Life After Loss: A Transformative Grief Journey With Alethea Felton

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Alethea Felton | Transformative Journey

 

Discover the unexpected way a friendship has led our guest on a transformative journey. In this deeply moving episode, Tina Fornwald sits down with Alethea Felton, a dynamic High Performance/Transformational Coach and host of The Power Transformation Podcast. Althea shares her poignant story of losing two of her closest friends. Through her reflections, Alethea explores the profound impact of this loss, detailing how it spurred her to seek therapy and ultimately transform her life. Join us as we delve into Alethea’s inspiring journey from grief to growth, uncovering the lessons of resilience, intentional living, and the power of cherished friendships.

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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Life After Loss: A Transformative Grief Journey With Alethea Felton

Hello, Widowhood. Our guest is Ms. Alethea Felton. She is a dynamic high-performance transformational coach, founder of Alethea Felton Coaching LLC, and host of the Power Transformation Podcast. With over 20 years of experience in the realms of education, instructional design, and learning and development, Athea’s mission is to empower ambitious professionals and leaders to shatter limitations through mindset mastery, unleash their true potential, and create holistic lasting life success. 

Our conversation with Alethea is outside of her normal discussion. I am so glad that she said yes to speaking with us. Oftentimes I have conversations with people who are grieving the loss of their spouse but in terms of widowhood. We know that people who grieve our loved ones are dear friends. And that is the perspective in which we will discuss today. Let’s get into this conversation now. Alethea, welcome to the widowhood. 

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Alethea Felton | Transformative Journey

 

Thank you so much, Tina. I am so happy to be here and thank you for having me. 

I want to say our discussion now may not fit in the wedge that people may be accustomed to because you hear the word widow and automatically the conversation is, what is that connection? For this, it is, as we talk about widowhood, it’s not always that spouse that passed. This is a community that is impacted when someone transitions from this world. 

Our conversation is for someone who may be thinking of the loss of a dear friend or someone close to them because when someone leaves this world, everyone in their community feels the loss of that person. I appreciate you for stepping off into some uncharted territory with this conversation and being willing to share. 

I appreciate that. I just hope that something that I say can affect someone in a transformative way as this journey has done for me. 

Transformative. That is a really good place to start. Let’s start with where you are literally in the world today, as far as where your life is in some of your youth, if you would share that. 

Meet Alethea

In terms of where I am today, I am a full-time entrepreneur now in terms of profession. What that looks like for me is I am a holistic transformational coach, motivational speaker, and podcaster. When I say full-time, I dabbled in entrepreneurship for almost, approximately 20 years, part-time but now I have the flexibility and the freedom where I’ve taken that deep dive into it full-time, where I’m building my business with speaking, coaching, writing, things of that nature and podcasting. 

I can tell you that being where I am now is certainly a ride. It’s an adventure. It has its highs and its lows. Every day is unpredictable. Also, in terms of just more of where I am, not just in a job space, I can tell you that every day of my life, I have such peace. I live with great joy. Joy does not mean that every single day is happy necessarily but I have a consistent joy, a consistent hope, and faith. That’s where I am in my life right now. That’s who I am. 

How did we get there though? Has this been a space you’ve lived in your entire life or is this someplace you’ve come to recently? 

In terms of the emotional aspects of who I am, I’ve always pretty much been an eternal optimist. I was always the person, even as a little kid who always saw the glasses, half full to overflowing. That’s how I always view life. I’ve always looked at things in the positive frame of mind, not ignoring the negative, but really in the positive frame of mind. I can tell you that with my life in terms of where I am, I was born with certain conditions that frankly made chapters of my life quite challenging but to get here, I had to go through a series of hard knocks, heartache, pain, grief to get me to where I am now. 

In terms of the entrepreneurial journey, I’m a former public school educator and I use the term educator because I have more roles outside of the classroom. I was a classroom teacher, but for 20 years, I worked in the field of education as an English teacher, Spanish teacher, instructional coach, department chairperson, and team leader. I ended my career in human resources where I was coaching seasoned and new teachers. 

I was pretty much the one who determined in a sense, if they kept their employment pretty much. I loved what I did, ended on a high note, and I was blessed to be able to retire early at the age of 41, last school year. Nothing happened bad or anything like that. It’s just that it was time and I’m a woman of faith. I knew that God was speaking to me before the start of last school year about making this transition. It didn’t make sense at first, but ever since I took that leap and that plunge, I’m here now and things are just coming together. 

Wow, that is a lot. We’re going to pull that back a little bit. I want to pick back up where you mentioned different challenges in your youth. Can you expound on that a little bit? 

Certainly, in terms of where I am, in terms of the challenges of my youth, when I said earlier that I was born with an autoimmune illness, it’s true. I was born as a baby with a defective liver. I had a severe case of jaundice. I was a few weeks early. When I was born with jaundice, of course, I was completely yellow and sickly. 

Now, jaundice, some parents might say that’s pretty common in several babies but the difference with mine was as I continued growing, there were other symptoms that I had where a couple of my toenails, for example, were discolored. I used to think as a toddler, but I can remember this vividly as a three-year-old, I just felt God painted my toenails. I just had brown toenails. God painted them more black here, this, any other.

I just always felt, oh God, pain in my toes. I’m thinking about this little kid. I was just very sickly. I was extremely stunted in my growth. Ironically, I’m 5’9 now. I had a major growth spurt as a preteen but I had stunted growth. I was always really sick. My mom and dad would take me to my regular checkups. Now, I was a child who was raised in the 80s and 90s. 

Back in the day, I went to all of my doctor’s appointments and did what I was supposed to do. But my mother just kept saying that there was something wrong. Unfortunately, her concerns fell on deaf ears because back then, a young black child, and not trying to make it about race. I’ve had doctors of all colors and my mom comes from a multi-ethnic background. 

It’s not about race. It was more so about just standard procedure back then. They didn’t do as many tests. I was always in pain. I vomited a lot. I was just always feeling under the weather and there did come a point where even my own Dad thought that my Mom could have been worrying too much, but my mother kept saying something was wrong. 

I continued to live a normal life, to speak, but it wasn’t until my twenties actually, when I got sick and they did discover that and said, “You have had this defective liver, literally ever since you were born.” Many of the doctors then were so shocked that I had lived that long. Later on in my thirties, I was diagnosed with another condition of the gastrointestinal area, which was Crohn’s disease. Living with the liver and with Crohn’s and the condition of the liver, now as we know it is called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis which is hardening of the bile ducts. My original diagnosis was Autoimmune Hepatitis type 1. 

I say original because Tina, life is something and God is powerful. That is an incurable condition as well but as of today, there’s no trace of the autoimmune hep in my body, which baffles a lot of doctors, but the PSC or the primary sclerosing colon gyrus is there and that’s hardening of the bile ducts. What can happen is that it eventually could cause me to have to have a transplant. Some patients do have transplants, others don’t, but I’m talking like it’s normal because I’ve learned to just go with the flow. 

I don’t have much of a poker face. I’m not sure if my eyes were getting bigger and bigger with each thing you were saying. In all of that, as a toddler, one, that you had memories of that age. Two, that sense of being positive seemed to be something that you came into this world with. You may have developed it over time, but you started with that. 

The other thing is Mama knows what Mama knows. When mothers know something about their child and they stay persistent, eventually it will come out and you’re right, there is something about how people’s voices are heard. What that looks like and what we know now in treating people than what we knew several years ago that changes and empowers people. 

Losing A Friend

There’s just so much to be said about that. I mean, yes, there are statistics about people of color, how they are heard in different spaces, and what that looks like. That’s not an argument. Those are facts statistically run the numbers and look at all that. We still learn how to show up in life and in spaces to be able to be who we are regardless of those facts and the things that we have to push through. When you hear the word friend, what comes to mind

When I hear the word friend, what comes to mind is a confidant, laughter, safe space, love, and good times. That’s what comes to mind when I think of friends. That just touched a little something in here that I didn’t expect. 

I saw when you said love and you paused, I said, “I’m not sure if we are going to get her back because she has gone there.” I can see that and so who are those people that you connect to those words? 

Let me just preface this cause a lot of people will hear this, but I just want to say that several people come to mind, but the two that hit the forefront, when I think of friends, the two names that come instantly are Shaderi and Nikisha. Those are the two names that just stood out first and foremost. 

Who would you like to talk about first? 

Shaderi. I’ll talk about Shaderi. If I think about comedy, think about Shaderi because there’s always laughter. There’s always a joke. There’s always some witty antics that Shaderi is going to say that just lights up the entire room. It’s interesting that now, as I’m talking, I’ve realized I’m putting everything in the present tense because of the fact that Shaderi is a friend of mine who has transitioned. 

Another Loss

She was just somebody that was like a little sister to me. I used to know how many years apart we were, but I can’t remember now because she’s been frozen in Earthly time so to speak. I know that when she was on this side, I knew exactly how many years apart we were. It wasn’t a huge gap, but she was like a little sister to me. 

When I was going through so many of my health challenges, she was right there. I remember one night when I was sick, I had just come out of a hospital. I was on complete bed rest. My sister and I lived together at the time, we owned a home jointly and she came over to our house and brought everything to make a spaghetti dinner. I love pasta. Anybody that knows me knows I love pasta and she knew I couldn’t eat a lot but it was just the fact she came and just didn’t buy them from any place. 

She was very strategic about getting organic ingredients. She was super health conscious with organic ingredients and everything. We just had a night of spaghetti, Italian bread, movies, and just a great old time. A few years later, after that happened, she was preparing to get married. She was finishing up grad school and she was coaching. I want to say volleyball. I think she was coaching at the time because she was a teacher.

I remember a phone call with her one night, this was in December 2014. My nickname’s Lee Lee. She said, “Lee Lee, what does it mean if a person has black stools?” I said, “That means that you need to go to the doctor. That’s what that means.” She said, “I’m planning for the wedding in a few months and I have this, but I promise afterward I’ll go.” I said, “Okay.” I was unsettled, but about five, or six months later, she went to the doctor because one morning, this was two weeks after she got married, she couldn’t get out of bed. She was in that much pain. Her husband took her to the hospital. 

She called me after work and she said to me, “I need you to come to the hospital.” I said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I’ll tell you when you get here.” This intuition, Tina, inside of me, just clear as I’m talking to you said, “She has cancer.” I said, “Do you have cancer?” She said, “Yes.” I went to the hospital and she was diagnosed in the spring of 2015 with stage four colon cancer. She at the time was almost 30 and she transitioned in June of 2017 at the age of 32.

I’m just going to let that sit for a moment. That’s a lot. I’m going to guess the spaghetti dinner was one of your favorite memories with her. Can you share another favorite memory with her? 

There are just so many favorite memories of her. Another favorite memory, we sang on the praise and worship team at our church. I remember a memory, this was during the time she was going through a cancer journey. I happened to be on short-term disability at the time in 2017 when I was cleared to drive again, I was still off work, but I was allowed to just go back and forth to her house. 

Her husband let me sit with her many days when he was working during the day and I’m very grateful for that. The gospel artist, Fred Hammond, was planning to do a workshop for everybody in the music ministry from my church. She asked me if I could come and give her a ride to the workshop. She was pretty sick by then, but I told her, of course. 

The reason why that’s one of the most favorite memories is because all in the car, we were just laughing and singing and having a great time. Then when she got to the workshop, one of Fred Hammond’s background singers at the time, I can’t think of her name, but Shaderi was a fan of hers. She followed her on social media and all of that. She was able to take a picture with her and Fred Hammond and all of them and just made her day.

When I was driving her back home, she was really quiet in the car. I said, “What?” She said to me, “I can’t believe that I had the chance to meet her.” I said, “You know what, girl? After you get well, you can see her some more or you can keep in touch.” She just got quiet. She didn’t say anything, but that was a favorite memory because it brought her a lot of joy that day. 

I can see that. Being a widow myself, I know that my friends would never compare the pain of their friendship being disconnected, and losing my husband, until I asked them, because there’s no difference. I know my friends experienced the pain of my husband’s death because of the relationship that was in existence.

Her husband’s loss is a different conversation and we’re not doing this by any means to diminish what his loss is, but we’re talking about it from the perspective of a friend. What does that loss look like for you in your life? What did that create

It created a lot, this is why I like you as a podcaster because you create a safe space just by your presence. I won’t go as in-depth here with the point that I’m going to say based on still respect for that, but I’ll put it like this. 

You are welcome to expand however you want to. That’s why I set it up that way for that exact reason. 

I will answer your question, but I preface this part by saying, that one of the things that I value the most, and I guess is part of what I miss, is that during the last three months of her life on Earth, I didn’t realize this until she was gone, I’m going to say used me, not in a negative sense, but she used me as a sounding board. It was almost like deathbed confessions. 

She leveraged that friendship. She leveraged that closeness. 

Where she poured certain things out to me that of course, I will take to my grave. It was such an honor knowing that she felt safe with me to just be able to get everything out. Some of the things that she shared with me, I know for a fact nobody else knows, not even her Mom. Her mom was grateful to me for having that space. 

When she left the Earth, she didn’t leave me, but when she left the Earth, another thing that made our friendship more powerful is that she is the one person on this planet where I was in the room when she took her last breath. It was me and a few other people but it’s literally like she held on until I got there. I’m not exaggerating, she held on until I got there. 

Once I got there and her husband told her I was there, she turned her head and saw I was there and then she started her exit out and passed away within a half hour of my being there. With her being gone, when she passed immediately, of course, it feels surreal and you’re bum. It took a while to take the texts out of my phone and to take out her phone number. 

Now seven years later, there are still times when I just want to tell her something or I want to call her or I want to see her physically or I wonder, would she have been a Mommy as she always desired and didn’t have the chance to be on Earth. In terms of just me, it’s more of now like, “Shaderi, I wish you could see who I am.” Leading up to her death, she told me, she said, “Lee Lee, you give and pour so much out to everybody else but I want you to start focusing on yourself and being the best version of yourself you can be.”

She was talking about all of that stuff before it became trendy. That is what I miss the most is just spending time with her, but also the fact that I didn’t get to thank her for trusting me so much. I just didn’t realize it until after she left that those last three months, particularly, I mean, gosh, that was such a gift and an honor.

 

 

If she was here now, what would you tell her and then thank you? 

I would say, “Girl, you are amazing and Shaderi, I am just grateful for the times that we shared. I’m thankful for how you love me enough and saw so much in me that I didn’t see in myself to say you owe this to yourself to do this so that you can be of greater influence and have God use you fully in the way that he has intended.” 

I would say, “Deri, I’m just very thankful for you. I’m thankful for adding extra light to my life. I miss you so much, but I know that I will see you yet again. I thank you for the time that you did come to meet in a dream. I know that was you. I’m very thankful and blessed to have known you.” I will also tell her to hug and kiss her Mom for me, because since then her mom has also transitioned. 

How have her words changed, impacted, and redirected your life? 

A Transformative Journey

First of all, in the area of relationships, that was a game changer. She had them sister-girl conversations about, girl, you don’t need to waste your time with these jokers and all that stuff. This is probably the first time I’ve been public about that because people hear my health journey and stuff. I don’t talk about the heartbreak and the heartache and the agony of stuff that I’ve had over the years that have helped to get me here, where that was one major area that she was big on. I wasn’t ever the person to sleep around. It was more so I allowed myself to be put on strings and not valuing myself enough to know when I was getting played.

Are you about to make a hold-in for conversation now?

Yes, that’s what she rammed into me at first. The shift in the transition with that is that all of these years later, I have a wonderful man and it took Deri telling me that which started me on my therapy and my counseling journey. Then the other thing is just more so about knowing more of me. I was always good for discerning and giving others that wise counsel, but sometimes I couldn’t take it upon myself or I was blinding myself to things that I needed to fix in me. 

One of the transformative things she did in my life was again, set me on that road to getting the help I needed to heal from certain traumas because I used to be ignorant and think that I had a great childhood. I’ve had a pretty good life. I was ignorant of the fact that even people who come from good backgrounds can still have trauma and still have junk. 

Even with my health history, I needed to grieve even aspects of knowing I had these conditions that were so taxing and draining on my physical, emotional, and even spiritual health. Deri was the one when, when she passed, I sought grief counseling. It was from there that my therapist said, “Let me send you to this grief group. 

 

 

Are you open to individual counseling?” At first, I said that I had had that, but that was some years prior when I was in some family counseling. I took it for the first time, in August of 2017, I started my therapy journey and my healing journey. It is because of Deri that I did that. Which is a major life-changing experience. 

Few things. What would you say to someone who says, “But you believe in God, why are you going to a therapist?” 

Because God is not a genie in a bottle and he doesn’t grant wishes and he works through people. That is why I chose therapy. Now, I chose to go to a Christian counselor because I needed the word of God incorporated in those counseling sessions also but even if it were not a Christian counselor, it is because of the fact that it’s like, if you’re having a heart attack, I don’t know anyone in his or her right mind who’s going to sit at home and just pray, “Oh Lord, take away this heart attack.” No, you’re going to call 911. 

You’re going to go to a cardiologist and get them to help you. The brain is an organ, just like the liver, the skin, the lungs, and the heart. When our brain needs some extra treatment and extra love and support, then I’m going to go to a counselor or whoever specializes in that area to get me what I need because the God I serve doesn’t want me to walk in foolishness either. That’s why. 

Thank you so much. You talked about Deri changing how you saw yourself and valued yourself. It sounds as if once you came to a different perspective of that, it changed who you allowed into your space. Can you talk about that? How does that show up in life? 

It didn’t happen immediately. I can’t say that. It didn’t happen immediately. I’m not sure exactly where you want me to make the transition, but a lot of that happened in 2019 with Nikisha where it had to take two circumstances to change that. A lot of the shifting of who I allowed in my space, honestly, started happening during the pandemic. That started happening during the pandemic. A little bit before then, where couple of moves I made and shifts in people happened a few months before the pandemic, but it was really during the pandemic that I truly got an awakening. 

I don’t want to leave her, Deri, but do we want to shift? What does that look like? 

I think they go hand in hand because ironically enough, something that I didn’t mention is when Deri passed and transitioned, I had left her house and I stood outside. The first person I called was Nikisha. That’s the first person that I called and told her that Deri had passed. In terms of, I think I can talk about Kisha’s separately. 

Let me say this about Deri. In terms of how it caused it during the pandemic, I did think about a lot of the principles and practices that I had learned during therapy. Knowing more about myself and my value and my worth. I was never the person where I don’t think I necessarily had low self-esteem. I was just overly friendly and just letting any and everybody in my space, trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. 

I wasn’t a people pleaser. It’s not as if I was trying to do things to get people to like me. It was just that I have a big heart and I found myself overextending myself and being depleted in return with a lot of people. What I did during the pandemic was that time of quarantine or just reflecting on a lot of different things made me much more introspective in thinking about how I want to come out on the other side of this. What am I going to do more purposefully for my life? How am I going to show up in this next chapter of life?

I started seeking God to give me greater wisdom, discernment, and understanding of people who are in my circle. Who am I always calling and texting? Always. I’m talking about even before the pandemic, but yet not even getting a text or a callback. Little subtle things like that or yes, I’m grateful for all of the people who showed up for me in the hospital and things of that nature. Deri also told me to be aware of the people who are just there to spectate versus the people who are there praying, showing support, and being genuine about it. 

Be aware of the people who are just there to spectate versus the people who are really there praying, showing support, and being genuine about it. Share on X

During the pandemic, I did learn about a few people who were almost in a sense, sounded a little disappointed that my health was doing so well because I was so used to being sick for all of those years and I had to learn how to distance myself. There were certain circumstances like that where I just had to be more aware of who I was letting in my space and also being fair to myself saying that just as I outgrow people, they’re going to be people who are going to outgrow me. 

I’m not going to make this a one-sided thing is that some people may have also chosen to walk away from me and that’s okay. It’s that not everybody was a right fit for me or them in the next season of life. That meant for certain sister friends that I thought that I had, one of my closest friends at the time, just abruptly in 2021, ended our friendship, no rhyme or reason to it.

I couldn’t be bitter or angry or hurt because that’s her journey in life. I had to be mindful of the fact that as the world turns, everybody on this planet is doing the best they can with what they have. Deri got me to also see myself as yes, I might’ve overextended myself, but never make myself out to be the victim, but to pray about who you want strategically in your life moving forward. 

As the world turns, everybody on this planet is doing the best they can with what they have. Share on X

Now in this chapter that I’m in, I can see how some people have stayed, and other people have gone by the wayside. I used to even be stuck in a mindset that I’ve heard others have where I felt like, oh, I’m good with all of my friends. I don’t need any more friends in my circle. I know personally, and this is no offense to anybody who might have that mindset, but I feel that was very foolish because some of the people I’ve met now and I’m developing new bonds with, my goodness, my life is so much richer with them in it. 

Yes, because yes to everything. Yes to people not being okay when you’re better and just being settled with a sick relationship. Yes, okay to strategically choose who we allow to stay in these spaces in our lives. We may have bumped into each other at the grocery store and may have had a connection. Sometimes I find we may take relationships further than they are meant to serve either person and be okay to say that we’ve come to where we need to come. 

Grief

It’s okay for people to just know that it doesn’t always have to be the same way, always in life. Those things, permit ourselves just to let things go when they no longer work and to keep them when they are. It’s not like you said, a victim mentality. It’s just the flow of life. Everything just doesn’t stay the same. It does not. I want to ask you one other question about Deri. What did your grief look like and how did your grief surprise you in her absence? 

My grief looked like one of the worst Crohn’s disease flares I’ve ever had in my life. I’m glad you asked that question Tina because I forgot that. That’s a key point here. She passed away on June 12th, 2017. So my grief looked different of course, but this is how it started. June 12, 2017, was her funeral. Her husband and her family allowed me to have a lot of influence in trying to be the correspondence, the liaison, so to speak, between the church and the program and trying to get everything organized and structured with that because at the time I was there. 

That was a gift for them, let me just tell you, my brother did that because I was like, “You want me to make complete sentences?” “You want me to do stuff?” I couldn’t drive. We were driving, and my brother said, “Can I have the keys?” I was like, “That makes sense.” Let me just say, it was an honor for you, but it was a gift for them to be able to entrust that to somebody because no matter how long they were sick or what, now they are gone. Go ahead, but I want you to know that was a gift. 

Thank you. I really do appreciate that. Thank you so much. Yes, I was that in-between person because, and our church is a mega church. I didn’t join it when it was, but over the years I saw it blow up to that. With that being said, there were a lot of moving parts but since I still had direct access to the senior pastor, and other people, and I was very active, I was able to help things go a lot smoothly. 

I was doing that. Then at the time, I was still teaching, and it was ending of the school year. Thank God for my principal at the time who had a heart and compassion and understood everything going on. Just like on the day Deri passed, she let me leave work early because she knew this was about to happen. That started then. On the day of the funeral, everything was a great turnout. 

You will probably be asking, “What in the world do you do that for?” The next day I went on a missions trip, the day after her funeral because it was already planned. I was one of the Spanish translators on the trip. They told me, “Lee Lee, are you sure you want to still go?” I’m like, “Yes.” I’m running on adrenaline then. I go on this mission trip. It was only a week, but about day four or five into the trip, I’ll keep this G-rated, but I experienced some bleeding that I knew was not normal. 

This is called Real Talk. Talk like you want to talk. We are not nobody doing that now. Widowhood Real Talk. This is your moment to get out if you want to. Go ahead, girl, talk your talk. 

Thank you, Tina. About day four or five, I’m not having any pains or anything like that, but I go to the bathroom, wipe myself and there’s blood on my tissue. I said, “My gosh.” I knew exactly what it was but in my head, I’m like, “We only got a couple more days. I can plug it out. It’s all good.” I’m acting like everything’s okay, going through the motions. 

The next day, all day long, when I’m going to the bathroom, specifically when I’m having my bowel movements, it’s blood. I’m already knowing, “Gosh, this is a flare-up.” “This is how I’m going to do it. I’m going to go back to the States. I’m going to tell my sister, hey, Dina take me to the hospital. They’re going to have me in the hospital.” Then finally, whenever God speaks to me, He doesn’t let me sleep. It’s very annoying and it’s very aggravating. I’ve told Him, that I don’t like it when you do that to me. 

I tried to get some sleep and I was tossing and turning and the Holy Spirit said, “You got to tell somebody.” It was this lady at my church that I was very close to at the time. I told her what was happening. She said, “We have to tell so and so.” She said we had to tell the leader of the trip. I said, “No, because we’re leaving in a couple of days, it’s all good.”

She said, “No.” The word got around, Lee Lee’s sick. I had to get an emergency flight home and the other leader of the trip flew back with me so I wouldn’t be alone. I ended up in the hospital. Again, it’s an all-out Crohn’s disease flare-up, the worst I had in my life where there was so much internal bleeding that they were not sure how in the world they were going to get it to stop. 

I was critical, just a mess. I shared that because what I found out later on is that my Crohn’s flare-ups are directly triggered by bad stress. If it’s not managed properly, that’s what’ll happen. When they started to assess what’s been happening, what’s been going on. When they found out that I had buried one of my best friends, then went on a mission trip, and then came back, they said, “Your stress and grief caused this flare.” 

I was in the hospital for quite a while, discharged, and put on bed rest, and I had no choice but to be still. In that stillness, even when I was on the trip, I didn’t get a chance to cry or feel sad because I was constantly moving. When I was put in that hospital, I couldn’t escape the memories. I couldn’t escape her voice. 

I couldn’t escape replaying when she transitioned and exited, replaying what it looked like to see her take that last breath. I couldn’t escape it. I had no choice but to lean into it and start the process of it. That’s how the grief started. Then in August 2017, when I started therapy, I just expected to get grief counseling but no, my therapist who is still there today, had the nerve to say, “I want to do one-on-one therapy with you.” 

The nerve. The audacity and she did.

When I went to grief therapy, it was through a program that was called Grief Share and I loved it. I loved every bit of Grief Share because it was on a rolling basis. I did it a couple of times. That helped me tremendously. It started with more of that physical pain and agony but yet during that transition, I decided that I was going to still make the best of this situation and work on myself. It started with the sickness, then as time went on, it transitioned into the healing. Just as I started to feel more at peace with Deri’s death, it took about two years, and that’s when another tragedy struck. 

I want to pause right there, and thank you for sharing so much, because people that we’re connected to feel our loss, but people want to say, “She’s just a friend.” Those words don’t correlate to the pain of that loss. Some people feel like, “I’m a friend, I really shouldn’t be that upset about those different things.” What would you say if someone is reading this conversation and they’ve had a very close friend transition from this world and they’re struggling with the reality of their grief, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that sometimes friends are closer to your family members. Just because we didn’t share blood, she was still my sister. It’s almost like telling an adoptive parent that their child isn’t their child so you shouldn’t have that much love for their child because you didn’t birth them. In the same vein with a friend. Yes, It was the closeness we had. It was the intimacy we had. I use that word and of course not in a perverted or romantic way. It was that sisterly intimacy that we had that we shared as friends. 

Just really being the true essence of what a friend is. For a person who might be having a challenge in that area or could almost be afraid of really feeling what they feel, it’s all right, lean into it. Go into it, and let that wave hit you. I learned this in Grief Share about the analogy of a wave coming and you sticking your feet in the sand and that that wave is going to come, but you lean into it and you let it hit you. It may be overwhelming and powerful, but just know it will subside and you’ll still be standing. You might be drenched. 

That wave is going to come but lean into it and let it hit you. It may be overwhelming and powerful, but just know it will subside and you'll still be standing. Share on X

There may be somebody reading right now where you might be afraid to just lean into it, but I’m telling you, when you do and when you feel what you got to feel. It will look different for everybody. You might not be a crier. I’m not a huge crier. I didn’t cry a lot, but Lord knows I felt the loss. I felt the mind tripping like this makes no sense. I don’t understand how somebody could be healthy, and health conscious and get this freak form of stage four colon cancer.

That’s what happened to her. Even the doctor said it was literally what they consider just a once in an astronomical amount chance of her getting it because she was so strategic about her lifestyle. A person battling with that, we grieve because we’ve loved. If you love that friend, like you say you do, it’s okay. It is okay to embrace that loss so that you can then almost emerge out of that cocoon as this beautiful vibrant butterfly. That’s what your friend would want you to do. 

That is beautiful. I’m just going to keep it moving. Two years later, the next wave, what does that look like? 

Deri again, as I said, was like my little sister. Nikisha and I were so close that my parents called her their third daughter. I often have to give disclaimers or clarity because sometimes if a person asks me how many siblings I have, I’ll say, “I have two sisters, but one passed away.” That’s how very close Nikisha and I were.

Nikisha was sunshine in human form. She was the most bubbly, giggly, and fun-loving person you could ever meet. She was three years older than I, and we too connected at church. Deri and her didn’t know each other because they wanted to praise and worship the team at different times but Kisha was one of the first friends I met when I moved to Washington, DC.

She was originally from Texas. She was married and had a son. We just instantly became friends, and we used to talk about, “Do you remember the exact first day we met?” “Not really.” I just know it was an instant connection. We were sisters from day one. We were so close in fact that a couple of years before her passing, she surprised me, Tina, and transferred to the school where I taught. 

She knew my principal and got a job there. She was so good with it that I didn’t know until we went to our staff meeting and I saw her, it was so crazy. She kept that so under wraps for me. She just loved surprising me. Even at the school, although the other staff members knew we were best friends, everybody knew we were sisters. She and her husband were the witnesses to my living will. 

After she passed I had to get all of that changed but she even was that one that was right there for me. I had another flare the last time I was hospitalized. I’m praying that it’ll stay that way was almost five years ago when I had a flare up on August of 2019. Again, that was due to the stress. It wasn’t as bad as the one in 2017, but it was still serious. I spent my birthday in the hospital. My birthday is August 27th. My sister threw me a birthday party in my hospital room and a couple of friends came by and decorated the room. 

Nikisha by then was sick and battling. She ended up with stage four pancreatic cancer. She had a five-month battle and in August of 2019, I knew she couldn’t leave the house and travel like that. Tina, we are in there having a good old time and I’m just partying from my hospital bed. In comes on a walker, Nikisha, her husband, and their son. This girl knew she was supposed to be home and it’s some video footage I have that I just cherish where she’s standing by me and I’m in my hospital bed and she just dancing and shaking. She loved to dance and she’s dancing.

Kisha, that was my sister. Even for my own sister, who is three years older, my own blood sister. What I had to do in my grief, I had to take a step back because my family grieved her. Not to say they didn’t for Dari, but the relationship was different and my mother still to this day can get choked up because she felt like she lost her daughter. That’s how it was. 

We spent Thanksgiving together. I love to cook. I’m a former caterer, all of that. Every Thanksgiving with her being from Texas, was a tradition for years. They would just come over to my house and have Thanksgiving every year. She made the best lemon chess pies. It was an old-school pie, lemon chess pie. She used to make those every Thanksgiving. When she was diagnosed, I remember when she broke the news. I just remember the emotion of just feeling like a balloon with air and it gets slow just let’s sit out. 

I just had a very hard time processing that because she was diagnosed at stage four and just like Deri, it was another freak form of cancer because she and Deri went through all of these different types of DNA testing and they had the types of cancers, especially with Kisha’s. She never went through 1, 2, and 3. Hers automatically showed up in her body at stage four pancreatic. 

It was the oddest thing. She got diagnosed at a time in her life when she was going to the gym and exercising actively and all of this good stuff happening in her life. Kisha’s death affected me but the difference is Shaderi’s death helped to prepare me because I didn’t take Kisha’s as hard as I thought that I would have, not to say it didn’t hurt. Of course, it still hurt, but I knew how to navigate it more. I knew how to understand my emotions behind it. 

Just like with Deri, I had intimate moments. I had so much time with Kisha during that journey where I was taking her to appointments. We were having private times together. She was talking to me about a lot in that last week of hospice. I thank God for her husband. He and I, I will admit, we didn’t always see things eye to eye, but I will never disparage him and I will never talk ill against him because again, as a husband, he still allowed me unlimited access to his wife. 

I knew when to lean back and I knew when to do what I needed to do, but I will always be thankful to him for the fact that he knew that we were sisters and he was like a brother-in-law to me. I am very grateful that he allowed me to be in that space. Even when she passed again, there, I was yet again doing a lot to help prepare for that funeral.

The woman who I told you about from a couple of years prior about me being sick on the trip, I contacted her because she had had experience helping patients with cancer. I connected her with Kisha and Ms. Clarenda became a rock, a surrogate mother because Kisha’s mom was in Texas. Mine was also out of state. 

She stepped in and helped from day one of that diagnosis until she transitioned. I knew how to rally the community when it came to Kisha and both women, Deri and Kiesha, kept the faith until the end. They did. In both of their situations, the last week of their life is when they come to an acceptance that they will not be healed on Earth, but it will be heavenly healing. 

Honoring Two Amazing Women

Now these two women, you honor them in your living. What does that look like now? How did that change? How did you get from where you were to where you are now? 

It looks like full courage. It looks like no time to waste. It looks like do it even if you’re not exactly sure how it’s all going to work out, but you see the end goal and just do it anyway, even if others don’t understand, even if it makes others uncomfortable because it exposes something in them that’s still a bit insecure. It doesn’t look arrogant. It doesn’t look cocky but it looks like resilience and it looks like perseverance when the odds seem stacked and piled against you. 

It looks like me saying, “You know what girl? Lee Lee, you are amazing. You are so beautiful, girl. Look at how you are still here knocking it out of the park.” When I say still here, I’m not even talking about the health stuff because I don’t fear death. I really don’t. I’ve had near-death experiences literally, which is a whole other different podcast show. 

My whole point is that it doesn’t look uncertain. It doesn’t look, not sure. It doesn’t look like, “What are people going to think if I say this and that?” No, it is truly to see these ladies who were by my bedside for all those years. When the script flipped and the tables turned, it was mind-blowing because these were the friends that I thought I was going to grow old with where we will be little old biddies, cackling and laughing and all that stuff. 

Now, that it’s different, they poured into me so much that who I am now is who they always saw that I didn’t see at the time. I see it now. This was maybe a month before Kisha’s passing and she was in the hospital at the time. I remember just being by her bedside and I just cried like sobbed. I said to her, “How am I supposed to continue living and going on without you?” 

I just didn’t know how to do it and I wasn’t dependent on her but again, I saw this vision of us as sister friends. She said after she got better, we were going to go to her particular Cuban restaurant and we were going to do this and do that together. I said, “It’s me, her, and Dino, my blood sister, would go to concerts together. It was like the Three Musketeers. How am I going to do all of this without you?” What do I do? 

She, in all of her weakness and was so firm and stern, she said, “Lee Lee, you must live. You will be okay. It’s going to be all right. If I don’t make it out of this alive over here, you already know I would want you to not just give up on your life or anything.” I remember she said more to me, but that was the kick in the pants. I need it. 

You must live. You will be okay. Share on X

I remember just feeling so scared, Tina and so afraid because I really couldn’t imagine my life without her. Even if I moved away and she moved away, we had plans to cheer each other’s dreams. Then she had so many dreams she shared with me that I was hopeful we were going to get fulfilled. That’s a loaded answer, but there’s just so much behind it because I never, ever saw either of them passing before me, never. 

You spoke about having a podcast. What is the focus of your podcast and those conversations?

The Power Transformation Podcast

The Power Transformation podcast is my podcast. Due to time, I can’t get as in-depth with that story, but the catalyst behind that has to do with my godmother, who has since passed away. The Power Transformation podcast started as a podcast where I was going to talk about holistic wellness principles, and how to take the power within you to make different lifestyle changes. 

While some of my solo episodes are me, I launched on December 7th, 2022 and episodes come out every Wednesday. What happened was, that when I started interviewing guests, it shifted the way I started to view the podcast. What I noticed, Tina, is it didn’t matter if I had somebody talking about clutter and how to get clutter out of your life, or if I interviewed a personal trainer or even someone I had up there talking about beading. and the power of beads and wearing waist belts. 

In every single story, I heard this common thread of, “My gosh, they all have experienced some type of life-changing event, no matter how great or small, but it got them to examine their life and think about how they could not necessarily wallow or stay stuck in the challenge, but how they use their lives to help influence others.” 

The Power Transformation podcast is how I early on wanted it, but wasn’t sure how to word it that it gives people these messages of hope, resilience, courage, transformation, and global impact, a global effect on the world, one person at a time. That is what the power transformation is about. It is about showing everybody, whether you are a custodian or whether you are Oprah Winfrey herself, that every single person has something inside of them if we take time to tap into it, to know that we often have many of the answers ourselves.

Every single person has something inside of them. If we take the time to tap into it, we will know that we often have many of the answers ourselves. We have the power deep within. Share on X

We have the power deep within ourselves. If we would just simply walk in that God-given power towards our destinies to help others and not keep it within ourselves, I have this model that I do try to live by. I first heard it from my Pastor Keith Battle, and it says, “Die empty.” Meaning that I want to leave this Earth, and pour it out with all of the gifts inside of me.

What I’m seeing happening on my podcast, is that these guests are doing simple things, whether in some, it could be right in their own homes. They might not even have family, but it’s just the way that they live their lives, making a difference or it could be people who have a global community and are affecting the world. 

I hope that readers, young, and those who are more seasoned will be able to say, “Until I take my last breath, I still have some work to do and I can still help the life of someone else.” That is what the Power Transformation podcast is about. 

Got to check it out. I’m sure when your followers hear this conversation, they will know a part of you that they never knew before. A part of your journey and understand more why you show up the way you do. The way you show up as a coach, the way you show up in life to step out and retire at the age of 41 and follow what you hear God telling you to do. I’m sure each thing that you’ve spoken about each of these women has a strong impact on deciding to, “What does she say? You must live and not give up on your life.”

Yes, no doubt about it. Although these health challenges have been a part of me, I’m telling you it took these women transitioning to make me show up fully for who I am and where I’m supposed to be. All the way and I’m grateful. It’s the greatest gift that they really could have given me. It’s as if they saw it and knew it and they had the insight then. That’s what is so astonishing to me. That’s what’s even humbling to me. My gosh, that is love, Tina. If people would just open themselves up, you don’t have to have a ton of friends, but just make yourself available for somebody to just be there for you. It’s okay. 

We have covered a lot in this conversation. I would allow you to close this discussion. Maybe there’s something you thought we may have talked about that you wanted to cover or just what you would like to say to those who are reading. 

To My Godmother

I said we wouldn’t have time to talk about it a lot, but I think just briefly, and I’ll keep it brief, I think it’s important also on this grief journey to honor my late godmother, Sandra. She was an incredible woman. Sadly, she passed away due to not the virus itself, but she had contracted it from some healthcare workers who were caring for her, and her body couldn’t shake the aftermath of it. That’s how she ended up passing away. 

She was 78 years young when she passed, but I say she was an incredible woman because she lived with cerebral palsy her entire life. That was very rare because somebody in her generation, born in the 1940s, doctors didn’t think she would live past childhood and she beat all of those odds. Mentally, her cognition and her intellect were sky high, but of course, She had straight speech, slurred speech, legs were deformed, but she used her arms to walk about. 

Sandra was also a cousin. I’m a Southerner, and sometimes in Black Southern families, not all the time, but sometimes a godparent is often a relative. She was also a cousin of mine but the reason why I mentioned her is because I launched the podcast on what would have been her birthday, December 7th, 2022. She was born a year after Pearl Harbor. 

She was born on December 7th, 1942. My whole point is Sandra was so influential in my life and she is one of the people who always gave me life-giving affirmations, even before affirmations were popular. She was the one who never let my conditions be a crutch for me because she, having lived in the era she lived in and everything, beat so many odds. She was unmarried and didn’t have children. She was in love once. This is a neat tidbit.

She was actually in love with a white man who had the same condition as her, but in the segregated South back in the day, it just was not possible for them to be together. I remember that story was so empowering even to me where even when it comes to my friend’s groups, she always made me say, “Don’t limit who you welcome into your space by race or color.”

Don't limit who you welcome into your space. Share on X

That was always important to me too but Sandra in the last conversation that I had with her, the reason why it hit home for me, she knew she was passing away and she just spoke such life into me. It was on FaceTime, cause this was still during the pandemic. She spoke almost like prophetic words into my life. At the time I didn’t have the idea for the podcast or anything like that. 

When I fast forward to where I am, I wish that Sandra could see where I am now, but I often have a sense that she has an awareness of it. Sandra is a key part of my life as well and just to be on this podcast, I just wanted the world to know what a beautiful soul Sandra was and everybody ought to have a Sandra in their life. 

Thank you for sharing these three jewels with us. Thank you so much and thank you for sharing about Sandra. I feel like it would have been incomplete to not bring her into this conversation. 

Yes. That’s my girl. 

Now, however, you would like to close out this discussion.

The way that I’ll just close out this discussion is to say that I never thought that grief would be such a close part of my journey. I had lost loved ones or I don’t even like to say lost. What I’m trying to say is that I knew other people who had passed away, of course, some close, but at the time, I think for me, I had to be in the space to be more open to receiving the help and the support that I needed from the grief. 

What I would close with is for anyone that may read faithfully, or maybe it’s your first time and you’ve brushed aside your feelings of grief or you say, “I’m good in that area.” It’s okay to let your guard down a little bit and to get the extra help that you need because no one is an island and we aren’t meant to live life alone and in isolation. It’s all right to go and get the help you need. There are some cases where you can even get free resources if your budget is a problem, then hey, but it’s okay even to invest in yourself towards it. 

Also, everybody has different backgrounds, but I’m telling you do your best, especially if you aren’t sure of what happens beyond this life. I would encourage you to be open to just the possibility that there is more than what meets the eye and to be prepared to say, “I’m going to make the best of each day that I have here on this planet because of the fact that I want to leave a legacy.” 

Even if you don’t have children, you can still leave a legacy that can outlive you and touch the lives of other people. What my grief journey has taught me is to be authentic, by honoring and respecting those that you meet by listening and being open and receptive to receiving from people what you might need to heal. 

I am even grateful for platforms like this. Never would I have imagined that I would be talking on a platform that talks so openly and candidly about grief. I see now that if it had not been for those “Losses”, then I wouldn’t even have the honor of meeting Tina or even being in the presence of all of you. Yes, this has helped to bless me, but I want each of you to live your best life, enjoy the moments, and continue to trust in a power greater than yourself to get you through each day. Day by day. You’ve got this and you’re stronger than what you think and you will come out the better for it. 

Live your best life. Enjoy the moments. Continue to trust in a power greater than yourself to get you through each day. Share on X

Thank you so much.

Thank you.

 

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About Alethea Felton

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Alethea Felton | Transformative JourneyAlethea Felton is a dynamic High Performance/Transformational Coach, founder of Alethea Felton Coaching, LLC, and host of The Power Transformation Podcast. With over 20 years of experience in the realms of education, instructional design, and learning and development, Alethea’s mission is to empower ambitious professionals and leaders to shatter limitations through mindset mastery, unleash their true potential, and create holistic, lasting life success.

Alethea’s journey into coaching was ignited by her transformative personal experiences, overcoming severe childhood stuttering, navigating grief due to the deaths of close loved ones, and managing physical challenges related to living with Crohn’s Disease and a rare liver condition called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, (PSC). Drawing from her own healing and growth, as well as a rich entrepreneurial background in catering and marketing,

Alethea has developed personalized coaching programs that guide clients towards intentional, sustainable
change. In addition to being a sought-after speaker and writer on topics such as wellness, reframing the
mindset, leadership, grief, and personal development, Alethea has been a guest on numerous
podcasts and online shows.

She also consults and facilitates workshops at The HR Source, a top HR solutions provider. Furthermore, she offers editing, copyediting, and proofreading services to elevate the work of business owners and writers alike. Equipped with a Bachelor’s degree in English from Old Dominion University, a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Regent University, and certifications in holistic health and life coaching,

Alethea is dedicated to helping others pioneer their paths to unparalleled achievement and purpose-driven lives. A native of Southeastern Virginia and former Washington, DC resident, she continues to inspire and transform lives with her unwavering passion and expertise.

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