Oftentimes, people are stuck in grief and don’t know how to get out of it. And that sucks because most of the time, the other parts of our lives are perfectly fine but we aren’t present enough to enjoy them. Healing from unresolved grief is an active process, not a passive one, as today’s guest explains. Ghulam Fernandes is a grief transformation coach who specializes in unresolved grief. Ghulam has had multiple bereavements, something that she draws upon a lot when working with her clients. Ghulam believes that you can and should take active steps to heal yourself from grief and live your life fuller. She shares some of the resources that will help you do just that. Tune in to learn more about her transformative work and how it can make all the difference in your grief and rebirth journey!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Grief Transformation: Actively Healing From Unresolved Grief With Ghulam Fernandes
Our guest is Mrs. Ghulam Fernandes. She is a grief transformation coach. She has had multiple bereavements growing up. Without the right knowledge, tools, and processes was stuck for years in pain and therapy. She is now passionate and training others in how to deal with unresolved grief, so they can move forward and get their life back. She had extensive personal experience with grief and training for over two years with the Grief Recovery Institute and also with Edu-Therapy UK in January 2022.
She started her handling grief practice and has been working with individuals who are stuck in the pain of their grief to teach them the knowledge, tools, and processes that they can use to identify the process of all past, present, and future grief. She loves seeing lives transformed. Let’s get into this conversation now.
Ghulam, thank you for joining me.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m so excited to be able to be here and for us to have a conversation that can be a light to people who may be struggling in the dark.
Same here. What would you like to share about yourself initially?
I just became a grandmother, which has revolutionized my life.
Are you a good grandmother or are you one of those grandmothers that maybe get away with everything?
It’s still early days. I’m trying to be a good grandmother because I know that without a lot of love, but also clear boundaries, children can grow up a bit wild. That doesn’t serve anybody. She makes me laugh so much. We live in a world that is full of challenges at the moment. Everywhere you look, there’s bad and sad news or even sadder and worse news. I’ve created a little file of my granddaughter, and all the different pictures and videos that my son sends me. Now and then, I think, “I need some granddaughter time.” I go in there and I’ll just laugh and smile until I feel restored, and then I’m back to being able to cope with the reality of the world that we live in. We all need something that brightens our hearts and brings a smile to our faces. She’s my first granddaughter, so that’s made it special.We all need something that brightens our heart and brings a smile to our face. Click To Tweet
She has your heart in a different way. My youngest sister’s daughter and her husband who is in the Navy, your reaction is the same reaction I see from my sister when she talks about her grandson and how it bubbles her up inside. It’s that newness of life, the freshness, and the innocence of it all. It’s all so good and pure before they’ve been bombarded with things in life.
It’s that purity of expressing themselves by saying, “If she’s not happy, you’ll know about it. If she’s smiling, you’ll know about it.” We get into, “Should I say this? Shouldn’t I say this? What will people think?” Monitoring and censoring ourselves and not being ourselves is not helpful to anybody. She’s extra special. We’ll talk about that in a little while.
In my brief journey where I had multiple losses growing up, one of the things that happened was I had three miscarriages, and we don’t know about the first because the baby never really started forming. The second two were little girls. I had two sons and my husband. I always felt outnumbered. I was very excited when I thought I was going to have a little girl. After the miscarriage, that didn’t happen. It felt really special now that we have got a little girl in the family.
Thank you for sharing that part because what we don’t know oftentimes is the backstory of a situation. Having this authentic, real talk brings some of those things to light that we generally may not be able to have a conversation with someone. I know that sometimes people’s friends will listen to a podcast and find out something about their friend that they didn’t know because the conversation didn’t come up or there wasn’t a safe space to have it. I appreciate you sharing that.
Unfortunately, I also have experienced having a miscarriage. The first trimester was right around my late husband’s birthday, and that was my first introduction to grief. As you and I know, grief is surrounded by a lot of different things. Oftentimes when people hear grief, they dive towards someone who has lost a loved one, which is absolutely grief, but it does expand further than that, which is what complicates life because we don’t realize by the time we’re dealing with the death of a loved one, it’s compounding from 6 or 7 other different things that we handle.
This was the one that may have broken us or put us in a place where we can never pay attention to everything else because it’s not only the death of that loved one, but it’s a compounding of other grief experiences that we’ve had. Now, everything crumbles and we’re at a place where we have to deal with it. We have so jumped forward. That is what a conversation does. It takes its turn here or there as far as where it goes. I do want to shift back for you to share a little bit about your life journey, and then we go from there with this conversation.
I was born in a very small village in Pakistan. My father came to the UK in the late ‘50s to early ‘60s, because there was a shortage of people to work all different jobs and things. There was a big recruitment drive. In 1962, he brought us over, my mom and 3 of us children because 3 of us were born in Pakistan, and 3 of us were born in the UK. We used to have six of us. Life was pretty good. I had always been a fairly optimistic person. We do say that grief is more than just about bereavement wherever you get a significant change or an end to something that can leave you with feelings of loss and grief.Grief is more than just about bereavement. Click To Tweet
Moving from one continent to another was a huge change. We arrived in a country where I didn’t know the language or the weather. I had never seen snow before. I was shocked. I remember my very first day at school, being puzzled by everything because it was all so different. I adapted and did very well at school and learned fairly quickly. It was when I got to age thirteen that I had what I considered to be my major grief event. That was the death of my mom.
When I was thirteen, she was going to go on holiday and we were fine. As children, we could have fun while they were away. Just as she was about to go, I had this sudden urge and sudden surge of emotion to tell her that I loved her and to give her a hug. I was looking around at all the people that had come to say bye to her. This logical part of me popped up and said, “Don’t make a fuss. She’ll be back in six weeks.” She wasn’t back in six weeks. She died while she was on holiday in Pakistan.
Nobody had ever talked to me about grief, bereavement, and how you deal with it, or what is good or bad information. It came as a complete shock because I used to think old people die and other people die, so all of a sudden it wasn’t other, and she wasn’t that old. It was not helped by the fact that some neighbors trying to be helpful. People try to be helpful, but they haven’t been given any helpful information about what to say or not to say.
I remember her sitting me down and I was crying, and she said, “You mustn’t cry. You’ve got to be strong for your brothers and sisters because you are the oldest girl.” I believed her. It never occurred to me to question what she said. From that day on, I spent my life for many years trying not to cry and to be strong for my brothers and sisters. Every time I wanted to cry, I would now be telling myself, “I mustn’t cry. I’ve got to be strong for my brothers and sisters.” Looking back now, I realize that we are not given good information so that makes us very vulnerable to misinformation. Misinformation, it’s like you’re walking through a minefield. You step on a mine and it can blow up and add more pain to an already painful situation.
If you think that’s the way to handle grief, you could get stuck for years, which is what happened to me. Now I’m on a mission to make sure that other people can learn from my experiences. In 2020, for a long time, it had been on my heart, but with the pandemic, there was a lot more grief around. I thought, “If not now, when?” I decided to do some training so that I could be better equipped to help people. I had already been helping people. I was working for a large church as a pastoral care worker and coming alongside people, going through tough times. I thought I wanted to be more effective in that.
For some time, I had the training and I was thinking I’ll see somebody here and there, and when I retire, I’ll help more people. In my head, I’m coming toward the end of my life, put my feet up, and do all those things that people talk about. I had a sense of calling, a sense of purpose, and a sense of mission. I thought, “If not now, when?” I handed in my notice, decided to set up my practice, and work full time on educating people, giving them better knowledge, tools, and processes so that they can review their losses and then handle them more effectively.
Many people forget that grief is not only negative, it is cumulative. It doesn’t just go away. People often wrongly say, “Time’s a healer. Give it time and you’ll feel better.” That’s like saying, “If I have a flat tire, how long would I have to wait for it to reflate itself?” The first time I heard that illustration, I couldn’t stop laughing because you could wait a very long time. It’s the actions that you take over time that make the difference.
Thank you. I have a couple of questions. I want to circle back. What type of training have you taken and what is your practice?
I explored different options because I knew I wanted to be effective. I considered doing bereavement counseling, and then I came across something called the Grief Recovery Method, which is run by the Grief Recovery Institute in America. I realized that with my educational background, because I used to be a teacher, I like that approach because the thing with grief counseling is very much a talking therapy. It can be very helpful for some things, but it’s not a step-by-step action-based process. That appealed to me. I trained in that.
Later on, I decided that I wanted to also train another modality because I wanted to have more options when I was helping my clients. I trained with Edu-Therapy Solutions, which is based in Canada. They were an offshoot of the Grief Recovery Institute. The person decided they wanted to evolve the material they were working with. Now, I’ve done both of those trainings. I also did training in NLP, which is looking at how people think about things and how other people do things. As part of my master practitioner project, I studied people who seemed to be able to process grief and move forward because I knew I was stuck and I knew I’d been stuck for years going around in circles. I couldn’t figure it out. That is also something that informs my practice.
You were just about at the place for my next question. If someone’s reading this and hears the word stuck and thinking, “I’m just grieving,” what do you think dictates our example of something that is stuck versus someone who is just grieving?
To answer that question, it’s helpful to understand what is unresolved grief. With the typical grief, if there haven’t been complicated circumstances and situations, there’ll be sadness and so on. They won’t necessarily be overwhelming feelings of guilt, regret, or, as in my mom’s case, feelings of wishing that I had said something that I didn’t. The institute defines unresolved grief as having three main causes.
The first one is where you wish things had been different, better, or you’d had more of something. Of my different losses, I can use some of those to illustrate. My youngest sister had a delayed grief reaction. First, I lost my mom when I was age 13, and when I was around 30, I lost my brother to a very sudden heart attack. About a year later, my younger sister had a delayed grief reaction. She had a mental breakdown and she sadly took her own life. About a year later, my father was devastated by these losses. He became sick and died. I went on to have three miscarriages. That’s looking at the bereavement side of things, but there were lots of romantic heartbreaks, big moves across nations, and all sorts of other things as well.
It is wishing things had been different, better, you’d had more of something, you’d said more, or you’d done more. My sister’s loss was probably a really good example of that. When she became unwell, I had been struggling with my journey and I was not coping very well at work. When my colleague said, “How are you getting on?” I was trying to do my usual, “I mustn’t cry, I’ve got to be strong.” I said, “I’m hanging in there. I’m being strong.” She was very honest with me. She said, “Ghulam, I don’t think you’re coping very well from what I see. Maybe you should consider taking some time off.” It was the first time somebody permitted me that I didn’t have to cry and be strong.
When I thought about it, the idea appealed to me more and more. I also realized that with that number of losses, it wouldn’t be a case if I took a couple of weeks off and then I’ll be fine. I strongly felt that I needed to resign from my job so that I could take as long as I needed. When I felt I’d managed to piece things together, then I could reapply for a different job. I didn’t want to have the pressure of, “I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve had this much time off, now I’ve got to get back to work.” I’d handed in my notice, I’d made plans to travel to India, and then my sister became unwell.
All of a sudden, I was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t go. Maybe I should take her with me because she did start to come back to being herself.” I’d never traveled to India before. I had no idea what facilities there would be. I also had no idea about handling mental health issues. We’d never had anything happen like that. I was very torn and she persuaded me. She said to me, “You must go because you need this. I’m much better. I’m going to be fine. You’ve already handed in your notice, you’ve got your ticket. Just go.” Off I went a bit torn, but I thought, “I do need to take care of myself now.”
Sadly while I was away, she had a relapse and I got a message saying, “You should come back.” I tried to call her to say, “I’m heading back, just hang in there.” I just couldn’t get through because we’re talking about a long time ago, before we had that mobile phone, Wi-Fi, and all that stuff. It was very complicated. You’d have to ring your local exchange, who would ring the national and international exchange. It was like the whole rigmarole. I just couldn’t get through. That logical part of me said, “You’ll see you tomorrow, don’t worry about it.” I didn’t persist. Sadly by the time I landed, she had walked out of the facility because, in my head, I was thinking, “At least she was safe.”
When she’d walked out of the facility and then she’d had another go, this time, she’d died. Between me setting off on my journey and landing, she had died and there was nothing I could do. I was left with lots of feelings of regret, “What if I hadn’t gone? What if I’d taken her with me? What if I’d tried to make more effort to phone her? What if I’d written to her?” I was so consumed by trying to deal with my grief. It hadn’t occurred to me that something like that might happen. That situation represents wishing things had been different, better, or you’d had more of. If you have a bereavement or a loss that involves some of those things, then you can get stuck replaying that scene thinking, “If only I’d done this, if only I said that, what if this, what if that.”
A second unresolved grief is where you have hopes, dreams, and expectations, but they don’t come to reality because of the ending of something. My miscarriages were a good example of that. When I discovered I was pregnant with a girl, I was fantasizing about how we could have girly outings, have an avalanche of pink things, and do the things that my boys were never interested in. I built up these expectations about the future and then they were dashed. You can get stuck fantasizing or feeling disappointment or regret about the future that’s now never going to be and trying to come to terms with that.
The third type of unresolved brief is where there’s significant emotional communication that didn’t get delivered for whatever reason. My mom was the best example of that, I had that urge and I didn’t tell her. Every time I thought about my mom, where I was stuck, I’d be replaying that scene, hearing my logical voice saying, “Don’t make a fuss, she’ll be back in six weeks.” She wasn’t back in six weeks, then I’d have this whole beating myself, “Why didn’t I listen to my heart? Maybe that was my intuition. Why didn’t I?” You can get stuck. It’s like you are watching a movie and then it gets stuck in a loop where you just can’t get past that. That’s often what stuckness is about.
When there aren’t these unresolved issues, people adjust. They accept that things aren’t different, and they find a way of now creating new meaning and gathering up fond memories, they move through it. Also, other factors come into play. As you rightly said earlier, if somebody’s already carrying a lot of different types of grief, maybe this latest event, whether it’s a bereavement or something else, might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s another factor. Another factor is the capacity of the person. If you’ve never learned about self-care, developing gratitude, or having good basic routines about your nutrition, sleep, exercise, and all those sorts of things, your capacity to cope is restricted.
Even though other people might think that’s not a very big grief event, for you, it might be more than you can bear. Again, you get overwhelmed and stuck. Something I would say is that it’s unhelpful to compare grief because each person’s journey is so unique. That’s because of all those different factors. Your relationship with the person is unique, and your ability to cope with grief is unique. The load that you are carrying from the past is unique. We always say, “Please don’t compare. Just become aware of what is it that helps you, hinders you, and what is it that you need to do to process things and move forward.”It's really unhelpful to compare grief because each person's journey is unique. Click To Tweet
One of the things in terms of misinformation that I found isn’t very helpful is the whole idea that there are five stages to grief. It’s a very common model that people are very familiar with. What we’ve realized is that Elisabeth Kübler Ross was originally studying people who were dying, not people who were grieving. Sometimes I’ve had clients who come and try to fit themselves into a stage and they go, “Which stage do you think I’m at? I don’t feel X, so is that going to be something that happens later on?” Rather than being with their grief in their grief journey and recognizing it’s unique to them, they spend their time trying to compare themselves to the model and wondering if they’re doing it right.
All models have some helpful aspects and limitations. The important thing to focus on is each person’s grief is unique. Don’t think that they should be doing it like you do or behaving. Sometimes clients come to me and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I spent all my time crying my eyes out.” I’ll get other clients to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not crying.” Whether you cry or don’t cry, it’s fine. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay not to cry. There’s no should about it, so just be authentic and emotionally honest about how you are feeling rather than thinking, “I ought to feel this. I ought to feel that. I shouldn’t feel this. I shouldn’t feel that.”
For the person who, after reading this identifies that they are stuck and they reach out to you, what are some ways in which you help people become unstuck in their grief journey?
In terms of the program I deliver, it’s made up of knowledge. The first information we look at is what is grief. How does it impact you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? We help them to understand the idea of unresolved grief. The purpose of the course is to help them do a life review, and look at all the different life events that have impacted their heart so that they can get an idea of which things are still taking up a lot of their emotional energy because of unresolved things. We teach them tools where they can do the life review, but they can also do a relationship review where they chart the highlights, low lights, and sweet and sour experiences.
They can get an idea of what are the things that they need to deal with to be able to feel that the relationship doesn’t have undelivered communication. We teach them some other processes where they can having identified what they need to do, they can then process those things and do it. Once they’ve learned the knowledge, the tools, and the processes, the thing that I like about this approach is that you’ve then got the tools for life because grief is not a one-off event. We’ve got past, things that are happening now, and then things that are going to happen in the future. By having that knowledge, tools, and processes, you are better equipped to move forward through your grief journey rather than to get stuck.
You dived into one of the questions that I wanted to make sure that we covered because this 2024, I’m trying to intentionally make sure that I cover questions that have been asked by our audience. One of the questions that I wanted to be able to talk about is the stages of grief. You spoke about that a little bit. Is there more you would like to say about that particular topic?
On the face of it, it can make a lot of common sense. When I first heard that my brother had died, I’d only seen him two weeks earlier. I was just in shock. I could not take it in because I’m thinking there must be a mistake. I saw him two weeks ago, and he seemed fine and then I thought, “Maybe he’s had an accident.” He hadn’t had an accident, so I was completely confused. In terms of how people react, depending on their capacity, depending on the circumstance, all those sorts of things, that initial shock after a little bit of time might start to wear off, but then you start reviewing the relationship and that’s when you might then start feeling the feelings of regret or guilt and so on.
The thing about the five stages of grief is that it implies that you go through them one after the other. You first have this stage and then you go through this, through that, and then the other. That is not the case. Some of those emotions might arise, but they’ll arise in different ways and at different times. They might ebb and flow. The grief journey is not cut and dried and as straightforward as that. There are many different models around which try to give you some insights. Often you can find something helpful, but keep going back to the fact each person’s grief journey is unique because they are unique.
There are all sorts of sayings that get passed from generation to generation. On the face of it might sound true and some of the common ones are like, “Give it time. You mustn’t cry, you’ve got to be strong. At least you can have more children, get another dog, or you can get married again,” as if replacing the loss somehow sorts it out. Your heart’s broken by that loss. Sometimes people trying to be kind and helpful, but not having good information will come out with all sorts of things. Anytime somebody starts by saying, “At least,” it’s not going to end well.
You are jumping right into my next question, which is navigating that advice. As you’re talking about that bad advice, can you share some ways in which people can respond, manage, or handle when those things happen? Everyone who has dealt with grief can have a list of things that they can’t believe people said to them.
The first thing that can be helpful is to educate ourselves. If I had some understanding of what is good information when people said nonsensical things, even though they were well-meaning, I would’ve gone, “That’s a landmine, avoid that.” They’re trying to be helpful, but maybe I need to let them know that I didn’t find that helpful. People who are close to you, I do encourage you to put resources there where it shouldn’t be down to you, but encourage them to educate themselves.
I have written some free guides, which can be downloaded from my website. One is called the 10 Common Mistakes When Helping Someone Dealing with Loss. That talks about some of the assumptions that people make. Sometimes people make an assumption that what has helped them is going to help you. They feel uncomfortable with your emotions, they’ll often start going into giving advice or they’ll try and distract themselves by sharing their story. You say one little thing and they’re off about their grief journey, this is what happened and that happened, “This is what helped me. You should do this and you should do that.”
For somebody who genuinely wants to help, the most helpful thing they can do is learn to have a listening heart and to be curious about what is happening for this person and what is it that they would find helpful. It is fine to say, “I’m so overwhelmed by what you’re going through, I don’t even know what to say.” That’s far more helpful than coming out with an old saying you picked some clichés you picked up from somewhere.The most helpful thing you can do for a grieving person is to have a listening heart. Click To Tweet
Some people are so uncomfortable and worry about saying the wrong thing that they’ll avoid you. We need to come from a place of compassion, but we also need to educate ourselves as to what is true and not true, and what is helpful and not helpful. The same goes for different coping strategies. Before we go onto that, do you have any other questions about unhelpful and helpful comments that people make?
I wanted you to share where they could obtain the ten steps you mentioned that you had to provide to people.
My website is www.Handling-Grief.com and I have a blog there. I’ve got some of the podcasts that I’ve done over time. I’ve got testimonials. There are lots of helpful information, and I’ve got a number of free guides. Another one that can be very useful is 10 Common Mistakes When Handling Your Grief. Those are the mistakes that can get us stuck for years. People are very welcome to download them.
I don’t have any other questions about that. What guidance or recommendations would you give to someone that they are overwhelmed in their grief? They may have a lot of responsibilities that they’ve inherited because their loved one died and they are not able to manage what they did before, plus these new responsibilities. How does one ask for help when they feel like they have been told these things, “You don’t cry, you stay strong,” and they find themselves drowning in the responsibilities of life?
That’s a really good question. I often talk to clients about having realistic expectations. Imagine if you broke your leg, you wouldn’t expect to carry on as if nothing had happened. You would take time out, you would stop doing certain things, and you would need help with certain things. The problem usually arises where if you’ve believed that you should be strong and you should be able to do it, and you stop being kind to yourself.
It’s a bit like an emotional accident. If you had a car accident, you would take time to heal. Depending on how serious the accident was, you would seek medical advice, specialist advice, and all that stuff. Only you know how you feel. I always advise clients, “Don’t make any big decisions now. Delete whatever you can, things that maybe you want to do, but it’s not essential because you’re pairing everything back so that you can focus on healing.” Some things you can delegate and just recognize, you wouldn’t feel guilty if you’d had a broken leg about asking people for help. You have to recognize that what you’ve been through is like an emotional car crash. It’s fine to ask for help.
For people who are offering help, there’s a whole conversation we need to have around that. There’s suddenly so much uncertainty, your world’s been shattered, and all the things that seem so solid are now not there. Your priority is to create a sense of safety for yourself and whatever that looks like. That might mean avoiding spending time with some people who always drain you or who never listen to you, but spend their time telling you to pull your socks up or, “Aren’t you over it by now?” They’d be very sympathetic and they’d say, “How long ago did your mom die?” I’d say a year, 2 years, 3 years, or 10 years.
We’re talking from being 13 to being 30 where I’m struggling with this, and then they go, “What?” In my mind, it was as fresh as if it just happened because I was stuck in playing that loop again and again. You might need to think about what are some activities that don’t serve you at the moment. You just need to put them on hold or stop doing them. Which of the people who add to your stress and aren’t very helpful you might need to limit how much time you spend in their presence? Who are the people who want to help you, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to be coached, and they’re willing to ask you what you need rather than assuming that they know best and telling you what you should do?
Recognize that you need to create a sense of safety in whatever that looks like, whether it’s creating a physical space where you feel safe enough to experience what’s going on, whether it’s being with somebody whom you feel safe enough to be yourself with and not having to put on a smile and pretend everything’s okay. Those are some of the things I work through with my clients and teach them how to manage their emotional state. Sometimes you need to learn to compartmentalize things.
I knew that there were certain situations where it was not appropriate for me to suddenly have an emotional meltdown and so on. I used to be a teacher. I used to do freelance training and so on. I knew that now I’ve got to prioritize serving them. If emotions started to come up, I would say to myself, “There’s something I need to process, but not now.” I talk to myself, “Let’s deal with this later.” That part of you that is trying to help you deal with things knows that it is going to be dealt with. The problem is when you bury things, suppress things, and pretend they don’t matter, they get louder and louder until you don’t have a choice. Often that’s when people either burn out, have a breakdown, become depressed, or become overwhelmed with anxiety. It is learning to listen to our heart, listen to our feelings, and be in tune with, “What do I need now to help me get through this?”
Another important lesson is working on having the right mindset. I often talk about having a moving forward mindset. The first part of that is about blame. We can look at any situation with a blame frame mindset or an outcome frame mindset. The thing with the blame frame mindset is we’re asking questions to try and understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and whose fault it was. You could spend a lot of time and energy figuring all that out, but it may not change anything in terms of how you feel or whether you’re able to move forward or not.
We need to understand that we can’t change what happened. It has happened, but we have a lot of choices in how we choose to respond, whether we choose to spend our time trying to fix the blame, or whether we say, “Given what’s happened, what’s the thing that will help me the most to cope with this? Where can I get help from? Who might know better information?” The quality of the questions we ask will then direct our attention and our focus. That’s the only thing that we can control.We can't change what happened. But we have a lot of choice in how we choose to respond. Click To Tweet
Sometimes I share and remind my clients that if I have a glass that’s half full, but it’s also half empty, so where am I putting my attention? Am I putting it on the half-empty bit and then feeling bad about why it’s empty or am I focusing on the half-full bit and learning to be grateful for all that is there in that part? Those are the things that we have choices about. Be self-aware as to how it’s impacting you physically, mentally, and spiritually and what it is that you need to prioritize in getting help with that can make a big difference.
Say someone has decided they do need help and they reach out to you. What type of services would they look at considering and generally, how long do they last as far as when they’re working with you?
The first thing that I do is first to have a call. During that call, I try to understand as best I can as to what they’re dealing with. I remember somebody being referred to me because she tried 3 or 4 years of traditional counseling and therapy, but she couldn’t get over the overwhelming guilt and regrets that she had. She’d sadly lost two children to very serious but very rare forms of cancer. She had been overwhelmed by the guilt of knowing there was a genetic element. “Why did we choose to have children? I put them through all that pain,” and feeling bad about it.
The first step is to have an honest conversation to find out what the situation is. Somebody might be struggling, but actually, they don’t have any unresolved grief. They’re just adjusting to the new normal and need some self-care tips and so on. Sometimes I’ll just say, “Read this article,” or, “There’s a support group you could join,” or depending on their financial situation, “Here’s a charity that you can approach.” There are some people whom I recognize that are stuck because of the unresolved issues we’ve talked about. They don’t have the knowledge, the tools, and the processes on how to identify and then process the unresolved grief.
I will talk to them about the program that I offer. We’ll go into the details of how long and how much, what is included and what isn’t included, and the support that they will get. It can feel very scary to open up a box where maybe you’ve tried to push all your emotions in. I remember one client. I said to her, “How did you find it?” She said, “If you want me to be honest when you first talked to me about it.” I knew she was suffering. I said, “Why don’t we consider this?” She said, “I must admit, I was very skeptical because I’ve been for counseling. It didn’t help. I was on antidepressants, but it didn’t help. I tried CBT and that didn’t help. I was thinking, ‘How is this going to help?’ Since I knew you and I trusted you, I thought I’d give it a go. I realized it was the only thing that made it feel safe to look inside the box where I’d put all my pain. It was very emotional and painful, but I feel so much better for it.”
Sometimes people will come and I can see that they’ve got unresolved issues that they will benefit from getting the right knowledge, tools, and processes. They’re saying, “I don’t know if I’m ready to face it. It is too overwhelming. I just feel scared.” Since they don’t know what they don’t know, I think, “That’s why you need these knowledge, tools, and processes because otherwise, it is overwhelming. That’s why you need support and a guide, somebody who can guide you through this maze.” They say, “It’s too much.” Somehow at the back of their mind, there is a belief that time will make it less painful and that somehow time might be the healer.
If they keep themselves distracted long enough, the distractions can be all kinds of different self-soothing behaviors that people get into. I often refer to them as the self-soothing, sabotaging behaviors. People might start drinking because it calms them down, but then they become alcohol dependent and that becomes an addiction, which then affects their health and physical and mental wellbeing. Also, it adds to the pain that they’re already in because it’s a short-term distraction. It’s not dealing with the root cause of the pain.
You and I both know that pain will slip out one way or another. If we don’t lean into it and manage it head-on, it will come out in bad coping ways. It will serve us worse than if we would’ve dealt with them upfront. People often, as you say, don’t want to look into the box. That concept of time will heal all wounds, if it’s dealt with, makes it worse because now you have so much power on top of each other that you need to deal with. Time moving on does not deal with our pain or our hurt. We have to actively engage in that process. If not, that also is a way in which people become stuck by just staying there and not leaning into the situation.
As we mentioned earlier in our pre-conversation about the 40 different things in the world that you could grieve over, those things we brush to the side until we have a large event that makes us have to deal with everything that has happened in life. I appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation and to share it with our audience. I’ll let you close out our conversation with any final comments or things that you wanted to go over that we didn’t touch upon.
The final thing I would say is about the importance of self-care. I was brought up to believe that self-care was selfish and that it’s important to put other people first. I never learned to be aware of my own needs. Sometimes that can happen, that you are so used to taking care of everybody else that you don’t make time to take care of yourself. I often remind clients because I try to get them to develop good habits side by side while we go through the knowledge tools and processes. They’ll go, “I haven’t got time for all that.” I’ll say, “You can’t give from an empty junk.” You have to make time, even if it’s just creating short moments of joy or even if it’s recognizing that you are feeling heavy and so on, and saying, “What can I do that’s going to help lift my mood?”
For some people, it’s looking at something beautiful. We feed ourselves through our senses. It’s choosing, “What can I feed myself that’s going to nurture me and going to build up my emotional resilience so that I can cope with what life throws at me?” The reality is that in this world, Jesus wonders that you will have trouble. There’ll be many trials. We can see it as something to be overwhelmed by, or we can see it as something that’s going to be an opportunity to develop our problem-solving skills and to grow as a person.
The hardest thing I found when I was going through my grief was having a sense of hope that this, too, would pass. I thought that was going to be what my life looked like for the rest of my life. The future would be just a continuation of the past, not realizing how I choose to respond is what’s going to make a big difference. Learning and educating myself on taking better care of myself and, ideally, before you need it, is a bit like saving for a rainy day before the rainy day happens. It is building up our emotional bank account over time. When there’s a big withdrawal, we don’t go into the red and we don’t keel over. That’s an important piece of advice.
Something I’d like to offer your readers is, at the moment, I’m creating a self-care and gratitude journal because without some structures it’s very easy for it to be hit and miss and to help you develop consistency. It’s got prompts that you can make a record every day of, “How am I feeling today? What’s something I can compliment myself on?” Often, people compliment others, but they minimize their achievements. It’s about balancing out your perspective. Say 99% of your life is working well, you’ve got a great job, you’ve got a great home, and your relationship with your children is fantastic. All sorts of things are going well, but then you have a significant loss and that’s one part of your life that’s now not functioning.
If you’re not careful, you can focus so much on that. You lose track of the fact that 99% you’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Have some discipline where you jot things down and keep track of things so you can build some consistent habits. I’m hoping that that will make a big difference. I’d love to hear how they get on. Maybe they can let you know and you can pass it on to me.
Is this something that one would download for free?
I’m gifting it. I’d like to gift it to your readers so they can download it for free.
Everybody, you need to make sure that you reach out to Ms. Fernandes to be able to get a copy of that. I want to hear your feedback either directly from her or myself.
That would be great. I appreciate this opportunity to be able to bring hope to people because when I think about the amount of pain I went through and the years of feeling like I was stuck in a maze going around in circles when we’ve gone through a lot of pain, I want to turn it into a useful purpose. I’m so passionate about helping others to not get stuck, to understand when they’re starting to get stuck but to know that there is hope that they don’t have to stay stuck. There are ways of moving forward, and getting their life back so that they can avoid spending years in pain and therapy. Also, they can focus on creating a life well lived because our life is short and we want to make the most of it.
Sadly, with grief, you can become so consumed by the grief that life can pass you by. I’m just thinking of this particular client. She had several children, but she was so distressed about the two that she lost. She was not able to focus on or love the three that were remaining. It’s really important. On my website, there are stories of hope. Particularly, I’m thinking of a lady who became widowed. She’d had a very difficult first marriage, and then she met somebody amazing. She was so happy, and she thought that was what the rest of her story was going to be like. Sadly, he died and she felt she lost her future. She couldn’t see any hope and she spent a lot of time feeling sad and crying.You can become so consumed by grief that life can pass you by. Click To Tweet
The thing is, if that’s what your life becomes, that’s not a life that’s well lived. When first somebody referred her to me, she said, “It’s just too painful. I just don’t think I can do it.” Now and then, I’d check in and say, “How’s it going?” She’d say, “I don’t feel ready.” I know it’s going to help her, but I have to wait for people to be ready in their own time. After one of our usual conversations of just checking in, “How’s it going?” she said, “Let’s just do it.” She’s done a little video about her testimony of how she managed to heal the past so she could be in the present and that she could create a future and move forward.
Another time when I rang just for my usual check-in, she said, “That’s a bit embarrassing.” I said, “What’s embarrassing?” She said, “I’ve met somebody new.” I said, “That’s a triumph. That’s not an embarrassment. That’s a testament to how much work you’ve done and how much you’ve processed so that you’re getting your life back. If ever you think about getting married, make sure you invite me.” She started giggling. I said, “Why are you giggling?” She said, “We have been talking about possibly about marriage.” I was so thrilled for her. Sometimes people think that the more they suffer and the more they stay stuck, somehow that’s a testament to their love and loyalty and that they shouldn’t be moving forward, but that blesses nobody.
You are in pain and stuckness, unable to connect with your sense of passion for life and purpose. It serves nobody. There are blogs explaining what to look out for to get a sense of whether you’re stuck. Maybe you’ve tried self-care or you’ve tried friends but is prolonged and it’s going on, it’s stopping you from functioning in your daily life. If you’re spending most of your life feeling sad, guilty, or angry, that’s the time to reach out and check whether you need professional help. There’s no obligation to book a discovery call with me. I don’t charge for that because I believe not everybody’s going to be a good fit for what I do. If they’re not, I’d rather signpost them elsewhere because I know the people I can help. It’s life-transforming. I know other people need something else. That makes sense to me.
Thank you for those last comments, and thank you for sharing with our community.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
Thank you for joining me in this conversation with Mrs. Ghulam Fernandes. I believe that oftentimes people are stuck in grief and don’t know how to get out of it. My goal in having this conversation was to encourage you to not be stuck and to know that your love is expressed in your life and living. It is not necessary to be stuck in that place of sadness, grief, and bereavement in feeling like you’re going through loops that you cannot get out of. I want you to have a life that you enjoy. My purpose of this conversation is hopefully one tool in your tool bag of moving forward to creating the life that you do enjoy. I’ll talk to you later.
About Ghulam Fernandes
Did you know there are over 40 life events that can impact your heart and produce feelings of grief? Ghulam had multiple bereavements growing up and without the right knowledge, tools, and processes, was stuck for years in pain and therapy. She is now passionate about training others in how to deal with unresolved grief so they can move forward and get their life back.
As well as extensive personal experience with grief, she trained over 2 years go with the Grief Recovery Institute and recently also with Edu-Therapy UK. In January 2022, she started her Handling Grief practice and has been working with individuals who were stuck in the pain of their grief to teach them the knowledge, tools, and processes that they can use to identify and process all past, present, and future grief. She loves to see lives being transformed.