From Pain To Purpose: Navigating Through The Grief Journey With Jason Clawson

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Jason Clawson | Grief Journey

 

Prepare to embark on a deeply moving journey through the intricate landscape of grief, where pain transforms into purpose. In this episode, we unravel the deeply moving narrative of Jason Clawson, a licensed therapist with a heart-wrenching personal love story. In this emotionally charged conversation, Jason courageously opens up about the loss of his child diagnosed with anencephaly, the challenges of navigating infertility, and the heartbreaking journey of grief with his wife, Valerie, who later battled stage four colon cancer. Delving into the complexities of grief, Jason emphasizes the importance of creating a safe space for men to share their experiences and the transformative power of vulnerability. From the heartbreak of leaving the hospital without their baby to the strength found in community support, Jason’s story unfolds with profound insights into healthy coping skills, the impact of significant life changes, and the remarkable healing journey that extends to helping others through The Hope Kit. This episode is a poignant exploration of personal grief, professional expertise, and the resilience found in community support—a testament to the strength that emerges from facing life’s most profound challenges.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others. 

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

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From Pain To Purpose: Navigating Through The Grief Journey With Jason Clawson

Our guest is Mr. Jason Clawson. He has a journey to share with us. I want you to know that Jason is a licensed therapist, but he also has a love story to share with us. We take time to dip between Jason, a therapist, and Jason, the man you will grow from this conversation. I also encourage you, as you read this, to share with other people who are struggling and looking for a way to find out how not to be muted in their grief. This is a conversation that will help them and also your family or friends that you feel like you may be struggling with, giving them guidance on how to support you on your grief journey. Let’s get into this conversation.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Jason Clawson | Grief Journey

 

Jason, welcome to the show.

I’m excited to be here.

Thank you so much. I’m excited to have you here, and not because of the circumstances, but oftentimes, we do not have enough men who are willing to share their journey. I am grateful for that because we’re trying to create a safe space for men. We have a support group that meets twice a month on the second Thursday of the month, 6:00 PM Eastern Time, exclusively for the men’s support groups. That part is important to our organization. Thank you for being here and with all that good energy.

I’ve been resting up for it.

Where are you in the world now?

I’m located in Utah.

How did you find yourself there? Were you born and raised there or relocated?

I was born and raised here. My dad is from California. My mom is from Washington. They met at college here. They loved it so much that they stayed here. I’m still here. My kids and I love it here. This is what we call home.

Do you live in the same hometown you grew up in or moved to a particular area?

I live about ten minutes away from my house, where I was born and raised. It’s a circumstance of how close we are. It’s been a big blessing for us because I’ve been able to help my family. My mom and dad have been able to help me through my journey when my wife got sick with cancer. When my mom got cancer, I was able to reciprocate and give back to my dad and my mom the same energy and love they gave to me when I was going through my journey. I feel like a blessing to be close by and to be an instrument to help as well as to receive help from them.

Loving Valerie

I can relate to that. My mom and sister live next door. To me, family is everything. You mentioned your wife. What is her name? How did you guys meet?

My wife is Valerie. We met through a friend of mine, her brother named Brad, and he wanted us to meet before we even met. He said, “When she gets off a mission for our church, you guys need to connect and meet.” We met, and I was like, “You are Brad’s sister.” She’s like, “You are Brad’s friend. It’s nice to meet you.” That was it.

Where did it go from there?

There wasn’t any synergy. A year later, we ran into each other. We got talking more. I took my chance. I found out how cool she was, and I said, “I’d like to do something with you.” She says, “I’ll get my brother and friends. We’ll get together.” I said, “I don’t want to hang out with your brother. I hang out with him all the time. I want to hang out with you.” We made plans for a date. Later that night, I got a message that said she had something, and she canceled the date. I was like, man, “Is this ever going to happen?” She said, “I didn’t want this to get back to my brother.” She called back and said, “Let’s go to lunch together.” We went to lunch. That’s where we got to know each other and connected. That’s where our relationship started.

What year was that?

That was about 2004 or 2005.

How long did you guys date? Where did it go from there?

We got married in December. We started dating in April. It’s seven months.

You got married in seven months.

We first met, and a year went by. We started dating in April. Later that year, in December, we got married. It’s about seven months after we dated.

Would you consider that quick or fast? How would you assess that?

That depends on where you’re at in the country. In Utah, that’s a good amount. If you’re outside of Utah, Idaho, or parts of Arizona, you would say, “That is fast. We felt like we got to know each other well. We were emotionally mature enough to ask deep, hard questions to get to know each other on a deeper level. It helped us grow and thrive in our relationship.

How old were you at this point? You said you were old enough to ask mature questions.

I was 29.

For the people who are reading and trying to understand what mature questions are, what do those look like?

Those are the ones where you can tap into those emotions of being authentic and real with your emotions. You don’t shy away from them. It’s nothing superficial that can be asked in a one-sentence word. It allows you to go into a deeper space and ask and answer questions. It can’t be answered with a short, one-breath, one-sentence answer. It allows you to expand, feel those emotions, and answer. Those are the questions that we talked about. We said, “How do you feel about being a dad, and what is your role as a dad? How do you feel about raising our children? How do you feel about being married? What is most important to you in life? Mature questions allow you to go on a deeper level.

What makes your area particularly different than you think the rest of the United States? You were saying that where you’re at, that’s a norm of a timeline where somebody outside that area may see it differently?

In Utah, there are a lot of family-based communities. There’s a strong religious component. It’s a Christian component where we thrive. Our biggest values are families. One of our most important things is we want to create families. We want to be able to connect. That’s why our relationships thrive because those values match up right away. We can talk about families openly and getting married because that is one of our core values based on our beliefs of Christians and being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It helps. We love families. We love that component families. If you don’t have a strong family or people that you can relate to, that’s hard in life.

Relationships really thrive when values match up. Click To Tweet

What does the proposal look like?

I wish I could do a redo because you see the movies.

They’re doing too much now. I don’t even understand. Where do you go from there? A lot of that is more sensationalized. I don’t know how real that is. This show is awfully expensive.

One thing is, our neighbor across the street was a jeweler. He proposed that if we could do some trade work, he could reduce the price of her ring. I was like, “I’m handy. I can do some remodeling. My dad and I teamed up to remodel the bathroom. By doing that, we’re able to get an awesome ring for a reduced rate. When you say sweat equity, I put sweat equity into her ring. I was excited to have this be her ring. I didn’t make down payments. I worked for this ring. I couldn’t wait to give it to her.

The proposal worked like this. I finally got it. It sat in my presence for a couple of days. It was burning a hole in my pocket. I was like, “I got to give her this ring. How am I going to do this?” I remember having it in my ring. I was like, “I’ll think of something.” I remember one night we were at my parent’s house. I was romantically making white Pasta Roni. The fireplace was there. I was like, “I like this movement.” I walked over there and started dancing with her. She looked at me. She was like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “I’m enjoying this moment together.” I spun around, got down on one knee, and pulled out the ring. She goes, “You have the ring?” I said, “Yes.” I proposed to her right there.

What was the wedding like?

The wedding was special. We had a lot of friends and families from all over. It felt like, through the years, we’ve connected with a lot of people in our lives. One of our values is helping and serving other people. That has always been close to our hearts. When you do that, you make that a big part of your life. People want to be a part of your life. A lot of people showed up to be at the wedding and supported us, saying, “We care about you. We’re happy for you.”

When one of your values is helping and serving other people and you make that a big part of your life, people want to be a part of your life. Click To Tweet

The wedding is on December 24.

2005, December 10th.

You talked about children. When did they start becoming part of the family?

It was something we wanted. I grew up with a family of seven kids. I wasn’t afraid of big families because that’s all I knew. We began to try right away. After several months, my wife got pregnant. We’re like, “This is awesome. We’re starting our family. This is great.” We had our first child. It was a boy. It’s something I look forward to, and I embrace as a father. I took care of him. I would read him stories at night and play baseball and sports. I was like, “This is great. This is what I’ve dreamed of.”

Losing Our Baby

How many children do you guys have altogether?

With Valerie, we have two that are living and one that passed away.

I am sorry. Do you want to share about that?

The first one, my oldest, came naturally. We didn’t have to do anything. We felt in our hearts we wanted to have more kids, but we struggled to have kids. We’d go to the doctors and try different things. It came down to what we had to do in vitro fertilization, where we had to involve the doctor to help us get pregnant. That’s an emotional rollercoaster in itself where the doctor has to implant, put everything together, implant it in my wife, and get pregnant. We tried that a couple of times. Our second one is from in vitro fertilization. Here’s our miracle that was made with love and science.

We had more of these eggs that we wanted to use and have more of our family. After a couple of years, we said, “We’re ready to have another child.” We implanted these two last eggs that we had. One of them took. We were excited. We’re like, “We’re going to have another kid.” We got to about ten weeks into the pregnancy. We went in for a visit, and they did an ultrasound. The nurse looked at us and said, “Something’s not right.” We’re like, “Check it again.” She tried. She goes, “I’m going to refer you to the hospital because I’m having a hard time getting a reading.” We said, “Okay.”

We went to the hospital, and the doctor did a scan. The doctor invited us back into his office and looked at us. He says, “We’re going to have a hard discussion.” I thought, “What are we going to do? I’m up for the challenge. Let’s do this.” I’m generally a positive, optimistic guy, but he looks at us and says, “You guys got some decisions coming your way. Your baby has something called cephalic. The skull has fully developed, and the brain is developing outside of the head. You have two options. You can have the baby full term and deliver, and in that case, there’s a risk of your Valerie getting septic and having complications, or you can have the baby delivered early.”

I’ll never forget this. I’m getting emotional. He says, “In every case, it doesn’t end well.” One of the hardest situations of my life was placed in front of us, and we had to make a decision. He sent us home. He goes, “I pray you’ll do what’s best for you, but good luck to you, and let me know what you want to do.” We drove home and didn’t say a thing because it was like, “What are you going to do?” It weighed heavy on us. There was this moment when we became angry at God. It’s like, “How could you do this to us when we were great people and we’re helping people? We are doing many good things.” God says, “Here’s your challenge.” It didn’t seem fair.

We came to the decision. I remember driving back to the hospital. We made the decision to have the baby early. On our way, we’re like, “We need to name our baby.” In the car, on the way to the hospital, we’re like, “What should we name our baby?” What came to mind was a family name. My mom’s maiden name was Hewlett. We said, “Hewlett is what we’re going to call our baby.” I had that special moment, and that’s what we were going to call him.

I remember going to the hospital. It’s surreal because you’re going to the hospital. For most people who go to the hospital, it is such a happy event. Family come and celebrate it. It was different from that. It’s like you’re going to the hospital, and you know you’re going to have a sad event. I don’t want to do this, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my life.

We sat there, and there was a heartbeat at the beginning. We said, “We don’t know if the baby is going to be born alive or dead.” My parents and my wife’s parents were there. We waited for that special delivery. The baby was born, and the baby didn’t make it. It’s such a tender moment to pull out this baby and hold this baby in our arms. We loved this baby. We loved him for what he was and for what his mission in life was to be a part of our family, come here, get a body, and be able to be a part of our family. We still consider him a part of our family.

The time that we were at the hospital, it was amazing that we had such close moments with him, even though he wasn’t alive, and we could see his little fingers and toes. He was a person, and we loved him. We held him the whole time we were there. I remember when it was time to leave. My wife broke down and said, “I don’t want to leave him.” I’ll never forget that we walked out and drove home without a baby. That was difficult.

I remember thinking, “This is going to be the hardest thing I go through in my life.” This is hard. It was hard for a long time. It was hard to look at Facebook and go to church because there are happy families who are being born. There are people sharing pictures on Facebook. Everything about life was hard. We didn’t want to do much.

We wanted to sit and get emotional. We were grieving the son that we never were able to raise. We were grieving the memories that we were supposed to have as a family. He wasn’t here very long, but we grieved what he was supposed to mean and be a part of our family. That’s a different grief that we had to deal with. We start to be okay with how he wasn’t going to be here, but he will still be a part of our life.

 

 

Thank you for sharing that. I know that was difficult, but at the same time, I know that you wanted to share your journey to help encourage other people. It costs us a price to do that. We don’t share our journey. When we relive that, have those moments, and recapture them, sometimes, we’re right there for a moment, and it is painful. I can relate to that. Thank you for taking the time to do that.

Thank you for sharing and being transparent about how difficult it is when you’re going through hard moments to connect and interact in ways that you did before social media and being in church. People have a lot of guilt or shame, feeling that they don’t want to go to church or they don’t want to show up in social events the way they did before because they may not even correlate the idea of the word that they’re grieving. They may say, “I’m having a hard time. It’s difficult.” Because they don’t recognize it as grief, it can slip into deep depression and other different things. How were you and Valerie able to turn the corner on that and not slip away?

The Importance Of Community

It didn’t happen overnight. It takes that sting of not having your child is something that’s it’s still hard. It took a couple of weeks to start turning things around. I remember people coming over and sitting with us in our emotions. For a moment, we didn’t feel alone. People came and didn’t drop off things, but they sat with us in those emotions. Our friends from a couple of houses down showed up with a yellow basket and said, “We’re here for you. Here are some things to cheer you up and laugh or things to do as a family.” It meant a lot that people were reaching out, caring for us, and sitting in those emotions together.

It was people who reached out who pulled us out. Going back to work in a therapy environment is difficult and hard. I remember going through this emotionally difficult situation in my life. I’m holding onto it. I was fearful of people getting out and my clients worrying about me and not being able to worry about their work. I held onto it for so long. Two of my coworkers knew it. I said, “This is a gift to teach people about how to get through hard times. I’m going to share this in a group.” I was the director, and I said, “I’m going to share this with them.”

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Jason Clawson | Grief Journey

 

It was amazing to be in a recovery environment where I was perceived as invincible. I’m this therapist, and nothing happens to them. For this small moment, I said, “I need to share something with you guys. I’m going through a hard time. I feel strongly that I need to share it.” I shared what was happening. I shared emotions. It felt intimate. It’s a spiritual experience of my life. I look around, and everybody in the recovery group is crying. There are these big dudes with tattoos and piercings. They’re weeping and saying, “That doesn’t seem fair, Jason. Here you are helping people recover, and you are going through a challenge.” It brought a lot of respect.

A lot of them said, “You’re not using through this. This empowers me that I can get through hard times because of what you are going through.” I walked out of that group. I’m empowered by them and were struggling, but they said how much that meant to them for me to open up and be vulnerable to them. I couldn’t believe I kept it from them for so long. For me, being open to people who are going through hard times made me a therapist more. I am a better therapist because of it. I empathize better with people. I care about more people because I had that situation.

 

 

I am glad that you mentioned the importance of community. People often try to go this alone. They don’t want to say anything or talk about it. Here you are in the duality of Jason, the therapist, and Jason, the real person going through a life struggle. As I do grief coaching with people, often they’re therapists, and they’re looking for a safe space for someone to talk to. They say, “Being a therapist has nothing to do with right now.” All the things they’ve learned and knew when you’re in that.

The other thing you mentioned was that when your community came, they didn’t try to fix it and push you through whatever it was so you could be happy. They sat where you were in that process and let it be. Yeah. The pain has its purpose in life. Those tears are healing were there. That is important. I know what I want to ask you about the correlation that we make. You have these people in this recovery group. People have this outward persona, but as you humanize your experience, they become more vulnerable, if I heard that correctly.

The groups after that got deeper. They were bringing up things that they were holding onto. It was healing. Many lives were changed from that experience, and that means the world. I got a text the other day from one of them and said, “I want to let you know I’m five years sober because of who you are and what you have shared.”

What you do is you are authentic and transparent. It invites people to do the same thing. It invites people to be brave. They can follow your example. It is hard. It sucks. You don’t want to do it. You don’t want to take off this mask of masculinity and be raw with my emotions because of how I will be judged or who people will think I am. I don’t care. I care about people and people’s hearts and want to find happiness again.

Bad And Good Coping Skills

In masculinity, there’s strength in being transparent. It’s harder to be vulnerable in that strength and process. I want to pose this question. The people said that you are going through this and not using something. It made me think about how grief without the proper coping skills can lead to very demonstrous ways of trying to manage it. I want to go back to Jason, the father and the husband. Since you mentioned that, can you expand on how grief can catapult into something else and what bad coping skills and good coping skills are managing grief?

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Jason Clawson | Grief Journey

 

What I’ve seen a lot is when people want to wait out grief, we begin to be vulnerable to taking on things that are unhealthy for us because we want to mask our emotions. We want to numb out or forget what we’re experiencing. Emotion is the teaching and the processing that we need to feel. A lot of us will turn to social media, where we spend hours scrolling. We’ll watch TV, and we’ll binge-watch because that forgets our emotions. We’re able to be someone else and check out of our emotions. We start using alcohol to numb ourselves out or get into unhealthy relationships because we forget about what we’re trying to experience.

Those unhealthy habits start to creep in because we’re fearful of feeling our emotions and allowing these emotions to come out or the person we’re trying to become. We want to push it down. We want everything to be where it was. We know that, and that is easier. This coming up, and feeling it, many of us don’t have an experience. This is hard to feel and overwhelming. It’s like, “Get down.”

When people just wait out grief, they become vulnerable to taking on things that are unhealthy for them. Click To Tweet

What do healthy coping skills look like?

It depends on the person. A healthy coping skill can be something that allows you to feel emotions. It’s like riding out a wave. One coping skill that my boys and I were able to engage in is getting canvases for my boys and some paint because, in a house full of boys, we don’t communicate well. What we did was we sat around the kitchen table, picked different questions that we wanted to answer, painted them, and expressed ourselves.

For me, as a therapist dad, my kids don’t like the questions I ask. I get it. The canvases could tell me what was going on. This was a healthy way of coping with how they were feeling. It’s something like physical exercise. As we get out and do our physical exercise, what can happen if you allow it? You’ll be able to process some of those emotions by doing physical exercise. I’m not going to say every person will have this, but you’ll get to a point where, as you’re exercising and pushing through, the emotion will start to come out as you allow it. That is a good way of processing those emotions.

Those are two examples of being healthy. I could go into many things like meditation, mindfulness, journaling, a routine, and a schedule that allows you to go to bed at the same time and get good sleep. There are a lot of things that you can do. What’s important is to be consistent with those healthy behaviors. If you’re consistent, it’ll tell your body that you’re allowing it to be consistent, and it’s safe to allow emotions to come out.

We can put back on Jason, the person hat. Friends come by, and they visit. You and Valerie turn this curve of what life looks like differently now and accept this new version of life. The struggle is realizing you don’t get that old life that you had back. You are different. We want to feel like we want it fixed, and fixed looks like having the life we had before, but that’s not possible. The reconciliation of that mentally requires us to struggle. I need to identify what change looks like in this new version. You embrace it, or that painful part of trying not to will put you in a place of being stuck. You and Valerie are able to move forward in that. What are some other big things that happened in life after that?

Valerie’s Battle With Cancer

A couple of years went by. We felt like we were making some progress. At that point, I was thriving as a clinical director at this recovery program. My boys were thriving in school and sports. One thing that Valerie struggled with after the pregnancy was her weight. She was able to qualify for surgery to be able to lose some weight. She finally had lost 100 pounds at this point and was feeling good about life.

We went through this one hard moment of our life. We’re closer and stronger as a family. We’re able to gain some momentum and get back to the life that we had dreamed about or anticipated. At this point, we felt like we started building a house that we were going to live in for a long period of time. Even though you have those hard circumstances, hard doesn’t have to last forever, but we have to lean into the discomfort of life.

Even though you have those hard circumstances, hard doesn't have to last forever. Click To Tweet

We have to grow through these emotions. God is allowing us to become the person we need to be through those. If we fight back, we’re not going to become the person we need to be. We went through this hard moment. We were starting to get back on track. It was like, “I feel better. I can teach people. I can do this again. We’ve gone through this. We’re back on track.” I can smile. We can laugh. We can feel ourselves again.

What does life go from there?

I felt like this is the life I’ve wanted for a long time. Even though I didn’t think I would have two kids. I thought I’d have a bigger family. I didn’t think I’d have to go through a hard moment. We were there. My brother is getting married at 42 for the first time. We’re like, “Life was feeling good.” A couple of weeks after that, my wife Valerie came up to me. She said, “Jason, I have a lump in my stomach. Can you check this out?” I felt that. I was like, “That’s weird.” We thought that could be from the surgery or some scar tissue. I said, “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s wait a week, and we will see where it goes.”

A week went by. She felt her stomach again, and it had grown. That’s where I was like, “Let’s get some tests.” On our first test, we went to see our primary care physician, and he looked at Valerie and said, “Are you pregnant?” She’s like, “No.” We did some blood work. He sent us over here to do some scans. It was one thing after another after another. We weren’t getting any answers to what this was. I was like, “Let’s hurry and figure this out. We can get back to the life that we’ve been living. We need to get back to where we were.”

What year is this at this time?

This is September 2018. We did some scans. They couldn’t figure this out. Blood work wasn’t saying anything, and the tests weren’t saying anything specific about what was wrong. We finally brought on a doctor who was going to do exploratory surgery and see what was going on. We went up to the hospital. We’re praying that it’s not going to be minimal.

He did a partial hysterectomy. He opened up my wife. I’m in the waiting room with my in-laws, my sister, and her best friend. The doctor came in, looked at me, and said, “Jason, I’m sorry. We found stage four colon cancer.” Life was ripped from me. Life doesn’t seem fair. How could this happen? My life got turned upside down, and I thought, “How could this happen?” My mind started racing. I’m thinking, “What about my kids? How are we going to pay for this? What are we going to do?”

There’s nothing you can prepare to have a moment like that. Your life gets handed to you. It’s something that is hard to process at any time in your life. I’m thinking, “I’m young. My wife is young. This doesn’t happen to people who are young. This is for people who have lived full lives. What are we going to do?” The doctor says, “When Valerie wakes up, I’ll calm down and talk to you guys.” She wakes up. She looks at us. She goes, “It’s not good, is it?” We started crying. The doctor delivered the news. We all cried and sobbed that our life was going to be different.

We grieved again. The life that we were meant to be and the life that we were anticipating we weren’t going to have. We started the grieving process right away. My brain couldn’t shut off. The doctor was going down the hallway. I was like, “I need some answers.” I ran after the doctor. I chased her down, and I said, “I need some answers. How long do we have? What are we going to do for treatment? What about this?” She stopped me and said, “Jason, you’re going to be okay.” I’m like, “No, I’m not.” She goes, “Jason, cancer has a way of enhancing your life. You’re going to be okay.”

At that moment, that’s not what I needed to hear. I went, “I don’t want my life to be enhanced. I want my life to go back to where it was because that’s what I know. That’s where I was healthy. That’s my life I worked hard to get back. It didn’t seem fair. How could this happen to me twice? I lost a kid, and now, my wife has cancer.” I’ve had to do a lot of work with that. It’s not fair. I’m angry at God and the situation.

As a husband, a dad, or a provider, the weight is heavy. I turned down that hallway, and this heaviness was on my shoulders. I slowly walked back to the room. I was like, “I have to put on this mask. I can’t show any weakness. I have to be strong for everybody because everybody needs me.” That’s my mentality. That’s what a lot of men do when they go through hard situations. They’re the stoic mass. I’m not going to show any emotions because people need someone who’s not going to do that. They don’t need someone that’s going to cry and fall apart because they need someone that they can go to. That’s what I went to. That was heavy. That is not an easy thing to do.

Did you ever show Valerie how you were feeling? Were you always strong in her presence?

Not until a couple of weeks before she passed.

I will leave you to share whatever you want between the diagnosis and when she passed. I don’t want to ask a lot. I want you to share your story for that period.

I didn’t do it for a long time. I also wanted to keep my mask on to be hopeful and optimistic. What I would do is help everybody. I’d go to work and help everybody at work with their problems. I help my kids get to bed, tucked in and fed, take care of my wife, help her shower, get some medicine, and get comfortable. I would lay on the couch, take off my mask, put it on the coffee table, scroll through social media, and sob until I was exhausted. I would fall asleep. I would wake up before everybody else. I would throw on the mask and be like, “Let’s do this again. Let’s keep fighting.”

It took so much energy and effort to be able to do that. I felt like I needed to be that for people. It’s exhausting to be the caregiver. What I do now is when I go into a situation where someone has cancer or is terminally ill, I go right to the caregiver. I gave them a hug, and I said, “Are you okay? How are you feeling?” I spend time with them because I know what it feels like. That can be as exhausting or even more exhausting than the patient who’s going through that because the patient gets so much energy, love, care, and support. The caregiver is the person who has to be okay with what’s going on, do everything, and feel everything. That’s why I go right to the caregiver.

If I recall correctly, and hopefully I don’t get this wrong, they have to take this out. You made a video about things to ask your mom or wife about. It’s a video you did with Valerie. Do I remember that correctly? Do you want to share what that video was like? That seemed like such a precious moment.

One thing that we did with Valerie is we recorded and did some recordings. One thing that we did with her is we wanted to ask specific questions to honor her and continue to keep her legacy and memory alive. Taking time during those difficult moments and asking hard questions can be hard, but it can be memorable. It can help you to continue the legacy that you will carry on with your loved ones. We’ve got to be able to be intentional and be present to do that, like asking her, “What do you want done with your stuff? What memories do you want to honor? Where do you want to be? What are your favorite stories that we should continue to carry on?” Those are what’s important.

Losing Valerie

From the time that Valerie became sick in September, how long before she transitioned from this world?

The doctor gave us 2 to 3 years, and she passed away in nine months. Here’s another hard issue. I hate bringing hard stuff up, but we did everything that the doctor told us to do. We did chemo. That was our choice. We tried to get on clinical trials. The hard part about this whole situation, and I like to teach that, even though you’re living a good life, you’re a good member of the church, you’re Christian, or you’re serving in the community, hard things can and will happen to you. I’m sorry to burst people’s bubble, but that’s life.

Even though you're living a good life, even though you're a good member of the church and a servant in the community, things can and will happen to you. That’s life. Click To Tweet

In the Bible, it says, “A man born of a woman’s days are short and full of trouble.” We don’t want to quote that. We don’t want to find that verse in there. We want to find all the happy, but it’s in there. It says that there’s a time and season for everything. There’s a time to live, die, rest, and laugh. Those things are in there, but we want to focus on them, not those things. They would help prepare us. I don’t know if anything would ever prepare you for the death of a spouse. It is spoken about in the Bible.

It’s hard to go through. Those nine months were a hard moment when we had to say goodbye. We weren’t ready for that. We were ready to live two more years with her. What we found was we were grieving the life we don’t have with my wife. That was difficult. One of the hardest moments is, at funerals, you get this rally, support, and love for people.

What people don’t understand is when the funeral’s over, and everybody’s gone back to their lives, you wake up, and those are the hardest moments. That’s when you need people, support, things, and people to come to visit and sit in your emotions because those are the loneliest and darkest days that people go through sitting there and thinking, “Do I want to get out of bed? Do I want to go to work? Do I even want to be around people?” Those are the hardest moments that people don’t anticipate.

When your baby boy died and now Valerie died, did people show up differently? Did they respond differently to you in those moments of grief? If so, how? Was it the same?

It’s different. People were more the same when the baby died because they didn’t have a relationship. They’re sitting in our emotions. They’re supporting us. What I found with going through experiencing loss with my wife was that people knew my wife and had relationships and knew us. What’s surprising is people I thought would show up the best and support me disappeared.

Were those the people that were the closest to you? I wonder because it may have been hard that they didn’t know how to be in that space in her absence. They found themselves distant.

I feel that way. They were family members and friends. I feel the same way. They didn’t know what to do or how to show up. They were impacted in ways that I don’t understand. I give them grace in that aspect. On the other end, people that I didn’t anticipate showed up, and maybe the opposite. They didn’t know her, but they wanted to be there for me.

It’s interesting to go through the death of a child that we didn’t necessarily know versus someone we know. People are showing up in different ways. The best for people in this situation is I wanted someone to be by me, sit in my emotions with me, and listen to me. That’s what I wanted. I wanted someone to be consistent in sitting in my emotions with me.

That is hard because people want to fix it. They don’t want you to be sad, but it has to be. You are uncoupling your life. You are unwinding. You’re trying to make sense. They died, and I am still alive. You’re looking at the other side of the bed. You’re looking at the cup they drank coffee, cocoa, or tea out of. You’re in this quasi-place. They call it mental or grief fog. The brain has trauma. You’re trying to put life together, and it takes time. You have these two young boys. You’re putting on this mask because you’re putting on the mask because you’ve got to be the dad. Where do you grieve? How does that work? How did that work?

I kept putting on the mask. It was comfortable. I went back to work nine days later and figured, “If I can help more people, it’s going to help us grieve.” It was frustrating and overwhelming.

Was there a collapse where you said, “I can’t do this?” Were you able to pull that off, and are you still doing it?

I remember coming home. This is the moment I walk in, and my son’s on the couch. He looks at me, and he goes, “Dad, you come home angry every day.” I went, “He can see right through me. I’m not doing a good job of hiding my emotions. I have to do something.” That was a pivotal moment for him, seeing right through what I was afraid to show him. I thought, “I have to change to help my son and me through this process.” That was a moment that triggered me. I was at work. I thought, “I can’t carry this and hide anymore.”

I remember being at work and going on my lunch break. I went to my church parking lot. I pulled out my phone. I started sending a message to people in my neighborhood, people in my church group, and my friends. I said, “Can you guys come over to my house? I’m struggling, and I need some help. Will you come at 7:00? I would love to let you know how I’m feeling.” I sent it. I went, “Let’s see what happens.”

I got off work and waited around until 7:00. All of a sudden, there was a knock at the door. My initial man thought, “I’m going to have to start to talk.” I can’t retract it. I thought, “The pain that I’m experiencing now is nowhere near the pain of sharing and opening up. I can do this. In my living room, I called my own intervention. I took off my mask. I started opening up, crying, and telling how hard it was.

What was amazing and what I found was people want to help those who are grieving, but they don’t know how a lot of the time. I had these people that were wanting to do something, but they didn’t know how. Part of that was me having the mask on. I’m hard to read to what to say and what to do to be able to help. As soon as I opened up and shared, I gave them permission and invited them. They could give me the feedback I needed. They could tell me the things they were holding onto. These are the things that I needed to hear to move forward.

People want to help those who are grieving, but they don't know how. Click To Tweet

After this experience, I was like, “What happens when things get hard?” At this moment, I created a healing team. I identified someone as the captain of my ship. What they would do is whenever things got emotionally triggering and overwhelming, I could text my one code word to my team captain. My team captain would text the rest of the group that was there. They took on an assignment that they could follow through with. An example is my parents. When they got that text, and when things were triggering, overwhelming, and exhausting, they would come over and start doing my laundry.

The laundry is huge.

A neighbor would come over and start doing my yard work. Someone would come and take the boys for a couple of hours. I would have dinners come over to my house. People would start texting me uplifting messages. As soon as I got overwhelmed, people would take off some of my responsibilities, and I could breathe. What’s important is, when I felt well enough, I invited those things. I’d be like, “I got my laundry. I can handle it.”

I could take the laundry back. I could take the mowing the lawn. I could breathe. At that point, I was like, “ I believe that whatever I go through, all I need to do is one text word. I can have a team that helps me through my grief.” I felt empowered to get through that grief. After that, I felt like, “I can do this because I have people who will link arms with me.” It’s like the scriptures, which talk about yoking your will with God. They’ll carry me through until I’m strong enough to deal with this. That was life-changing.

It is because we want to think they know what to do, but they don’t. They are waiting for us to give them instructions on how to show up. They don’t know if they should or shouldn’t talk about it. They don’t know if they should lean in and do this or not. When you give those people who love you clear instructions and they know what to do, they will engage.

I love that concept of putting people in place. When you don’t have to do the laundry, you don’t have to cook because you already have Valerie die every second, every moment. That weight is there. You got to do laundry. You have to come home from dealing with people. You have to do the grass, take care of the boys, run them to sports, and have parent-teachers.

A two-unit scenario is now here. You’re mad at God that this happened. Why is this? I can’t breathe. You are hyperventilating. You’re trying to do it. Calling that community and engaging them and the way you put it together, anybody can make that a repeatable process for them. Talk about some other things you’ve done as far as helping people with grief.

Hope Kit: Helping People With Grief

I feel like my grief is my calling now because I’ve been through it. You’ve been through it. Now, it’s our opportunity to give back and to help people so that they can do it right.

I don’t know if it is to do it right, but to know that they have options on how to do it. How everybody is going to do it is going to be different. Everybody may not have the network of people to even have the team and the captain. What they do know is they don’t have to let grief mute them. They don’t have to hold it in and explode emotionally and bottom out.

What it may look like for someone who has been an introvert, and they and their spouse for everything may be able to say, “I can talk to a stranger at a work conference. I don’t have to hold it inside. I can use a journal. I can do that.” Everybody’s version will be different, but not one has a community they can hear. It’s helpful. They can also learn to talk about it, not hold it aside. That’s a piece I can pluck out for my own journey.

After that meeting, I decided to reconnect with my boys and become a dad. I thought what was not sustaining us was those memories of loss and cancer. I needed to connect with my boys, make some memories with them, and enjoy life. I stepped away from therapy for the summer. The first thing I did was make a bucket list for my boys and me of things that we could do together, as well as incorporate the memory of my wife in those events. Connecting with my boys could be memorable for them and something that they could live on because of those memories.

One of those fun things that we did was a lemonade stand because we wanted to give back to people who were feeling the same way we were. We feel that service is a big part of healing. Giving ourselves an emotional timeout to help others made us feel that it would be a good break for us. We made this lemonade stand outside of our house. By the time the lemonade stand was done, we had raised $1,500.

What are we doing? What kind of lemonade stand is this, Jason?

It’s the easiest lemonade stand. You get a water bottle. You get those crystal light packets. We got a little rubber band that we attached to the lid. We’d sell those for a dollar. People would make their own lemonade.

You’re not even making lemonade.

This is during COVID. People are driving by, and we’re handing it to them. People were donating and getting behind us. We didn’t sell $1,500 worth of lemonade.

I need some clarification. Thank you. I’m like, “I need you to give me a lemonade stand if that’s what’s going on.”

People were rallying around us. We made these kits to be able to give to people who lost a spouse and cancer. We put all this stuff in these kits. We made 25 from the $1,500. When we showed up to these people, we could sit in their emotions and say, “This sucks.” My kids could talk to their kids. We finally got ourselves a break from feeling all that yucky grief by serving and doing something good for another person. That’s what felt good for me and my boys. We could breathe. When we got in the car, you could feel this energy. I’m like, “I want to keep doing this because it feels so good. My kids are starting to feel good.

We started doing this more often as a family. There was a lady in Virginia who said, “I want a kit to help myself out.” We can’t go to Virginia. We designed a box that we could ship out. We sent it to Virginia. This lady went crazy. She goes, “Thank you so much.” We began to go on this mission of helping more people. During this time of helping others, my boy came up and said, “Dad, do you think we could deliver a box to every state in the United States?” I went, “When do I have time?” The dad in me says, “I don’t want to tell my son no. He is catching the vision and healing through the process.” I said, “We’ll do it.”

We went to work. We threw it out on social media. We delivered the last box to Delaware. We’ve been able to share and give back to many people who have been in our space. It’s been so healing for my boys to be a part of this. I get messages from people. It inspired people. It’s helped people who are grieving Valerie. I feel honored to be inspired to do this with me and my boys. One thing that we’re doing now is helping people who are in that grief space. We’ve turned those boxes where we can give them to people and send them to people. It’s our business, which we call Hope Kit.

Life After Loss

That is beautiful because people will stay stuck in what they can no longer attain. The memory of their death was painful, but there were more beautiful memories in the relationship. You had beautiful memories to make. I love how you turned the corner on that. How has the dynamics of your family changed since then?

It has changed quite a bit.

We have been doing our work and trying to become the best people we have. By doing this, I got connected to a girl named Kirsten. A side note is that when I got ready to start dating again, my oldest son helped me set up my profile. We did it together. We were able to invite people into our lives. One was Kirsten.

I began connecting with and talking with her. She also had lost her spouse from cancer. You can imagine that we shared a lot in common. Her spouse, from diagnosis to death, was nine months. There were a lot of similarities in our situation. From the first conversation we had, we talked for three hours. We knew we had something special. We had this synergy and connection that was deep right away. It felt healing in the process. We met. We swipe right. That means you got connected and matched on social media.

What year was that when you met her?

It’s September 2021. We talked every day for at least three hours.

Where did she live at that point in time?

She lived in Idaho. She was building a house an hour from my house. We talked for about two months every day for at least three hours. She moved down here. While we were dating, she would drive down to my house and back home almost every day because managing my boys and everything was hard. With all the sacrifice and time we spent, we fell in love. We ended up getting married the following January.

At that point, it’s like, “God is good. God is helping us. He’s bringing things back in our life that he has taken.” The boys are calling her mom. It’s embracing her. Kirsten didn’t have any kids of her own. She’d been remarried before, had two stepdaughters, and had a distant relationship because Cody was gone. She came to me and said, “I can’t have any kids. The doctor said no, Jason.” I said, “This is our family. I’m happy.”

God has another plan. Being married for a couple of months, I got a phone call from Kirsten. She’s crying. I said, “What’s the matter?” She goes, “Jason, I am pregnant.” My jaw hit the ground. I said, “Why are you mad?” She goes, “I’m mad because I don’t want to go through that grief again. I’ve had two miscarriages. I’ve lost a husband. I don’t want to do with this.” We went about it slowly until we got confirmation that we were going to have a girl.

We begin to share people. December 2023 is when our sweet glue baby came into our lives. She has been what we need to bring light and joy to bring our families together. We feel like a complete family rather than two families that have been broken apart, trying to fit together. We feel complete. It’s been such a blessing. As I reflect back on what the doctor said, “Cancer has a way of enhancing your life.” Now, I’m like, “I get it. I am grateful that you said that.”

It’s been a hard road. God has truly blessed our lives so that we have each other. My kids have a mom now. Together, we had this beautiful, amazing girl. We have to help people in the grief space. Both of us are able to share our stories and talk about there’s hope. There can be joy again. We can find good after hard things happen. That’s what I love to share. That’s what I love to help people find because it’s possible.

There's hope. There can be joy again. We can find good after hard things happen. Click To Tweet

I want to ask you a question. People correlate God’s goodness to when life shows up the way we think it should be. Why do we not say that God is good even when life doesn’t look the way that we think it should?

It’s hard. We get so focused on what’s happening to us rather than what’s happening for us.

God is good all the time. The circumstance does not change his goodness.

It’s hard to be grateful. A sign of maturity and connection with God is that God finds someone who’s grateful through a challenge. Those are the people that you want in your life. It comes with practice and putting himself first. People think God forgave me during that trial. Even my prayers when I went through these challenges were, “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this?” Rather than like, “What do I need to learn? Who do I need to connect with through that?” It’s a process. We have to get better at doing that because that’s how God teaches us and helps us through the trials when we come to that realization.

I have two questions for you. What gives you joy?

My family gives me joy. When I share my story, it connects with and helps someone. That’s what gives me joy. When someone comes up and says, “Thank you for sharing that. That’s what I needed to hear.” I’m like, “It’s my gift to you.”

If you could pick any time in your life and go back and talk to Jason, what time would you pick, and what would you tell him?

I’d talk to him when my wife got diagnosed. I needed Jason to give me a pep talk.

I have asked you a lot of questions. Do you have any questions for me?

Through this grief process, who’s been one of the most influential people in your life?

I am one of five siblings. We call ourselves the siblings. We’re one unit. We have different personalities. When my children or my nieces go, “The sibling said.” It’s like the cohort. I would have to say that the sibling unit has been the most influential part. I could not say one of them did something without naming somebody else who was doing something. I would have to say my sibling unit has been that driving force for me.

What’s the quote that drives your passion for what you do?

I get Proverbs 2 3:25, “Trusting the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him. He will lead and die and direct your path.” When I had a miscarriage on Mark’s birthday, I thought that was going to be the most devastating thing. When I went through breast cancer, I thought that was going to be the most devastating thing. Being an ordained minister sitting with a family when a mother died, I thought that was going to be the most devastating thing. That experience was about one month before Mark died. I could look back and see where God had prepared me for what was going to be the most difficult thing.

I’m still not a fan of it, but I know he loves me. He has been with me and guiding me in this process. I have to say, “Tina, you do not understand what everything is.” I have to rest in knowing who God is, and he does. Realizing and keying into how much God loves me and knowing changed the narrative. Mark’s death and the miscarriage were not something God did to me. This is part of humanity. These are part of the life lessons.

When I find that people feel like the death of their loved one was an attack or was something that was done to them, they rest on well, “I was good, and I did this.” I could think of several people who had bad marriages or who I thought were not the best people. I was like, “This was a choice. I don’t get it, but here we are.” If I had made it that God did it to me, I don’t know where my mental state would have been over time.

It’s interesting you said that because losing my son turned out to be such a blessing. When Valerie was getting to the end of her life, it was comforting for my boys to hear that Valerie was going to go be with Hugh or she wasn’t going to be alone, but she was going to keep track and be a part of Hugh’s life. It was comforting because we could talk that she was going home to be with you. My boys have mentioned that it’s comforting for them and that it has helped them through the process of grief. It also gives me hope. It’s like, “Our family is there, and our family is down here.” It brings so much hope.

What I thought was my hardest trial of losing a kid, who would’ve thought that that would be one of my biggest blessings to prepare and help me get ready for when Valerie went through her cancer and died? God works in mysterious ways, but we need to be able to pause and say, “Thank you for doing this. Why are you doing this? Teach me.”

I would’ve never thought in March 2017 when Mark died. I remember myself being at the end of this hallway, losing my mind while the medics were working on him and screaming to think God would use that to have a nonprofit supporting people who are grieving. I’m having conversations with people around the world and giving space to normalize that grief is okay. This is a part of life. It’s not something we have to brush away in a corner and act like it doesn’t exist. Jesus wept. This is part of living. This is embracing the love and the relationship. I rather have grief because I love somebody who had their relationship than never have had anybody to grieve in my life at all.

Any other questions for me? You don’t have to make up one. This has been a lot. I encourage you to give yourself something easy to relax. If you had things planned to do after this, you might be able to dial that back a little bit and say, “There’s a lot that I’ve rehashed, revisited, embraced, and memories.” Take it easy if you can after this conversation. I want you to end this conversation with whatever. Maybe there was something you wanted to cover we didn’t cover, any advice or guidance, but it is up to you.

I always say, “The opposite of grief is connection.” Whether We connect with family, friends, or God, connecting with other humans and other people can be your way of helping yourself through that grief. I see it over. That’s why I encourage you. If you’re alone, reach out to God, friends and family. Start with one. That can be your starting point to get happy.

The opposite of grief is connection. Click To Tweet

Thank you for being here, Jason.

Thank you. It’s great connecting with you.

Thank you for being here throughout this conversation and all the way to the end. I appreciate you. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but thank you for being part of the widowhood. I invite you to check out our website, Widowhood-RealTalkWithTina.org. There are resources there. We are an Amazon Prime affiliate. We were using that as a fundraiser because this is a nonprofit.

If you want to be a business sponsor, please email me at WidowhoodRealTalk@Gmail.com. We have events, activities, and dinners, and we are looking for business sponsors. Check out our YouTube page. If you didn’t know, every Friday at noon, I have a series out called Dating a Widow that you will find helpful. Thank you for being here, and have a wonderful day. Talk to you soon. Bye.

 

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About Jason Clawson

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Jason Clawson | Grief JourneyI’m Jason Clawson, a therapist with over 16 years of experience, dedicated to helping individuals navigate the complexities of grief, trauma, addiction, and attachments. In 2018, my world shook when my wife, Valerie, battled stage 4 Colon Cancer. It was a fight we couldn’t win, and nine months later, I said my goodbyes. I felt lost and isolated, wondering if happiness could find me again. Depression, isolation, and anxiety became my daily companions. As a clinical therapist, I struggled to navigate my own emotions. But a “Hail Mary” plea for help led to my “Healing Team” bringing light back into my life.

Love found its way back in, and Kirsten became my joy and renewed hope. Against all odds, we welcomed Maisie, our miracle baby. Inspired by our journey, my partner Wyatt and I co-founded Hope Kit, spreading hope and healing worldwide. Now, with Pretherapy Kit, we’re revolutionizing the therapy experience, turning apprehension into empowerment. From loss to love, heartache to hope, I’ve seen the resilience of the human spirit. The words that the doctor in the hospital spoke to me have never been so true: “Jason, Cancer has a way of enhancing your life.” 

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide