At 6:45 a.m. on February 5, 2020, Nimika Patel was already at work. Her job as a New Jersey-based trainer and exercise physiologist involved early hours. Still, she was already heading home for the day. Nimika’s two young children had just called, telling her that Chirag, their father, and Nimika’s husband, was found unresponsive in their bed. Then, she received a second call resulting in a state of utter disbelief. Her husband of 17 years had suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack.
An Unexpected Loss
Unfortunately, Nimika had no time to grieve. Within 24 hours, enormous questions loomed. Previously, she shared the load of raising the children with her husband. But now, Nimika had to manage everything on her own. Her wage as a personal trainer wouldn’t be enough to support the family, and she would be forced to drop clients. Early morning gym sessions are no longer an option when you must get your kids to school.
In her most vulnerable moments, Nimika cites her parents, brother, and best friend as her most constant sources of support. Despite their constant love and encouragement, her support system was beginning to change drastically. “I lost the support of my husband’s side of the family,” Nimika says. “They were a huge part of my life, but this tragedy tore us apart.” Nimika was heartbroken to see her children potentially endure another loss. She says, “I have a huge family, but they’re sprinkled all over the world, so they’re not here physically. To have that support, then to have it removed from your life is difficult.”
To Nimika, it felt like “too much loss at the same time.” A shrinking support network meant more strain on her role as a mother and provider. Fortunately, in her moment of need, Nimika’s friends and acquaintances quickly began to take up the roles that family members had filled for years. Nimika says, “There are people that were in your life before that will transcend and move higher up on that social ladder. They’ll be the most amazing people, and you can count on them for anything. And then there are some people that were really embedded who disengage. I’ve had all that.” Friends, new and old, stepped up and became family for Nimika. Sharing their strength with her, she was given the momentum to keep moving forward.
A Glimmer of Hope
The first glimmer of hope came with Nimika’s father and brother. They started listing items for her to tackle, which she keeps in her so-called Bible of Things to Do After Your Husband Passes Away. High on that list was finding a financial advisor. Luckily enough, Nimika’s brother knew Maria Bruscianelli, a partner with New York Life Insurance. “I’ve known Maria since my brother got married. So when the time came for me to look for a financial advisor, I interviewed her. The sympathy and the empathy that she gave me was incredible. I instantly knew she was the right fit.”
With Bruscianelli’s help, Nimika was able to regain control over her financial status. “She’s my financial angel because she helped me navigate the things that I couldn’t do myself. And I needed that help. I need a financial advisor now more than ever in my life.” But at a moment when Nimika was losing so much, Bruscianelli was more than a consultant. Weekly in-person visits to Nimika’s home made her a reliable and fast friend.
From Tragedy to Triumph
In the aftermath of Nimika’s loss, a new factor came into play. Nimika says, “On March 15, COVID hit, and that’s when life just stood still. The kids were home from school. I couldn’t go into the gym, so I was home, but I considered it a blessing in disguise. My children are my number one responsibility. It was a blessing that I was able to be home with them, to help them grieve and be there for them.”
It seemed that there was no better time for Nimika’s family to hunker down and spend as much time together as possible. The way that life scaled back and slowed down during isolation allowed Nimika’s children to come to terms with the tragedy. Nimika says, “My main priority was always making sure that my kids were mentally stable and emotionally stable. Academics came afterward. I just wanted to make sure that they were okay.”
But as self-isolation swept the nation, Nimika’s need for a career change became even more apparent. No one was going into the gym. Now that she was the sole provider for her family, it seemed inevitable that Nimika would need to change careers. Stuck in this tricky spot, Nimika was able to rely on a friend. “I was in a position where I needed a full-time job with benefits. My husband was the breadwinner. I hate saying that, but he was. So Maria recruited me to New York Life, and I switched careers. She’s now my boss, but she’s more of a friend than anything. Maria is a big part of my life. Because of her, I have a job and health insurance.”
Through her new position as a financial consultant, Nimika has focused on a particular goal. “What Maria did for me; I want to do double that.” Nimika is branding herself as a specialist for widows and widowers. She feels that her connections with clients are much more profound when both parties have common ground. On switching careers, Nimika says, “I’m a rookie in what I’m doing. Before, I was like an MVP playing baseball and now a rookie playing football. The only constant thing is a ball. I’m still helping people, but it’s very different.”
The Power of Positivity
Despite going through a completely unexpected tragedy, Nimika has come out of it with some important realizations. Nimika says, “strength and positivity have been my superpowers. I’ve always been a positive person. I’m just happy-go-lucky, and I have a positive mindset. When my husband passed away, my superpower was strength, and that just amplified. I feel as if the little things I had to struggle through and get through in my life prepared me for this tragedy. And through this life-altering moment, I became stronger.”
Nimika is also a huge proponent of feeling your emotions instead of putting them aside. She says she couldn’t fully grieve for over a year because she was so focused on keeping her life together. “For a while, I was on automatic because I didn’t have a choice. Anytime I was sad, my kids would come down, and they were sad, so I had to quickly flip the switch and be like, ‘Okay, what do you need? What can I do for you?’ I pushed aside all those feelings. I didn’t have time. Anytime that I would even try to, I had family drama with my in-laws.”
But after getting the hang of her new career and afterlife started to settle down, Nimika was finally able to confront her grief head-on. She says, “I allow myself to feel, and I allow myself to cry. I’ll be honest with you, I had a crying fest earlier this morning. I fell apart on the staircase, looking at my husband’s picture. The wave of sadness just comes in, but you have to allow yourself to cry and feel. And when you do, you feel better.”
Nimika’s journey over the past year has been anything but easy. Certainly, there must have been moments where it felt like everything was caving in as if the easiest thing to do was give up. But Nimika is stronger than that. “Even the day after he passed away, I still got up, showered, and got myself ready. Because he would say, ‘Come on. You’re better than that.’ The respect and love that I have for him pushed me to keep going. We built this amazing life together. We taught our kids so much. He would be disappointed in me if I just let it crumble, so I couldn’t.”
Her two children were also a significant source of drive for Nimika. In the same way that she couldn’t let her late husband down, she couldn’t let her children down either. “My two biggest, positive forces of nature are my children. I want to do right by them because they are going through the worst thing ever. Not me, them. I think about my children, and I think about how sad I am for them because I only lost a husband. I say that not with any disrespect to what I lost, but my kids lost their dad. They can never have another dad.” Pushing through the pain of grief was essential for Nimika. She needed to be there for her kids. That goal, paired with her innate strength, helped her persevere through the darkest time in her life.
Navigating the New Normal
For those who are going through a similar loss, Nimika has some golden advice: “Hold onto your support system. Know who they are and rely on them. Think about the positives. However, you can still think about the blessings in disguise. It’s not the end of the world; it’s not the worst thing ever. When something traumatic or tragic happens, it’s awful, but we must try to think about any one little thing that’s positive in your life. Gravitate towards that positivity. That’s what I did.”
With many people feeling a similar loss over the past year, Nimika also suggests ways of supporting those around you. “Sympathize. It’s hard to empathize because you haven’t gone through exactly what that person has gone through but have open ears and an open heart. Be there for that person. Reach out to them, don’t forget about them even if they’re not reaching out to you. Be sensitive to what they’re going through as best as you can. Share your strengths and use that to be there for someone,” she says.
Nimika’s story is one of immense strength and overwhelming positivity. None of the hurdles that she faced were anticipated, and yet she’s still standing tall over a year later. Previously, she might have looked to the future with apprehension, now Nimika recognizes the potential that lies ahead of her. “I want to spread my positivity. Because life can at times be down, you just have to have to make the most of it. Trust me, it’s not easy,” Nimika says. “It’s my second life, so I’m choosing to make it an adventure. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I’ve learned from what I did before, and I can keep up with the same things that I did, the way that I like it, and I can also change.”
Nimika wants to share her story to recognize their own strengths and persevere in a similar situation. She also looks forward to working with clients at New York Life and creating a positive new future with her two children.
Interested to learn more about how life insurance can impact you and your loved ones? Contact Nimika here.
Photos courtesy of Nimika Patel