Grief and Grace CoachingSupporting healthy grief expression and spiritual connection after loss
Hi, I’m Emily. I’m here to help you reclaim wholeness in the wake of your loss.
If you’re like many others (myself included) who’ve experienced a sudden and traumatic loss, you already know how hard it can be just to get out of bed each day, much less actually show up as your whole, best self in work and life.
You’re afraid you’ll suffer under the crushing weight of grief for the rest of your life. You have a hard time feeling like you can be yourself around people, because everyone tells you to “cheer up” or “focus on the good things you have” or “enough time has passed, you need to move on”. You get shut down every time you try to talk about the person you lost, so maybe you’ve stopped trying altogether, even though you have so much to say.
Maybe you don’t know how to talk about your loved one with old friends or new people you meet – or even your own family. Perhaps you wish you would have done or said something differently … but you had no way of knowing they were going to leave so abruptly.
You feel like you’re drowning as you watch everyone else go back to “normal” while your world remains completely shattered. You know that your “normal” will never be the same, but you feel lost about how to move forward at all, even though you want to. Perhaps you’ve started to self-sabotage, feeling like nothing matters anyway. Replaying the past, worrying about the future, avoiding engaging in anything joyful or meaningful in the present, terrified that everything and everyone else you love will also be ripped away from you.
You’re looking for a light in the darkness – for someone who’s been where you are to help illuminate a path … and the well-meaning but misguided friends and self-help books just aren’t cutting it anymore.
I've been where you are, and I'm here to show you the way through your grief.
Today, I live a whole, fulfilling life that includes witnessing and honoring my grief in healthy ways. I feel calm and energized each day, with a clear sense of purpose about my mission here. When I feel overwhelmed, I know how to quickly identify the support I need, so that I can get out from under it and move forward. I’ve released criticism, sarcasm, anger and other “shields” that don’t actually protect or heal me. I leverage the power of my grief for good, supporting a foundation established in memory of my brother that will serve generations to come. I also feel a strong spiritual connection to my brother and my support system on the other side, and frequently experience visitations in dreams as well as signs in the physical world of their presence.
Getting here, however, was not easy.
On May 16th, 2017 (my wedding anniversary, actually), I woke up and went to work as usual at the finance consulting job I’d worked in for years, with plans to celebrate with my husband later that evening. I made a miniature version of our wedding cake to share. I messaged back and forth with my youngest brother, Thomas, exchanging jokes and random comics like we always did. I took a break at lunch and went outside to read a book on my deck. It was a beautiful day. Suddenly, something compelled me urgently to go inside and check my messages. I had a number of missed calls from Thomas’s roommate. He’d collapsed. The police were there. The ambulance was there. They were taking him to the hospital. The police wanted to talk to me. I was irritated by their questions – my brother was healthy, didn’t have enemies, didn’t use drugs, barely ever drank alcohol. He probably just got dehydrated after working out or something. Why did they keep asking me these questions? Why wouldn’t they just tell me that he was going to be fine?
As I drove to the hospital I called my parents, and then I started to panic. When I panic, my default is to pray for help. I started to pray for guidance for the doctors that were helping Thomas. I prayed that God would take care of Thomas. As soon as I said in my head “God, please take care of Thomas –” before I could even get to the part about the doctors, I heard clearly in my head, “I am, and he’s with me.”
I started to scream. I begged to be wrong, to have misheard something. But I had received messages like this before and I knew I’d heard correctly.
I burst into the hospital, disheveled, and breathlessly told the attendant “I’m here to see Thomas. He just came in an ambulance. I’m his sister.”
She stared at me in silence for a few seconds, picked up the phone, and said “Someone is here for Room 4.”
Room 4? Say his name. I was angry and confused. Why wouldn’t she say his name? I’d just told her his name. His name is Thomas.
That was the moment everything changed. The moment that I was introduced to the hurricane of death, grief and chaos. I was soon to learn that no one would really know how to talk to me, or look me in the eye, or acknowledge what had happened.
It’s funny, the things we remember and the things we don’t. I remember the doctor’s face as he explained that Thomas’s heart had stopped for no apparent reason – an unexplained sudden cardiac arrhythmia – and that it happens to young people more often than we realize. He was so calm, and I wondered how many times he’d delivered news like this before. I think I yelled at him that there had to be some other way to bring him back – something they’d forgotten to try – and couldn’t we just go in the room and try again? The rest is a blur.
In the days and weeks that followed, my inner world spiraled out of control. The issue was, it didn’t look like I was out of control. I looked very much in control. My house was Ground Zero, and I had to keep everything together. I helped plan the service, and I gave a perfect speech. A part of me expected Thomas to come back after I did such a “good job” – like there was a test I had to pass, and then everything would be okay. But the tests kept coming. I navigated the complicated paperwork that comes with unexpected death and settling an estate. I went back to work. I smiled graciously when people gave me advice – people who had no clue what I was experiencing. I functioned normally at a surface level. Everything felt forced, and I felt hopeless, like I was watching from above as the horror story of my own life unfolded. How was I supposed to keep doing anything anymore? What would even be the point, when I couldn’t share these things with the person I’d lost?
A few weeks after Thomas passed away, I had a dream (one of many that followed). I was standing in my living room next to the sofa, and I turned around to see Thomas leaning against the arm of the furniture like he always did. He looked like he was illuminated from the inside. I screamed, crying, and hugged him as he laughed. Unrestrained, joyful laughter like wind chimes. Immediately I grabbed him by the arms and said “Why did you have to go?” and he gave me a stern look as if to say “You know I can’t tell you that.” So I said “Well, is God taking care of you? Are you happy?” He enthusiastically nodded and it looked like that inner light grew even brighter as he did. He was happy. He was okay. He was still here. I said “Okay, good” (as if I was going to go beat God up or something if he said he wasn’t happy) and we sat on the couch with pizza watching cartoons for the rest of the afternoon. When the day was ending and I knew my dream was almost over and I’d be waking up soon, I started to cry again. “Will we see each other again?” I asked. Thomas confirmed that we would, and I woke up.
From that point on, I knew that my life was going to be radically different than I’d imagined. I had one vision of my life that involved everyone in my family living a long, healthy life, and dying in age order when we were all in our 100’s. And then Thomas died when he was 25 for literally no reason. And then I had a new vision of my life that involved fumbling through darkness and rage, not really caring when it was over, because the worst that could happen was that I’d see Thomas again, and that sounded good. I wasn’t reckless or suicidal, but I just wasn’t afraid of dying. Or I couldn’t really tell you if I was – I was more numb than anything. And then I had this dream, and a number of dreams since where Thomas visits and we hang out like we used to. Whenever I demand answers about his passing, he makes it clear that those answers are off-limits. It’s frustrating, but I’d rather have him visit and not answer all of my questions, than not visit at all.
By now, several months later, it was pretty clear that my grief wasn’t going anywhere. I’d read the books, I’d listened to the talks, I’d sat through painful conversations with well-meaning people who said all the wrong things. Nothing helped. I braced myself, waiting for it to be over. And then it occurred to me that grief isn’t something to overcome or fight against. It’s not something that has an end date or a time limit – it’s a new thing we are forced to incorporate into our lives, and we will all face it one day. But we can do it gracefully, and live a joyful life. And grief is really a mirror of the love we had and still have for the person who died. I began to suspect that my path to healing involved being able to witness and honor the love that’s reflected back in my mirror of grief. To do that, I would also have to witness and honor my inner self – my soul.
I learned how to create space for my personal experience of grief, so that I can release it and don’t feel like I’m choking all the time. I started to pay attention to the words I’d use when I talked to people. I got comfortable with not needing to make everyone else feel comfortable. Where I needed to make changes in how I interacted with people, I did. And I was intentional and graceful about it, carrying myself with confidence that I alone knew what was going to be most helpful for me. I had to set new boundaries with people and then I had to honor those boundaries. Eventually, I worked on rebuilding trust in my spiritual support team. For so long I was angry that no one from my team on the other side “told me” this was going to happen. Somewhat jokingly, but out of true despair, my prayer each night was “I know you’re up there, but this is total bullshit and I have nothing to say to you. Goodnight.” Many of my relationships changed, including my relationship with God and the Universe. I’d previously assumed that if I was good, and nice, and faithful, everything would be good, and everyone I love would be alive. I now know that it doesn’t work that way, but I have the resilience to continue to be and do good things while I’m here on Earth, even as I continue to experience unspeakable pain.
Years prior to my brother’s passing, I was fortunate to have elected to go through training as a coach, and I’d embraced it fully, absorbing all of the tools, techniques and vocabulary, ultimately becoming credentialed through the International Coach Federation and working privately as a financial empowerment coach for women. I realized the tools I’d leveraged and the skills I’d built as a professional financial coach could also serve people on a much deeper level when they’re faced with what is probably the single most traumatic experience they’ll ever have. I used the coaching techniques I’ve honed over the years to facilitate my own healing, and went on to obtain advanced certification specializing in grief coaching. What I now offer is a culmination of my own experience with life and loss, combined with the tools and skills necessary to facilitate powerful, lasting change for the better for those who have experienced a sudden and traumatic loss.
In total transparency, I’m still confused and bewildered about my brother’s passing – ultimately, there was no clear medical explanation other than “it just happens sometimes”. I won’t tell you that I have all the answers about why this happened to you, to the person you lost, to everyone else who’s been impacted by it. I will tell you that with the right support, you can take back your life and not let confusion, anger, fear and guilt run the show. It doesn’t mean they’ll never show up, but you’ll be able to recognize and work with what you’re experiencing so that you can engage fully with the world and this life.
I still spend time with my brother every day, just in a different way. I believe wholeheartedly that you will see your loved one again too, and not just when you die.
I believe in the power of coaching to support those living with loss to have a meaningful, beautiful life here, and that’s why I’m dedicated to supporting others in healthy grief expression and spiritual connection after experiencing sudden and traumatic loss. I believe that we are all connected here, and that we stay connected after our loved ones transition out of the physical world. I am certain that my mission here is to shepherd others through their own grief experience, demonstrating that we are loved, supported and protected, and our loved ones are still with us whenever we want to connect with them.
Where do we go from here?Take the first step to reclaiming your life while honoring your loved ones
ACCEPTING THE NEW NORMAL
Creating Space: Your world has changed, and you’re being forced to make room for something you never asked for, but isn’t going away. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but you have to create space to express your grief in healthy ways, which likely requires major shifts at home and at work. Try to ignore it, and it’ll continue to build beneath the surface until it erupts in potentially devastating ways. Working together, we determine the most realistic way for you to create space in your own life to grieve your loss without derailing your entire life or causing damage to those around you.
Articulating Needs and Feelings: After experiencing a sudden and traumatic loss, you’re going to engage differently with the world than you did before, which requires setting new boundaries for your own wellbeing. Your head might be spinning about how to explain what you’re experiencing, especially if you aren’t used to expressing emotion openly. However, identifying and articulating your true needs and feelings is the foundation to setting healthy boundaries in your life. You might have noticed that you’re no longer interested in small talk, surface-level interactions or entertaining other people’s trivial complaints. You know what true pain feels like, and it’s time to reset boundaries with people in your life who’ve gotten comfortable with your lack of them. As they say, the only people who get upset about your boundaries are the ones who were taking advantage of you not having any. We collaborate on how to define and reinforce boundaries where they’re needed – those that serve you and your overall wellbeing, rather than just creating an isolation bubble around yourself. Boundary-setting doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from the world, but rather, making very clear to everyone around you what is and is not important in your life.
Redefining Relationships: Many of us struggle with navigating how to talk about our loved ones that we’ve lost. This is often true of encounters with new people – the dreaded “do you have any kids?” or “how many siblings do you have?” but it also comes up with our existing friends and family who’ve lost the same person we did. Everyone’s grief experience is unique. You might feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t talk about your loved one, but whenever you bring them up, people tend to change the subject, mumble something generic or say something (unintentionally) hurtful. You might discover that people you didn’t know that well before become your closest allies, or conversely, that people you thought you were close to have distanced themselves or disappeared entirely. This is where we learn to redefine how we talk about our loved ones in a way that makes us feel good, and work through creating the types of relationships we want to have long-term – building on those that are healthy, and releasing those that no longer serve us.
LIVING WITH THE NEW NORMAL
All focus areas from Recovery Blueprint:
Articulating Needs and Feelings
Reinforcing Boundaries: I know what you’re thinking – didn’t we already talk about boundaries? Yes, we did. But here’s the thing – you’ll establish boundaries based on your true needs and feelings, which is the critical first step. And then, people will test those boundaries. Repeatedly. Usually it’s innocent enough and people mean well but give terrible advice, and the boundaries need to be reinforced. Sometimes though, people aren’t interested in respecting your needs, and are hoping you’ll back down with enough of a push. When people have conflicting priorities, they are going to butt heads. However, when your priorities are literally just to function effectively in society as you carry the mantle of grief, those priorities are non-negotiable. That’s why we revisit this to see who’s pushing you, what the ideal interactions look like, and how to bring them to fruition. This goes for everyone you interact with – your boss, your spouse, your parents, your friends. It’s an ongoing process, so this is where you learn the tools for reassessing, reflecting, and taking action to reinforce the structure you need to keep moving forward effectively.
Rebuilding Spiritual Trust: When someone we love is unexpectedly ripped away from us, we feel betrayed and angry. We look for someone or something to be mad at, and with good reason. What has happened to you, to your loved one, is completely unfair. While many of us want to lean on faith to carry us through, it can be difficult to truly trust that we’re protected and loved, when the worst thing possible has happened to us. Our connection to God, Spirit, Source, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, is directly aligned with our ability to connect to our loved ones after they transition from the physical world. I’ve found it’s difficult to recognize the many ways our loved ones are reaching out to us if we’re closed off from this spiritual truth and refusing to trust what we receive. There is no magic button we can push to delete what happened and instantly trust again, but just like any relationship where our faith was betrayed, it takes time, a lot of work, and consistent two-way dialogue to rebuild. Using my own spiritual background and ability to connect to the other side, in combination with my coaching techniques, we begin to rebuild that trust through exercises to heighten your spiritual awareness so you can start to more readily receive signs and messages from your loved ones in various forms, whether they are in dreams, in music, in nature, or in interactions with others. Rebuild that connection and trust, and you will have an always-accessible link to your loved one who’s passed.
Practicing Forgiveness: There are so many situations and people to forgive and release when we’re grieving. Holding on to guilt and anger might feel good in the moment because we confuse it with holding on to our loved one in a way, but it only hurts us and can literally make us sick. Think about who or what has triggered you since you lost your loved one. Maybe it’s the distant relative you’ve never met who asked you “if you’re happy, you know, besides all THIS” at the memorial service. Forgive and release. Maybe it’s the acquaintance who learns your mother was killed by a drunk driver and says they know what you’re going through because their hamster died when they were 12 (nothing against hamsters). Forgive and release. But this is the deal – if it was easy to forgive and release, we’d all do it all the time. We’d realize we feel much better when we do. But it’s NOT easy and that’s why we call it out to work on in coaching. Maybe we’re just furious and we can’t even really pinpoint what we’re furious about specifically. Maybe we’re not used to “making waves” by saying out loud when we’re upset about something. You can’t forgive something you can’t identify out loud. Maybe you need to forgive yourself. So since I’m not a self-help book telling you what you need to do and then finishing the sentence, I’m sharing that with coaching we can identify who and what needs to be forgiven, and practice it constantly together. It’s a daily practice and it can be learned – and trust me, in the years to come as you grieve, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness.
THRIVING IN THE NEW NORMAL
All focus areas from Recovery Blueprint and Reentry Pathway:
Articulating Needs and Feelings
Rebuilding Spiritual Trust
Financial Restabilization: Maybe it’s from my years in corporate finance and management consulting, or my time as a financial coach, but I am acutely aware of the financial chaos and overwhelm that can accompany unexpected death. People are really hesitant to talk about money in general, so when you combine money and grief, it’s almost unheard of. However, I’ve been through it, and I’ve coached many others through it, and it’s really important to face proactively or it can literally destroy your life. Perhaps your entire financial life has spiraled out of control since your loved one died. When people pass away suddenly or unexpectedly, it’s even more likely that that’s true. I’m not just talking about people who were provided for financially by someone who has now passed away; I’m also talking about people who throw money at quick fixes hoping that it will heal their grief or protect them from it. When we’re grieving, our brains aren’t processing information the way they normally do, and we make decisions based on a different set of priorities. So to help make sure your bank account isn’t hijacked, we explore the financial impact of the loss, what your life looks like today, what you need, and how to pay for it. This could mean setting up a trust, settling an estate, determining how best to leverage an inheritance or settlement, or how to support yourself when the primary earner is no longer alive. My background in finance and investing, along with coaching insights, allows us to develop a go-forward financial strategy that will serve your wellbeing long-term, not just your impulse to book a vacation and get away from your pain.
Legacy Building: Perhaps you’re in a place where you really want to start to contribute something meaningful to the world in a way that acknowledges and honors your loved one. This can happen in a number of ways – volunteering for a cause they were passionate about, establishing a foundation in their honor, working to bring greater awareness to a disease or a societal ill that could spare another family the pain you’ve experienced. Maybe it’s as simple as carving out time in nature to sit with your loved one and talk to them, visualizing them sitting next to you. Maybe it’s just an act of kindness performed for a stranger, that you do with your loved one in mind. Just as everyone’s experience of grief is unique, everyone’s desire to express their love through legacy building is also unique. We work together to determine what speaks to your heart and how you feel called to honor your loved one, and then we build a plan to put it into action, no matter what it is. Specifically, leveraging my personal experience with nonprofit establishment and administration, as well as fundraising, donor relations and investment strategies, I have the background to help guide those who are seeking a similar path of establishing a standalone nonprofit foundation. However, there are a number of ways to build on the legacy of your loved one, and it’s all about what makes the most sense for you and what will bring you the most satisfaction as you honor them. That’s what we navigate together through coaching.
Advanced Spiritual Connection: We touched on rebuilding spiritual trust earlier on, and this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of upleveling your personal spiritual connection. Through energy work, guided meditation and visualization exercises, mindfulness and connection to nature, we tap in to the spiritual life-force that surrounds and protects us at all times. This is where your loved one lives – their soul also surrounds and protects you, and you can learn to feel it in a more tangible way by making a concentrated effort to heighten your spiritual awareness. This is a deeply personal practice, and coaching helps to facilitate determining the most effective pathways for each person to leverage. We’ll explore practices that have worked especially well in my own life to maintain the profound connection I now share with my brother, my spirit guides, guardian angels and God. We work together to establish a specific spiritual practice that you can always revisit, and hopefully do revisit consistently, to strengthen that spiritual bridge you’ve built connecting you to your loved ones and your spiritual support team. I am surrounded by signs and wonders on a daily basis, and through this work, you will be too.
Think this might be right for you?
Let’s talk. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a (totally free, no commitment) 20-minute chat. I’ll answer any questions you might have, and my goal is for you to feel confident that you have the support you need to move forward embracing life while honoring your loved ones.