ERP 397: How Partners May Grieve Differently — An Interview with Kelly Cervantes

By Posted in - Podcast November 7th, 2023 0 Comments

Grief is a deeply personal and often challenging emotional journey, one that can take on countless forms and manifest in diverse ways. When couples endure such heart-wrenching moments, they often discover that they grieve differently, which can strain their relationships. This can create a profound and sometimes bewildering disconnect in the relationship, leading to feelings of isolation, frustration, and confusion.

In this enlightening conversation, we delve into the complexities of grieving differently as a couple and explore valuable insights to help couples maintain and enhance their connections during these trying times. By recognizing the individuality of each person’s grief, fostering open and honest communication, and seeking external support when necessary, couples can discover meaningful ways to journey through their mourning together, strengthening their emotional bonds in the process.

Kelly Cervantes is an award-winning writer, speaker, and advocate best known for her blog Inchstones. She is the immediate past board chair for the nonprofit CURE Epilepsy and also hosts their biweekly podcast, Seizing Life. Kelly currently resides in Maplewood, NJ, with her husband, Miguel Cervantes currently starring in Hamilton on Broadway, their children, and two dogs, Tabasco and Sriracha. Her book Normal Broken: The Grief Companion For When It’s Time to Heal But You’re Not Sure You Want To.

In this Episode

5:28 Kelly Cervantes’ grief journey and its impact on relationships.

17:17 The importance of open communication and managing expectations.

21:12 The evolving nature of grief in relationships: Communication, acceptance, and moments of connection.

27:59 Navigating connection and intimacy amidst grief: The impact of a pandemic and prior experiences.

39:29 The significance of seeking and accepting support during the grieving process.

45:28 Creating shared meaning in grief: Finding moments of connection and support.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Acknowledge the need for support: Understand that it’s okay to ask for help when navigating grief, even when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Embrace vulnerability: Recognize that vulnerability can lead to stronger connections and deeper understanding in your relationship.
  • Maintain honest and open conversations with your partner about your individual grief journeys, needs, and expectations.
  • Seek external support: Remember that your partner doesn’t have to be your sole source of support; seek help from friends, family, or support groups.
  • Find shared rituals: Establish meaningful rituals or activities that bring you and your partner together during challenging times, like anniversaries.
  • Develop the practice of asking for help: Learning to ask for assistance and creating a support network is essential for coping with grief.
  • Consider sharing your experiences, insights, and emotions through writing, offering a valuable companion to others navigating their unique grief journeys.

Mentioned

Normal Broken: The Grief Companion for When It’s Time to Heal but You’re Not Sure You Want To (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Grief Refuge (download link) (app)

Center for Loss & Life Transition

Connect with Kelly Cervantes

Websites: kellycervantes.com

Facebook: facebook.com/kellygc411

Twitter: twitter.com/KellyGC411

Instagram: instagram.com/kellygc411

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/kelly-cervantes-6b3a7ba

Podcast: podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/seizing-life/id1450310889

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Kelly, thank you for joining us today. 

Thank you so much for having me. 

Yeah, and I just am grateful to spend time on this very important topic. It’s typically very tender territory, as we look at grieving and mourning and loss. Is there anything you want to let people know who maybe don’t know you, just a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, absolutely. So my sort of grief journey, I suppose, began in 2016. The same week that my husband booked the role of Hamilton on Broadway, and then our family moved to Chicago for him to do the role there. It was the same week that my daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy. So she was seven months old at the time, and our journey would just sort of get progressively worse. We wouldn’t find out until six months before she passed away, that the condition was neurodegenerative. But looking back, you can see, there came a certain point where no month and no week was better than the one before it. 

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“I find that a lot of that grief, when you’re dealing with a loved one who is ill, be it a child or a parent, that grief journey starts way before that person passes away.”

So we started grieving my daughter, the life that we thought she would have, the life we had envisioned that our family would have, way back when she was a baby and we started to understand that her life was going to look different. We had no idea how different. She passed away in October of 2019. It was five days before her fourth birthday. 

Wow, wow! 

I thought, I remember my mom had come to live with us for the last few weeks that Adelaide was alive. She’s a therapist. I remember telling her, I feel like I’ve been grieving Adelaide for so long. At this point, once she dies, it’ll just be like time served. Like, I won’t have to grieve her as long because I’ve already been grieving her for such a long time. And my mom just sort of smiled and said that she didn’t think it worked that way, and she was right. I guess the interesting thing is, while my daughter was alive, my husband and I very much grieved similarly and together. I felt like we had regular conversations and check-ins, and we themed in sync. The moment she died, that changed completely.

Wow, wow! This is really what we’re going to be focusing on today, when perhaps in relationship, there is an extremely significant loss, or whatever degree of loss, and we’re confronted with mourning, grieving. There is this almost expectation, or assumption even at times, that since we experienced it similarly, and as to your point, even we could be very similar in many other ways, in our anticipatory grief, as well as just how we approach in our values. Yet, in this moment of rural mourning and grieving, it can be vastly different grieving processes.

100%. Well, because you also have to think, every person has their own unique relationship with the person who is gone. So for me, Adelaide, I quit my job to take care of her. So everything that I did during the day was for her; managing doctor’s appointments, therapy appointments, calling the insurance, getting the prescriptions, giving her all the meds, all of her feeds, monitoring her. That was my job 24/7. So when she died, I didn’t just lose my daughter. It was like I was forced into retirement against my will. For my husband, he lost his daughter, but he still had a job to go to, and it was a job that had been an escape for him through her entire life. It was his safe place where he could sort of compartmentalize, and as an actor, be someone else. So there was this drastically different way, even though we both lost the same person; we had both lost a child. The way that that impacted our lives was drastically different.

Thank you for underscoring that. That when a person, a family member, and in this case a child, dies, each parent has a different relationship with that person or that child or whomever the people that are grieving. So notable. You’re also saying, there’s different roles in how we show up for other people too, that in this case, in your situation, you’re sharing circumstantially, this was very much a part of your role, and probably identity, of being in the caretaker completely.

Yeah. You’re grieving all of these little things, and I was extraordinarily impacted by this loss. I mean, which comes as no surprise, I’m sure, to anyone listening. But it became very difficult for me to make it through a day or to go out in public, all of the traditional ways that you would imagine that the loss of a child would impact a parent. I was, like, textbook. Drinking too much sometimes, and not being able to leave the house for long periods, and sleeping all the time, and just completely devolving into a puddle of tears, hoping I can make it to the bathroom. Because we also have a son, who was seven when his sister died. Trying to hold it together for him, but honestly, not doing it very well. Meanwhile, my husband was rather stoic through all of this. It got to a point several months down the road where I felt like I was the only one still grieving her in my own home. Because he cried when she passed, he cried at her service; we were emotional those first seven to 10 days. And then he just seemed to be fine.

On the outside. 

On the outside. But that was all that I could see. Our normal nightly talks that we had had during Adelaide’s life, we weren’t having those anymore. Because we weren’t going to bed at the same time, or I was going to bed earlier, whatever the reason. It was just too hard to communicate. It was too emotional to communicate. So we weren’t. So I felt like I was going crazy and losing control, especially because I looked at him and he seemed okay; he seemed to have it all together. So we actually ended up going to therapy, which forced us to sit down and have a conversation, and he admitted that he was grieving, but he needed to do it privately. So he would cry and grieve and think of our daughter while he was walking the dog, while he was doing something completely separate, cleaning the kitchen, he would grieve then on his own at night by himself.

Which is part of one’s process that is really understandable. And what you’re describing, and I want to see if you would agree, that in relationship. I could back up and give some context to this, which I think will be important just for the topic of grief. But when we’re staying with relationship, it potentially can be highly triggering if we don’t know what’s going on, on the inside. We could feel that our partner is in this state, and I’m trying to hold it together. So I don’t know how to engage or come close, because that’s going to rattle me. So I kind of stay a little bit more removed. Or the person, to your point, looks like they’re moving on business as usual, and I’m shattered. You’re my person, where are you?

Yeah. I would be on the bathroom floor and he would poke his head in and be like, you’re cool? I’m like, clearly I’m not cool. All I really wanted was for him to just sit there with me. But he didn’t feel comfortable doing that because he was also wrestling with guilt, because he felt like I had been her primary caregiver so I was allowed to grieve her in this way. But because he hadn’t been the primary caregiver, because he had not been around as much, because he was working so that I could be home with her, he didn’t feel like he deserved that kind of grief.

It wasn’t warranted to feel to the same degree. Wow, oh, that’s painful!

Exactly. So you have no idea that all of these things are going on in someone’s head. Also, because I was crumbling, understandably, but we did have our son, and someone needed to be there for him and to offer some sort of normalcy. He was grieving too, of course. So all of this whole dynamic is going on. But if we hadn’t sat down and had that conversation, I wouldn’t have known that he was feeling that way, and he wouldn’t have known that I just needed him to sit with me and hold my hand. That I wasn’t judging him that he didn’t deserve to be grieving. I just needed someone to see me and to not feel alone in my grief. 

Yeah, there’s so much you’re saying around relationship and the layers. I just want to acknowledge the backdrop of how complicated this can be, because I think this is such a painful place. Particularly in the Western world, I don’t know if you would agree, but there’s not as much collective. I mean, there is for a service, and then that initial mourning phase, but the actual grieving process, there isn’t as much space for that. Thus, people often have some ideals or expectations and are judging themselves. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had that are like, “I feel like I’m broken. I’m grieving wrong. Something’s wrong with me, I don’t think I’m grieving correctly.” These types of things, and there’s little guidance around how to walk through this journey. Would you agree?

I would completely agree. I do think there’s groups and retreats and these things, but you have to go out and look for them. And when you are grieving, when it is so impacting your life, that’s not necessarily something that you’re capable of doing. So you look naturally to the people who are in your intimate circle, and when they’re not available for you, then that’s when I think those tensions and those resentments in a relationship can really, really start to rise.

Yes, I’m glad you mentioned the word “resentment.” Because had you and your husband not given some space to get support to have this deeper conversation, I have seen in other circumstances, fast forward, those narratives, the interpretation of the others continues to build, and the distancing and the disconnect widens. Because we feel this aloneness. We can’t reach to each other, it’s too confronting. And we’re not speaking the same grief language, if you will. It just further feels like disconnect and separation.

I want to emphasize though that us having that conversation, that was the first step. We had to be honest with each other about what we were feeling and what we needed. But there was a realization that I came to. So that was probably only a few months after she had passed. It was closer to a year, the one-year anniversary of her loss. That anniversary was looming, and I was dreading it, anticipatory grief at its peak. How was I going to handle this day? Knowing that Miguel was not going to be the person that I needed him to be on that day. So I called in my best friend from Chicago, and I asked her to fly out and spend the day with me. Shortly after Adelaide passed away, we had to move from Chicago to New Jersey, because my husband was transferred to the Broadway production. So we were living in New Jersey. Adelaide’s entire life had happened in Chicago. All of the people who we were close to, who knew her, who understand what that life had looked like for us, weren’t in New Jersey with us where we currently live. So I asked her to fly out, because I didn’t want to be disappointed by Miguel. And it wouldn’t have been fair, because that wasn’t something he was capable of doing. He wasn’t capable, in his own grief, in his own way that he was handling all of this, to be that person for me. 

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“And when you think, I think that we just put so much pressure on our romantic relationships, to be the end-all be-all, and to fill all of the gaps that we need, socially, romantically, emotionally. When, in fact, like, if my husband can’t fix a pipe, I’m not going to resent him for that; I’m going to call a plumber.”

So if my husband can’t be there for me in grief, in these icky emotions, then I’m going to call in someone who can. I learned to be okay with that, and to take from him, and to give to him what each of us was capable of doing and being for the other. But not expecting beyond that.

Okay, I want to unpack what you’re saying, because it’s so important. It sounds as though you’re saying, even with the clarity of understanding that you both were grieving, you could understand that there were differences, perhaps be in a place of non-judgement and acceptance around those different grieving processes and the journey of that, that you had the communication that allowed for some more of that understanding. Am I hearing that right?

That’s correct. Yeah, absolutely.

It still didn’t give you the ultimate, what you needed. I mean, I imagine your grief journey continues. Typically for people, they have an expectation that it should have a time stamp on it at some point. 

Yeah, it doesn’t. 

It might change, and it might be different in the experience. Yes? 

Yes. I mean, I heard this so many times shortly after Adelaide died, and people are like, it’s just, you learn to live with it. And when I heard that, I was like, how could I possibly live with this? This pain is so intense! I can’t just live with this and go on, and try and have a healthy, happy, meaningful life. And what I now understand, what that means that people are like you learn how to live with it, is that you learn how to fold that grief into your life. 

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“You are never going to be the same person that you were, after a significant loss. It changes you irrevocably. You are a new person now. So in some ways, you’re grieving the person that you were, as you become this new person, and grief is along for that ride. It’s becoming that new person. It’s folding the grief into your life.”

Yes, time does soften those edges, so it is not as brutally painful day in and day out, as it is during those first months, even years. But the biggest difference is just learning how to do life with grief, that it’s always there. I’m going to be honest, I don’t want it to go away. Because that grief is my love for my daughter. It’s one and the same. It’s two sides of the same coin. So when I think of it in that way, my grief is not negative. It doesn’t have to be this dark cloud. It’s my love for her, and that I will always have with me.

Yes, they’re in similar channels in our heart. It is important to understand how related those are, because of the love and connection and the bond. Just acknowledging the process feels really helpful in the context of what we’re really zoning in on, in relationship, to just give some orientation for those that might have certain notions of what a grief journey looks like. It’s really helpful to speak into this, so I appreciate that. 

Now when we come back to what you were describing, did the communication with your husband offer a little more space and grace for one another? Or was that a kind of a touch and go? Sometimes it’s not like, oh, we’re in a forward trajectory. It’s like, well, it’s a learning curve. 

Yeah, major learning curve; two steps backwards, one step forward. I would still get frustrated. I was incredibly grateful to him always that he never asked me or expected me to move through my grief faster. He allowed me the space to grieve in the way that I needed to grieve. I saw him doing that, even if he couldn’t do it with me.

Or support you in the way that you wanted him to. But he wasn’t judging you for it. 

He wasn’t judging me for it. So when I acknowledged that, I was like, okay. I in turn can give him that space to grieve the way that he needs to grieve, and not judge him for that. What I did ask from him was: “This may be awkward for you, and it may be silly, but I need to know when you’ve been grieving. So I don’t need to be there with you, because I know that that’s not what you want or what you need. That’s not helpful for you. But I need to know I’m not the only one grieving her. So if you can just tell me afterwards that you’ve had a moment, then that would be really beneficial to me, so I don’t feel so alone in this.” I probably told him that, and then months later, he came down, I was making coffee or something in the morning, and he gave me a hug. He was like: “So I was regrouting the shower last night, and I was just thinking about living in this house and how Adelaide will never live here. But what it would be like if she was here?” And I just started crying, and I had a moment. I was like, thank you. Just hugged him a little tighter, and that meant so much to me. So much! It wasn’t an immediate thing. It was months later. But he registered that and he recognized that, and I’ll never forget that. Because I was like, he listened, and just knowing that he was having those moments too.

Yeah, and it doesn’t sound like he searched for something to amplify with you to meet that need. It was like a real noting and a genuine reflection that he could share something that had a lot of meaning for him. It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t on any particular timeline. And how beautiful that there was some space for that to occur, but just also how much that meant to you to feel that with him. If you’re okay with me asking, did this affect your connection together? Because I imagine, with the different grieving journeys, sometimes it is hard to connect. Again, speaking different languages, or feels at times like on different wavelengths. Can you say a little bit more about that? 

Yeah. I think that, now mind you, our earliest grief is all happening against the backdrop of the pandemic. So we are quarantined together in the house, together on the couch, every night, together as a family, because that’s what you did.

That’s what you do in the pandemic. 

So I do think that the emotional, the physical, the romantic connection was still there, because we were forced to be together. In many ways where I felt like the pandemic coming along so soon after Adelaide passing, it just felt like some sort of cruel, evil punishment for who knows what, in many ways it was a gift. Because it forced us to slow down. I am not the kind of person, I was shattered by my grief, but I would rather stay busy and plug forward. I was terrified of what was going to happen when I didn’t have a full schedule. 

That makes a lot of sense. 

Then the pandemic happened, and I had to stop. I had no choice. That is actually when my grief hit me the worst. That’s when I started crumbling the most, because I didn’t have any distractions. But it also forced me to address my grief, and to face it, and to live in it, and to feel it, and to understand it. And it forced our family to have that time together. That we might have made busy schedules to avoid having to be together in an authentic way, but that wasn’t really an option. 

I will also say, because of my husband’s schedule, working nights, it has always been important to us to keep a strong physical connection. So we had scheduled sex nights, that was just part of it. It was always a thing, because he was only off one or two nights a week. So we made sure that that happened, to maintain that aspect of our relationship. After Adelaide passed away, that was something that he definitely needed to maintain, probably more, I mean significantly more so than I needed to. I could have been abstinent, I think for like a year at least, and been totally okay. But again, recognizing what each of the person’s needs are as a griever, and it certainly didn’t hurt me to have that connection with him. So that was something that we worked to maintain. Because I know that it was important for our relationship together, and it was incredibly important for him as well. Even if I couldn’t be emotionally as available as I would have normally been.

Absolutely, or perhaps even conversely, that he wasn’t necessarily able to provide that same presencing or mirroring or shared verbal grieving expression. That kinesthetically, physically, to share space, that can be so incredibly comforting. As a family to be on the couch, and if you’re snuggling, or just being in each other’s presence, and then the shared intimacy. That maybe there isn’t a lot of language or words, that really allows for some being together and what’s being felt and expressed in that more sexual intimacy. So I’m really grateful to hear that there was outwardly circumstances that made that more possible. It sounds like it also was incredibly comforting and soothing in its way. Thank you for sharing.

Yeah. Well, so prior to Adelaide passing, we had a pregnancy, and at the 20-week ultrasound, we found out that he wasn’t going to survive. His heart was too big for his chest, and his lungs weren’t developing, and he was never going to make it. So we chose to terminate that pregnancy. After that, I couldn’t allow Miguel to touch me. When he would touch me, I would shiver, and it really bothered him and upset him. It became this long gap in our physical and intimate relationship that then felt very difficult to come back from. I think after having that experience, I was very aware and terrified of what could happen if I didn’t push through my uncomfortableness following Adelaide’s passing, I didn’t want it to become a thing where we’re both aware of how long it has been.

Or that either one of you is armored up and not able to reach. It gets to a place of like, how do we reach to each other?

Yeah, and then the pressure that amounts as that time goes on. So after experiencing that, after losing our son, Elvis, I was just so consciously aware that I am terrified of not letting that happen again.

Yeah, it’s wise to care so much about the bond with your husband, and really to, I want to say fight, but that’s not the right word, be willing to be in the discomfort like you’re describing, and the vulnerability to connect with him like that. It requires a lot to feel in your body. Stereotypically, for women, it’s so interconnected. All the emotions are connected with the sexual experience, stereotypically. I know this is not everyone’s experienced, but men tend to be a little bit more compartmentalized. Okay, we’re in the arousal sexual place, and the other things are not as available. So that’s not an easy thing. But it sounds like you were in service of something that you really value and wanted to continue to nurture, despite the tragedy.

Yeah, I love him. Like, we’re in this together! 

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“I think especially when it comes to child loss, you have to make the choice that you’re going to fight for that relationship and that you’re not going to let it dissolve. Because it’s very easy to allow that to happen.”

You think that marriage is a lot of work on an average day, and then you add something as emotional as child loss. You have to make an effort. You have to make the choice that this is what you want. Sometimes that can be really hard when you’re in the thick of grief, because you’re at bare minimum; you’re surviving. That is your goal, it’s just surviving. But hopefully, you can come together and have those conversations. Because at the end of the day, maintaining my relationship with my husband, and him with me, that was part of that bare minimum that we needed to survive.

Well, thank you for just even acknowledging that as one is in this territory, or even just as listeners were hearing what it’s like, and your experience, but just your empathy for it. It makes sense why people don’t connect, and it’s like, you can appreciate.

100%! I mean, like I was saying before, you become a different person. Deep loss, deep grief, it changes you. So I totally understand how, if you or your partner grow and change into someone, and you’re no longer compatible, then hopefully you can find a way to grow and change with your grief together. But it takes effort on both parts, on both partners. No relationship can be one-sided when it comes to something.

No. And as we’re talking about here, it can add more difficulty to the dynamic when partners are grieving differently. It’s actually more to negotiate in a way that can be extremely triggering, or confronting, or activating.

It’s like so many other issues that may come up in a relationship, this one is just maybe on steroids a little bit, where you have to acknowledge and accept, we love our partner’s strengths and we love them for that, but we also have to acknowledge and love their weaknesses and acknowledge those two. They may not even be weaknesses. It’s just gaps where we see something that we wish was there. My husband is incredibly forgetful, and I have just grown to accept that that is part of who he is, and I’m going to have to tell him something three or four times before he remembers, and continually remind him and catch him at certain moments where I’m like: “Okay, did you send that email? Did you send that email?” It is horribly annoying, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. But I’m aware that this is who he is, and I get all of the great parts along with his forgetful parts too. So I’m not going to get in a fight with him over his forgetfulness, because I have accepted that that is part of who he is, in order to make the relationship work. So I feel like grieving in many ways is just that, amplified.

Oh my gosh, to the nth degree, absolutely. So those differences can cause friction or reason for conflict. Yet, if we can have some of this grace, have some more understanding, hopefully through a form of communication, understand differences, allow for different pacing. I want to pick up a thread that you had said, the awareness that if we’re needing something, and our partner isn’t available or doesn’t have the capacity, that we can solicit and support, whether or not we’re advocating or initiating with someone else, but there are many ways to get more support.

Yes, your partner doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all. You have a whole toolbox available to you, of other family members, of friends, or once you can get out of bed and do more than just survive, reach out and find the grief groups or the retreats, or connect with other people online, whatever that looks like. Find the people that you can be broken with and feel normal in that way, or whatever gap you’re feeling, you can outsource that.

Yeah, supplement. It is difficult for some to, first of all, have the awareness that I would benefit from more support, I would love more support. Especially as I look at anniversaries, that’s a very difficult time, the anniversary or holidays. So to have awareness to understand what you would want, and then to ask, sometimes asking is incredibly difficult. Was that something you had to work towards? Or can you say a little bit more around how you were able to get there?

I had gotten very good at asking for help during Adelaide’s life. Because she was nonverbal, non-mobile. The last two years of her life, she was on oxygen on and off. She was in the hospital the last year of her life one week out of every month, about. So we had friends who essentially helped raise our son, because one week a month, he was at their house. So at some point, in order to be the best parent I could be for both of my children, and to be the best wife I could be to my husband, and to allow myself time and grace, I needed to ask for help from people. Can you take Jackson to baseball? Can someone pick up these cookies that I volunteered for, for his class, that I can no longer do because I’m in the hospital? Miguel is having a bad day, do you mind just texting him or giving him a call? Whatever it was, asking for it. Adelaide taught me a lot of ways to live a better life with her, that then resonated and helped me after.

Wow, so you had to get into the practice and build some muscles around that.

It takes practice. I mean, it was two years into Adelaide’s life. I was like, “I don’t have a job. My whole job is taking care of this child, I should be able to do it all. Why can’t I do it all? Why am I failing at this? I have nothing else on my calendar except taking care of my family.” It’s still a lot. No matter what, it’s a lot. We’re emotionally compromised, whether you’re a caregiver or you’re grieving. It affects your body. It affects you physically. It affects you, clearly, emotionally. But your endurance, all of these things. You have to ask for help. I’ve also found, people want to help. They just don’t know what you need. 

It’s not necessarily fair for me to put out a blanket statement to say what would be nice. Like, I don’t love cooking, so someone bringing over dinner was great. But for someone else, maybe cooking is their calm, maybe that’s their peace, maybe that gives them something. So for someone to bring over dinner, that’s taking something away from them. So you never know. So then people will ask you what can I do to help? But in the moment, it’s so hard to think of something. So I found that I made a list of the things that would be helpful; helping get Jackson to and from activities. After Adelaide passed away, grocery stores were a huge problem for me. It’s not just asking friends. I would be like: “Okay, Miguel, I can’t do the grocery store. I need you to do the grocery store. That is now your thing, I am passing that off to you.” I can do the grocery store now finally, but that took work too. So it’s figuring out what you can do and what you want to do and what you can ask others to do. 

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“At the end of the day, the people close to you want to help; they want to be there. They just don’t know how.”

They don’t know how. This is so classic, like, “Let me know if you need anything, or I’m here if you need any support.” Yet, that getting specific and communicating is so, so challenging. Even for the one who’s being asked, even if it doesn’t feel convenient or fun, and it’s not something that feels super pleasurable, it feels so rewarding to be of service most of the time. When we look at happiness research, to be able to be of service and then make a difference to help is usually something that the person giving gets a tremendous amount of reward for. So thank you for saying that. 

Okay, I know we’re winding down here. I have one more question as it relates to you and your husband. Have there been any ways that you were able to find a place where you could work together? I tend to like to see things as like, oh, is there something that can be created that’s like a win-win? It’s maybe not a compromise, but it’s something we both make effort and we meet on a bridge somewhere. As you talk about an anniversary or certain things, have there been ways that you have been able to find a spot where you can?

Yeah. So we have a tradition now on the anniversary of her death. I can’t be home. I need an activity. I need to get out of the house. So on the second anniversary of her passing, I found a sunflower farm. So we go together as a family, I pull Jackson out of school, and we go and we pick some flowers. I am not a huge flower person. Sunflowers don’t have any correlation to Adelaide. It is an activity to eat up a chunk of the day, that we get to be outside, that we get to walk around these beautiful fields of sunflowers, holding hands and remembering her together, away from other people. Typically, on that day, Miguel will sort of have his moment and grieve with me. Even though I hate that day, having that activity in that anniversary, and knowing that this is going to be a moment that we can be together as a family, and be present for each other without other distractions, in a beautiful setting, that has been incredibly helpful to us to continue, a place where we can meet each other where we are.

Beautiful, I’m so grateful to hear that! Because often, there is a sense at some point for people, not always, in their grief journey, that finding meaning, even as painful and heartbreaking as it can feel, for different people different feelings, but to have some meaning or significance and to have a shared place where your family can do that. Thank you for sharing that, I appreciate it. 

Well, I’m so touched by so much of what you’re sharing. Obviously, you can tell I have tears in my eyes to hear your story. So I really am very touched. It also sounds like you’re creating meaning and purpose in the way that you’re offering support. Can you say a little bit more about what you have to offer, or what you’re wanting to encourage people to connect with you?

Yeah, absolutely. So during Adelaide’s life, and then afterwards, I found incredible solace through writing, getting all of those emotions out of my brain where they felt amorphous and overwhelming, and constricting them to paper, or a keyboard as it were. So I have a blog that I had written through her life and afterwards, and then I decided that I wanted to take some of those experiences and turn them into a book. So my book is called Normal Broken. I don’t think that you can have a guide through grief. Everyone grieves differently, it is not linear. But what I had always wanted through my journey was a companion; someone to sit in the dark with me, someone to hold my hand, someone who got it, who had been there. 

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“I have learned that nothing that we feel or experience is exclusive to us, we’re just not that special. Everything that we are feeling, someone else out there has also experienced and felt.”

So my goal for the book is to be that companion, to be that friend. I share my own experiences, what I learned from them, mistakes that I made, and what I learned from them. Then the chapters are titled: When You Can’t Get Out of Bed, When There’s an Anniversary or Other Meaningful Date, When You’re Ready to Be Okay, When You’re Ready to Be Happy. The idea being that whatever you’re feeling that day, you can read that chapter. and maybe you go from chapter three to 10 to two to six, and that’s okay, because your grief journey is not going to look like mine. So hopefully the book can be that friend that can just meet you where you are on any given day, and help you feel a little more normal broken.

Yeah, thank you. I love that title! It kind of speaks to what I was saying, so many people judge their grief and think there’s something wrong. There’s even a bigger conversation around it being in the DSM, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, for people who are therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. Anyway, I do know my husband does a lot to support people in grief, and he studied in Alan Wolfelt’s grief companioning model. Alan’s teaching really is about letting grief be the teacher, and really partnering and being in a place of presencing and allowing them to have that space. So thank you so much for what you’ve written and how you’re offering this guidance in your book, and giving people something they can access that has categories that resonate, and then to be able to just not feel so alone. So I’ll make sure to have the link to your book on today’s show notes. Thank you again for being here, and it’s been a gift to have your voice on the show.

Thank you.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching