Grief does not follow a timeline and can last throughout a person’s entire life. When grief becomes unresolved in the long term, it can later affect your mental health. In this episode, Dr. Pamela D. Blair, the Author of The Long Grief Journey, talks about her own long grief journey and how she found healing from it. The key: a support group. After losing her ex-husband, she shares how she found the much-needed support from her sister who had gone through a similar loss. Learn more about Dr. Blair’s journey of healing after loss. Plus, hear the story of how she wrote her first book, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye.
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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The Long Grief Journey: Finding Support And Healing After Loss With Dr. Pamela D. Blair
I am excited about our guest. Her name is Dr. Pamela Blair. She is a co-author of two books. The first book, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, was something that a friend gave me when my late husband Mark passed. It was a lifeline for me trying to manage grief, understand what was before me, and grasp what I could do to help myself in the process. She has co-authored another book called The Long Grief Journey. Both of these books have their place in our life.
The I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is so vital in dealing with the loss of a loved one, especially if they died unexpectedly. Her book has been one of the top sellers. It is a cornerstone in the process of dealing with grief. It was so helpful to guide people that experienced the loss of a loved one during 9/11. After over twenty years of that book, we’re realizing that people still need more because what happens after grief is still impacting us 2, 3, or 20 years later. Society gives us the, “It should have been done in six months. How do we deal with that?” The Long Grief Journey deals with so many parts of that.
I want to give you a little bit about who our guest is. Ms. Pamela Blair is an author, motivational speaker, and historically trained psychotherapist. She is holistically trained as a psychotherapist. She’s a life coach and motivational speaker with a PhD from the American Institute of Holistic Theology. Pam has appeared in magazines, hundreds of shows, and radio programs, including ABC World News, CNN Headline News, and Fox & Friends, and filmed for a television special titled Widowsville.
She is the author of books for women, The Next Fifty Years: A Guide for Women at Midlife and Beyond and Getting Older Better. Pamela also co-authored the bestselling and award-winning book on sudden loss and grief, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One. She is currently retired, facilitating a group for women writers, mentoring in the school system, working on a novel, and living in Vermont with her husband and two cats.
Pam is an internationally bestselling author whose books have been translated into multiple languages and is looking for the new release of her co-authored book, The Long Grief Journey. You can find The Long Grief Journey on our website under Resources. There’s a link there to purchase it. Let’s get into this conversation now.
Welcome, Dr. Pamela Blair, to the Widowhood.
It’s nice to be here, Tina.
It’s nice to have you here. I am so grateful for your willingness to bring your expertise based on your life experience and your many years of practice in serving other people. I am sorry for the methodology that has brought you to this room, but I am grateful for your willingness to be part of this conversation and to be here for the Widowhood.
I’m glad to be here 100%. Let’s get started.
For you that may not know, Dr. Pamela Blair is one of the co-authors of I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. I have mentioned this book several times because someone provided it to me, and it was a lifeline. I know she has authored some other books. We’re going to get into those, but I think this was one of your first books in the grief arena. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about how this book came to be?
This was a year before 9/11. I was writing a newsletter for people who were going through a divorce. My co-author who happened to own a publishing company contacted me and said, “You can write. If you can write about divorce, can you also write about grief?” I said, “It so happened that I had a former husband who died suddenly, and I’ve learned a lot about grief personally. I’d be delighted to co-author a book with you.”
Her reason for wanting to write the book was to honor her brother who died of anaphylactic shock from a bee sting. We worked on the book together. There was a lot of remote stuff that you could do like we can today. A lot of it went back and forth over landlines where you had to listen for the sound. That was like the internet or whatever.
That book was written in twenty-minute segments because of a brain injury I sustained around the time I signed the contract for it. I was nearly killed in a car accident. I had a brain injury, but I could only write for about twenty minutes at a time, and then I have to go to sleep. That was a hard task, but the book got written in very slow and thoughtful increments.
Because of the book, I was given a PhD based on the research we did for it, and the rest is history. The book has been selling for about 21 years. I’ll brag a bit. I’m delighted that it was used to comfort and guide the police officers’ and the firefighters’ widows and widowers from 9/11. I’m proud of the book, and I’m glad it helped you, Tina.
Thank you. I did not know the circumstances in which you endured to be committed. That makes this even more powerful to think about what you were struggling with at that point in time, and still be willing to make that sacrifice to help other people. Do you mind talking a little bit about the accident that took place?
I was sitting at a stoplight. I had just signed the contract to write I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. I’m sitting at a stoplight. The weather is beautiful. The windows are open. I had just gotten back from the library. I had about thirteen books on death and grieving in my backseat to do some more research. Somebody came out of nowhere and turned a corner fast. He was a teenager, and you know how they drive sometimes. He hit me head-on.
There was no blood or anything. It was a closed-head traumatic brain injury because my head went back and forth when I was hit. I passed out and all that. The first thing I said to the police officer who showed up at my window was, “I can’t remember what a nine is. What’s a nine?” I was trying to call 911. He said, “Don’t worry about it. Everything is okay.” I said, “Yeah, but my death, my death.” He said, “You’re not dead.” What I was trying to do was form a sentence to say, “My books on death, are they okay?” I’m worried about my books.
It was a strange experience to have a brain injury and not feel 100% in control of your brain. That lasted for about two and a half years of cognitive rehabilitation, where I had to learn to walk and talk again. I had verbal aphasia, which means I have trouble finding words. To this day, I still have that problem. I may ask you for words as we continue now. I write better than I talk sometimes. That’s the underpinning of that book, plus I lost George, my former husband because we were separated at the time. He had a major brain aneurysm that he never recovered from.
Thank you for mentioning it. I’m sorry for your loss. You mentioned that you were separated, but that doesn’t decrease the separation of him dying and how it impacted your life. I think that’s important. We could spend a little bit of time there because I’ve spoken with some people and they go, “We were separated,” or “We were in the process of getting a divorce. Do I have the right to still be sad, or am I being over-emotional?” Would you mind speaking about that from your perspective and other people you’ve supported?
There’s a word for it. We wrote about it in The Long Grief Journey, which is the next book. It’s called disenfranchised grief. In other words, “Where’s the support group for people who are separated or divorced and their loved one dies?” I heard some very unhelpful words spoken during that time. “He cheated on you, and you’re crying about him? Why are you crying about him?”
I had two children with him, and I was grieving with them over the loss of their father. I needed to find a place to put that grief. Fortunately, my sister could be the one who was doing that with me, but it’s not fortunate. Her husband also died within six months of George of the same brain aneurysm in the same part of the brain. It was very strange. My sister Marilyn and I always felt like twins growing up, but to have twins whose husbands die in the same exact way is very weird.
Marilyn was there to support me through it, and I supported her through it. We drove around Canada. We took a trip to Canada to a remote area so we could scream and cry. Going back to the point where I was disenfranchised and not finding anybody else that I could grieve and get support with, it was unfortunate. I learned a lot from that time.
In fact, in my grief group, which I run twice a month here in Shelburne, Vermont, there was a man who came in last week and said, “I don’t know if I should be here.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I’m going through a divorce, and I’m grieving the divorce at the same time I’m grieving the woman I was married to.” I said, “Get in here and sit down. You’re in the right place.” We’ve all got circumstances in our lives, and we need to be open and loving to folks.
How did you come about with the grief support group?
I’m a member of a community care called All Souls Interfaith Gathering. You can call it a church if you want to, but I call it a gathering of like-minded people who are very interested in what the various cultural differences bring to the table in terms of religion. My ordination was as an interfaith minister. When I found this organization here, which happens to be four minutes from my house, I became a supporting member.We've all got circumstances in our lives. We need to be open and loving to folks. Click To Tweet
I approached the lead pastor and I said, “I think we need a grief support group because I’ve looked around, and there are none in this area unless you want to travel 45 minutes.” He said, “Go for it, girlfriend,” or something like that. He’s a very cool guy. I said, “Okay. I’m going to go for it.” I put the grief support group together.
Because the rooms there are filled with therapists and all kinds of people who do healing, all I could manage over there at that facility was twice a month. They gave me the first and third Saturday of the month for an hour and a half. I’ve learned a lot from the people who come for that support group. It’s a fact that even though I’ve written two books on grief, I’m still learning.
That says a lot. I appreciate you sharing that. You’ve probably heard this more often than not. Sometimes people feel like they’ve placed a time limit on their grief, “I have been grieving for 3, 5, 6, or 15 years. I should be over this by now. I should be back to normal. I should not still be feeling this way.” What do you say to people that bring that type of conversation to you or those thoughts that are hovering in their minds?
The loss of a loved one lives on in you for the rest of your life. It’s up to the griever to figure out what the path is, hopefully, with a supportive community of people, and reading books to clarify things like The Long Grief Journey. I think The Long Grief Journey includes maintaining a connection to your loved one in some way or another. I can’t stress that strongly enough.The loss of a loved one lives on in you for the rest of your life. It's up to the griever to figure out the path to healing. Click To Tweet
For me, it has been over 30 years since George died. I still talk to him. He’s a great guardian angel. He sometimes finds me parking spaces mostly when it has to do with his son. He will show up and give me a parking space outside of their home. When I’m picking up my grandson, who is his son, I’ll get a good parking space. I enjoy the connection.
At first, it was painful because I had a lot of unfinished business with him. Those communications with him resulted in tears and anger, but as the years went by, it changed little by little. He’s a good comforting guardian angel at times when I need them. I get messages all the time. I don’t know if your audience would appreciate this.
Please share, yes.
I’m a deeply spiritual person, and I’ve studied numerology. I understand things. One of my certificates is in metaphysics. I see the number 333 often when I need to see that number. When I first saw that number show up on my clock radio in the middle of the night, I was annoyed. I was like, “What the heck does 333 mean?” It kept showing up.
I looked it up online, and it means it’s an angel number of some kind. I don’t know the exact wording that goes with that. In any case, I decided it was George trying to get through with a message of some kind. I see the 333 on license plates in front of me when I’m rushing to get to my grief group. A recent one was about four months ago. My grandson or his grandson was in the hospital with a viral infection that children were getting.
Is it RSV?
That’s right. That’s the one. He was in bad shape. My heart was breaking, and I rushed into the grocery store, and there was an ice melter display. The ice melter was on sale. I live in Vermont. An ice melter is very important. There it was, the number. They were on sale for $3.33. I thought, “That’s a strange number to have for a sale.”
It was very odd.
It’s not $3.95 or $3.99. It’s $3.33 for the ice melter. I thought, “That’s George saying everything is going to be all right. That baby is going to be okay,” and he was. He ended up being okay. I believe in those ongoing connections. I remarried happily for many years. I told that to my husband and he said, “Go for it if you want to believe that.” He’s not quite with me on some of these metaphysical things, and that’s okay. He’s got his journey as a United Methodist Minister. I’ve got my journey as an Interfaith Minister and with a PhD in Metaphysics and Philosophy. I enjoy the connection, and he’s not jealous about that. It’s weird, but he’s not jealous.
We did mention the first book, but thank you for bringing the second book, The Long Grief Journey, into the conversation. Thank you for speaking about how you give permission for people to redevelop what that grief looks like over time. I do want to share that we are now doing a book club on The Long Grief Journey in Widowhood Real Talk With Tina, our private Facebook group.
We’re doing three chapters a month. On the third Saturday of the month, we meet at 10:00 AM on Zoom. We had our first meeting last Saturday and spoke about the first three chapters here. If I understand correctly, the two books that you have, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, anyone can read them. That first book is geared towards someone that has recently and suddenly lost a loved one.
You talk about many different ways about what to prepare for that first week. Different people are telling their journey as far as who they lost, and then you dive into what that looks like. There was a companion workbook to that first book. Now, I see that The Long Grief Journey, if I understand that correctly, is geared towards someone that has been grieving for some time longer.
It’s not like a year snapped and you need The Long Grief Journey, but you give some explanation as far as some things you can look at introspectively, and why you feel like this would be good for you. It also has workbook components inside of this book. If I see this title and it resonates with me, what should I start thinking about why this would be good for me to read?
My publisher of that sourcebook is Random House. They came up with putting the word mental health on the cover. I didn’t 100% agree with that. My co-author did. The subtitle is How Long-Term Unresolved Grief Can Affect Your Mental Health and What to Do about It. We talk about the different aspects of mental health that The Long Grief Journey can trigger. My co-author loves to do research. I like to talk. You’ll find talking in The Long Grief Journey, and then you’ll find intense research by Bradie Hansen, my co-author. We were the perfect marriage to do this book.
If I see this book, what about this book that would make me feel like I need to read it, or how it can help me?
There are cultural expectations that somebody will get over their grief after a certain period of time. “It’s been two years. When are you going to get over it and start dating again,” or some of the things that people say. They’re trying to be helpful. They may be well-meaning, but that’s annoying because, for some people, it lasts much longer. I think grief lasts until you’re done. However, some people get stuck. That’s why I wanted The Long Grief Journey to be written.
The first time I ran it by my publisher, she said, “We’re not going to publish that. It’ll compete with I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, and I had to hold my tongue for a minute. I said, “Did you read The Long Grief Journey manuscript?” It’s totally different. In some aspects, it’s the same, but this is different. This is about the long journey. I’ve been on a long journey. It didn’t affect my mental health poorly, although there were days when I was very depressed even 3 or 4 years after because things were happening in my son’s life that I wish his father was here for. It triggered some depression and grief.
We try to clarify what the difference is between an intense depression that needs a mental health professional to intervene, and when it’s normal to get triggered by hearing your loved one’s favorite song and having a temporary bout of grief. I wanted the publisher to understand that this was a different book because the grief journey is long, and it can last the rest of your life. If you’re grieving the loss of a child, for instance, that doesn’t end. I don’t think grief ends, quite honestly. It changes over time. That’s what The Long Grief Journey is mostly about. She finally did read the manuscript the way I wanted her to read it, more intense and more in-depth. She said, “We got to publish this one.”
I like that you ladies brought this into the book very early in chapter two when it talks about understanding the emotional and physical effects of long-term grief. There are so many different ways. I think we hear the word grief, and people will want to instantly say denial or rejection and have this very short circle and check it off, “I’ve gone through that cycle. I’m done grieving. The box is checked. Let’s get on with life.”
I don’t think that’s how it works. What would you say if someone said, “I’ve been through the first year of grieving. I’m going back to work. I’m doing stuff, but there are times that I’m incapacitated. I’m emotionally distracted. I can’t move on. I don’t want to keep talking about death anymore, but I don’t know what to do.”
First of all, I want to examine with you. You know the grief model that Kübler-Ross presented in her work. It’s misunderstood because that was meant to be what someone who’s dying goes through in terms of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. You’re going back to work. You’re trying to function pretty well, but you get ambushed somehow by grief. As I said, it could be a bird song or it could be a smell. You could smell muffins cooking in the kitchen at your job or something. That was your loved one’s favorite thing to eat or something. You can be triggered in the most unusual ways.
Compassion for yourself is very important. To judge that as wrong or bad or why did that happen that shouldn’t be happening is not very loving to yourself. You’ve got to look at your self-talk at these times and do what you can to soothe yourself. We all have an inner child. It could be a five-year-old inside of us that runs around and gets us in trouble. It could be a teenager that’s in there or a young adult woman, but there’s an inner somebody in there who needs your attention and compassion.
If you need to go for a walk, tell your boss. “I need to go for a walk for fifteen minutes. I’ll be back,” or you say, “I’m going to the bathroom,” and you sit in the stall and cry. Do it. Why stuff it? If you’ve got these emotions coming up, you’ve got to give yourself some compassion and let the people around you know that you need a break once in a while.If you've got these emotions coming up, you must give yourself some compassion and let the people around you know that you need a break sometimes. Click To Tweet
That is so true. Thank you for mentioning the idea because sometimes we give other people more permission to be upset and emotional. We don’t give our own selves that same permission to realize this is a process. Thank you for expounding on Kübler-Ross’s process because for a lot of people here, those steps feel like, “Once I’ve done that, I’ve grieved.” Even when I hear people talk about that, it’s not a circle that’s very neat. It is different things you will feel back and forth and around in the process of living and doing that. You’ve mentioned 30 years and there are moments where grief still ambushes you.
Kübler-Ross’ last stage is acceptance. Do we ever get to acceptance about the loss of our loved one? We say, “That was fine. He’s dead. That’s okay.” No, it’s not okay. She talks about denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Those can all happen within one hour of each other. When you talk about that circle, it’s a crazy whirlwind. Learning how to manage it, offer ourselves compassion, and understand the grief process is number one important.
The 17th of May was our wedding anniversary with my late husband. The unsmart part about it was the 16th of May is my birthday. We thought that was cute when we were young and got married. We didn’t think about the long game of that. In the last few years, I’ve been able to be excited about my birthday. Almost as the day is ending, my mind is in a tizzy thinking about the next day. That would’ve been our anniversary, but there’s nothing to count anymore to me. There’s nothing to say, “We would’ve been married X, Y, Z.”
It was 29 years when he passed. He passed in March. I gave myself the 30 of May. To count that going forward caused so much pain. The emotional distraction and the heaviness that comes, but giving myself the grace to say, “It’s okay. There’s nothing to fight about this. It is the reality of loving him and how it shows up in my life.” Before, when it happened, I tried to run away from it. Now I’m trying to learn to lean into it, clear my schedule, and do some of those self-help things and say, “Okay. Let’s deal with this because it’s here.”
Leaning into it. I like the way you put that. That’s perfect because that almost feels like a physical gesture. As you lean into it, you’re also moving forward with your life. It seems you’ve done that. Will you ever get to acceptance? I don’t think so. I don’t think I will, but leaning into it is beautiful.
When I heard the word acceptance, I thought no more playing mind games with myself that they’re no longer on this earth. Will I ever be thrilled, or will acceptance ever equal that I’m fine with it? I think I’ll forever be low-key like, “I wasn’t glad that that was a thing.” Learning to have a life that I enjoy, yes, as you mentioned yourself. If acceptance would equal satisfaction or happiness, I don’t see that ever being something that I would look at and see in connection to that being inconceivable for me.
The only time acceptance might be the right word is in a sudden loss. For instance, if somebody keeps saying, “He’ll be home anytime,” and you say, “No, he died in the Twin Towers, and he’s not going to come home.” “Yes, he will.” That kind of strong denial and not accepting the fact that the person is dead keeps going after a while. We move into where we need an intervention by a mental health professional to get that person to accept the fact that their loved one is dead. That’s the only time I would ever use that word. In fact, I don’t like the word acceptance at all as it relates to me.
My late husband and me, we were on vacation. He had a massive heart attack. We were together for a three-day weekend. We got together on Friday and Saturday, and he was no longer here by 7:00 PM. I remember friends picking me up, driving me home, and driving his car. Mark lived in Virginia. I was still in Pennsylvania. We met in Maryland to connect for the weekend. I am devastated that it happened. At the same time, I’m so grateful that I was there because we all have a point in time when we leave this world. I’m glad he wasn’t in that one-bedroom apartment in Virginia by himself, but we were together.
When you spoke about acceptance, it made me remember when I was in the bathroom. I opened up the top drawer, which was his belongings in the bathroom. I stared at them and my mind quickly wanted to say, “He’s in Virginia. When he comes home, he’ll get those things out of the drawer and clean them up.” That was my instant thought. My second thought was, “We need to clean out that drawer because I cannot keep doing that thought to myself.” This stuff only happens at 2:00 AM or the most random time. I’m cleaning that drawer out and getting rid of different things because I needed to see that empty drawer to remind me of the reality of the situation.
What you did, Tina, is very valuable for other people to hear. That is we do what we need to do when the time is right for us. It’s not when Uncle Joe or your sister Mary says, “When are you going to clean out that drawer?” You did it when you felt you needed to do it because it moved you in a not healthy direction. That one drawer triggered you on what you needed to do. We deal with a whole chapter on what to do with our loved one’s belongings here. I have somebody in the grief group who lost a child, and they still have the bedroom set up with the baby’s name over the crib and the whole thing, and it’s been ten years. He’s coming because he doesn’t know how to get his wife to move forward.
When people hear the word move forward, it elicits different things in different people. What have you found with that term?
Also, move on. We’re allowed to respond to somebody who says, “It’s time for you to move forward,” by saying, “I will when I’m ready.” That’s what I told this man about his wife. I said, “Is she living her life otherwise? Is she going shopping, going to work, and living her life?” He said, “Yeah, but that symbol of that room is still there.” I said, “If it’s bothering you and you’re in a loving relationship, then perhaps you need to negotiate something with your wife about what to do with the child’s belongings, or perhaps take pictures of the room, and then decide what the room is going to become.”
They need space in their house. She needs a home office now. She’s working from home and stuff like that. I’m still learning about how people manage deep loss and the loss of a loved one. I think the way to sit with somebody who’s going through that kind of thing is to drop down right into your heart with a deep compassion for them so they can learn compassion for themselves. The Long Grief Journey and also I Wasn’t Ready To Say Goodbye is full of ideas of things you can do, and none of them may work. How about that?
That is so true.
How about the author saying what I wrote may not work for you?
It’s because everybody is different. Every individual is unique, and their loss is unique. Just because two people have lost a spouse doesn’t mean that they’re having the same experience. It’s so dependent upon those people and their individual relationships and what that looks like. What I do believe both your books do is give you insight into the process. They give you an opportunity to understand what grief looks like to be able to read it, whether I’m the person grieving to say, “I am not alone. There is someone that understands what I’m going through.” It’s someone trying to help someone to give them insight on how to be there for the person they’re supporting.
Also, “I’m not crazy.” I tell a story about when my sister went to a psychiatrist because her grief was extremely intense when her husband died. She knew that the psychiatrist’s wife had also died. She said to him, “Doctor, how did you get through this intense grief?” He leaned forward in his chair and said, “I went crazy,” which validated for her that there’s a crazy time, especially in the early stages. It may continue for a couple of years with the craziness coming and going.
Thank you for mentioning that because those are things people say very hushedly. They don’t want that to be in their outside voice if someone has ever heard that. I can relate. I was concerned about if I would lose myself in that crazy. I feel like that’s why some people want to try to avoid the grief. They want to try to act like those feelings aren’t happening. They want to act like they’re not having this discomfort or pain.
I feel like that double energy doesn’t serve them well because, at some point, you do have to lean into it, whatever your process may look like. You do have to lean into this. The Long Grief Journey does a good job of helping you travel through that process. How did you ladies come up with the idea to incorporate the questions so it helps someone dig from themselves as they were reading the book? Why was it not just a book, but you did them together?
I wanted the reader to feel like I was sitting there asking the questions. I wanted to be more conversational. I had to keep telling my co-author, who I was delighted to have found to work with me, “Come on. Loosen up a little bit.” She loves research and statistics. I said, “Make it more conversational. Let’s ask questions. Let’s ask the questions that the grieving person might be asking, and see how that works in terms of format.”
That’s how that came about. I gave this class for spiritual direction at All Souls here. I started out by asking them. I gave them an index card and said, “On one side, I want you to write down what somebody has said to you while you were grieving, and what was unhelpful on one side of the card.” I gave them five minutes to do that and think about what was said to them that was unhelpful.
On the other side, write down what was helpful they heard somebody say or something that was offered to them that was helpful. I lost my notes of what they all said, but I do remember a few of them. One of the women said, “The most unhelpful thing that somebody said to me was, ‘I know just how you feel.’” It’s well-meaning because they’re trying to let you know that you’re not alone in the journey in some way, but you had a reaction to that, didn’t you?
That one we need to take out of our vocabulary and the way we talk to people in grief. The most helpful thing I heard was a sense of community, and having 1 or 2 other people that they could be with and cry with. One of the most beautiful things I found to put in I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye was a poem written by Molly Fumia.
She wrote, “’I’ll cry with you,’ she whispered, ‘until we run out of tears. Even if it’s forever, we’ll do it together.’ There it was, a simple promise of connection. The loving alliance of grief and hope that blesses both our breaking apart and our coming together again. I’ll cry with you.” That’s pretty cool. I don’t know if I answered this most recent question, but one of the other things that I heard from the talk I gave was having somebody to cry with you, finding the right person that’s willing to sit there. If they get tears in their eyes, it’s fine. You’ll be able to feel their crying even if it’s within.
You mentioned the value of just sitting with someone. People feel like they have to come up with all the answers. They have to come up with correct words of encouragement. They need to come prepared to make this better. The reality is they cannot. What you can do is sit with someone and sometimes, just be quiet and present, and consistently show up.
I’ve spoken to some people, and somebody may show up one time. That person that stays 2, 3, or 4 months, you start becoming comfortable enough to be transparent and to show them what you’re dealing with that you’ll show no one else. They start carrying some of that burden with them, and you’re not alone anymore in doing that. The relationships that are built in that process are amazing.
What I do with the end of the grief group is we usually have about twelve people who come. We form a circle and say, “Just hold hands and close your eyes if you want to.” What I say is, “We are grateful for the hand that is holding ours. We send up a prayer of gratitude for the fact that we are not alone on this journey.” That means a lot. Even if you come to a grief group or you attend once, you never talk, you just sit there and listen to other stories, and cry with them, that’s enough.
That sense of community is really important. That was one of the things that somebody said was most helpful. It was having somebody to cry with. Somebody wrote, “Getting food,” which is great. There were all kinds of suggestions in that group. Tina, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for people like you who are putting it out there and being supportive. How many people do you say you reach? Is it thousands of people across the world?
At this point, with Widowhood Real Talk with Tina, we have social content that we put out across five different social media and our podcast. We try to take the analytics at the end of every month. We’ve connected with over 651,000 people in twenty countries. It has been amazing. I’m sure it’s a combination of one. The world is coming out of a global pandemic where people have lost so many loved ones, and they had to do it confined in their own homes.
We’re putting information out on social media, whether it’s a one-minute inspirational. We do something every Wednesday called a Widowhood Tip. We do snippets of the podcast that’s put out weekly, and then the weekly podcast that comes out on our website or across fifteen different podcasting to give people space to go, “There is a community for me.”
Some people are making Widowhood Real Talk With Tina their community, whether they’re connecting with us on Instagram. For people to say, “I lost my daughter. I lost my husband. I lost my wife,” and to be able to share and message, sometimes it may be easier to connect when you can’t see me typing those words through tears, disappointment, hurt, and anger, but knowing that I am not alone in that process.
When you say community, it resonated so much because when we know we’re not alone in doing this, it doesn’t change that my loved one died. It does change that there is someone going through this with me. As you were speaking, I was looking at Chapter 10 of The Long Grief Journey. I was going to read what was there by Helen Keller, and you read something very similar to that out of I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. It says, “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world. The company of those who have known suffering. Helen Keller, activist and author of We Bereaved.” It is amazing to me how we are all impacted by death, but we don’t talk about it.
You are. I am right now. Back in the day or I guess my mother’s day or maybe your mother’s day, children weren’t allowed to go to funerals because they thought it would be too upsetting for them. People were expected to get over grief working a job within three days. It was written into the Bible of the various companies, “You get three days of bereavement, and that’s it. You better come back to your job. You better be okay about that.” Nobody is okay after three days.
We’re talking more and more about grief in this world. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is a bestseller in grief because it lays it out there the reality that we as human beings are going to have to deal with at some point in our lives. I told my daughter, “Have you read I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye yet or The Long Grief Journey? I’m going to die someday. I want you to be prepared. You’ll hear my words in that book. Hopefully, it’ll be supportive to you.”
Do you think you can understand that by reading this in advance if you’ve not been touched by grief in a way that is so close, or does it resonate more after you’ve experienced it?
Professionals in mental health and clergy and people of that nature do buy it. They read it so that they can be prepared to help their loved ones or not their loved ones in preparation. I don’t know. It’s on the curriculum of some colleges.
Reading this book, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, how would you see that differently from someone that has been impacted by grief and someone that hasn’t, and they’ve picked this book up to read it?
They’re going to learn about how to support somebody in their community or in their life to get through it. I came up with a list of ways to be supportive of somebody who’s grieving. I don’t even remember which book it’s in. It might be in both. There’s a whole chapter on how to support somebody in The Long Grief Journey. Also, there’s a list that you can photocopy if you are grieving. I wrote this book and I can’t find half of the things I wrote, but it’s in there. You can photograph a photocopy and give it to people in your space on how to handle you. It’s in I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye.
Page 107 talks about grief and developmental stages in helping a child and what that looks like. I highly recommend it. Not only do we highly recommend but I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is one of the books that Widowhood Real Talk With Tina gives to people for free. It’s part of our mission that when someone is grieving and they’re connected to me, we will mail this book out to them immediately because it is such a foundational book and step-by-step.
We are putting it out there because we are all impacted by grief, and we need some guidance. Everyone doesn’t have the means to have a therapist or have insurance or the ability to connect, yet they need guidance and not trying to manage this alone and need direction. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye is an excellent source to be able to do that.
As I’m going through The Long Grief Journey, you said something in the beginning. There are two things I wanted to tap on before we wrap up. You talked about the cultural differences. You are also in this for 30 years. Can you speak a little bit about the cultural differences that you found as far as people grieving?
The cultural differences are tied at times like this when we’re grieving to religion or spiritual belief. In Christianity, you’ve got scripture that offers some comfort, support, and guidance to those who need comfort, knowing their loved ones’ existence continues beyond the physical life. That’s Christianity, and there’s more to that.
Support happens through prayer, the congregation, certain customs, and death rituals. There’s Islam, where the griever is encouraged to openly cry at the time of death during the funeral and during the burial. There’s no holding your hands like this. There’s openly displayed grieving in Islam, and certain things like the religious mandates that prohibit the person from dressing in decorative clothing or jewelry during the time of grief. There are things like that.
There’s Buddhism. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that there’s life after death. Their teachings hold that nothing in the physical world is permanent. That’s a way for Buddhists to begin to understand what happens in terms of grief. For Judaism, there are different ones. There are orthodox, reform, and conservative. Each one of them has a different pathway through grief that we need to understand and value. In Hinduism, when a person dies, there’s the reincarnation part of that. The soul lives on in a constant cycle of rebirth.
It behooves us as human beings on the path of this life to understand that there are cultural differences. You can speak to some of the racial differences, perhaps. I can’t. Even in Christianity, there are some wonderful differences. Some are restrictive but some are wonderful ones and celebratory ones. When we were in Africa, my husband and I were down there checking on missionary work and making sure the money was going where it was supposed to go. We had a beautiful ceremony underneath the tree where someone was grieving because they didn’t have a church. They didn’t have the money for it. We were under a tree, and we embraced this woman who was grieving very openly.
The community gathered around her and hugged her. They lifted her up and carried her around. It was one of the most beautiful ceremonies I’d ever seen. It was a Christian ceremony, but it was so different from when I came back to the United States. People are sitting all proper in church. I enjoyed the one in Africa. We were also in New Zealand, and we saw how the Maori handle their grief, and it’s quite similar. It’s a very beautiful thing. There is a lot of dancing and yelling. There are all kinds of cultural differences. Here in the US, you’re going to find some interesting things going on. I don’t judge any of them. Whatever the path is, go for it.
You mentioned the beautiful ceremony, and I heard also the community coming to support her. I have spoken to people that some of the most beautiful outpourings of love and support have been during the process of them healing and grieving a loved one’s loss. The ability for people to show up in your life is amazing in ways that I don’t think would’ve happened any other way. We would connect and be available to people to support us.
It’s a club that you join.
Page 278 of The Long Grief Journey talks about “Walking toward a new day. Cry out. Don’t be stolid and silent with your pain. Lament and let the milk of loving flow into you. The hard rain and wind are all ways the cloud has taken care of us. Be patient. Respond to every call that excites your spirit. Ignore those that make you fearful, and sad that degrade you back towards disease and death.” The idea of walking toward a new day can be so hard when you’re grieving.Respond to every call that excites your spirit. Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death. Click To Tweet
It sure is. We do wake up every morning, and that sun rises. To me, the sunrise represents hope. I also wrote a poem in The Long Grief Journey. If I can end with it, it’s called A New Day. It’s on page 288 in The Long Grief Journey. “A new say happens unannounced, begins the unending loss and gain with cries, with pain, asking to bend, breaking us open, heartache unspoken, screaming the unanswerable, inviting us to come this way. We walk in the darkness toward the light of hope from hopelessness. A new day awaits.”
Sometimes it shows up completely unannounced. We sit there and go, “I wasn’t in pain today.” I had a woman in the grief group say, “I feel guilty because I’m having a good day.” I said, “Then have it. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. You might be back in the saddle of grief again.” Don’t feel guilty. If a new day happens to show up, and the sun rises, and you’re feeling good, that’s okay.
Those are very good words. I do believe and I know for myself that the information that you’re providing does help someone look towards a new day. It does help those that are stuck become unstuck and helps people to find their own way. They may read both books and still come up with a different pattern of dealing with their grief. What the books do is inspires each person that is grieving to have hope and to develop their new day and look towards that. There are two questions I have for you before we wrap up. What gives you hope today, Pamela Blair?
My grandson. He’s just a little boy. He’s not even three years old yet. I see a light in his eyes that reminds me of his grandfather who has passed. That gives me hope because life does continue. What also gives me hope is my garden. I put in those ugly-looking bulbs in the fall. I think, “That’s never going to grow.” You stick them in the ground and you walk away, and then in the spring, they come up. How does that happen? It just does. I don’t know. There are some miracles all around us all the time. That gives me hope.
Second question. What would you tell your younger self? You get any age to pick to talk to her. What would you tell her?
I’d say, “Be more compassionate with yourself, Pam. Drop your judgments. Don’t be so harsh on yourself when you don’t do things correctly or you grieve too much or too little. Just live and stop the judgment. Amen.”Be more compassionate with yourself. Drop your judgments. Don't be so harsh on yourself when you don't do things correctly or grieve too much or too little. Just live and stop the judgment. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Pam, for this conversation. Thank you for joining the Widowhood. If someone was interested in reaching out to you, how would they connect with you?
I have a website. It’s called www.PamBlairBooks.com. There’s a way to communicate with me through that website. I’m retired as a psychotherapist, so I can’t offer that service, but I’m there if you want to chat. It’s okay.
How does one register or enroll? I know you have to be local for your grief group. How do they connect with you if they’re in your area for that?
It is the All Souls Interfaith Gathering website. That’s AllSoulsInterfaith.org. There’s a click button there, and it doesn’t cost anything. We might ask for a donation. I usually do, and people are very kind. They do donate whatever little they have. That’s it. Here I am, trying to help people still at 75 years old almost.
You’re doing a fantastic job. Any closing remarks or anything else you want to cover that we didn’t mention before?
You’re a good interviewer, and I want to say thank you again for doing what you do, Tina.
Pam, thank you so much for being here for this conversation. You have a lot of wisdom. You are bringing this to so many people. I am grateful for you giving space to this show and being part of this conversation. Thank you so much.
Namaste, Tina, which means, “I see the God within you.”
I am thrilled. I know we’re still talking about grief, but to be able to connect with someone that knows so much and can help so many people is exciting because grief is hard and difficult. You know what? There’s hope. There is the ability for you to connect with the community. Pamela mentioned so many times the importance of community, which confirmed to me that what we are doing with the Widowhood is important.
The more you know that you are not alone, the more encouraged you are, and the more you are inspired to walk your journey of grief and find the way that works for you, and continue to look towards a new day. I am sorry for the person that you lost and why you’re part of this conversation, but I’m glad that you’ve decided to let us be a part of your journey. Thanks for being here. I will talk to you soon.
- I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye
- The Long Grief Journey
- The Next Fifty Years: A Guide for Women at Midlife and Beyond: A Guidebook for Women at Mid-life and Beyond
- Getting Older Better
- Dr. Pamela Blair
- All Souls Interfaith Gathering
- Widowhood Real Talk With Tina – Facebook
- We Bereaved
About Pamela D. Blair PHD
Published Author ~ Motivational Speaker ~ Holistically Trained Psychotherapist
Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D., is a holistically trained psychotherapist, life coach, and motivational speaker with a Ph.D. from the American Institute of Holistic Theology. Pam has appeared in magazines, hundreds of shows, and radio programs, including ABC World News, CNN Headline News, and Fox & Friends, and filmed for a television special entitled “Widowsville.”
She is the Author of two books for women; The Next Fifty Years: A Guide for Women at Midlife and Beyond and Getting Older, Better. Pam’s also co-authored the best-selling, award-winning book on sudden loss and grief; I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, Surviving, coping & Healing after the sudden death of a Loved One.
She is currently retired, facilitating a group for women writers, mentoring in the school system, working on a novel, and living in Shelburne, VT, with her husband and two cats. Pam is an international bestseller whose books have been translated into multiple languages. Look for her new release, co-authored “The Long Grief Journey.”