Reclaiming Your Life After Losing A Loved One With Michelle Collins

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Michelle Collins | Reclaiming Your Life

 

Reclaiming your life after losing a loved one is indeed a hard time to get through. What more if you lose someone dear to you in the most sudden way? Speaker and author Michelle Collins shares how mindfulness played a huge role in overcoming the suicide of her husband. She explains the right level of support and witnessing needed by grieving individuals to get around not only their grief but shame and regrets as well. I also provide valuable insights on remarrying while Michelle opens up about her life of as a stepmother.

 

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach. I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

 

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

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Reclaiming Your Life After Losing A Loved One With Michelle Collins

In this episode, our guest is Ms. Michelle Collins. She’s a speaker, author, grief and wellness coach, yoga therapist, and mindfulness teacher. Let’s get into the discussion.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Michelle Collins | Reclaiming Your Life

 

Hello, Michelle.

It’s good to see you.

Thank you for being here. Welcome to the show. Where are you from originally?

Portland, Oregon.

Did you grow up there? Did you relocate at any point in time?

I spent most of my life here. My parents and I were born here. I’m the third generation on one side of the family. It was some deep Portland roots. I even went to college here. I moved away and came back. I’ve lived in California, Arizona, and New Jersey. I always end up coming back. I have a dream of living at least part-time in Hawaii. I have not been able to make that dream a reality yet.

Before we go to Hawaii, Portland seems like the best to me. There are many wonderful places to have food in Portland. What are some of your favorite restaurants or cuisines there?

For the size of the city, the food scene that we have here is phenomenal. I love ethnic food and Chinese food. I love sushi. I’m picking a favorite. Honestly, I don’t think I could because I love food. I’m a mood food eater. If I’m in the mood for tater tots, I am going to go to McMenamins, which is our local pub scene. They try to do fresh and organic. Back when I used to drink alcohol, which I don’t anymore, I loved their screwdrivers because they would fresh press the orange juice in front of you. I can’t even narrow it down. There’s so much good food here.

If you have never been to Portland, go and check out every restaurant you can. I’ve been there once for a work trip and there was not a bad meal to be had. I was grateful for the opportunity.

One more thing about our food scene is we have extensive vegan and gluten-free that are often hard to find.

Have you been to Hawaii before?

Yes, many times. On my first trip to Hawaii, I was seven years old. It was a favorite destination of my parents. They would go every year without the kids. One year, they took us. I still remember walking off the plane. This was my first feeling of tropical air. That was back in the day when they would meet every plane with a line of hula dancers dressed up and put a lay on you with fresh flowers that smelled delightful. I still remember that feeling. For the first time, I felt like I was home. I’ve always considered Hawaii my soul home. I have some connection to the land or the environment there. It recharges me. If I go too long without being in Hawaii, I feel depleted.

How often do you travel to Hawaii? What’s the frequency for you?

It’s as often as I can afford to. If I have a more abundant year, I might go 2 or 3 times. It’s easy to get there from Portland, Oregon. We have direct flights to many airlines many times a day. It’s an easy flight, 5 or 6 hours, depending on what airline you take. I don’t have any Hawaii trips planned in the near future because I’m not quite as abundant.

I didn’t think of the ease of travel coming from Virginia to get to. There was a bit of a hall when I went to Pennsylvania. I’ve been to Hawaii three times. I would love the universe to put me in a place where I had to work there for about 30 to 60 days to take in the area. It is also one of my favorite destinations. I was there with my niece expecting her second child, her and her husband. He’s stationed there in the military. I didn’t need much. I could get up and go for a walk for about 4 miles in the morning, take everything in, and enjoy it. It is a place to go, visit, and see. I see the two books back there. Tell me a little bit about those.

January 23rd, 2024 will be their one-year birthday. I wrote these two books. My second husband died by suicide in 2016. In 2017, I’m not exactly sure how to describe it but I got a message from the universe. I’ve always been a writer. It wasn’t too far out there for me to write a book about surviving spouse or partner suicide loss. That was in 2017. I rejected the message from the universe because I did not want to talk and write about it. It was still overwhelming pain, shame, and all of the feelings we talked about as widows.

In 2018, I met a book coach named Amanda Johnson. She helped me create books from my story in a sacred, cohesive way. It was a beautiful experience. It took me until 2023 to get them published through Save by Story Publishing, which is Amanda’s publishing company. I finished the first book, which is Surviving Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss: A Mindful Guide for Your Journey Through Grief. I wanted the word mindful in there because mindfulness practice is one of the things that helped me with my grief and trauma the most.

The day I turned in the manuscript to the publisher, I went to bed that night feeling so accomplished. It had been four and a half years since I started writing. I finally got that draft off. I felt such a sense of accomplishment. That night, I got in bed and got another message from the universe. I couldn’t even get one day off that I had to write a companion book.

You may have had this experience. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. People are so uneducated and inexperienced in supporting someone who’s lost a partner or spouse to sudden death. Suicide is always a sudden death. For sudden death or any type of death, people don’t know what to do to be supportive. In the grief groups I work with, I moderate Grief.com and work with clients in grief coaching.

What I’ve noticed through the years is that so many of the difficulties people have in grieving are because of relationships that are challenged by the grief, especially if you’re a spouse or partner. Who is your in-law family? You lose so much of your identity and it can be hard. When you have multiple people in grief, nobody’s at their best. Nobody knows how to support each other.

There are functional units of grief but what I hear in my groups is people lose friends because their friends don’t understand how to support them. It makes the grieving process so much harder. That’s where the second book, Supporting a Survivor of Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss: A Mindful Guide For Co-journeying Through Grief. I wrote that book as a companion to the surviving book.

My idea is that someone who’s grieving the loss of a spouse or partner will be supported by a friend or a loved one who finds these books, reads the supporter book, and gives the survivor book to the grieving widow or widowed person. They’ll be able to go through it together. They’re both getting this education that will help them support each other.

Michelle, let’s go back a little bit. How did you and your late husband meet?

A mutual friend introduced us.

Was it love at first sight or did it take a while?

It was instant. It was both of our second marriage. We each had three kids. I was married for nineteen years. He was married for seventeen years. We were both about a year out from our divorces. We had so much in common in that respect. That’s our first date. He asked me for a second date. A week later, he asked me to marry him. He was a very enthusiastic human being. He has high energy. He knew what he wanted and wanted it now.

I put him off for a while because I never thought I would get remarried, certainly not after knowing someone for a week but he wore me down. It was very obvious. When you’re in your 40s, you know what you want and don’t want. With the experience we both had in our previous marriages, we knew we wanted to be together every day forever. There was no question other than the hesitancy of merging the kids. He lived in Washington. I lived in Oregon.

We were so in love. Talk about the definition of crazy in love. That’s what was happening. We didn’t want to be apart for a minute. The kids made fun of us because he would take the garbage out. He’d come back and I’d jump into his arms. He’d say, “I missed you.” We’d kiss in front of them, which they hated. They would make fun of us. They were like, “You guys are like puppies. You have no sense of time. You haven’t seen each other for five minutes.”

Have you ever felt that way before?

As a teenager or young twenties, nothing is real. I loved my first husband but it was a much more calm situation.

There’s something to be said about when you’re older. You have a sense of cherishing something in comparison to something else. You have a huge ability to value this because of what you’ve experienced before. I can relate to that. You know what good looks like for you compared to other things that you had in the past. Being able to assess that in a week is quick but I applaud him for being enthusiastic and wearing you down. How long did it take to wear you down?

We got married 90 days after we met.

What was your family or friends thinking? Did they not comment?

They thought we were insane. I had so many estrangements. Even though he died seven years ago, I still have people who have not been able to forgive me or accept that I did that and who are not part of my life anymore. It’s heartbreaking.

They didn’t accept that you got married in 90 days. Did they vocalize it or silently slip away?

I was ostracized by my community of friends. It was tough. We thought, “We can get through anything because our love is so strong.”

I’m sorry you had to endure that. You were married for how long again?

A few years.

What part of your husband’s suicide are you willing to share about that moment or timeline?

I share it all. I write about it. That’s how I’m trying to help the world. There’s nothing I wouldn’t talk about. Do you want me to tell the story or do you want to ask a specific question?

You have the liberty. When people are asking questions, it doesn’t give you fluency so whatever point you want to share. When we talk about suicide, it’s a disenfranchised grief. It’s the type of grief that people feel isolated. You mentioned those words, shame, pain, and alone. When someone is hearing this conversation, I want them to hear from you in your words how you would want to share your journey.

Things got bad not too long after we got married. The merging of the children did not go smoothly. My ex-husband brought a lawsuit against me and my new husband. It got messy and angry. I didn’t have my family support because they thought I was crazy. There’s some validity to that. I understand their point of view now. At the time, all I felt was rejection and being kicked off the team feeling.

As time went on, we resolved the lawsuit but so many of the pressures that came with the merging were overtaking our ability to love each other because we thought our love was strong. We can get through anything. When you’re with someone for 90 days before you get married, you don’t know them very well. I was seeing parts of Glen that I had not seen during the courtship. He was struggling with mental illness.

When I was married to him, I didn’t consider separating or finding an out. We worked together. We got on healthy practices and tried to get him therapy. He died in April. In January, he was starting to have irrational times when I was fearful of his behaviors. My final straw or the line that he crossed that made the fear outweigh my ability to want to help him was he got physical. He physically assaulted me. It only happened once. I asked him to move out the next day.

In this part of the story, I was not even able to tell for years because of the shame that I feel when I talk about that. His family and some of his friends who came into his life during our separation blamed me because I made him move out. He was despondent so he killed himself. If anyone knows anything about suicide, you know that it is not caused by other people. If someone wants to take their life, it’s not because of something someone else has done. Anyone reading this, I want to reassure you. It is not your fault that somebody else died by suicide.

Suicide is not caused by other people. If someone wants to take their life, it is not because of something that someone else has done. Click To Tweet

After he moved out, he was not honest with me about his activities. I thought that he was getting help. We were heavy partiers. He told me that he wasn’t doing any of that. I found out after he died that he had been. It was about five weeks later. We had seen each other and talked a lot. He had showed up at my house. He rented an apartment at the bottom of my hill. He showed up sometimes unannounced. I would be scared because he had threatened to hurt me. He would beg to come back and tell me he loved me. I’d tell him I love him too but he can’t move back in until he’s healed.

One day, I got a call from one of the friends that he was seeing after we separated. I didn’t know this person very well because while Glen and I were married, he didn’t see this person very much. It was strange that I was getting this phone call from this person. They were out of town and had been concerned because they couldn’t get ahold of him. I went down to Glen’s apartment to see if he was okay. This friend had called the police and they were already there. They were telling me I better stay in my car because they knew we were estranged. They were concerned that there would be violence. I stayed in my car and they went to enter the apartment. I found his body in a car in the parking lot.

As you’re pausing, we may share that journey over and over. Sometimes, it is easy. Sometimes, it will hit you so hard from out of nowhere. There’s a price to be paid to share. It’s one thing to write it out and one thing to talk about it. For the people reading, I want you to take in the investment, the time, and the emotional weight for Michelle to share this because she is invested in your healing in this journey for you to know that you are not alone.

Thank you so much for saying that. That’s why I do this and it is hard. I have developed self-healing tools and I want to share them.

You find Glen. What happens to you at that moment? Are you telling the police officers? Are you falling apart? Where do you go from there?

I had a very physical reaction. It started with fear because I saw him but my ability to comprehend what I had seen was not rational. I did not know what I had seen. My mind played a little trick like, “You didn’t see that.” I had all of these ideas of what it could have been flying through my head. That wasn’t him. He was asleep. All these thoughts were going through my head as I ran away. I did not open the door and do further investigating.

I ran away and found the police. I could not return to the car. They went and confirmed what I had seen. For a long time, I felt a lot of shame about the fact that I ran away, even though I had no control at the moment. I had no rational thought. It’s like when you touch a hot stove and your hand pulls back. That’s the part of my brain that took me running down the parking lot. Another friend showed up. It’s the person who contacted me.

I yelled at the policeman because when he came over to confirm what I had seen, I didn’t believe it. I started yelling at him, which I don’t know why. That makes me laugh every time I think about it. I had this moment of clarity. This was a friend of mine before I married Glen. Our mutual friend showed up. I’m on my hands and knees sobbing and screaming. I don’t even know what I was doing. There was a lot of no coming out of my mouth. I stopped and introduced the police officer to my mutual friend. All of a sudden, I remembered I was human and I went right back into this hysteria.

My friend drove me back to my house. I started making phone calls. On the way back to the house, I called Glen’s closest relative, who lives on the East Coast. It was 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock at night when this was happening so I was cognizant that she might be going to bed. It’s the weirdest combination of thinking, “That’s the first person I need to call because it’s three hours later there.” You wonder how this all happens in your brain.

I got home. Our mutual friend had made a phone call. Everybody’s blowing up everyone else’s phone. People start showing up at the house. I’m sitting there at a complete loss, going in and out of shock. When there are people at my house, I’m a hostess. I think, “I need to be pouring these people drinks and getting out snacks.” Talk about crazy.

The crisis team comes. They’re handing me pamphlets about suicide and their contact information. I’m looking at these strangers. Their mouth is moving and I can’t hear a word that they’re saying. I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t know anyone who died by suicide. I was so disconnected from what was happening.

I do talk a little more detail about it in some of my writing, how the trauma affected me, and how I dissociated from my body for part of that time. I was watching the police and myself from above. Minute by minute, I thought, “No, this didn’t happen.” I realized it happened. I picture it as when someone’s drowning. You come up above the water for a second, you get a breath, and you’re drowning again.

I can relate to that. Whether it is expected or unexpected, that disassociation, struggling to cope, and that ebb and flow of being in reality and out in this place is a common theme. I say that to say your loved one, if you’re reading, may not have died by suicide but that grief fog, grief brain, the mental capacity, and the brain still reacts the same way in the hopes of trying to help us to try to slow down and manage this life-altering situation and the things that need to come after that. What did life look like for you that first year, Michelle?

It was foggy. His estate took a few years to close because it was complicated. He was a retired veteran. He worked for the federal government as a protective security advisor for the Department of Homeland Security. It was a lot of paperwork, phone calls, and faxing. It was beyond my capacity. A lot of those days, I couldn’t even get my socks on or figure out how to get dressed. I was supposed to be doing this. I did have some help. Thank God, some people stepped up and helped.

I have a financial advisor friend who made a spreadsheet and figured out, “In a notebook, did you make this phone call?” He would check in on me every week. That is the only driver I had to get through that mess. For the first 6 to 8 months, I was on a spiral to kill myself with drugs and alcohol. It got bad. I could not stand the pain. Keep in mind that I am a yoga therapist, meditator, wellness coach, and Reiki master, and all I’m doing is drinking and doing drugs to try to soothe my pain. It’s not like I didn’t have any other methods but nothing worked.

Thank you for mentioning that because oftentimes, people feel like you’re a professional, you know these different things, and you have these different skills. There is no amount of preparation for the level of pain, the disconnection from this person, and how all that will impact you. I support therapists. Different people are mental health professionals coaching them and doing one-on-one peer support. They say, “I’m a therapist. I’m this.” We are all in this human experience. That pain and trauma of that instant disconnection from someone that we love has a weight that comes, and it takes a while.

It’s shocking for people to realize how long it takes because you have the funeral. You’re fine now. You buried them. You’re going on with life. You go back to work. You have three days off. Life is demanding you to return. The sun is coming up every day. When you mentioned the spreadsheet, my background is in finance and accounting. My husband and I intentionally looked at what life would be like outside the presence of one of us when we died. We did that in our early twenties and left it. It was taken care of.

My brother was the first person with me at home when Mark died. I remember coming upstairs with all these documents. My brother is a project manager and that’s what I do, too. He was like, “What is that?” I was like, “This is the death plan.” He instantly made a spreadsheet of all the places I needed to call and all the things I needed to do. I remember getting up every day. I used to keep a little notepad and check off what I did because I went from being this very high-functioning project manager with the Federal government to waking up, staring at the wall, and going, “Did I bathe yesterday? Do I bathe now? I don’t know.”

I watched my brother look at me and say, “She is not the same person.” I remember my family watching, not in a way that made it odd but with sympathy and heartfelt concern of watching what they saw a moment ago to what it looked like now, which led to these types of conversations. Similar to your handbook, there may be someone reading this discussion who has a friend whose loved one has taken their life to understand this goes on for a while. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them. This is what grief looks like. This is how it shows up.

My daughter and I were talking about it. I can’t remember the time but it was very prominent for people to wear black for a year. When I thought about it, I was like, “That would let everyone know to be gentle with me because I’m in this place where my mind is still trying to reconcile what has happened.” After a year, you could wear different colors. I was like, “That seems bad.”

There’s a great part of it that lets the whole world know I’m not quite what I used to be. It took me three months to go back to work. I could see the benefit of different things to let people know. When you show up at the grocery store or wherever you’re at, we look like we look. No one knows that this is me going into the grocery store for the first time without Glen and I’m going to cry in the spaghetti aisle because this is what we joke about. Those everyday nuances can be debilitating and very exhausting.

Especially with a spouse whom you share your bed with and shower with, every inch of your personal space with it, anything can be a trigger. Anything can send you into one of those grief waves where you’re incapacitated.

Thank you for sharing your background. Someone can know this hits you hard. It’s not something that time heals all wounds. It takes doing some work during this grief journey to help you get to a place of life that you can enjoy again. You talked about mindfulness early on and how important that was. Do you recall what part in your journey that mindfulness started to play a stronger role in your journey of grief?

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Michelle Collins | Reclaiming Your Life

 

I do. Before I start talking about that, I want to say, David Kessler, who’s my grief educator teacher and also the person who runs Grief.com, which has an endless amount of support for grievers, says, “To live fully, you have to grieve fully.” I believe that. I’m a knowledge junkie so getting more education is where I get my help. As far as mindfulness, I love to tell this story about my first moment of relief after Glen died.

It was Saturday evening when I discovered that he was gone. The next couple of days were a blur of absolute shock and trauma. People are coming to my house. There’s way too much food. One of my besties gave me a gift certificate to Instacart. This was back in 2016. We hadn’t had COVID yet. Online ordering of groceries wasn’t a common thing back then.

That was my best gift because I could get my groceries without leaving my house. The first time you go to the grocery store, it is a big deal to see people outside of your immediate grieving circle who don’t know that you went through this. They don’t know why you’re crying in this spaghetti aisle and it’s weird. It freaks people out when you cry in the grocery store, which I’ve done a number of times.

It was about Tuesday or Wednesday after Glen’s death. I might’ve left the house once to go to the funeral home but I’m not sure if I had my then or if I was getting ready to go that day. When it’s a suicide or a sudden death, the medical examiner has to sign off. That delays everything by some days. I was in my bathroom washing my hands in the sink. That was the very first time that I felt embodied and present after Gwen died.

I’m washing my hands. This is a mindfulness exercise. All of a sudden, I am smelling the soap. I’m feeling the temperature and the softness of the water. We have nice soft water here in Oregon. I’m watching the bubbles reflect the rainbows. I remember this incredibly clearly because all the chaos, shock, noise, and pain were gone for a few seconds. It was almost as if you were in a loud room where people were screaming and you got a noise-canceling headset put on. That’s how it felt. I was present. That was my first moment of mindfulness.

Fast forward, I had gotten into bad habits to try to soothe my pain. I developed PTSD. My therapist sent me to a trauma therapist to start working on staying embodied because the PTSD presented itself as dissociation. I would lose time, not know where I was, and get very disoriented. PTSD is traumatic. My trauma therapist used the somatic therapy that Peter Levine developed. That is mindfulness. That is what helped me stop having complete dissociations when I had the PTSD episodes when they were activated.

I like to use the word activated more than triggered because since my husband died by using a gun, the word triggered used to be a trigger for me but you learn when you have PTSD that you can’t control your environment and you have to learn how to respond to triggering events. You cannot make them not happen. No matter what you do, they happen. The trauma therapy was the deep dive into mindfulness saving.

When you have PTSD, you cannot control your environment. You have to learn how to respond to triggering events. Click To Tweet

I want to circle back to when you were speaking about drinking and drugs. I have found from talking to other therapists, and I’m curious what you have found, that a lot of times when people are showing up unwell or unhold, a lot of the things that they’re dealing with is unresolved grief that is slipping into different bad coping skills. I want to expand grief in this conversation beyond the death of a loved one. It may be lost expectations, health reasons, finances, or all those different things we grieve.

It’s often sometimes the death of a loved one that becomes this rippling impact that no longer are you able to hold up all the other things you were before. You slip out and you’re thinking, “I’ve been okay with everything else. Why is this an issue?” It’s 1 or 2 of these little things that are something we may have dipped into casually that start taking hold of us because we’re not looking at the root cause. What have you found in your efforts to work with people?

It’s similar. In my books, I use the analogy of hiking up a grief mountain. You don’t have a choice but to make that journey if you want to reclaim your life. Another analogy I use with people is the smaller things that happen. Let’s say you’re running. Let’s take something we all know and are aware of. You’re running down the street. You have a certain number of miles you need to go and the little things that happen.

It may seem big. The loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, not getting the promotion you wanted, whatever it might be, I think of those as obstacles in the road, a blister on your foot, or things you can get around. Maybe your shoe comes untied but it’s nothing that makes you stop. That’s what you were saying. You can continue and you’re like, “I can still make my goal even with this blister forming under my heel.”

With the sudden death of a spouse or something big like that, my analogy is that I got cut off at the knees. You’ve heard that saying before. It’s an old saying but I understand it so much more because there is no continuing your journey as you were. You have to stop there, pull to the side, regrow your legs, get your prosthetics or new shoes, and start on your new journey. You can’t keep going as is. It’s impossible.

 

 

I like that analogy because you had me there. I was running the Army Ten Miler, much younger Tina, and I had a blister on my second toe because I didn’t have enough runtime in my gym shoes. I lost that toenail. It still doesn’t do right but I kept running. I was going to finish that Army Ten Miler.

It’s gory but I haven’t gory. I haven’t had anyone react badly to that analogy. In my book, because a lot of people who are reading them are in trauma, I’m very gentle about any analogy that is traumatic. I don’t talk about details of my trauma because I don’t want the book to re-traumatize people. It’s not the point.

I will ask another question. At what point in your grief journey did you start dealing with the shame? How did you deal with that?

Trauma therapy is where it started because that was the first place where I was safe. The trauma therapist was so good. I couldn’t have found a better match. I talk about how important it is to find a therapist that you connect with. I talk about that in my books. It’s important. It’s a lifeline to find a therapist at all because your therapist is not going through the grieving process you’re going through.

When you’re leaning on your friends, family, and other loved ones, they’re all going through a loss too. It may not be the same. If you’re the widow, you’re the only one but they’ve all lost something. They’re all grieving. A therapist is there for you 100%. It’s not their thing. It’s your thing. It was the first place I felt safe. Writing also helped a lot. The first time I wrote the story that I talked about, finding Glen’s body and running, I wanted to erase that memory because I felt so bad.

If you ever watch any of these traumatic deaths in a movie or on television, the person grabs them, hugs them, and cries out to them. I felt like I had done the wrong thing. Even though I had no control over myself at the time, I was steeped in shame for that, among a lot of other things, like the fact that I had to move out. There was a lot. Trauma therapy was the beginning.

I went through a grief educator course. Reading David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, it’s not how to grieve. It’s learning from an academic standpoint. It does help with how to grieve but learning anything from an academic standpoint makes it much more doable or understandable. There are still tiny threads of shame, guilt, and grief that will never be gone. I’m to the point where I can talk to you about these things that I held such deep shame for. Brené Brown’s work and TED Talk helped me realize that shame and guilt are forms of self-harm. They do no good. Those are the tools that helped me recover from those awful emotions.

What was the catalyst for moving into the training that you learned with David Kessler?

I joined his group. He has a group on Grief.com called Tender Hearts, which is a wonderful grief group. They have thousands of people. There are online meetings and small breakout groups for your particular type of loss, which is helpful. If your spouse or whoever died from murder and you’re in a grief group and you’re the only one who’s lost someone to murder, it’s the other types of death that aren’t relatable. It’s the same with suicide. I was in that. There’s this whole educational piece to it. It’s all online.

Once I started reading that, I could feel a lightness. I could feel that something about this education was helping me find a little bit of light in my shame and less pain in my grief. I reversed the order on that. I read his book and found Tender Hearts. I saw that he was offering this Grief Educator Program. I feel like knowledge is power. The more I can learn, the less I suffer. That’s how I got into it. I volunteer for the small breakout groups as often as I can to help moderate the grief groups on there.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Michelle Collins | Reclaiming Your Life

 

The more reading that I did, the more connecting with other people and understanding. It lightened my load to understand how this is part of life. It may be the part of life that no one wants to be a part of or people don’t particularly talk about it until you’re in that space. There is a wealth of information available to help people understand the process and not have to feel like they’re alone. Knowing that there are other people going through this journey with them is also very encouraging and helpful.

Grieving in the community is so helpful.

How have your children been in this process, yours or Glen’s?

It’s been rough. I’m not going to lie. When you’re a stepmom and your spouse dies, who are you? Am I still their stepmom? I tried to make it clear that I wanted to be part of their life and I’m still their stepmom. I want to help them with everything and stay connected because I care about those kids but I was never able to grieve with them. They have a mom.

Even though she and Glen were divorced, they grieved together. They had a whole lot more history with him than I did. It made sense but I was never part of that. I’ve kept in touch with them the best I can over the years but to be honest, I’m not connected to them and it’s heartbreaking for me. I wish I could be there for them. As far as my kids go, it’s been hard. I don’t feel like anything has been resolved. We haven’t been able to come back together.

The death of a loved one alters your life in so many different ways. It is much more than the funeral. It is the everyday activities, events, relationships, and all these different things that we don’t often think about how they’re impacted. You have to get spaghetti on a regular basis, whatever that looks like, that situation, or the people that you speak to in those relationships. I know you mentioned relationships that were impacted when you and Glen got together. Were there any relationships that were impacted by his death and that changed as far as friendship or family members for you?

Yes. You’re a different person. Once I went through that first year of not being present because I was trying to numb myself, I went through Ayurvedic training and the grief educator. I’ve written books. I did grief yoga certification. I’m already a yogi so why not do grief yoga? I felt like it was a missing piece. In 2018, I stopped drinking and have been sober since then. I am very committed to my sobriety. It’s helped me to stay embodied, get through the shame and guilt, and lighten up the grief. To be fully present in my life is a very different situation. I was always a heavy drinker. That was the answer to everything for me.

The relationships are impacted by that as much as anything else. My lifestyle has changed. My relationships are with people who are authors, coaches, speakers, and healers. I don’t have those party friends anymore, not consciously. It’s not like I said, “I don’t drink now. I’m not going to spend time with you.” You lose your commonality and common activities. The friendship moves on and that’s not unhealthy. I have some friends that I’ve had for many years. They’re all impacted by these changes in my life. They had an opportunity to grow and become deeper because I grew and became deeper.

In your coaching sessions or the support group, if someone were to attend, what would that look like? What would they expect for that to go?

In Grief.com, those in Tender Hearts are specifically moderated in a formulaic way. Everyone is there to share and be witnessed because one of the things you need as a griever is to be a witness. There’s no coaching, advice given, or crosstalk. It’s a place to air your grievances in an environment where you are in a community. The online part is Facebook. There’s the town square. There’s all the crosstalk and the advice.

If you want to be part of that, you can join the groups that I’m moderating on Mondays. It is pure witnessing and it’s beautiful. Everyone feels like there’s this safe container to be like, “I’m grieving.” Instead of, “You’re crying in the grocery store. What’s wrong with you?” In my individual coaching, I do a holistic approach to helping people who are going through difficult times. Not everyone that I work with has lost a person who is grieving a death. There’s grief, especially with COVID. We all grieved the life we had before COVID. We were globally in grief during the pandemic’s peak.

What I do is assess a client when I’m working individually. I assess where is your biggest pain point because it might not be the loss of your loved one. It might be that your sister-in-law is being a B****. It might not be that because there’s so much collateral damage that comes out of these events. We talk about that. I offer mindfulness tools because I believe those are the deepest, broadest ways to survive difficult times. That includes good sleeping and eating habits, and everything that you’re exposed to during the day.

If I have a client who watches two hours of news a day, we work on limiting that and increasing reading some spiritual literature or listening to meditation. I also make private individual meditations for people. I record whatever it is that’s their particular pain point. I record a meditation. They can listen to that. It helps them soften it. The beauty of individual work is I can get to know someone, learn what they will relate to, what will help them, and formulate the coaching experience around that. That’s what makes it so incredibly effective.

Who can you work with? Does it have to be in person or virtual? Is there a limitation of location? How does that go?

All of my clients are on Zoom. I’m also a yoga therapist. I prefer to do those in person. Since COVID, I’ve had one in-person client, which is fun because my coaching base has broadened so much. I had someone I was working within Australia. The time was hard from the West Coast, United States to Australia. It can be anyone struggling to move on after a difficult something. It might be COVID. I tend to attract widows, specifically suicide widows because that’s what I know. People feel safe with me and comfortable because I can talk to them from a place of understanding.

I wanted to ask another question. Can you explain what mindfulness is? I don’t want to make an assumption that people hear that word and know what that means.

I dove into that without describing what it means. I did describe a little bit when I talked about the moment of presence I had while washing my hands. The textbook definition is the ability to be present with whatever’s happening without judgment or reaction. That’s an unattainable thing. We’re wired to react and judge. That’s a good thing because that’s what’s kept us alive. If you are walking around being mindful and there’s a car driving at you, you need to react right and jump out of the road.

In everyday life, mindfulness enhances your joy because you can learn to focus on the things you’re grateful for. Gratitude is a mindfulness practice. It’s taking your mind to what you’re grateful for, away from what is making you anxious, sad, or grief. In grieving, mindfulness can take you to remembering the love and feeling the love more than the pain. Some people say that the amount of pain you feel is equal to the love that you have. It’s not that simple. They come and go. They rise and fall.

When you are grieving, mindfulness can help you remember the love more than the pain. Click To Tweet

When you feel that pain coming, “I can’t believe it’s this anniversary or holiday and he’s not here with me,” you can control your attention by using mindfulness. Instead of diving into that pool of pain, which is fine to do, there’s nothing wrong with that, we have to feel, but you can choose instead to remember that wonderful anniversary when they gave you the flowers, the champagne was the perfect temperature, and the sunset was the most glorious thing you’d ever seen. You can go to those memories and feel joy instead of that deep pain.

I’ll do something a little different. I’ve been driving all these questions. Do you have any questions or thoughts about me?

I would love to know if you use mindfulness in your practice and how that looks.

I wouldn’t say practice because I’m a nonprofit. I’m doing peer-to-peer. People find a lot of joy in walking and being able to get outside of the space they’re in. When you’re grieving, it’s very easy to be shut in. It’s hard to be around people who don’t understand this journey that you’re on. It’s being able to go outside, leaving your phone behind if possible, or at least putting it in airplane mode and paying attention to things you may not have noticed as you’re driving through the same area.

You don’t have to go on a walking path. You can walk in your neighborhood. Usually, about 1 mile is what I try to get people to do because that’s enough to not seem intimidating if you’re not having a life with a lot of motion and exhale to get some fresh air and get outside of your home. Look at something that you never saw before and take that in. If you’re able to journal that and resonate with that moment, I find that very helpful for people.

I’m a deep believer in connecting with nature and getting that fresh air. You mentioned your husband. You’re remarried. I would love to hear anything you’d want to share about that journey. My husband died several years ago. I have not repartnered. I’ve gone on dates but I have not been able to find a partner. I’m certainly open to it. I haven’t found someone that I feel connected with. I haven’t had a boyfriend. Four dates are the record for all this time. It’s not how I want things to be. I would love to hear anything you could share about your journey and if being re-partnered feels disrespectful to your late husband.

Those are fine. Those are things that I talk about on a regular basis. It may hit me a little differently, like different things do. Mark and I were together for 32 years. We met in the military. I met him when I was eighteen years old. I was 50 when he passed. My formative years in becoming an adult were all done with Mark. I don’t say we had a perfect marriage because nobody does. We’re human and we’re in it but we were happy.

We were on a weekend vacation together. We were both trying to relocate to Virginia. He had taken a job there. I was trying to get one. I was on the other side of recovering from breast cancer. I was on the other side of what we thought was going to be uterine cancer and had an emergency hysterectomy. Our children were getting older. We were getting ready to be empty nesters. We were looking to relocate to Virginia to a home that we had that was smaller and downsized.

Mark had always said that he was going to leave this world early. He had family members who had departed in their 30s and 40s. It was a real concern. I was like, “We can shift life to make things simpler and eliminate this stress for you. We can do that.” We were on a weekend getaway. I’m so glad that we were together because I do believe we all have an appointed time that we’re going to leave this world. I was grateful. It was traumatic because his heart attack happened in the room we were together.

That first year was like he was gone. When you talked about being on your hands and knees there, it was outside. I was at the end of a hallway in this hotel where we had met halfway between where we were staying losing my mind. As you were saying the word no, I was screaming on the phone to one of my sisters saying, “I love him. I could not reconcile how I loved him. This is how our story ends, this journey of us living alive together.”

I did not know what that would look like. Mark thought that he was going to leave this world early so we spoke about what life in totality would look like. We both said, “We would want the other person to get married. We would want you to date. We would want you to live the life that you have.” That’s important to the question you asked about the cheating part or feeling like you were disrespectful. I don’t remember the exact term but it’s something to that effect.

I said disrespect. I didn’t say cheating.

It’s knowing we had those conversations. I’m super proactive and very intentional. When we made the plan as far as what life would look like when one of us was not here, it wasn’t a monetary conversation. It was, “What type of funeral do you want? What are all these different things that eventually I would need to know now, not when I’m trying to scramble to figure it out?” What people think are difficult conversations but they’re essential conversations. If we are cohabitating, I should know because we make these vow, “Till death do us part.” I need to know what that looks like so I’m not scrambling when it is go time.

Mark has passed. I was visiting with someone and they had been single for a while. I put a glass down. They immediately wiped it and started doing stuff. I was thinking, “How long for me being single would I start doing that with people because I don’t know how to share my space? How long before I would start being a person who was a hermit who would not leave the house because I had closed myself off?”

It took some time for me to pray and see where I felt like God was leading me. Was another relationship realistic? Did I have love to give? At this time, I’m seeing a therapist twice a week, one for myself and then in a group therapy session. I’m reading books. I am not hyper-focusing on recoupling. I was curious after that. Working on my healing for me as a person was my priority. The second was my children because I could not be of any use to them if I was not working on my well-being.

About eighteen months out, I was like, “What would dating look like for somebody who has been with someone for 32 years and I am 50 years old?” I was upset at the idea that I had to make that statement. I was like, “I registered for the lifelong package where we grow older together and I found the guy that I like. What was the dating pool looking like out there because I already had a great guy? Do I roll the dice and think that this would happen again for my well-being?”

I felt like the odds were not in my favor. The other thing is Mark and I had a passionate marriage. I had nothing going on to make me feel like I was passionate again or nothing was brewing inside of me. I’ve talked to other people who had widow fire. We don’t even have smoke. I’m like, “I don’t even know what that’s going to be.” I didn’t know. I was like, “Let me try online dating first.” I didn’t even know if I would care to want to hear what someone else said.

I created a dating profile. I am 1 of 5 siblings. There are 4 girls and 1 brother. I let two of my sisters look at the dating profile because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was the only sibling that was ever married. They’re looking at the dating profile and different things like that. They’re asking me whether this is approved or not. I’m having conversations with people. I did use a Google Voice phone number because so much of our credit and who we are is connected to our phone number. I was apprehensive about giving out my real phone number to anyone. I obtained a DBA phone number.

The conversations went from bizarre to realistic. There are two people that I connected with and thought there was going to be something worthwhile that proved in time. One thing I’ve learned in dating is it takes time to get to know someone. You can think you know things. Usually, about a year out, you start having a sense of what a person is and who they are. I also had to determine what some of my non-negotiables were.

I thought long distance was going to be one that I could work with but I soon realized that you need to be in a 50-mile radius. I needed to determine what some of your non-negotiables are and we needed to have the same faith. That was important to me because that is the barometer of how you live a life based on what some of those court issues are. I found that some men were very intimidated by women who were retired Army officers. I did not know that.

To eliminate that, I put a picture up of me lifting weights and a second with me in my uniform with my daughter. If that wasn’t something that was appealing to you, swipe left. We don’t even have to have this conversation. I learned a lot about myself. I did go into it realizing I was very content with the marriage I had. If life did not provide me an opportunity to find someone that I was going to be happy with, I would learn to be single. There are a lot of single people out here. That took the pressure off of me as far as what that looks like.

In time, I met my husband, Fred. We met online. He lived fifteen minutes from where I was residing. We had been texting on the app for a while. I said, “Can we meet because I have met so many people at a coffee shop or doing something, and they were not who they said they were?” I am 5’9”. My late husband and I were the same height. I start wearing heels. I was not going to date somebody that wasn’t 6 feet. I wasn’t going to settle for some different things.

From the first moment Fred and I met, I was like, “We are alive.” We met at a coffee shop. We sat there and spoke for almost two and a half hours. Several years later, neither one of us knew what we talked about that day. This is his favorite coffee shop. We’ve been there several times. We cannot recall. On the second date, he asked me, “What are you looking for?” I said, “I am looking to have a friend and I want to be married.”

Everybody may not want to be married. For some people economically, there may be restraints based on getting remarried that may impact their finances. For me, marriage was important. There were some other things as far as focusing on getting to know me and investing in me, and not investing in a physical relationship because I have learned that when physical parts get involved, you stop paying attention to what are some clues, red flags, or things that we want to pay attention to as far as who a person is.

We dated for about three years. We got married in February 2022. I am grateful for his support. If you go to Widowhood Reak Talk with Tina, either on my website or on YouTube, there is a conversation that I have with my husband and another gentleman who dated and married a widow and a conversation with myself and another widow talking about dating. It’s important to hear the other side of what that looks like.

One of the things you’re concerned about is what happens when my grief shows up in this relationship. What happens when this person finds out that I still have feelings for this deceased person? He was not feeling threatened by the fact that I love Mark. He thought that it was a beautiful thing to have met someone who understood what that looked like and was committed, monogamous, and directly towards you but nobody else was involved relationship.

I found that you do have to say monogamy was one of the things that was important to me that may not be on everybody’s list. You have to have those conversations. The first time that I want to say grief showed up in Fred’s presence was when we were watching some television. I went to get us a drink. I came back and started trembling. I realized that day was the one-year mark of me living in Virginia. I’m looking at this guy that I’ve dated for seven months. This is not where I thought life was going to be. I’m like, “Mark is dead. There’s this strange guy in the house.” I don’t even live where I used to.

He notices all this going on. He comes. He’s smart. He takes the glasses out of my hand, puts them on the counter, and asks me, “What’s going on?” I told him and he said, “You never have to feel bad about missing your late husband. I was like, “We may have a winner here.” I need someone to always understand I’ll always love Mark but I need them to show up that way. He said, “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to leave or stay? How can I support you and be there?” That’s what I needed.

I didn’t need someone to shame me or tell me, “You should be over that by now.” I needed someone to sit in that space with me and not make this about them. He stayed and I cried. He was okay. We watched TV, and he eventually left and went home after I was settled. He waited for me to kiss him because he wasn’t sure how I would even respond. I’d not kiss somebody else. I’d been married to my husband. He patiently waited for me to feel comfortable.

Mark and I had a conversation before about what we thought life looked like afterward so I didn’t feel like I disrespected him. What I did feel in each part of that, and this may sound strange to someone who’s not been in this, is that he is dead with each version of life that I have to continue living. I know he’s dead. I did all that. When you’re taking the contents out of the house or doing those different things, it’s the way it shows up in your life.

Mark and I eloped in shorts in Florida. I said, “If I’m going to do this, I want to have a wedding.” We did. My son walked me down the aisle. He gets along great with Fred. I am grateful that I have found someone else who is meeting me right where I’m at in life and loving me. When we started the show, because it was a nonprofit board member, he was contacting his friends. He’s like, “She needs more followers on her YouTube.” He is so supportive. There’s not a part of him that feels intimidated or threatened by Mark because he’s dead. There’s no competition.

If somebody is dating or looking for someone, and they’re constantly thinking, “How do they compare to my late spouse,” that’s going to be difficult. I needed to compare what Fred looked like to the version of who Tina was compared to who that eighteen-year-old girl was who met Mark. My son told me, “Mom, you’re going to be dating. I don’t know how that’s going to work for anyone, Mom. You’re intense.” I was like, “I’m worth it. I’m fine.” He gave a toast at the wedding. It’s important for us to know why we want to get into a relationship.

If we’re getting into a relationship to run away from the loneliness in our grief, I don’t think our healing journey or dealing with the loss of our spouse is resolved. Resolved is not a good word. I don’t think you should seek a relationship for the fact of not taking care of what your grief journey looks like. If you’re doing that to plug a space, I don’t feel like that’s fair to this person. If you’re constantly trying to mold them into being something like what your lay spouse is, I don’t think that that would serve anyone well. I needed somebody who aligned with who I am. Fred does that and I’m happy with that.

What a lovely story. Thank you so much for sharing that with me.

Did I answer all your questions?

You did. You came back around. I want to meet Fred.

Fred is out hunting. That is one of the interesting things. He is an avid hunter. My late husband was a hunter. While we were dating, we were in the kitchen doing something. Hunting season was starting to come up. I could see he looked very anxious. I was like, “Is there something you want to say?” He said, “Hunting season is coming and I like to go hunting for long periods.”

My son, Fred, and I are all in the kitchen doing something. He looks at me seriously. He said, “Are you going to have a problem if I’m gone hunting for 3, 5, or 7 days at a time?” My son starts laughing and Fred looks at him. He goes, “Why are you laughing?” He said, “My mom was made for that. That’s what my dad did. She doesn’t care like that.”

He looked at me and I said, “I want to know what the hunting season is so I can plan time with my girlfriends, trips I want to take, or things I want to do. I am not going to be here pining after you and waiting. I am an entire grown person. I have a life. I have friends.” I’ve been hanging out and doing stuff. The cleaning lady came and I came home. The house was cleaned. You can virtually meet Fred. If you go to my YouTube channel and look up the conversation about dating a widow, there’s a conversation between him and another person. You may get some tips that may be helpful to hear from the other side and what that looks like.

Do you know John Polo?

I do not.

He is a widowed person. He spoke at the Soaring Spirits Camp Widow when I was there as a presenter. He has a book out that’s called How to Date a Widow. It’s the greatest book. It’s almost written to a kindergartner but in a good way. There are stick figures. It’s a white book with black writing. You made me think of it because it’s like, “Do this. Don’t do that.”

You have to send me his information. He’ll be the next guest on the show to have a conversation.

He’s a hard man to get ahold of but if you can get him, he’s fantastic.

Any other questions for me?

No, I feel complete. I appreciate your openness and stories. I’m a guest on a podcast but I’m not a podcaster. It’s fun to have a chance to ask some questions.

I will allow you to wrap up this conversation. There are some points that you wanted to talk about that we didn’t cover or anything that you want to end. Before we do that, I have two questions for you. One, what gives you joy?

One of my biggest joys is that I have a rescue dog. When I rescued her, she had been through trauma. She was this skinny little shaky dog that I had to hold all the time and scared. When I see her ten months after her rescue, running back and forth, playing with toys, and playing with other dog friends, my heart is so light and joyful. I love seeing that. She’s a different dog. I get a lot of joy from that. Being out in nature and being in a warm ocean, I get huge joy from that. The top of my joy is watching that little dog run back and forth and bark at squirrels.

The second question and my final is, if you were to pick any season or age in your life to talk to younger Michelle, what would you tell her? What age or range would it be?

I’ve always learned to love the age I am now and not look back and go, “I wish it was then.” Now would be the time. I would tell Michelle, in her mid-twenties, to not be in a hurry. You don’t have to make a decision about what’s going to happen for the rest of your life when you’re 25. There’s no rush. I was in graduate school at the time and I didn’t like it. I felt like if I quit the graduate school program, I was going to be a failure. Some of my friends were starting to get married. I felt like I had to get married. It was all this pressure that I was putting on myself. It was very constrictive at a time when you should be expansive.

You don’t have to make a decision about what’s going to happen for the rest of your life when you are 25. There is no rush. Click To Tweet

I’ll let you wrap up if there are any items that you want to discuss we didn’t cover or wrap up the discussion however you like.

The one thing that we didn’t necessarily cover that is important for me to share with widows and all grieving people and people who have been through a hard time is self-compassion. Whether we’re grieving or not, we’re so hard on ourselves. To anyone who’s reading this, give yourself a break, especially if you’re grieving. If you need to stay in bed and cry all day, and I call those wet days, do it.

If you need to eat that entire chocolate cake, now is the time. Now is not the time to be counting calories when you go through something hard. Anywhere that you can get a little bit of a break, like if you’re a quick showerer, maybe an extra five minutes in the shower to breathe and feel the warmth of the water. Any of these little breaks that you can give yourself, especially if you’re being hard on yourself, please do what you wish your best friend was doing for yourself.

 

 

Any closing remarks to everyone reading, or we’re done here?

If anyone wants more of me, I love to talk to people. I always offer free consultations and short little conversations. I’m happy to help, support, and spread resources however I can.

Thank you for being here, Michelle.

Thank you, Tina.

Thank you for being here with me and for hanging out until the end of this conversation. It was important to be able to have this discussion with Michelle because many people are grieving the loss of a loved one who has decided to take their life. Having to live with that shame, pain, and isolation does not serve us well. I want you to know that there is a community that exists and welcomes you to be a part of that.

We are here with you on your journey to help and encourage you as far as your healing and mental wellness. We are on this journey with you. Thank you. Please feel free to reach out to me directly. Email me at WidowhoodRealTalk@Gmail.com or go to our website. You may like to connect one-on-one, be part of our private Facebook group, or connect during some of the events but please feel free to reach out. I am here with you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

 

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About Michelle Collins

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Michelle Collins | Reclaiming Your LifeMichelle Ann Collins, founder of Inhabit Joy, Michelle Ann Collins partners with individuals who have suffered grief, injury, or other types of loss as they recover, reclaim their wholeness, and build resilience for life’s inevitable challenges. After a series of losses, including the death of her mother, her husband’s suicide, and estrangements from primary family members, Michelle combined the tools she had collected as a yoga therapist and wellness coach and studies in positive psychology, neuroscience, meditation, and mindfulness, and spirituality to turn post-traumatic stress disorder into post-traumatic growth and resilience.

With the addition of certifications in grief education, grief yoga, and several bestselling books in which she shares her story, Michelle helps others transform from barely surviving to joyful thriving. Michelle teaches and coaches in private, corporate, and small group settings and enjoys sharing her skills and experience through speaking and facilitating workshops and retreats. Deeply connected with the healing powers of nature, Michelle spends her leisure time hiking among the trees or paddling on the rivers near her home in Portland, Oregon.

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