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How To Deal with Grief

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Grief… It is a tough subject, but in the last few years, given everything we have gone through, we need to talk about this.  No one sat us down and told us how to deal with grief.  It is just not something that is brought up to prepare you on how to go through it.  Many of us think it’s not something you need to deal with until later. But Krista St-Germain sat down with me to talk to us all about this, and how it happened to her!   
At the time, she didn’t have the resources or support she needed and now she makes it her mission to not let anyone else feel the same way.
I am sure there are so many of you out there who don’t have anyone to talk to, or your friends mean well, but they just don’t know what you are going through.  It’s amazing how quickly your life can change in an instant. My husband was changing a flat tire on the side of the road when drunk driver hit our vehicle. I was completely misinformed when it came to grief, I only really knew about the 5 stages… All these myths of grief that made my life harder I bought into as many of us do, so it’s really important to me that other people have more accurate information about grief so they can prepare themselves… even if it’s not as traumatic as spousal loss.
“When my husband was killed by a drunk driver, I was devastated. Therapy helped me survive the tidal wave of grief and unfurl myself from the fetal position. I went back to work. Everyone kept telling me how “strong” I was. I acted strong in front of my kids. But inside I felt hollow.  All my dreams had included him.  I desperately wanted to believe I could still have a happy, fulfilling life but I wasn’t sure how. Then I began to research grief, trauma and healing extensively. I studied cognitive behavioral coaching and read every book I could find. I combined what I learned about Post Traumatic Growth with cognitive science based coaching tools and figured out how to turn my loss into a strategy for growth.”
“There is no end to grief. It’s not a game of golf.” – Krista St-Germain 
What I learned the hard way is that grief is a natural human response to loss, and we can’t go back in time and undo the loss, so we are always going to have a response to it. It may evolve and change over time, but there really is no such thing as an end to grief.  The goal isn’t so much to get to the end as it is to move from an experience that is happening to us, to an experience that we are creating for ourselves. Integrate what has happened, decide what we want to make it mean, decide who we want to be given that it has happened.  We adjust, we integrate.  That doesn’t mean we have to have a life that is less than what we love.  But we have to stop telling ourselves that it is supposed to end.
What are the stages of grief in case some people don’t know what it is? 
1) Denial
2) Anger
3) Bargaining
4) Depression
5) Acceptance

What is interesting to note about this work is that it wasn’t actually about people who had lost someone or something, it was actually about hospice patients. It was an anecdotal study of what was happening to people coming to terms with their own diagnoses.  It was very valuable at the time because no one was really talking about it or what could happen to people going through grief.  So much research after this has been done around grief, but this is what most doctors are taught in medical school.
We stopped thinking about other theories and just looked at this one.  We try to take this crazy nonlinear messy experience and try to put it into linear stages and it’s just not reflecting what it actually feels like to experience a significant loss.  I don’t want people to think about the 5 stages, that’s just one idea.  But it’s not linear and clean-cut, because that is not the experience.  There are many more than the 5 stages of grief for people to think about.
Doing it right… When someone asks how do I do it right.. What is your answer to that? 
There is no playbook.  There is no right way.  Your playbook will be different from mine. Grief is just so unique for everyone.  What makes something right is that we decide to believe it is right for us. It doesn’t exist outside of us.  WE are the boss of that.  WE get to decide what is right for our grieving experience. WE are always going to have a different experience. It is unique like a fingerprint.  And just because it is different doesn’t mean it is wrong or bad. It is just different.
Know that all emotions are a part of grief… We tend to think about certain ones, but all, the full spectrum of emotions is a part of grief.  I just get away from this idea of doing it right, because it is not relevant and there is NO right here.
It could be a spousal loss, a parent loss, or grieving a pet, it all hits us differently. What do you tell people are some of the first steps as you process this new life after loss?

Grief doesn’t have to relate just to death.. It is any perceived loss.  A loss of a job expected something to go one way and it went another. But if it’s an intense loss, I would expect in the beginning for many people it does feel like your whole world fell apart.  You are numb, grief fog. Your brain feels foggy and just like there is full of fluff in your brain.  Sometimes people feel numb and then just worry about themselves. It’s really messy for most people in early acute grief.  Then it tends to start to smooth out and get to a functioning place. They can go back to work, get day-to-day things. People from the outside probably think we are doing really well. But we are functioning. It’s a grief plateau.
When you are there, people are inclined to stop there. The new normal. And maybe I should just get used to what this is like, as opposed to what we actually know is possible, like post-traumatic growth.  It takes any experience to inform the life you want to live in the future.  You cannot just bounce back to where you were before, but you can use the life experience to bounce forward.
As we are having this discussion, I think it is also worth having the conversation with your aging parent, with your spouse about WHAT IFs… What are your wishes, what do you want or what do they want for you after it happens.  This helps you to understand what they want. What does the person who’s not here want? Discussions in advance are so valuable.
You can trust yourself to make your own decisions after grief. Especially if it’s spousal loss, there are a lot of decisions.  But if you are not trusting yourself, who in your world are you trusting? Are there advisors to help you make big decisions? It’s not realistic to think we are not going to make big decisions in that first year, first month, first week, etc.

You decide where you are. You decide when you are ready to take the next step. There are also places where you can say I am not ready to open that door or take that step. And that is okay!
What are some of the things people should say to you? 
You don’t want to say the wrong thing to someone who just suffered a loss. You probably won’t say the right thing either, or you have to make peace with it going into it. We are humans, it’s okay if we mess it up.  What tends to be perceived as the most dismissive, is when you TRY to make someone else feel better.  We see them hurting and we don’t have the capacity to be okay when they are not okay, we will try to change them… “Oh they are in a better place.  It’s part of God’s plan. You are young, you’ll find someone else.”  We say things because we don’t know how to be okay if they are when they do not feel okay.  If we can go in knowing we have a problem and we are okay no matter how they feel, we don’t need them to feel better so we can feel better. We are just going to be with them as they feel what they feel. That felt the most supportive for me.  Someone was just with me when I had the experience and didn’t try to make me feel different, that is so powerful.
It’s so easy to feel forgotten by your friends. It’s this weird space. Your world will never be the same again, but you watch other people going back to business as usual.  It just hurts you.  You understand it but yet it’s such a thing to get used to.  Sometimes it’s the early couple of months when the food stops coming, people stop calling every day, the cards stop showing up, then you start to feel alone. Some of the things that helped me were people just sending little text messages. And it meant so much to me to know I wasn’t forgotten.
So, for someone listening going through this, what is one thing you would say to them? 
I wish I had learned earlier to support myself with grief grenades. Nothing complicated, just find tools that work because there are so many of them. Even a simple hand on the heart, take a deep breath, give the emotion permission to flow through. Tapping is another tool that I love, and I teach so much! I wish I had used that earlier. I would have had a much easier experience if I used it more.  I wish I had known that time doesn’t heal.  People will tell you to stay busy, just stay strong, buckle down for the first year since it’s the worst… But as much as we want that to be true and as much as it is nuanced, it just isn’t true that the passage of time heals.
Grief Grenade – how would you describe this? 
Those moments where it’s a complete surprise of emotion and you are not expecting it. Its nervous system based… but sometimes it’s not.  Something you are experiencing or triggered by brings it up, a moment of intensity, a memory that brings it up, a song. Etc

Some random thing that pops in and causes you to think about the loss and intense emotions you didn’t expect.  How do you support yourself in that moment?
This is part of the human experience. And wouldn’t it be an easier experience if we normalized that for ourselves?  We didn’t make it about right or wrong or good or bad, or any of the judgment that adds suffering to the emotions.  It’s not necessary.  Your grief experience will be yours and you cannot do it wrong!
I am so thankful for Krista sitting down with me and talking to me about this topic. I want to have these hard conversations because sadly it is coming for all of us and it’s just a matter of when… and a lot of us have experienced more than we would have thought in our lives. Reach out to Krista if you need anything or want to learn more about what she is doing. Or if you need a friend to hear this, please share this blog with them, or send them a link to the podcast to listen to.
What is one thing that makes you feel magical? 
Right now, there is a lot of magic around my kids… My youngest is 16 and I am just in awe of him sometimes. The emotional awareness that a child has is so magical to me. The conversations and the things he says just blow me away. And I am like I get to be this human’s mother and he is magical and that makes me feel magical! It blows me away and I learned so much from him.
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