What’s the Right Way to Grieve? Hint: Your Way…

With the Holidays upon us, I started thinking about how so many of us experience the complication of reoccurring grief this time of year and how it can completely catch us off guard. Over the past few years, I’ve watched three dear friends lose their mothers, two extended family members lose their husbands, another dear friend lose an adult child, and witnessed numerous life and career transitions that led to loss and grief.

All of this led me to start mulling over whether to add grief coaching as a specialty to my practice… As someone previously deeply affected by grief, I wanted very much to help others heal from their losses and perhaps avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced, but was worried it would trigger my grief and hit too close to home, making me an ineffective coach. Thankfully, my thoughts have been full of love and an open-hearted desire to help and so I realized I am ready to commit to helping others in this specific way. I was already coaching people through loss, it just wasn’t an official specialty. Now it is.

As many of you know, I’ve had my own experience with grief. Most recently with the loss of my furry four-legged soul mate Rusty. However, more significantly, seven years ago, when within a matter of a few months, I was hit with a trifecta of loss: my mother died, I left my career as a college professor, and in the process lost my identity and sense of self. It was a lot to handle, and I’ll admit I didn’t handle it all that well... Sure, I held it together most of the time, but I also experienced the cycle of grief over a few years that seemed like it would never improve, much less end.

At first, the grief felt all-consuming and lasted longer than I like to admit

At first, the grief felt all-consuming and lasted longer than I like to admit. I felt paralyzed both mentally and physically. My mind was fuzzy and numb, and my body felt like it was pinned under an enormous boulder. Then as time went on, it began to change. The grief went from being a constant companion, to a regular presence, to an intermittent visitor, and finally to an infrequent awareness. My mind began to clear, and the boulder slowly crumbled bit by bit. That’s not to say it was a linear process with a lesser experience permanently replacing a more intense one. In fact, there were times when things regressed, but that’s to be expected. And it’s okay.

As the anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, I feel myself headed into that all too familiar territory of malaise and the blahs. It’s not a strong form of grief anymore. It even takes a while for me to realize what’s happening when my mood subtly but clearly changes. I’m still happy overall, but something feels off, different... I don’t feel very motivated to get my work done or to socialize much, and I might spend a day or two binge watching Netflix, reading, or playing a silly video game. And then it passes.

This is the face of grief for me as the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death draws near. And it’s a good opportunity to share my own experience and lessons learned to hopefully help you understand that your grief is unique to you, just like mine is unique to me. And that's okay.

There is no “right” amount of time to grieve 

There is no “right” amount of time to grieve and expecting to “snap out of it” after a certain amount of time just because someone you know did isn’t realistic or fair. While one person may move through the process in a matter of weeks, it can take another person years. Neither person is doing it wrong.

Also, Grief isn’t a linear process. One person may go through all five of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in order, whereas another may go through them in a different order, skip a stage or two altogether, or revisit an earlier stage later in the process. Neither person is doing it wrong.

All too often, grief causes situational depression, which can profoundly affect our ability to be fully present in our own lives. If you find yourself in this situation, there is no shame in seeking help from a licensed therapist. Coaching can absolutely help you deal with loss, but it is not counseling and cannot take the place of a skilled therapist and the appropriate use of medication, when indicated, to help release you from the sense of hopelessness that may accompany your grief. Again, whether or not you take this route, you are not doing it wrong.

I had never experienced depression or seen a therapist until my personal trifecta of loss. After six months or so, I finally went to my doctor. I took an antidepressant and saw a therapist for about a year until the worst was over and am so glad I spoke up and asked for help. While medication and counseling were helpful, I would have healed faster and more effectively if I had known about coaching and how it can complement them. Alone or in coordination with counseling, coaching can be an extremely effective tool in dealing with loss.

I’ve grieved the loss of my mother, other loved ones, a beloved pet, friendships, a hard-earned career, my identity, and even aspects of my health. I know how grief operates, and how if we don’t take action, it can be crippling. I also understand that no two people grieve the same way or in the same amount of time. There is no right way to grieve and judging yourself based on others’ grief experience is not helpful. Comparison with others is rarely a good idea anyway, much less when it comes to grief. 

If you need to talk to someone, please do, even if it’s not to me. And remember, you never have to walk this path alone.

If you are grieving a loss of any sort, my New Year wish for you is to be kind to yourself throughout the grieving process. 

            Be well my friends

Imposters and Fakes and Frauds, Oh My!

From the time I started my PhD program to the day I left my academic career fourteen years later, I was plagued by the thought “I’m a total fraud and they’re going to figure it out any day now!”. And now that I’m experiencing the daily challenges of building and running my coaching business, that thought has started to creep back into my mind again…

Yikes, I’m Starting a Business! Or, How to Tackle the F Word on a Daily Basis…

Starting my own business is something I never, ever thought I would do. I was firmly ensconced in my academic career and fully expected to stay there until I keeled over at the lectern. I never expected having to reinvent myself and start another career path, yet there I was… 

Lessons from Bowie the Golden Retriever Puppy

Have you ever watched a puppy play? Really watched? We brought home an adorable fuzzy little puppy a couple of weeks ago and we named him Bowie. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you understand the major adjustment it is for your life, your house, and any family members, including other furry friends. But they are just so darn cute! 

So, as I try not to get frustrated with the little bugger for doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing as a puppy by exploring his surroundings, experiencing this amazing new world he’s in, and chewing on EVERYTHING, I’ve been reflecting on how amazing puppies really are, and how if we were just a little more like puppies, our lives might just be happier and more fulfilling. 

I’ve Seen Fire and (I wish) I’ve Seen Rain…

Being evacuated due to a wildfire that nearly burned down your neighborhood is a sobering thing. And as the Santa Ana winds blast away outside again, as they have every other Monday for the past five Mondays, two of which sparked wildfires, I’ve never hoped for it to rain so much in my life! But here in Southern California, the chances of a good, soaking rain this early in the season are pretty much nil. So on pins and needles I sit.

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