Grief

Interview with Elizabeth Berrien

I am so excited to share my interview with Elizabeth with you. When my boyfriend passed away six months ago, I started looking for books about grief soon after, and I found Elizabeth’s book, Creative Grieving. Her book has helped me so much – and still is -, and I almost always carry it in my purse. Her book makes me feel less alone, and it gives me so much hope for my future. Moreover, Elizabeth is just a wonderful, inspiring and sweet woman who is helping so many women every day both through her book and her daily work. So without further ado, let’s jump into my interview with this amazing woman!

1. Tell about yourself and your story.

My life was what I would consider rather “normal” until I turned 26 years old. I was newly married and pursuing a degree in counseling. I knew I was passionate about wanting to help others in some way, so I was excited to be working on a Masters Degree. I also became pregnant with my first child, which I wanted so badly. I felt that I had so much to look forward to…that things were just beginning. My life seemed to be progressing in a steady direction until tragedy hit very suddenly. I ended up losing my son to stillbirth after a full-term, healthy pregnancy. Then, just 18 months later I became a widow when my husband was serving in the military overseas. Those two back-to-back losses caused my entire world to come crashing down. Before then, I had never known that kind of loss or anything close to that type of pain. I never imagined either of those experiences could happen to me. I suddenly felt as if I had lost control over my life. I had to pick up the pieces that were left, and moved to live with my sister and her family while I struggled to get back on my feet. I stayed in bed for weeks, and had no idea how I was going to get through it. I was thrown into the depths of grief and wanted to find a way out. Gradually, as the months went by I was able to slowly start rejoining world again, but it took a TON of work! I felt very alone and isolated in my grief in the beginning, so I decided to start a support group for young widows. Once I began meeting other women with similar stories, I believe I was able to truly begin the healing process. I have come a long way since the early days of my losses. I’ve devoted my time since then to helping other women on their own journeys.

2. Do you ever stop missing the person(s) you’ve lost? Does the pain ever really go away?

You never stop missing the one you’ve lost, and this is totally natural. They were an integral part of your life, so it is almost impossible to imagine never getting to interact with them in the way you once did. It’s a very surreal feeling. But over the years the missing gradually becomes a gentle reminder of your connection to your loved one, rather than a debilitating, painful feeling. For me, it has been almost 8 and 9 years since my losses. At this point, I can say that the pain never fully goes away, but the heaviness does lift so that you can eventually breath again and feel the emotions of happiness and joy. There is always an increase in sadness around anniversaries and birthdays. I also get flashbacks of painful events, and then feel some heaviness in my heart again. But it’s bearable now and a natural part of my life.

3. Can you ever truly find happiness again after such major loss(es)? Does it become a different kind of happiness?

You can absolutely find happiness again! It feels impossible at first, but if you do the true work of healing, you will get there. It is important to seek resources to help you process and move through the pain. I think because I went through counseling and allowed myself to experience my full range of emotions, I’m able to be in a healthy place today. I had to speak about my losses (a LOT) with someone I trusted, and move through all of the anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, etc. that kept me on a rollercoaster. My heart knew the reality of what had happened, but it took my mind a while to catch up, especially since both of my losses happened so suddenly. I was in a state of shock for many months, and in a haze for the first year after, which is also natural after a loss. But after connecting with other women/widows who had gone through similar losses, reading books on grief, attending therapy, and leaning on my support system, I was gradually able to heal to the point where I could laugh, enjoy life, and look forward to things again. I would say that the happiness does feel different because I appreciate things on a deeper level than I did before the losses. I notice the little things more. It’s a happiness that is sometimes bittersweet, but at other times overwhelms me to the point of joyful tears. I used to feel guilty about feeling happy, but eventually accepted that it’s what my loved ones would want for me, and life is too short to live without happiness.

4. We both lost our husband/boyfriend suddenly and very early in our lives (we were both in our 20s). Is it possible to love someone else as much as you loved that person?

It is possible. When you’re ready for love again, you will be able to see another person for who they are and love them for their own qualities. You won’t always be comparing to what you had before. It’s a different, fresh new love that you feel. Our hearts are amazing. We have such a huge capacity to love. Early on, I used to think it would never happen, but my heart just had a lot of healing to do. It’s one of those things that you can’t rush. I believe that when you’re truly ready, it happens naturally. I actually know quite a few widows who have found beautiful love again and are in very happy relationships.

5. I know everyone is different and there are no “rules” about this but when would you say women who have lost their boyfriend/husband are ready to think about a new relationship?

I think that it’s really up to the individual and her healing process. Just as there is no specific way to grieve, there is no specific time period before starting a new relationship. What I would recommend though is that a woman give herself time to focus on some of the deep healing that needs to take place before trying to purse something really serious. I know some widows that were interested in dating again less than a year after their loss, and others who weren’t ready for years. I’ve always felt it’s important to not hold judgment around when a woman is ready to move forward with that piece of her life. I think it’s just really important for a woman to listen to her gut and to her feelings. If starting a new relationship feels too forced or overwhelming, then she may have more healing in front of her before she’s ready to open her heart to someone new. In the early stages of grief it can be easy to feel intense loneliness and experience fear of being alone, but the opportunity for relationships can come along much quicker than anticipated. I think it’s important to practice self-care and attend to ones own needs first and foremost, and the relationship will show up when the woman is truly ready.

6. Do you have any “grieving advice” you can share? What helped you during your grief?

There is so much that I can say about this! I often share with those grieving that grief moves at its own pace and you can’t rush the process. As much as we want to run from the enormity of the pain, it’s something that we need to move through, however long it takes, and with a great deal of support. It’s not something that will dissolve on its own. With the right tools to turn to, such as counseling, support groups, and grief education, you will gradually move from pain to healing. It’s easy to get impatient, but experiencing your feelings as they come up and allowing yourself to be where you are emotionally will serve you well in the long run. Otherwise, we become stuck in grief and despair. It’s SO important to know that grief is a normal human experience. Loss is a part of life, and it’s something that much of today’s fast-paced world doesn’t know how to deal with. Yet grief is something that connects us all because if you live a long full life, it touches everyone at some point. One of the things that helped me the most was meeting other widows and realizing that I wasn’t so isolated in my loss. There were other women out there dealing with a similar pain, who could understand on many levels what I was going through. We even developed what we call “widow humor” and learned to laugh again with each other. Such common ground creates a fast bond, and I believe this is what really saved me early on and helped me feel like myself again. I also read a TON of books…any book on grief that I could get my hands on. I would have a stack from the floor to the top of my bed, and just go through a couple of them of a night. I wanted to understand the meaning of grief better and how others had survived it. I also advise others to be compassionate with themselves. It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves in general, let alone when we’re grieving. Sometimes we don’t make the best choices when we’re hurting, we have a hard time keeping up with the rest of life, we become forgetful, or get upset that we can’t just feel better quickly. There is no perfect way to grieve. It’s a learning curve as we each find our way through it. So practicing forgiveness, both for oneself and others, is a huge part of the healing. I believe I made many mistakes during my early years of grieving. There were many nights when I sobbed myself to sleep on the floor or regretted certain decisions. So I had to learn to take whatever anger and blame I felt and remind myself that I was only human and that I was doing the best I could. Some days, I literally had to take things one moment at a time. I had to take baby steps to get through the day. I gradually learned to slow down and let the process guide me.

7. I still struggle with anxiety in stress full situations – especially if I have to deal with paperwork, something goes “bad” at work or anything like that. Those situations can literally make me cry, make my heart race and cause something close to a panic attack. I know you experienced something similar. How did you deal with it, and has it lessened over time?

I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of anxiety. Even today, nine years later, I still struggle at times. I get easily overwhelmed around large crowds of people or sometimes get stressed about something that isn’t worth the energy. But this is part of the post-trauma that can occur as part of the grieving process. It’s important to be gentle with ourselves and at times even remove ourselves from a situation. Especially during the first couple years of grieving, life feels very intense. So it’s helpful to find ways to manage your stress level, and this can be different for each person. For me, I learned to do things like practice deep breathing during an intense moment. I also started to practice meditation, attend therapy regularly, went to massage and Reiki sessions, and vented to someone I could trust. There were also situations I would simply avoid because I knew they would be too much for me. I tried to really listen to my needs and what I could handle. I know many widows who have done well on medicine for anti-anxiety, and then there were others who have chosen a more natural route. I believe it should be up to each individual what works best for them, and that there shouldn’t be any judgment or shame around it. Grief is a lot for our minds and bodies to handle. I feel that it’s important to nurture ourselves in a healthy way and to be our own best friend, especially through the hardest situations. Sometimes, you may just need to go into a room and yell or scream. I’ve cried in a closet before during a family gathering, and once I allowed the tears to flow I felt so much better. Over time, the intensity of the stress has lessened and I can usually handle situations in a more grounded way. Just know that any anxiety, stress, mood swings, sadness, or exhaustion that you feel are part of the grief, and that eventually you won’t feel as out of control. Sometimes grief can make you feel crazy, but it’s really just a part of moving through (and releasing) all of the heavy emotions as you work through the healing process.

8. Tell about you book Creative Grieving: A Hip Chick’s Path From Loss to Hope. Why did you write it, and what do you hope this book will do for women?

I decided to write this book as a way to work through my own healing process, as well as an effort to feel connected to other women who were grieving. I found it so helpful to have women friends around me who truly understood. I wanted this book to be a bereaved woman’s “friend” and provide comfort to her at any point in her journey. I’ve hoped it would become a rock for someone else, something to lean on. I felt a responsibility to let other women know that their pain and grief are valid, no matter what today’s culture says. I wanted to normalize the experience for others who are suffering. I couldn’t go through what I did and keep all of the lessons inside. I decided to go on a mission to help other women heal. So I hope that this book will accompany other women on their healing journey and help relieve some of the weight. Gratefully, I think that it’s reached the hands of many who have needed it. It wasn’t easy putting of all of my feelings, mistakes, and personal experiences out there, but in the end I’m glad that I did. I hope that Creative Grieving serves its purpose as long as it can, and I believe that those who are meant to find it will.

9. Tell about Her Creative Wellness and why you started it.

Her Creative Wellness is about a personal path to healing. I felt passionate about offering a variety of services that women could experience to help them along their journey. I offer women’s workshops throughout the year, in partnership with another coach, that address issues such as self-care, loss, and life transitions. It’s incredible to sit in circles of amazing women and witness their stories and strength. It is truly a privilege. I also love to share about methods of holistic care, such as Reiki and essential oils. The use of essential oils and the calming effects of Reiki have both helped me significantly on my own healing path. I enjoy providing these types of tools to other women who can possibly benefit. I believe that it’s always important to address ourselves as a whole – body, mind, and spirit. This is especially important when it comes to the grief journey. I like to remind women that they are whole no matter how broken they feel or what they’ve been through. That wholeness never left, and will remain with them their entire life.

10. Where are you now? What are you doing? Where are you with your grief?

Now I am in a very healthy place. I’m surrounding by a loving family, I get to enjoy motherhood, and I’m still connecting with amazing women every day. I’m continuing to offer workshops throughout the year and currently working on my Reiki certification. My grief will always be there in my life, but I’m also in a place where I feel mostly happiness and fulfillment. It feels incredible to be able to help other women on their journey, whether it’s during a workshop or through my writing. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to take my experiences of loss and do what I can to bring more light into the world. I’m also grateful for all of the supportive loved ones in my life who have helped me along the way. This is not a journey one can do alone. So today, I can look around and say that I’m blessed.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Elizabeth!

You can follow Elizabeth on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

Love & Happiness,

Heidi

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