How the tragedy of my father's death led me to living the life that I love
Lian Brook-Tyler – who is writing a new column, Wild&Happy, for the Indie – lives in Farnham with husband Chris and their two children, who attend Windhill21 Primary School in Bishop's Stortford. For 15 years she worked in the corporate world, rising to be head of online at BT, before a life-changing loss led her onto an altogether different path...
I notice wake-up calls come in many forms: serious illnesses, near-death experiences, redundancy, relationship break-ups. Sometimes they’re as seemingly subtle as a new year assessment of all the ways we’re not living a life we really want.
Mine came in the form of suddenly losing my beloved father, Robert, at the age of 62.
We were especially close as he had raised me since my parents separated when I was five, while my younger sister stayed with our mother.
The news came via that dreaded archetypal image of two policemen at the door in the early hours. They told me that he was on his bike coming from a Harlow train station when he was knocked down by a passing car. The only words I can remember them saying were “We don’t understand why she didn’t stop.”
Mistakes were made by the ambulance service which meant there was a delay in help arriving. He died on the road an hour after the impact.
We didn’t find that out until two weeks later, when reading an agonising blow-by-blow account in the local paper of what happened, the horrific injuries he had sustained and how passer-bys desperately tried to keep him alive.
I can remember dropping the paper and curling up on the landing floor, sobbing into the carpet. It was as if I’d just found out that we’d lost him all over again.
The following months were filled with unanswered questions and police investigations (including two post-mortems, which delayed his funeral by five weeks). We never did find out why she didn’t stop. It was the worst time of my life.
My father was a Renaissance man who flowed from teaching physics to painting portraits, a lover of life who brought people together in song, adventures and play, and someone who inspired people to be a little bit braver, freer and kinder than they might otherwise have been. The effects of the loss of his massive vital presence are still rippling through our family years later.
People sometimes talk about losing a family member as though ‘a light went out’. I understand that, although for me it felt strangely like my father’s light was still shining on – albeit now from somewhere that had thus far been out of sight.
And so, throughout all of the pain, I felt part of me, which had lain largely dormant since childhood, slowly coming back to life.
I found myself drawn to look for the sweetness, the love, the magic and the joy in everyday life, especially in my connection to other people, to nature and to my own soul’s yearnings. Simultaneously, I found myself inspired to write again, something I used to love but had stopped long ago.
And now, seven years since my father died, I’m writing this from my cottage in the Farnham countryside, where I do the most fulfilling and meaningful work I can imagine: I help people to discover who they really are and to serve the world by giving more of themselves.
I’m doing what I call my ‘soul work’. I’m the co-founder of an organisation called Waking The Wild, I host a weekly podcast which has an international listenership of thousands and I coach and teach leadership, partnership and embodiment to clients all over the world.
Seven years ago, my life was very different. Yes, on the surface I had a happy life: I was married with two small children, we lived in a lovely old house on Windhill in the centre of Stortford and I had a successful career in online marketing that I enjoyed. But just like so many of us, there was another side to my life that wasn’t so Facebook-friendly.
I’d suffered from chronic facial pain for 15 years following a traumatic event. I was often stressed and anxious, I suffered from debilitating bouts of sciatica (caused in large part by lugging my heavy laptop to and from the city), my career as a leader in a large corporate was limited by my huge fear of public speaking and beneath all of that there was the nagging feeling that I was meant to be doing something more with my life.
But I couldn’t really see what that could be. After all, I was already ticking most of life’s happiness boxes – what else was there? And then, almost a year to the day after my father died, I had what some call a spiritual awakening.
It came about entirely unexpectedly when I was looking for a way to put into words the growing sense of deep happiness that I was feeling, with the intention of sharing it to help others find it too.
After all, I’d just gone through the most heartbreaking experience of my life and was somehow coming out of it happier than before.
It didn’t feel like an option to just carry on with my life as I had been and pretend that nothing had changed when, inside, everything had changed.
I was searching for different spiritual and personal growth modalities and read a passage that said something like “Thought creates your reality” and... kaboom! In a moment, all of my beliefs about myself and the world around me were dancing around me carousel-style and were looking a lot less real.
Within a week, my long-term facial pain had vanished, my stress and anxiety were practically gone and even my old fear of public speaking felt a lot less convincing.
I didn’t understand then what had happened, but I knew without a doubt that the core of me was pure happiness and that I was a gift to the world (just like all of us are).
And I finally knew what I was put on this earth to do: to help others find the same sense of who they really are and what they’re here to do – because that is true happiness.
Wild&Happy: I'll help you find your wild and happy self
In her new Indie column, Wild&Happy, Lian Brook-Tyler will reveal how you can find happiness within by connecting with the world around us...
Our souls are wild and their voices speak most loudly when we commit to reconnecting to older, wilder ways of living. That doesn’t mean you have to go live in a shack in Hatfield forest, some of the most transformative steps in a wilder direction are simple things that you can do wherever you live.
This has been an incredibly powerful path for me to continue deepening into my true self and bring more of that into the world. Some of the practices I use to do this (and I recommend to my clients) are:
- Spending time in nature (the wilder the better!)
- Moving our bodies (not just linear, repetitive exercises at the gym)
- Being deeply connected to other people (men’s and women’s circles are a perfect example)
- Prioritising time to create and play (not just consume)
- Connecting to something ancient, bigger and more powerful than you (it doesn’t have to involve going to church)
On our journey together going forward, I will share how I’m deepening my wild happiness through those kind of practices (and more) in my local community and environment, here in Bishop’s Stortford… they’re all things that you can try if you would like to reconnect to your wild and happy self too.
The huge clues in who we were as children
I’ve spent years exploring all kinds of methods and philosophies to better understand myself and to help others to do the same. It’s an adventure that will probably last a lifetime but I’ve already found more treasure than I could have wished for.
I’ve discovered that there are huge clues in who we were as children.
Childhood is often the time when we were the most undiluted, undimmed version of ourselves.
Look at who you were, what you loved to do, and what you were great at... that’s the diamond that’s still inside you, waiting for the chance to bring its beauty back into the world.
In future Wild&Happy articles, I’ll share what I’ve seen about my own childhood and how it relates to my path today, I’ll also share my clients’ stories. I hope it’ll inspire you to take a look at the message your little childhood self has for you.
More by this authorBishop's Stortford Independent reporter