S05|19 - Grief, Loss and Parenting with Krista St-GermainNov 21, 2022
Krista St-Germain is a Master Certified Life Coach, Post-Traumatic Growth and grief expert, widow, mom and host of The Widowed Mom Podcast. When her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016, Krista’s life was completely and unexpectedly flipped upside down. After therapy helped her uncurl from the fetal position, Krista discovered Life Coaching, Post Traumatic Growth and learned the tools she needed to move forward and create a future she could get excited about. Now she coaches and teaches other widows so they can love life again, too.
In this episode you’ll hear:
- What grief is (it’s not always to do with death)
- Why we have a hard time connecting with and supporting others through grief
- How to support others when they are dealing with grief
- What we can do for ourselves when we are in the midst of grief
- How to parent while grieving
Connect with Krista here:
Coaching has changed my own life, and the lives of my clients. More connection, more healing, more harmony and peace in our most important relationships. It increases confidence in any parenting challenges and helps you be the guide to teach your children the family values that are important to you- in clear ways. If you feel called to integrate this work in a deeper way and become a parenting expert, that’s what I’m here for.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Hi, I'm Crystal The Parenting Coach. Parenting is the thing that some of us just expected to know how to do. It's not like other areas of your life where you go to school to be taught, get on the job training, or have mentors to help you learn. Now, you can get that help here.
I believe that your relationship with your children is one of the most important aspects of your life, and the best way that you can make a positive impact on the world and on the future. I've made parental relationships my life study, and use life coaching tools with connection-based parenting to build amazing relationships between parents and their children.
If you want an even better relationship with your child, this podcast will help you. Take my Parenting Quiz, the link is in the show notes. Once we know what your parenting style is, I'll give you some tips tailored to you and a roadmap to help you get the most out of my podcast. I invite you to help me spread the word by sharing your favorite episode on social media or with a friend.
What Krista St-Germain does, and how she got started
Grief, Loss and Parenting with Coach Krista St-Germain.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Krista is a Master Certified Life Coach, Post-Traumatic Growth and grief expert, widow, mom and host of The Widowed Mom Podcast. When her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016, Krista’s life was completely and unexpectedly flipped upside down.
After therapy helped her uncurl from the fetal position, Krista discovered Life Coaching, Post Traumatic Growth, and learned the tools she needed to move forward and create a future she could get excited about. Now she coaches and teaches other widows so they can love life again, too.
Hi, Krista, welcome to the podcast today.
Krista St-Germain: I'm excited to be here, Crystal. Thanks for having me.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I'm excited too. Krista and I are actually friends in the real world. We met through The Life Coach School. She was my facilitator teacher – don't know what, mentor, whatever you want to call it – while I was learning.
And she has an amazing story; and I really wanted her to come on the podcast and share all of her knowledge and wisdom with us because this isn't a topic that I've brought to the podcast yet, and I think it's just really, really helpful and something that so many people can relate to.
So, Krista, why don't you tell us a little bit about what you do, and how you got here?
Krista St-Germain: Yeah, you bet. And first, let me just applaud you for bringing the topic of grief to your audience because I can tell you that a large part of the reason that the people I work with struggle as much as they do isn't actually because of grief; it's because they aren't prepared for grief, and they don't know much about it, and they have a lot of misconceptions.
So, conversations like this to me, are so valuable. It's a topic a lot of people aren't willing to talk about. So, I applaud you for just being willing to talk about grief. It helps people in ways that I think you won't even know until later when they're in a grief experience and saying, "I'm so thankful that I listened to Crystal's podcast." You know?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, I love that idea. I love the-- Because I don't think we often think about, 'Oh, how do I prepare myself for future grief,' which we're all going to have at some point.
Krista St-Germain: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, and that's why I do this work. So, I was kind of in a happy place in my life; I was 40, I was on my second marriage. He was kind of my redemption story; first marriage had not ended well.
And he was, you know, the second marriage, kind of proof to me that you could be treated the way you wanted to be treated and the kind of relationship that I wanted actually was possible.
And then I had a flat tire as we were coming home from a trip we'd both been on, and he pulled his car up behind mine and wanted to change the tire. We were on the interstate – very, very busy highway.
And he was trying to get access to the tire in the trunk of my car. I was standing on the side of the road texting my daughter, who was 12 at the time, just to tell her we would be late. And he had his hazard lights on, but there was a driver who didn't see us; and we later found out that driver had meth and alcohol in his system.
And he didn't break, he didn't see us; he just crashed right into the back of Hugo's car and trapped him in between his car and mine. And within, you know, less than 24 hours, this life that I loved, just felt like it got ripped away from me.
And I was completely unprepared for grief. What I thought I knew about grief, I later learned was inaccurate. You know, I just obviously went into, not so fun experience.
And thankfully, I had a good therapist that I went back to. She had helped me through my divorce years before that. And so, I went back to her; and eventually, got myself to a place where I now describe it as a grief plateau…where you're no longer in acute grief, you're back to functioning. It's not hard to shower anymore or get up anymore, or, you know, you're actually back to work.
People are telling you things like, "Oh, you're so strong and I don't know how you do it." And, you know, people are telling you that you're doing great and you can kind of see where they're coming from – but yet, you don't feel great.
You feel like you're going through the motions, but it's a little bit hollow or robotic or empty. And that's at the point where, you know, I just started wondering, "Okay, is this all there? When people say new normal, is this what they mean…where you're never going to be really happy again, but you're doing okay?"
And I didn't want that at all; I wanted to believe something more was possible. And it just kind of happened that at that time was, it was like the exact time where Brooke Castillo launched her Self Coaching Scholars Program and I joined.
And I had followed her for a while so I believed that there was something to…you know, thoughts create feelings, and feelings drive actions, and actions produce results. I could like intellectually see that, but I really had no idea how to apply it.
And I'm telling you what; life coaching, it just changed-- It's just changed everything for me. It took me from a place where I felt pretty much powerless to a place where I felt really powerful.
And when I figured that out for myself, and I also realized, "Oof, I don't know that I really want to be doing this corporate job, I don't really know-- You know, if life is this short and it can be taken that quickly…is this the contribution that I want to make to the world?"
And ultimately, what I decided is that, "No, it's not, there's more-- there's more that I want to give and more that I want to do."
And that led me to Grief Coaching; and specifically, coaching widowed moms. So, that's what I do, is help them figure out…how can you love life again after something so awful has happened? And I just love it. I love what I do.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Hey, I love that whole story, and I would love for you to tell us where you feel like you're at now. Like, now that it's been several years and you've gone through coaching and now you're a coach yourself, where do you feel like you're at now?
Where Krista is at now after coaching
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. A completely different place. I'm still human. I don't-- I don't want to paint the picture that says, "Oh, if you coach and you learn how to, you know, choose your thoughts on purpose and feel your feelings with intention, that then somehow you have this disproportionate amount of positivity." Right?
It's not like everything's kittens and rainbows and daisies. But I think I went from feeling at the effect of the things that were happening to me…to empowered to choose my response to the things that were happening.
So, again, it's just kind of like I really did worry, honestly…the thought in the back of my brain was like, 'Your best days are behind you, you should probably just be grateful for what you had…it's probably never going to be that good again…nobody's really going to ever love you like he did – like he loved you for all of your flaws and you can't have that again, that only comes once in a lifetime.'
All those things that were running in the back of my mind, I figured out how to see that those felt true, but were only becoming true or had the potential of becoming true because I kept thinking them.
And then if that wasn't the story I wanted to tell myself that I didn't have to. And so, I figured out how to tell myself a different story and how to create a life that's more of what I want.
Not in spite of what happened, but because of it. Right? How to use what happened to create post-traumatic growth for myself, which I would've not imagined was possible.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I love that. I love where you're at now, but going through such tragedy and heartache and heartbreak that you were able to move to something different.
And I think that a lot of people listening probably know about what coaching is. Hopefully, you've listened to more than just this episode; and so, you know a little bit about coaching is, but this idea of us being able to intentionally choose our thought stories.
Brené Brown talks all about stories, right? It's like our brains are storytellers. They're going to tell us the story no matter what. And they're cons-- And our brain's constantly telling us stories, but we have the power to change those.
And sometimes they're harder and heavier; and we've been carrying them for a lot longer, and it's going to take a little bit longer to change.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: But there's so much power in that, in that knowledge.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. It's everything. Like, just realizing – I think, at least for me, and I think what I see in my clients – just realizing that you are the thinker of your thoughts and not the actual thoughts, that's huge, in and of itself.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: And that most of what's causing you suffering isn't actually… it's not actually what's happening to you, it's how your brain is interpreting it to you and to know that you have some say in that is--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I remember hearing somebody say one time, "You are not your thoughts". And I was like, What? Wait, what?
Krista St-Germain: Wait, what?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Because we just automatically take for granted that every thought that we have is true. But when you think about it, there's a lot of just random bizarre thoughts that go through our minds that we don't think are true. They just come in and they come out, and we don't really give them a second glance.
So, it's just starting to realize that we have more power than we think that we have, and then using that power.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I would love for you to talk a little bit about grief, because I know some people that are listening to this probably can relate to your story with their own grief journey, but some people might not have gone through something so tragic or significant yet.
What grief is (it’s not always to do with death)
Crystal The Parenting Coach: So, but I know that everybody has gone through grief at some point, so if you want to just define that for us.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. So, I think a lot of people do think about grief and they think about death, right? So, we kind of want to broaden up the definition. So, grief is just the natural human response to a perceived loss, right?
So, it's natural, it's normal. Nothing has gone wrong when it happens. And also, it's highly subjective, because what I perceive as a loss might be different than what someone else perceives as a loss. And there are many things that we perceive as losses.
So, for instance, you could be-- maybe you envisioned that you would be married to someone forever, and you got a divorce, right? And that feels like a loss to you because it was not what you envisioned.
You thought it was going to go one way, and it went another way. Or you envisioned that your child would go to college and study a particular subject, and then they didn't, right? And they didn't want to go to college at all.
You foresee-- You wanted it to go one way, it went another way; and that felt like a loss to you, right? So, there's all kinds of losses. There's not just death losses, there's all kinds of losses.
And we also, I think, typically, associate grief with a particular emotion. We think grief is a feeling. Well, yes, there are many feelings in grief. Grief can be a feeling we experience in grief. But really grief is a broad umbrella term for all the thoughts and feelings that we have in relation to the loss that we perceive.
So, grief isn't always just negative emotion, right? Grief is sometimes what we would classify as – air quotes – "positive emotion" too, right? We can have joy in grief.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Right.
Krista St-Germain: So, we have a loss, and we have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. And we go from, if we want, a very unconscious way of experiencing our thoughts and feelings about that loss to a very intentional way of experiencing our thoughts and feelings about that loss.
I remember coming into grief and thinking, 'Well, there's five stages,' that's what I heard and that's what everybody talks about.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: That's what all the movies say, there's five stages. And so, I really thought, okay-- I didn't know what they were. I knew that, at some point, you were supposed to get angry; and at some point, you were supposed to be in denial. But I didn't really remember what the rest of them were.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes. I remember those ones too.
Krista St-Germain: Right? And so, thankfully, even though I had pretty intense widow fog, like grief fog where you just can't think clearly, in the beginning…I couldn't like read and retain information like I was used to.
But one of the books I did go and read was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler's on death and dying. And thank goodness, because that's the book that talks about five stages.
And in the very forward of that book, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross addresses the idea that, "Hey, I wish--" This isn't the only theory of grief, and I wish people hadn't distorted this information the way that they have. Right? When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler did that work, what they were actually studying was hospice patients.
They weren't studying, what is it like to experience a loss of something that you care about? They were studying, what is it like to come to terms with your own mortality when you've been given a terminal diagnosis? Right?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Right.
Krista St-Germain: And then other people took that, you know, five stages, and applied it to what is it like to lose something or someone – and turned what was really just an observation about what can happen into this kind of prescriptive, what should happen…you know, first, you are in denial, and then you're supposed to get angry, and then--
It's not any of that, right? It was really refreshing to me to also learn that just like theories about parenting and philosophies of parenting…there are many, many theories of grief.
It's just that the five stages is the one people heard about; it's the one that got popularized. But by no means is it the only one; there are many different approaches.
It was also really refreshing for me to learn that because I thought that grief ends. So, I kind of thought as a person who always follow the rules…like, if you just give me the rule book and I follow the steps, then I'll just get to the end of the grief experience and then it will be over, which is not at all how it works.
There's no end to grief, doesn't end. There's nowhere we have to go, wherever we are is fine. So, all that to say, a lot of misconceptions about how we think of grief, a lot of limited definitions of it – and then some misguided, but well-intended idealized results that aren't necessarily helping us.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. So, let's dig into what would help us then. And I don't know if there's differences between, like what you said, like the more kind of tragic grief where it's like a big event versus a smaller event.
I've had both now, but you know, only in the last couple of years has somebody that was fairly close to me passed away. But shortly before that, one of my kids was diagnosed with a few different disorders and mental diagnosis.
And we had known that there was something a little bit different, but we didn't really know. And as soon as I got the diagnosis, I immediately went to like…what I thought his life was going to be like, is no longer what his life's going to be like.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Because I have a brother with the same diagnosis who has had a very, very difficult life.
Krista St-Germain: Okay.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And my brain, immediately went to like, it's going to be all the way over here where my brother is right now.
So anyway, so I went through days of just like, 'This is going to be so hard and life isn't going to be like what I thought it was going to be.'
And I think a lot of people, even if they don't, haven't gone through somebody close to them passing away, can relate to that kind of grief where we're given some news or some change or some diagnosis or whatever where we're like, 'Okay, wait a second, life might look differently than what I thought that it would.'
Krista St-Germain: Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: So, what tools or help or support would you give somebody in that situation?
Why we have a hard time connecting with and supporting others through grief
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. So, one of the reasons I think people struggle so much in grief, no matter what the loss is about, is that we've been taught to believe that feelings are problems.
And so, because we believe that feelings are problems, then we think that when we're experiencing perhaps what feels like a disproportionate amount of negative emotion --
And again, when I say "negative" every time I'm saying that in air quotes because I don't really believe that that's a thing.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I call it big emotion now because I'm like--
Krista St-Germain: Okay, big emotion.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: -it's not a thing.
Krista St-Germain: I like that too. I like that too. Yeah. So, when we're experiencing a lot of big emotion and we make that mean we're doing something wrong or that something is broken and needs to be fixed, that's also what leads us to be really awkward around other people who are grieving is because we see their big emotion or perceive it and we don't have the capacity for it – or innately, we believe that it is a problem and it's supposed to be fixed. And then that's when we get all weird, right?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: That's when we get weird around them. We get weird around ourselves, we judge ourselves, we worry, we try to problem-solve. And what really is a better investment of our time is just allowing ourselves to process it; allowing it to flow through us and not treating it as a problem that needs to be solved, but just considering that it could just be an experience that needs to be allowed.
And then, there's so much suffering that can be avoided if we would just adopt the idea that feelings aren't problems to solve.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, that is so true. And because I talk about parenting and how we were parented, that often comes from our own parenting, right? Our parents were like, whenever we had a big emotion; 'Go to your room', 'Don't act like that', 'This isn't appropriate'.
Krista St-Germain: Exactly.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: You know, children should be seen and not heard. All those-- All those that ideology we brought with us that we might not even logically or consciously believe anymore is still kind of just there in our psyche.
And one of the things I learned from Brené Brown was that there's, I think, 10 or 11 different Empathy Misses – ways that you're trying to be empathetic, but you're actually missing.
And as soon as I read the one that was like, 'Fix it,' I was like, 'Oh, that's me.' I think I'm a hugely empathetic person, but really, I just go in and I'm like, 'Let's figure out how we can solve this because I don't want to sit here in this discomfort of whatever emotion it is – grief or whatever.'
Instead of like, what you said, just, "Let's just sit here with it, let's just allow it to be an experience to process it without trying to create a solution.'
Krista St-Germain: Right. Because nothing's gone wrong that it's there. Yeah. I look back and oh my goodness…the things that that I said to other people who experienced a loss before experiencing my own, I can so see how those things came from my own discomfort with their emotion, right?
You know, even people telling you that you're strong or like-- I heard things like, "You're so young, you'll find someone"…you know, "They're in a better place, at least they're not suffering"…"He would want you to be happy".
You know, all those well-meaning things that we say to other people and that other people say to us are really all born from that discomfort.
If we didn't think negative emotion was a problem, then what we would probably say is, "I love you and I'm here and I'm with you." And we would just let that person feel how they feel, and we would just be a witness.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, I love, love, love that. Because I do think we just go all to like, 'Let's help them feel better…so let's tell them something that – you know, in the future, things will be fine and you're going to get better and it's going to be okay.'
Instead of just like, 'This is awful and this is hard and this is sad, and I'm here to be with you in this sadness.'
Krista St-Germain: Right, right, right. And then as the griever…like, if we could do that for ourselves, we would do ourselves so much of a favor. And so much of our suffering is about, 'Well, I'm worried about what other people will think…am I moving on too quickly or am I-- I'm not, I should be moving on and I'm not,' which first of all, there is no, there's no moving on. Like, we move forward, but we don't move on. Right?
And if we could have our own backs and decide that however we feel is okay, then it would be easier when other people were uncomfortable with us because we would know that we're validating that how we feel is not a problem.
And it's totally okay if other people don't have the capacity or the perspective to be able to sit with us in that. But it doesn't mean that we need to contort ourselves into chameleons and try to show them that we're doing better, right, or okay – or somehow, not feeling what we're actually feeling.
The holidays are coming up, I'm telling you, it is such a messy time for people who believe feelings are problems.
How to support others when they are dealing with grief
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes, yes. Yes. I would love to talk about – okay, so two things. One is I want to know more about what we could do to support somebody in that – so we sit with them, we witness them, we validate them, what does that look like?
And then, also, if we're the one in that stage of grief, whether it's, you know, whatever kind of loss it is, what we can do to help support ourselves.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. So, when you're supporting other people, I think the first thing you want to remind yourself is that you're probably not going to do it exactly the way you want to; and so, you just want to approach the whole situation with grace.
You're going to say something that later you go, 'Ooh, I wish I hadn't said that.' Or you're not going to say something and later you're going to wish you had said something. And so, just going into it, knowing that you can't do it perfectly…you're not going to do it perfectly, you are a human and you're just going to do the best job you can with what you know. Right?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay.
Krista St-Germain: Which means a whole lot of imperfection, and that's totally okay.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes. Yes.
Krista St-Germain: And also giving grace for the other person, not expecting them to necessarily know what they need. So, when we say things like, "Well, let me know-- I'm here to help, just let me know what you need."
Well, they might not, they might not know what they need. So, it's okay for them to not know what they need. And it's also okay for us to kind of guess and offer.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes.
Krista St-Germain: Instead of just like, 'Oh, I don't want to offend, I don't want to get in their way'…what could you do that might be helpful to that person that would take the burden away from them for having to ask for help? Could you mow their lawn? Could you--
Like I had people in my sphere. One of my friends just bought all my kids' school supplies.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Wow.
Krista St-Germain: She didn't even ask. She just bought them. And our kids went to the same school so she had the lists; she knew, and she just came to my house with school supplies because it was time for my kids to go back to school when my husband died. And she just knew that I hadn't done that, and she just did it.
You know, I literally had people just come and mow my lawn, just come and do things. Can you come and offer to take someone's kids? Right? What is it that would make their life easier, perhaps? And, can you just offer to do that thing?
And it's totally okay if they say no. Right? But sometimes, just that act of service is so much more valuable than "Let me know what you need, I'll be here".
Or just, I think little signs that you're thinking of someone without asking for them to do anything in return. So, even just little text messages, "I'm thinking of you and I love you. I just want you to know I love you today…I just want you to know you're in my thoughts."
It's really easy to believe that someone who's experiencing grief, is fragile and that-- We worry that, 'Oh, well, if I bring up whatever has happened, that it will make it worse.'
Krista St-Germain: But what's usually happening for the person who's experiencing the loss is that the loss is very much at the forefront of their mind, but they feel like they're the only ones thinking about it. And they perceive that everyone else has just gone back to normal, and that they're the only ones.
So, when someone shows you that they are also thinking about what you are thinking about, they have not forgotten you, they have not forgotten your loss…it's typically received as actually really a relief. It's validating.
Hugo and I used to work together; and so, I know that a lot of my coworkers went through that when I went back to work where they didn't really know what to do…they kind of wanted to talk about him, but they also didn't.
And so, one of the things that I did was to just start talking about him. Like when there was a moment where it would be logical to tell a Hugo story or to bring him up in conversation, I would do it.
And then they started getting the idea that it was okay with me, and then they started doing it. Right? But I kind of had to lead them a little bit and show them that it was okay.
And so, I think when we are the ones in grief, it's okay for us to show people, "Hey, I want to talk about whatever has happened"…or "I want to remember this person, I want to tell stories…I want to laugh, I don't want to forget." And, kind of lead that by example.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I love that idea because I think that is true that we feel like, 'Oh, we don't want to bring it up because we don't want to hurt their feelings or make it worse or whatever.'
Again, thinking emotions are problems, but allowing them to know that we haven't forgotten. Because I remembered when we went through this grief with my sister's husband passing away, and I just felt like everybody else in the world is moving on like a normal day.
Like, people are shopping at Costco, and they're like getting themselves dressed, and they're going to church; and like, what is happening? Like, do they not know that this crazy thing has happened?
And now, you know, I've had a lot of friends experience that same grief and I'm sure that they feel that same way of like, everyone's moved on.
And so, bringing up those memories and those stories and talking about it feels like it would be just a part of that healing.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. And we can't always guarantee that when we bring it up that it will be received in the way that we intend it. And that's why I say we have to approach it with grace. I would rather-- I would rather take the risk of bringing it up as opposed to being scared to bring it up.
You know, and I always appreciated when people did that for me because you're more likely to feel alone and isolated; and it's so good to know that people love you and are thinking of you and haven't forgotten.
What we can do for ourselves when we are in the midst of grief
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. So, let's change gears for a second into like, so the person that's going through the grief or the loss, what could they do to support themselves if they're still feeling either deep in that acute grief or also on that grief plateau like you talked about?
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. So, deep in acute grief I think is a lot about not shooting on yourself. It's so easy to say, "I should be doing better, I shouldn't be feeling this way – or I shouldn't be feeling this way to this extent…other people handle it better than me, there's something wrong with me."
It's so easy to find fault and flaws, and minimize your own experience. And that is the exact opposite thing of what we could be doing, which is…"It's totally okay for me to feel, feel how I feel…I'm a human and this is grief…and however I feel, is not a problem and there's not a right amount of it – there's not a wrong amount of it, it's okay."
And also, that speaks to not just what we're feeling, but what we're experiencing. So, sometimes the fog can be intense; and if we don't know that the fog can be part of grief, it would be easy to think you're, kind of, going crazy." Right?
When you can't-- When you were a person who never struggled to remember anything and, all of a sudden, you can't remember where you put your keys…and you bought toilet paper every time you went to the grocery store and now you have a mountain of toilet paper because you can never remember that you have enough toilet paper.
These are literally things that happen during grief fog; you forget to pick up your kids, you forget to pay a bill. It is because of the impact of grief on the entirety of your system…what's happening hormonally, what's happening in your brain – there are very real impacts of grief on your body.
So, it is not fair to expect yourself, all the parts of you to perform at the same level that you were before the loss happened. It's going to take some time.
Sometimes your heart actually aches, like there can be a physical ache of the heart – Takotsubo syndrome, probably mispronouncing that, but broken heart syndrome…it's a real thing.
Also, our brain just needs time to adjust. It's not all we need, but our brain does need time, especially if it's a significant loss.
And I don't mean that as to say that we can classify losses objectively as significant, but it's significant to you. Our brain is designed to connect us with people that we love, especially our children and our spouses.
And so, our brain at all times understands where those people are and when we should expect to see them again. And when they die, our brain has to relearn that. Our brain is still expecting that when the garage door raises, that we know who raised it, right? For me, it was like, my husband is coming in.
Your brain still expects, 'Okay, something good happened…I'm going to pick up my phone, I'm going to text them.'
Your brain still thinks it knows where they are and when they're coming back, and there has to be enough time that passes that our brain relearns what we intellectually know, which is that they died, but our brain actually has relearned it with enough exposure to data that we don't feel that confusion.
It feels really weird to know intellectually that something has happened, but yet you respond as though you didn't know.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: Do you know what I mean?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Because that like muscle memory, you've done it for so long, it's just there.
Krista St-Germain: It's exactly like that. Yeah. You reach over and you're like, 'Oh, I thought they were in bed with me and they're not.' Right? And you know, you know they're not supposed to be there, but yet you're surprised that they aren't. And it's a very weird feeling.
And if you aren't anticipating it and you don't know that it's a normal part of grief, it can be really easy to tell yourself you're crazy. You're not crazy. Your brain is just relearning that this situation has changed and that its old predictions are no longer accurate and it needs--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: This is so much more helpful than knowing the five steps.
Krista St-Germain: Right?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Like this is the preparation that people need. Right?
Krista St-Germain: Yes.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Like, this is what's going to happen to your brain, this is what it might feel like, this is what you might think. And knowing that those are all just normal, so you don't have to be constantly questioning whether or not you're going crazy.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah. And you might feel angry and you might have some denial, and you might bargain. You know, you might do those things, but then again, you might also have moments of joy…and that's not bad.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: But a lot of people will say, "Ooh, oh, I'm happy…what does that mean? That means something. That means I didn't love them. That means I'm doing it wrong. Does that mean I'm in denial? Is there something wrong with me? Whoa! That shouldn't be happening. What are people going to think?"
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: No, it's totally okay to have moments of happiness. It's all part of the--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Experience
Krista St-Germain: -grief.
How to parent while grieving
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I would like to leave on one question because we didn't really dig into this very much, but if you're experiencing grief, how does that affect your parenting – or maybe support or tools that you could use as you're still trying to parent while also going through grief?
Krista St-Germain: So, one of the things that I think is super helpful, I think that it depends on like, is it just your grief? Is it something also your kids are experiencing? Right?
But either way, what we tend to do is to want to hide it from our kids, which totally feeds the narrative that emotions are problems.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Right. Right.
Krista St-Germain: We're like, "No, we're just fine…Right, but I'm fine, mommy's fine, it's okay."
As opposed to using it as an opportunity to role model how to comfort ourselves and have our own backs when we are experiencing big feelings, right?
Like, it's totally okay that mommy's sad…mommy's just sad because x, y, z happened, and that's okay…it's okay for mommy to be sad.
My little-- My little guy, he was nine when Hugo died; and his whole life, he's just been super like empathic, kind of, where he's always very concerned with me and how I feel…'Mommy, you look sad – mommy, what can I do to make you happy?'
And I've had-- I've had so many conversations, and grief was such a great opportunity there to make sure he understood it's okay that I'm sad – and also, you didn't cause it. Right?
And it's not a problem, and it's not your job to make me happy. Right? It's okay that I'm not happy. Mommy's just sad, and that's because I loved so-and-so and they died.
Also, I think it's a good opportunity to do things that build trust with your kids, to be honest with them. So, parents are often inclined to answer children's questions in ways that do more harm than good.
So, you know, to be dishonest…'Well, you don't have to worry…you know, I know so-and-so died, but I'm not going to die.' You know, not helpful. Right? Or to use words that are confusing to kids.
You know, when we have the opportunity to be factual and honest and frank, not scary, not beyond age-appropriate – but you know, well-- I'm trying to come up with an example in my brain.
Like if you say something that, you know, they went to sleep and they passed away. Well, maybe that is what happened, but can we explain their body got old and something in their body stopped working and that's why they passed away – as opposed to kind of trying to hide it or glamorize it or assume that a kid can't handle that information. They actually can.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. I have to tell my story because you're literally describing the story that happened to me and my family because when my sister's husband passed away – he died by suicide – we didn't initially know what happened because it looked like he passed away in his sleep.
And so, as I was explaining it to my kids, I didn't know anything about grief. I wasn't prepared for grief; I didn't know any of these things.
Krista St-Germain: Sure.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And I didn't want to freak them out. And so, I was just like, 'Well, he just fell asleep, whatever,' And I never really explained it. So, then my son is like having a terrible time sleeping.
His anxiety is getting worse and worse and worse and worse. This is happening for months, so then we take him to the doctor… he's getting a few, you know, diagnosis at the time. And I just said, "His anxiety has been so bad, like he does not sleep at all."
And I said, "Sometimes he says, like he talks about death – like he wouldn't specifically talk about that death, but he'd just be like talking about it in general."
And he said, "Well, did you ever sit down and tell him what happened?"
And I was like, "No, we didn't."
And as soon as I did, he started sleeping just a little bit better. As soon as I said, "Did you know actually what happened here?"
And like, "He didn't just fall asleep…you don't just, all of a sudden fall asleep and die when you're young and healthy." Right?
Krista St-Germain: Right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And so, when I explained that to him, he was just like, "Oh, okay." And it helped him so much more mentally and emotionally and looking back, it makes so much sense, but we've never--
Krista St-Germain: They connect the dots. They will find, oh, could that happen to me?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Exactly.
Krista St-Germain: And how? And then get really freak themselves out.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. Can you just be young and healthy and fall asleep and then all of a sudden you die? And then if that can be, you're--
Krista St-Germain: You just get a cold and then you die. Like what? You know?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Krista St-Germain: Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you for this whole conversation.
Krista St-Germain: Absolutely.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: This has been so helpful, even for me, and for learning more about grief because I think it's something that inevitably we're all going to go through and we don't really prepare ourselves for because we don't like to think about it.
We don't like to think that it's going to-- You know, we're uncomfortable with the fact that our lives, our children's lives, the people around us are going to end. And it makes logical sense that they are.
Krista St-Germain: I think if people will listen to what you teach, and I know part of what you teach is allowing emotion, right? If you develop the skill now of allowing emotion, of truly proving to yourself that you know how to let a feeling flow through you such that you believe you're good at feelings and then you understand that the worst part of grief is the feelings…we don't have to be scared of it because we know we can allow it to flow through.
It can't actually hurt us and we can prepare ourselves now by just being willing to allow feelings because that will be the worst of it, I promise.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I love that. That is such good advice; and it is like, what better opportunity for us to experience allowing those emotions than parenting? There's so many emotions that come up with parenting; we have practiced all day long, every day.
And so, I would love to end on that; and thank you for coming here and for sharing your knowledge with us and sharing your story with us as well. I'm sure everyone really appreciates that.
How to connect with Krista St-Germain
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And if somebody does want to connect with you, if they're experiencing, if they are a widow mom or if they have someone in their sphere that could use a support, how can they reach out to you?
Krista St-Germain: Yeah, so I am also a podcaster. I have a podcast called The Widowed Mom Podcast, and there are quite a few episodes of that podcast that are great for non-widows to listen to. There's one called For Those Who Love Us, which might be a powerful one. But I encourage anyone who's interested in grief or post-traumatic growth to go there.
And then also you can find me at coachingwithkrista.com; and it's K-R-I-S-T-A. I have a free grief course that anyone can take that's on that webpage. And all the podcast episodes are there, all the connections are there.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Awesome. I will put those all in the show notes. Thanks so much, Krista.
Krista St-Germain: Thank you.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to help spread this work to the world, share this episode on social media and tag me, send it to a friend, or leave a quick rating and review below so more people can find me. If you'd like more guidance on your own parenting journey, reach out.