience and see who we really are. Not just being who we are, but allowing ourselves to be seen and heard while we’re being who we are.

We can get through whatever faces us because it’s been written into our DNA. And not just get through it, but even find joy in it in the midst of whatever grief, chronic pain, anxiety, fear, heartbreak, or other not-so-fun surprises that come up along life’s journey. We just don’t always know how to access that deep wisdom inside us, so we need a little help sometimes.

How I’m Getting Through Life’s Not-So-Fun (and sometimes brutal) Surprises:

In January 2016, immediately after investing in a high end VIP coaching session to plan out my business year, my son was murdered and my plans, investment, client sessions, everything about who I was went right out the window. All that was left was me, my daughter, a whole lot of grief and just trying to get by.

If you want to know what to do when you’re in the middle of, or dealing with the aftershock from, homicide loss, I’ve got another article and a video to help you too.

Surprises are sudden, and sudden unexpected events can feel like a shock to the system and create shock, stress, fear, anxiety, anger or even depression. It can feel overwhelming, like the wind’s been knocked out of you. What if you had simple ways to help yourself through all of that?

Create your own personal emergency protocols. NOW. Then practice them. Get them into your body. Then when you need them, you’ll already have them at your fingertips.

There are plans and then there are protocols.

Plans come with expectations. When an expectation isn’t met, you can feel disappointed or angry. We human beings like to make plans because we like to have control. A lot of times you end up disappointed because your plan didn’t work out. You worked so hard on making that year plan or that project plan and taking all the right steps, only to watch it fail or mess things up for you.

So what you need is not the usual plan, but your own personal emergency protocols. What I mean by that is a sort of plan to help you through the plans – your soul’s plan (cause yeah, that’s who’s really in charge – shhhh, don’t tell your ego that!) and the plans that don’t seem to work out. Here’s how you do that.

You know the emergency exits from your house. You know if you break an arm, you should go to the hospital. You probably have a supply of Band-Aids and perhaps a First Aid kit, right? Let’s think bigger.

By the way, please don’t think of this as planning to have disasters show up in your life. Think of this the way you think about fire exits and Band-Aids. They’re important to have and know how to use but you’re not living in constant fear of having a fire or cutting yourself. You’re just being smart and prepared in case of an emergency.

If you’re a trauma survivor, the good news is, you probably already have some of your own protocols. Really, most of us do. You just need to unearth them and maybe create more, and then practice them.

If you haven’t had a major loss, or any trauma or chronic pain, you might not have any personal emergency protocols and that’s okay because now you will.

I recommend getting all of your protocols onto paper or into your phone notes, so that whenever you’re feeling triggered, you will have what you need.

1. Who can help you in a crisis?

a. Friends and Family: The first thing I did when I found out about my son being murdered was reach out to my sister and some friends who would know what to do and how to help me. Isolation is awful, so make sure you ASK for support. By the way, I used to be terrified of asking for help. If you are, do whatever it takes to find it in you to develop good relations with the loved ones and any family you trust, create new supportive friendships, and take the leap to reach out for help. It’s crucial to our well-being.

b. Team: Of course I immediately told my assistant to cancel everything and run the business in my absence for an indefinite period. I did the same as soon as I knew the court dates for the pre-trial and the trial, still knowing the court dates were often a surprise in themselves and could change any moment.

c. Professional Support: I see a therapist who specializes in trauma and grief. I’ve also seen a few indigenous elders and healers as needed. I’ve gone to a Homicide Survivor Support Group and gotten counselling specifically for families of homicide victims. I see a naturopath, osteopath and sometimes a physiotherapist. Notice who surrounds you and what their special gifts are. Know who the connectors are in your circle, those people who seem to know everybody. They’re going to be able to recommend great people and services to you.

d. Acquaintances and Social Media Friends: They can help you too. In fact, I have many of YOU to thank for all the support you’ve given me. So if you don’t have a speed dial list of friends or family, look to your social media friends.

e. TIP: Develop and maintain your relationships. I was really bad at this for a long time, so had only really one close friend. That all changed when I invested in a personal mentor to help me come out of my shell. I’m still introverted and shy – but now I have a beautiful inner circle of amazing friends I am super grateful for.

2. What can you carry in your purse or pocket that reminds you of what you forget when you’re in a crisis? When I’m at court, I have both pockets full of crystals and stones with specific healing properties and purposes. For example, I carry a grounding stone that I picked up on the ground beside a mountain that was behind my house where I grew up. I also carry Rescue Remedy, peppermint essential oil and other sacred items. In my mind, I carry words (see #5). What will help you to feel grounded, safe, present and able to handle what’s in front of you?

3. What practices do you have to lift you up or bring you back into presence? As you will see in #5, my words are actually practices in themselves. I also have other practices that help me, like different kinds of meditation, doing things I love, ecstatic dance, singing, drumming, humming, journaling and walking. What are yours?

4. What if you have zero control over your plans changing? I have had to keep reminding myself over and over that things could change at a moment’s notice and things could go very differently than I want or have been told (in court). Truly, life is actually like that anyway. When life throws you a curve ball, and it’s out of your hands completely, it can be very frustrating and even debilitating. When you operate from a place of knowing that anything can happen (whether it’s fun or it sucks), you start to realize that you do have control, over YOU. What’s your knee-jerk response to crisis? Whatever your answer is, create a protocol for it. For example, during court sessions, when I’m triggered by something a lawyer says, my knee-jerk response is to tense up and get really angry and anxious. When you know what your body’s responses are to sudden changes of plans, you can come up with protocols that will help you.

5. What can someone say to you to help you calm down? HINT: This isn’t only for your loved ones to say to you. It’s also for YOU to say to you. I have certain keywords and practices that help me in the moment to come back to my body, be present with whatever is happening, and regroup. Two of my most potent words are MELT and BREATHE. When I say or think MELT, or someone says it to me, I instantly literally melt. It’s like my body is a popsicle on a hot day. All my muscles relax, I breathe more fully, I become aware of my surroundings, and I become present in a way that can get me through even the most difficult of days at the murder trial. So you can imagine if you pick words that really resonate with you and feel good to you… you can spontaneously change your state of mind and state of being.

6. Regroup & Recover. This is SO IMPORTANT and most people don’t do it. Your body, mind and emotions are going to need your attention. Once you’ve dealt with one of life’s not so pleasant surprises, sometimes you can’t just pick up where you left off. Be exceptionally kind to yourself, like you’d treat a child having a hard time. I scheduled a ton of time off for the entire winter for court dates, grief around my son’s death anniversary, and to regroup and recover physically and emotionally. I couldn’t plan out my year until court was “over”, or so I thought. I had to change my thinking around that because court is still not over. That means I had to regroup yet again. I put protocols in place, plus a cushion in my calendar after the court dates for more regrouping and recovery. If you don’t allow yourself to regroup and recover, you’ll end up even more stressed out and you miss out on your own evolution. It can feel awful sometimes to be in that in-between place, where you don’t know what to do next, but it’s the place where you can access more YOU and where you can create something beautiful you may not have even thought possible.

Got ideas for how to get through life’s surprises? Leave a comment here. I’m sure it will help others too.

Love & Blessings,

Brenda MacIntyre, Medicine Song Woman



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  1. arlene

    Dearest Brenda
    Thank you for allowing us to bear witness to your courage, honesty & deep vulnerability in this most intense life challenge. Our hearts are here for you … with you … behind you there in that courtroom and in your deepest vulnerable moments … please remember this.

    I love all that you shared here & felt called to share a word I like to use in stressful times, inspired by your words ‘melt’ and ‘breathe’ … As a Sacred Breath Journey Practitioner (aka Rebirthing, Conscious Breathing,etc.), ‘breathe’ is my top fave word … the other word I often use is ‘gentle’ … it reminds me to be ‘soft’ in my approach to whatever is happening, in me or around me … and now I’m really loving your word ‘melt’ … Thank you so much for this … Words are sacred medicine … I am so grateful for your sharing of one one of your sacred medicine words today ….

    Blessed Be …
    Warm Hugs & Infinite Blessings to you & your family in & from this trying time

    • Brenda MacIntyre

      You are very welcome, Arlene. I’m always hopeful that by sharing, people can become more okay with speaking their truth, with allowing themselves to be who they are, and also just so there’s more awareness out there about this whole process of grief and court. Thank you for your kindness and witnessing. Yes, words are such medicine.


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About Brenda MacIntyre

About Brenda MacIntyre

Known by her indigenous name Medicine Song Woman, Brenda MacIntyre has shared her evocative melodic voice and fusion of reggae, rap and indigenous hand drum healing music with appreciative audiences of 30 to 3,000 across North America. The Toronto-based Juno Award-winning singer has been featured nationally on MuchMusic, CTV, CP24, APTN and most recently, Global and the front page of the Toronto Star.

Powered by her grief from losing her son to murder in 2016, Brenda MacIntyre pours her soulful voice over a confluence of indigenous hand drum healing, soft rap and conscious roots reggae in her album “Picking Up the Pieces,” released in September 2019.

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