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Channeling My Pain to Help Others

grief grief support inspiration legacy Nov 07, 2021

by Ilana Shapiro Yahdav


In the early days after my dad died, I felt I was broken, damaged goods. I knew I did not want my dad’s death to define me, despite feeling that I was deeply broken and never going to heal. I did not want his death to dictate the trajectory of the rest of my life. 


I was 24, single, newly out of a year-long Chinese graduate program, life just beginning. I had just moved to Shanghai and was about to accept a job with a cool company. And then, boom! Something that was not even on my radar to happen, happened. Just goes to show, you can worry about something, but it’s often the last thing that you’d imagine. 


During my sleepless nights - due to both jetlag and grief - I would binge-watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) (thank you Lifetime TV - hard to remember the pre-Netflix world - for having reruns on all night! Funny how my SVU binges have stayed the same over the last decade). 


I would attempt to sleep and end up crying my eyes out. In those moments of despair, I made a promise to myself - when (not if, but when) I got to a place of healing, I would make sure to help others. I didn’t want anyone else to ever feel that lost and alone as I was in those days and months. 


To start my non-linear journey of healing, I found myself compelled to find a way to honor my father and make sure that his legacy lived on. My intention was twofold - one was selfish in nature, in that it was a form of self-therapy to work on a project in his honor. The other was to continue his legacy of ‘tikkun olam’ healing the world. 


In those dark months, the Eric A Shapiro MD Memorial Fund was born (within the auspices of the American Jewish World Service). This helped me channel my grief - in a healthy way- and carry on my dad’s legacy of helping others. 


It took me many, many years of trial and error, mistakes, drunken tears, successes, and training to get to a place of healing and to a place where I was finally able to help others. 


I was finally able to use my pain to help another person work through theirs. I could finally be called upon to sit with another and not crumple, but be a beacon of light and strength for them. It has been one of my greatest honors.


I was finally able to start talking about my father again and revel in the memories. I was able to give talks to dozens, even hundreds of people, and love every minute of getting to share about my dad. I was able to name my own daughter after him.


I started to realize that my dad’s death didn’t define me, no, but it did shape who I am. 


While I would give anything to have him back, there is a lot that came after his death.


The fund I created in his honor has surpassed $110K funds raised and helps women and girls in the developing world. I had the audacity to think that I could run the NYC Marathon in his honor. It took 3 tries, a broken leg, a pulled hip flexor, but I did it! And, I started my own grief practice to help other grievers. 


My dad’s death didn’t define me, but it did shape me. I'm truly grateful for what I have become.