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Flight 370 families, I feel your pain

By Marilyn Tam
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8. A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8.
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The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Families of Flight 370 victims are grieving as searchers continue to look for plane
  • Marilyn Tam: I know how they feel; my father died in a plane crash in 1985
  • She says lack of closure is the hardest part for relatives, who may hold out hope
  • Tam: All of us can grow and thrive through the trials of life with peace and happiness

Editor's note: Marilyn Tam, a speaker, consultant and former business executive, is the author of "The Happiness Choice," a book that offers life lessons on how to cope with catastrophes.

(CNN) -- The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is an enormous tragedy for the families of the victims.

It is excruciating to live through the pain, helplessness, shock and anger. It is as hard to regain some degree of normalcy.

I know because I've been there. In 1985, my beloved father died on the Japan Airlines Flight 123 that crashed outside of Tokyo, killing more than 500 passengers and crew. It's one the largest plane accidents in the history of aviation.

Sitting on the tatami mat in the city hall in the small village close to the crash site, surrounded by hundreds of other people looking for their loved ones, I felt desperate, scared and suffocated. Contemplating another day of looking at pine wood boxes with inscriptions like, "part of left hand, possibly male," I thought the agony would never end.

Marilyn Tam
Marilyn Tam

How can I steel myself to keep on looking to try to identify some remains of what was once my dear father, hero to his family? Emotionally, physically and in every way, I felt drained of life force, like the body fragments in the boxes we were going through one by one in our search for our loved ones.

All these years later the scars still sting when scratched, as they were when Flight 370 vanished. I want to share with the grieving, scared and frustrated relatives of Flight 370 victims that while life will never be the same, it will get better. It will take time, but you will laugh again and the sun will come out once more.

The lack of closure is the hardest part. How do you know for sure that those on the plane are gone since their bodies have not been found? What if they are alive somewhere waiting for you to rescue them? How do you have a funeral when there are no remains? How can you be so sure?

MH370 families react with 'raw emotion'
Families going through swell of emotions

But the truth is that while you may hold out hope, the world is presuming they are gone forever. You have to accept it and move on.

Here are some steps that helped me recover from my loss. Perhaps it could be of help to the families of Flight 370:

1. Grieve. Allow the pain to be released. Cry, punch the pillows, share stories, do what you need to let the feelings out. Let the emotions flow.

2. Get support. From your family, friends and experts. From your spiritual source, in prayer or in nature. In time, maybe join a bereavement group.

3. Eat as healthy as you can.

4. Get rest, even if you can't sleep well, take some down time.

5. Move. Walk, exercise, play a sport, dance, do something physical so that the feelings can be dissipated.

6. Go into nature. Nature is big enough to hold you and your grief. Nature is healing.

7. Know that your loved one(s) are at peace and will be with you always.

8. Help someone who may be in a worse situation than you. In my case I saw that a couple of American families didn't make the trip to Japan. I sent them notes to let them know that I prayed for their loved ones, and that everyone was very kind and respectful in the whole search process.

9. Trust that something good will come out of this tragedy. We may not know what it is, or how, but it will happen. My father's death helped me learn how to be more present, to survive adversity, and appreciate the wonderful kindness of strangers.

From disaster I've learned to be strong and flexible, and to seek assistance when I need it. With faith and courage I can make a positive difference in other people's lives. During the course of my life, I've been fortunate to reach many of the goals I had set. I know that my dad was there, guiding, supporting and inspiring me the entire time. He smiled with pride with each new milestone that I crossed.

I believe all of us can grow and thrive through the trials of life with peace and happiness. It just takes one step at a time. The families of Flight 370 victims will come out of this tragedy different -- but they will endure and honor the memories of their loved ones.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marilyn Tam.

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