Transforming The Narrative Of Grief Into A Celebration Of Life With Sarah Hines

WRT 41 | Narrative Of Grief

 

Most of the time, people could not find the connection between beauty and death. The pain we feel tends to blind us from that connection. But in this episode, Sarah Hines, the Founder of Grief Advocacy, transforms the narrative of grief because it will never go away, but we can learn to live and move with it. She also shares her experience in deathcare and grief care, discovering the humbling experience of being a part of somebody’s life knowing that, at some point, we have to say goodbye. Join Sarah in this conversation, where she weaves the tapestry of grief with a silver thread that shows the beautiful celebration of life. Find the glimmering light from the darkness of loss.

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

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Transforming The Narrative Of Grief Into A Celebration Of Life With Sarah Hines

Hello, Widowhood. Our guest is Ms. Sarah Hines. She has been down the beautiful road of grief, as she will say, for over 25 years. She has been a champion for people on their grief journey for those who are transitioning from this world. She is also now moving into how to help people with grief and employers in the workplace. Let’s get into the conversation now.

 

WRT 41 | Narrative Of Grief

 

Hello, Sarah.

How are you?

Good. Welcome to the Widowhood.

Thank you. It’s such an honor.

Thank you. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Wherever you want. This is your moment to shine.

I have been a lover of relationships in the sphere of grief and death for about 25 years. It has led to so many beautiful relationships and opportunities that I ended up using a background in hospice care and death care. I combined that with my work life inside of technology and sales. I created a little company called Grief Advocacy, where we help organizations talk about, change, and revise policies around their workplace bereavement. It’s been a long and beautiful road, to be completely honest with you. I feel quite honored.

What were the lessons that you learned over 25 years ago in your initial place of being an advocate for someone?

I see the side of when we give birth, we put life into this world. I did not see any of that at the end of life. I didn’t see the same honor, attention, or celebration when we had to say goodbye to life. It’s quite a humbling experience to be part of that beautiful moment with somebody that I wanted to advocate for everyone to have a chance to honor the people they love in a beautiful way. That was why I decided that I had to focus on creating space around that honor. That’s what led me to home hospice. That’s what led me into death care. It led me back into grief care. It’s been a beautiful journey through hard things.

Beauty can happen at the end of life. So, honor that experience. Share on X

I’m going to ask you to unpack that a little bit more. People do not always connect the idea of beauty with death. People are going, “What?” Make it sense to me that you’re saying these two words together. I want you to try to do that without using the word beauty. I want you to be descriptive. Even if you share some experiences, I’m the person going, “Explain that to me.” I want you to make me understand that.

The best way I can do that is through stories. I was a volunteer for a home hospice. I was caring for a wee one. She was about eighteen months old. Brianna was her name. When she was awake, she had no emotion whatsoever. When you looked at her, she had these big beautiful dark eyes. When you looked into those beautiful sparkly little eyes, it almost looked like she was looking through you. There was no joie de vivre in the eyes. You spent your time trying to pull emotion out of her face so you could get a glimmer of it once or twice. She had an older brother and her parents. When she fell asleep, her face was full of emotion.

She’d smile. She would laugh. You could see her eyebrows going up and down. You could see her teeth, those little wee teeth that were coming in. It was the most beautiful thing. As her caregiver, I would feed her bottle a little bit earlier than I probably should have because I wanted to get to that moment. You wanted to get to that moment where you saw the life in her face.

I had been doing this for quite some time. I sat down at the dining room table and I was feeding her a bottle, just watching her face light up. It brought tears to my eyes because it was beautiful. It was so beautiful that the only thing you wanted was to see it. It was so amazing to see. I was crying a little bit. Her mom came out and was leaning against the doorframe, watching. It wasn’t until I looked up at her and she saw me crying. She goes to me with all the love on her face I can imagine. She goes, “Aren’t we the lucky ones?”

I went, “I feel so special. I feel like I am one of the very few people on the face of this planet who get to see that. There’s nothing in this world that fills me that way.” She goes, “I feel like I’m the luckiest mom on the planet.” That story encapsulates exactly the feeling of a space that was never thought of as beautiful. It was thought of as devastating like, “I don’t know what I would do with my life.” It’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone. To have the mother turn to me and say, “Aren’t we the lucky ones?” It put everything I was working towards into perspective. It felt selfish to care for her.

Thank you for sharing that. That describes beauty. For people who may be tuning in to this conversation, can you explain the difference between home hospice and end-of-death care?

We have palliative care. That’s the first foray into critical illnesses. Palliative care is caring, don’t get me wrong, but more from a medical perspective. When you go to palliative care, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are closer to death. It means that we are working inside of a critical illness that may result in death, but we’re going to work hard from a medical perspective and a care perspective to ensure that doesn’t happen. When death then becomes inevitable, you have the option of going to hospice.

In many instances, hospice is an actual building. Hospice is about providing comfort for end of life as a priority versus medical. Medical becomes secondary at this point. It’s more about creating comfort. The advantage of home hospice is that you get to do that in the comfort of your own home. A lot of people choose to die at home. Not a lot. It depends on where you are and what year you’re in, but I believe about 80% of people still die in a hospital. Home hospice is the option where you can die at home.

If a person is looking to engage in one of these types of care, do you know the first step that they go to start working with that? How do they go about that process?

Typically, the systems will lead you through and make referrals to different centers for you. A lot of them are connected to each other. A lot of palliative care teams inside hospitals will be connected to hospice centers or hospice caregivers who will come into your home and help you through that system. It’s something that we still have to call out for ourselves. We absolutely need to advocate for ourselves and our loved ones.

We absolutely need to advocate for ourselves and for our loved ones. Share on X

It needs to do a little bit of research. I know that hospitals have a lot of information on these types of services. There’s lots out there to help. That’s for sure. It needs an advocate voice inside of it to make sure that you have all your options present. Not just while you’re dying but also after. Do we know what’s legal in your state or your province in Ontario? Do you actually know or you are just so used to calling a funeral home that that’s the only option? There’s so much education that has to be done in this realm that I feel like the opportunities are endless to give people the proper choice.

You brought up a good question that I was thinking about. If I’m someone who is looking to have someone, my insurance gives me options. I liken it to the idea that you may be referred to a particular doctor, but that doesn’t mean you feel connected to that doctor. What are some questions that one should ask of someone who was recommended to them or any of these different cares for their loved one, or the person that needs the care? Maybe there’s still the ability to ask the questions themselves.

It’s interesting to find questions because the first step is having the courage to have the conversation. I don’t think a lot of people want to have the conversation. I’m going to say hold on tight. I’m going to answer this question.

I prefer the long answer. We don’t want yes or no. The Widowhood wants to learn. The widowhood wants to dive into your mind. Let’s get the perspective. Widowhood Real Talk with Tina is across 70 different countries. Some people have lost a loved one. Some people are friends of someone who has lost a loved one. Some of our people in the Widowhood are couples who have not ventured down this road but are trying to educate themselves about what may need to happen.

Some of our audiences are children who have aging parents and trying to lean into the process that is before them. This is an educational opportunity for people to learn or understand what they may need to put in place for their loved ones because they’re being proactive. I want all of the tea, as they would say. You don’t have to hold anything back. That’s why it’s called real talk. This may be very graphic. This may be some trigger warning, but hence the conversation.

We’re talking about death. We don’t talk about these things that I’m trying to bring to the forefront because we need to talk about them. When we’re at that point of making decisions, we’re too emotional. The best part of our mind isn’t showing up. If we’re able to do a little bit of the advanced work, it helps us. Sometimes we have to do it when our feet hit the ground. If there’s an opportunity to learn from someone such as yourself, this helps other people.

I have a great answer for you all. The one thing that I hope for is that when people sit bedside with a loved one who is dying, that they hold onto gratitude before they hold onto hope. I know that is such a difficult thing to do, but having sat at the bedside with quite a few families over the course of my life, people always have hope. They spend their whole time hoping instead of sitting inside of the moment they are actually in, and have gratitude for not only the life that they’ve had with this person but what they’ve learned from that person and how they will continue to honor that person’s legacy in life.

Have hope because what you hope for changes the moment you have gratitude first. What questions do we ask at the end of life when we have gratitude before we have hope? I highly recommend it be a conversation that you can have that is free of systemic boundaries. I’ll do it with another story. I’ve been talking about this for quite some time and my children are quite used to having this conversation with me.

 

 

Every Friday on the way to school, I walked my kids to school when they were little. They were tired. Friday morning, they just had about enough. They didn’t want to do it. I’d put ten little mini marshmallows in my pocket and ask them questions. Every time they got the questions right, they got a marshmallow.

The walk went by super quick. It was Friday. It made it light. Everybody was happy. One of the questions I would randomly ask is, “If you died before me, what do you want?” They would always come back with something like, “I want everybody to be dressed and everyone to get a Dora the Explorer backpack.” They would always come back with something outside of the realms of bureaucratic boundaries. It would be beautiful.

My son we’re at the grocery store and I’m on one side getting apples or something. He’s on the other side picking grapes and eating them or something like that. He goes, “Mom, I have finally decided what I want when I die.” I said, “Great.” There are people around and they’re looking at me like, “This poor boy is dying.”

I’m like, “If that happens, tell me what you want.” He goes, “I want you to burn my body and then I want you to put me inside a fireworks. When I go out to a field and when everybody is eating cake and singing songs, I want you to light up the fireworks so I’ll sprinkle on top of everyone’s heads.” I said, “That sounds like a beautiful way to go.” This old woman was sitting back and she was nodding her head. She goes, “I like that.” I said, “Me too.”

This conversation I had with my son or my kids on the walk to school was imaginary. It had this imagination to it that was not within the boundaries of what we think. I can tell you I can do that. I can make sure that his remains go into a firework and we put them in. That is possible. He’s changed his mind since then. The conversation continues to go and evolve, and the conversation is part of our lives.

When I turn around and I ask someone, “What do you imagine a celebration at the end of your life to look like?” Older people go, “I want to be buried by my husband or my wife. I want to be wearing this blue dress.” They do it inside of the confines of what we traditionally celebrate. I said, “That’s your burial. What about the celebration?” The moment it’s reframed as the celebration, it turns into something different. Songs will come up. “I want you to play this song. I want to make sure that when you put my obit, you have my good picture. Make sure they don’t put too much makeup on my face.”

My mom says, “I don’t want anyone touching my body. No one touches my body. You’re the only one who touches my body. I want to be dead and then I want to be burned. In between that, no one touches my body.” People have a broad perspective of what it should look like. I’m going to say to you that most of them can happen. We just don’t know it. We get stuck in that confine of we’re at the hospital, someone is going to call a funeral home, and that’s the end of my responsibility.

I love the continual conversation with your children. I would agree, having that conversation is important. My late husband and I were together for 32 years. At the very beginning of our marriage, we talked about what we wanted when one of us was not here. Some people thought that was morbid. Some people thought that was creepy. Some people thought, “Why are you talking about death now? Shouldn’t you be excited about being married?” You take these vows and say, “Until death do us part.” In my mind, I’m taking it seriously that one day it will be until death do you part. What does that look like? I knew he wanted to be cremated. I knew he wanted his ashes to be spread on a hunting ground that he grew up hunting on with him, his three brothers, and his dad.

This I didn’t do. I knew that he wanted his ashes to be turned into diamond earrings for me to wear. I knew that he wanted me to redate and marry. I knew he had a DNR, do not resuscitate. I knew all those things that we talked about. We put away what the economic plan would look like for the surviving spouse.

Fast forward 29 years later, I’m sitting in a hospital room with a doctor on their knees after they’ve resuscitated my husband 11 to 15 times and asked me what I want to do now. To have the peace of knowing his decision already was one less added stress. I didn’t have to consider if I was making the right choice or doing the right thing, what would he want. As life would have it, as I was talking with the doctor and about to execute what Mark wanted, he passed. Knowing already what he wanted made that part of the experience much easier.

I cannot imagine what that added level of stress would look like in trying to make those types of decisions. I expound on that because we’re dating and in relationships but we say, “If something happens.” I don’t know anybody that gets out alive. There are maybe two people that I’ve read in the Bible.

Jesus died. I think there was only one person that was raptured up. Besides that, there’s one exit point. No one is thrilled about it, but there’s a way to embrace it. I love what you’re presenting to think about the celebration of our own life. We should be celebrating while we’re living it. People can celebrate it in our absence.

It comes down to this simple sentence. When we hear people say, “I don’t want to be a burden,” you deciding not to be a burden is actually a burden.

I know because you tell me you want this and this. When I’m sad, “Did they want this dress? Did they want a DNR? Did they want to be buried underneath a tree? Did they want to not even have the whole cemetery?” All those things are a gift to give someone who you know would have to execute that on your behalf. You are right. You’re making it harder on the people who have to do it by not saying something, but I don’t think we like to think of our own demise.

This is what took me from death care back into grief. It was because I was getting a deep sense that people were not able to grieve properly.

I was going to ask you to unpack that.

That’s a big thing. They aren’t able to grieve. They aren’t able to grieve because they’re so busy with the operations of things. There’s this ripple effect from not planning that goes well beyond your death. It affects the next step and the next step. It creates this phobic culture of not being able to embrace endings. If I can’t embrace it, I’m holding it in. Now I’m filled with sorrow, sadness, anger, and resentment. Everyone says, “You should get over it. You should be over it by now. It’s been long enough. When are you going to move on?” The problem with it ultimately is that if I let go, I’ve got nothing left.

Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the situation where I believe grief should be me holding it in. We don’t talk about that openly. Me being sad and now becoming a recluse, this is what grief looks like. What advice would you give someone trying to give themselves permission to lean into their grief and embrace it so that they can continue living at some point?

Grief doesn’t go away ever. Remove the expectation that you will ever be over it, that it’ll ever be gone, and that it’ll ever be okay. It never ever will be okay. It will always be sad. It will always hurt. What we can do is learn how to carry it differently. Often, we talk about getting rid of grief. I like to reframe it as developing a skill around grieving, and the idea that we ebb and flow with grief. Some days, it’s big. Some days it’s not even there. Grief will always remind you that this could be the last day you see somebody. Every day matters and it will always dare you to love again.

 

WRT 41 | Narrative Of Grief

 

I look at that sphere of skill that you’re building inside of this emotional pole of craziness a lot of the time. Learning to carry it in a way that honors it gives it somewhere to go. I’m not asking for it to go out there and never come back. I want it to come back. I want you to remember what it meant to love someone that much. I want you to remember how sad it is to see someone go. I want it to change your relationship with the people who are still around you because that’s what it does. It takes that hollowness that we feel. It should and it does fill that hollowness back up with love. I’m not saying it’s always love, but I’m saying love is there.

When my girlfriend died suddenly in 2015, I regretted so many things. I regretted seeing her name and swiping and saying, “I’ll call her later.” I regretted canceling plans. I regretted feeling like, “I can’t deal with what she’s dealing with right now. I can’t be that friend for her.” My relationship with her is so much better now than it was when she was alive.

She taught me to love. Her death taught me how to love. Her death taught me how to show up. Her death taught me how to hold onto those precious little moments even when it’s hard to. There’s so much I gained. I carry my grief for her so much differently now than I did when she died or than I did when my grandfather or my uncle died. You hold grief differently as you learn the skill of grieving.

You learn those skills. You cannot run away from it. You do have to lean into it. I was going to ask you, what was the most personal death that you’ve experienced? You listed different people there. I don’t know if it’s fair to ask what was the most personal or most impactful, but as you made that list, it depends on how they impact, I suppose.

They’re all different in different ways. Brie is a good example. That one taught me a lot. Seeing my pet die. One of my dogs died in the same week my father-in-law died. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it, but I can accept it. I bawled my eyes out for that dog. If I were to put some judgy lenses on it, I cried more for her than I did my father-in-law. Everyone goes, “It was just a dog. Get another one.” Anyone who’s lost a pet knows that it is much bigger than just a dog or just an animal. I feel like with every death, I get better at honoring the space. There’s something different that I’m grateful for every time.

I was taking care of an author as he was dying of cancer. His gift to me was reading out loud. I am never good at reading out loud. He asked me, “Sarah, would you mind reading the newspaper to me?” I would have to sit and read the newspaper to him. I was horrible at reading out loud. After I did that for six months every Sunday, I got good at reading out loud. He would compliment me on the way that I read. He would compliment me on so many things that I went like, “Thank you for this gift that you gave me. If it wasn’t for your death, I wouldn’t have it.”

Another wonderful girlfriend of mine, her husband had died and she had older children who then went off to school. It was the first time in her entire life that she was an empty nester. There is a grief inside of that. It brings all of it back again, all of what was supposed to have been and what will never be. This idea that this was supposed to be the golden age of us is now the golden age of me. There are so many beautiful moments that happen because of death.


WRT 41 | Narrative Of Grief
Narrative Of Grief: Grief can sometimes transform the idea of the “Golden Age of Us” to the “Golden Age of Me.” Many beautiful moments can happen because of death.

 

How do you manage yourself and your emotions after being here in so many spaces for people? What is your decompression tool? How does that work for you that you step away from that?

I have a few ways. I have a few practices that I engage in. I have a movement practice that helps me to move hard emotions through. There’s a thing called TRE, which is Trauma Release Exercises. You’re shaking your head because you know. I do TRE to release when it’s heavy. When I was working with healthcare workers through the pandemic, I did that one a lot because there was a lot held. A lot of suicide calls. A lot of holding space for those who committed suicide. There was a lot that I was holding onto through that. Before I go into a session, I sit for five minutes and I decide what I am grateful for and what does the room need for me.

I pick out something. I’m like, “I get to spend this moment with these people and no one else will ever be able to do this.” This is an amazing opportunity. I’m humbled by this opportunity. What do they need from me? They probably need me to slow everything down. I need to be slow. They probably need patience. They probably need a little space, boundary holding, or container holding. When I’m done, I do some intention setting. I do some movement. On occasion, I still engage in TRE.

Ultimately, when I go into these hard spaces, everyone that I’m speaking to is holding onto grief like it’s this 50-pound ball that they’ve been holding up for 25 years. I’m sitting there holding on to gratitude, and that exchange. We exchange a little bit back and forth every now and then. We end up weaving these two things together. By being able to hold onto gratitude, I have the easiest job on the planet to be able to do and hold that for people.

Thank you for sharing that. You have learned this over time. How do you approach the person who is in a place of grieving? They’re not learning anything. They’re not trying to have a teachable moment. This just hurts.

They need to be witnessed first. There needs to be a witnessing that happens. I’m here. Tell me about it. Where does it hurt? How does it hurt? Where in your body do you feel it the most? When in your day do you feel it? Is it a Friday when you’re going to be done work and now you’ve got the weekend and you’re alone? Tell me all about it. I want to know. Tell me about your person. Saying their name. No one says their name anymore. No one wants to talk about it anymore. I can guarantee you that their name is running through their head every day.

Being able to say their name and then hearing it on someone else’s lips, that’s a beautiful thing in my mind. In my space, ultimately, I want to hear it. I want to witness what it is. There are no words that can make you feel better. There isn’t one. There isn’t one thing I can say that’s going to take any of that away, but I can tell you I’m here. I’m going to show up all the time. I’m going to show up to the point where you’re going to tell me to get the heck out. You don’t want to see me anymore. I would rather you tell me no a thousand times than for you to be alone.

 

 

It’s that right there. People are so alone even when they’re with people. Going back to a statement you made about someone feeling like they’re a burden even in their grief. What I hear you say in the witnessing part is to acknowledge that their feelings are real, validate them, and be present with them. Those three things are not huge, but that showing up and the consistency. They know that you can do the ultimate desire, which is to bring the loved one back, but showing up and being in the space that you said you were going to be in is very important.

It’s different than, “Call me if you need me.”

They’re never going to pick up the phone. I need you to bum-rush me. I need you to show up because I don’t have the energy to even eat or even do anything, let alone think about calling you who may be out living your best life and all of a sudden, do not want to be bothered in my death world or in my grief. You never pick up the phone because you’ve talked yourself out of it instead of picking it up.

My neighbor’s mother died and it was in the dead of winter. It was in the dead of COVID. There was no one anywhere. Every morning, I sent my son down the street to wipe the snow off her car. I’m like, “Just wipe her car off. When she gets out of the house because she has to get back to work, when frankly she should be taking a leave, she doesn’t have to wipe her car off. How about that?” Don’t ask. Just do.

It’s like I see a need. You’re not encroaching upon their life personally, but you’re seeing something that you could do and it lightens the load. Those things like you know the restaurant they go to. If you don’t want to cook, drop off some gift cards. You know that they need laundry detergent and you happen to know the type, or gas card. People go, “I don’t know what to do.”

Whatever you say, don’t say, “Let me know whatever you need.” That’s annoying because now you’ve put the burden on the person who’s grieving to try to figure out what to ask you. You go, “I don’t want to do that,” or “I do want to do this.” You could buy a cleaning service or a gift card from any grocery store. You could do countless things. If you are in a place where you are staring at paint on the wall, what could you need? If they have a pet, buy their pet some food.

A dog walker. Show up and say, “I’m going for a walk. Give me your dog.” You don’t have to do anything, but hand me a leash and hand me that dog and a poop bag. I was going to talk about the needs of men when they’re grieving. I find them a little bit different. They interact with grief a little bit differently than women do. We’re good at talking. We’re good at this engagement.

They’ve used up their words in the first hour of the day and we’re over there recharging more words for the day.

They go off and they build a shed. They go build a company, or they go decide to do an Ironman. There are so many layers to this that we’re apprenticing with it. Everyone on the face of the planet is apprenticing grief.

I never thought of it that way. We are because everybody does it differently but our people skills and who we are impact how they grieve. Women will chat more. We will talk. The world has given us permission to emote our emotions, whereas men may not have always been given that permission. They’re holding inside that hurt and that pain and what that looks like. I can see that. That makes sense.

Women who are supporting men who are grieving. How do you do that? You go for a walk. You have a talk while you’re walking. You go fishing or hunting. You go and do something together that you can have a wee-conversation.

It’s not a lot, but enough to be like, “We’re in there until they start getting super chatty.” You are so right, a wee conversation. I like that. When you were thinking about this conversation we would have, what were some things in your mind saying, “I definitely want to make sure we talk about this and this.” What were some of those things?

I think creating a normal conversation about this every day. If we are holding onto curiosity and we are curious about the end of life, that is a conversation that we can have. It doesn’t have to be, “What do you want?” What do you imagine is a beautiful way of breaking through some of those hard feelings around it? It also takes the ownership off of people to have an idea. It says, “I don’t know but I always wondered about or I thought about.” How you have the conversation in a way that takes the pressure off is important. That was one of the things I wanted to talk about.

I hear a lot of people out there who are coaches and who do a lot of care for people around #behappy, hope, work, and mindfulness. I have a hard time being able to see that work is purposeful and filled with passion if we aren’t addressing the hard conversation of grief. I wanted to hold onto this idea for a minute that if we were to do meaningful work if we were to embrace life, if we were to embrace pleasure, passion, and desire inside of our life, we absolutely have to embrace our journey with grief.

No more slapping these hashtags words on it because it’s very topical, but getting into the very nitty gritty of it all is what I hear you saying.

A lot of people think of grief as just sadness. Going back to our earlier conversations and listening to the story of Brie, there was so much honor and beauty in that moment. You cannot tell me grief is just about sadness. That moment was filled with passion for me. It was such a pleasurable moment for me. You can’t tell me that grief is always sad and hard. It was beautiful, raw, heartbreaking, and heart-filling all at the same time.

Grief is not always sad and hard because it is beautiful. Share on X

How do we carry it? How do we have gratitude before hope? How does having gratitude before hope change hope? There’s so much inside of just the awareness of it. If we’re willing to trust ourselves with it and journey with it, perhaps we can let go of the hard harshness of it so that we can embrace the beauty of it.

Thank you. You mentioned before about hoping for, I think you said the wrong thing. I want to circle back a little bit about what are things to hope for at that moment versus the things that we may hope or that don’t serve us well from your experience.

This may be better done through a little bit of a story. It’s a bit of a combination of stories. When I sat in hospice, I would have a family. This goes back a few years, but they would pull out their paper, like their agendas, out of their wallet and say, “I hope that doctor doesn’t get us off that waitlist and gets us into the appointment earlier. I wonder who’s going to be here for this meeting. This is supposed to happen three days from now. Who’s going to be here for that? I hope one of us can be here. I hope it’s one of us kids and not mom because then we don’t get the details.”

There’s all this hope that happens around betterment and improvement. “Let’s hope that we have everything we need in this moment.” Whereas if I sit inside that same moment with the man who was dying and I have gratitude, “Life with you was hard, but it was good. The one thing that I’m grateful for is that he always had time to listen to me. He always sat there with me. He listened to my silly stories. He always had that picture I drew him and it was in his wallet.”

Check his wallet. See if it’s still there. Now, what am I hoping for? I hope I can be like him. I hope I listen to my grandchildren the same way he listened to my children. He taught me how to be more present in the moment. I’m going to tell him. I’m going to say, “Dad, I hope I can be more like you. Dad, I hope I can be what you were to my grandchildren.”

The conversation completely changes from an operational mind to the hopes and dreams of a heart. That’s the big difference. That’s the shift gratitude gives us. “I’m grateful for him to have this beautiful room inside of this hospice center. How lucky are we?” That totally changes it. There’s so much that happens inside of these moments. There’s so much swirling that we get caught up in what we should do, have to do, should have done, didn’t do, and who’s not doing what I said.

I’m so glad I asked you that question. I’m so glad that we came back to that. A little bit of a switch. Any questions you have of me?

How are you currently holding grief, Tina?

I am very grateful for the therapist that I see on a regular basis. When Widowhood Real Talk with Tina started, he had a lot of concerns that he articulated to me. We check in on how that goes. I make time for myself in the morning to get up and do some yoga. I didn’t do the whole 45 minutes that I wanted but I did that. I tried to make time for myself to exercise because that feeds my soul. I can get wrapped up in do we have the episode going out? What’s going on with this next? Where is this meeting with the board members? We have a webinar being scheduled. Where am I with all of those things?

I’m realizing that I need to spend more time praying with God and hearing where he wants to take Widowhood Real Talk with Tina. I’m trusting this to be his work to be done for people in this world, not something that I’m making happen. When I put that in perspective, it reminds me that I have a limited amount of time in this world. If this is what God will make purpose out of my late husband’s death, then I’m grateful for every message and situation that someone shares that they benefited from me sharing this.

My daughter got engaged. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will go. I got remarried in February of 2022. I have a husband to spend time with who is extremely supportive. I feel like I’m holding grief in that moment when I’m there with this person, when we’re having the conversation, and when I’m there with them, but I know I cannot make it different. I cannot walk away from that and hold that as if it is my own to change. I can share. I can provide information, resources, and advice, but I always say, “I’m here with you as you decide how this is going to go for you.”

There are some people who have made a vow that if their spouse dies, they will never get remarried. This is the way grief will go. I respect that. There are some people who have made a decision that their journey with grief will be very hard and difficult if that is what it is if they allow me space to sit there with them in that.

There are some people that want to talk. There are some people that may reach out and they say, “Can I talk to you?” We’ll set up something on Zoom and I’ll be there in that space with them but I know it is each individual person’s journey. I say that to say that my perspective is being there with them, knowing I can’t make it different for them, I can provide options, and I need to keep myself refreshed so that I’m good to show up for other people.

May I ask you what your first husband’s name was?

Mark.

What part of Mark’s legacy are you holding on to? How are you living Mark’s legacy?

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina is a whole legacy for Mark. He is the catalyst for the sheer existence of this nonprofit organization. My daughter is one of the board members. Seeing her stand up in a place and talk about her dad provided an opportunity that didn’t exist before. When I can share the story of my husband’s life and his death and his giving me permission to continue living is always his legacy.

I’ll tell you my last name is Fornwald. That is my late husband’s last name. I did not change it when I remarried. When my current husband and I talked, I said, “What do you think about a name change?” He instantly said, “Your children would not have a parent with the same last name.” I love that he knew me well enough to know how important that was.

There’s not a hyphenated or abridged version. That was one of my children’s biggest concerns, “Mom, if you get married, are you going to change your name?” That wasn’t a hangup for him. As I’m doing Wiidowhood, he is telling people, “This is what my wife is doing. She’s helping people who are grieving.” He shows up in that spot and gives me space to use my journey to help someone else. By the sheer fact of my last name still being Fornwald, creating an entire 501(c)(3) nonprofit to support people who are grieving, to know that they are not alone is how I am living out Mark’s legacy.

Can I ask what your current husband’s name is?

His name is Fred. That’s fine. Two four-letter names.

Thank you, Fred. Thank you for your work.

He is extremely supportive.

I love the work he does. Thank you.

Any other questions?

I’ve seen some of your past topics. I loved the comment in one of your last episodes. He said, “Julie can’t take my grief away.” I think Julie was his current relationship. That’s it. Julie and Fred. They’re the same person, it feels like. I feel like there’s something inside of this dating again piece that you’ve presented quite a bit. I wanted to hold onto it for a quick moment. What happens when you get sad? What does your partner do?

I can speak from my perspective. When Fred and I were dating, we had been dating for 4 or 6 months. We had been out for the evening, came back to my place to hang out for a little bit, and I was getting us something to drink. I was in motion, walking towards him. It dawned on me that that day was my one-year anniversary of living in Virginia.

Mark and I had this plan of moving to Virginia. At this point, I felt somewhat like a stranger sitting in this new place where I lived for the first time by myself. I had never lived alone. I met Mark in the military. We got our first apartment together. I’m walking towards this guy. This seems pretty decent. I started crying because this was not what I thought my life was going to look like on my one-year anniversary of living in Virginia.

He looks at me. He does a smart thing. He takes the glasses out of my hand and puts them down. First of all, I give him credit for that. He said, “What’s wrong? We were having a good time.” I said, “You seem like a nice enough guy, but I realized at this moment, I’ve lived in Virginia for one year and this is not what I thought my life was going to be like when I moved here.”

His response was, “How can I be here for you? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to hold you? Do you want me not to touch you? Do you want me to leave? Do you want me to stay? Whatever you want, you never have to feel bad for being sad about your late husband because you loved him and this is not what you wanted.”

I think we have a winner here. I said, “Can we just sit on the couch? I just needed to cry.” He held me. We sat there for quite a bit. He asked me how I felt. He didn’t feel offended or felt like it was an attack on his pride because I was crying about this other man. He understood and gave me space to feel however I needed to feel and didn’t make it about him.

I say that to say, communicate with this person that you’re dating, a widow or widower. When they’re sad, or maybe before they get sad because inevitably, they will ask them, “How do you want me to show up?” They may say they don’t know. It may be different with each experience, but ask the question and don’t put the burden on them to feel awkward like, “We’re dating. I think I like them. I don’t want them to be in their feels.”

No. I was with Mark for 32 years. That doesn’t go away. It shows up differently. When his birthday comes, sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s not. My birthday, we had the nerve to get married the day after my birthday. That seemed cute when you were young. I’m like, “What was that thinking?” Now my daughter is going to get married. Her dad is not there. How does that show up? Fred, being strong and confident in who he is and knowing that I’m with him because of who he is, he doesn’t have to compare himself to Mark, show up in your space, be confident in that, and support me as needed. That has proved helpful for me.

I would have never thought that this was a possibility. We got married in February 2022. We had a check-in with our pastor to see how married life was going. I was like, “We’re good.” It’s like we talked a lot. The dating experience was a big interview. This wasn’t like, “I think you’re cute. You think I’m cute.” No. I am a whole 51-year-old woman. I have questions. Next page. More questions. Interview. More questions, but it was worth the work to be here now. Another thing that people may try to do is not try to replace somebody in your life instead of dealing with your grief. Those are separate.

 

WRT 41 | Narrative Of Grief

 

If you find that you have more love to give, if you find you have the capacity to be in that space with somebody, but do your work, know yourself, and deal with your grief. It will always be there in some form of fashion, but it’s not a plug-and-play that your spouse that, and you throw somebody else in that space. I don’t see it ending well for most people unless you deal. You’re dealing with grief maybe 1 month, 30 days, 6 years. Whatever that is, know yourself and be honest before you bring somebody else into that space.

It’s interesting because I’ve seen a few different ways that people have expressed grief. It depends on the situation. We grieve so many different relationships that we can even grieve the death of our partner who was violent. I’ve seen so many different outcrops on how grief shows up in our world. I liken it to this idea of remembering who we are or this journey of remembering who we are because we’re so used to being half of something. That journey is sometimes wild.

I’m right there. Your identity becomes intertwined, which rightfully so, with this person you’re living your life with. I often say it took me a long time to learn how to say Tina. Not Mark and Tina, not Tina and Mark, but my mouth said his name and said my name. I did not know how to just say Tina and what that looked like and to be okay. That was enough because that’s who I have been. We were together, but to be okay with me.

I was okay with the idea that I may be single. Thirty-two years is good to have a good guy. Some people go their whole life wishing they would have that once. I had become okay with the idea that I was good. Lo and behold, that something more happened but learning that space of I am enough was something that I did come to terms with.

I also wanted to mention a friend of mine. Her father had died and was supposed to walk her down the aisle. Her stepdad walked her down the aisle. It was this beautiful ripple that was honored through the journey into transition and being able to have that moment of seeing him holding the photo. She was young when her stepfather came into her life. It’s a beautiful way of transitioning and honoring the person that gave birth to her. I feel like there are so many beautiful ways that we can integrate loss into our lives. It takes the smallest of moments. To your point, even that idea of not saying Mark and Tina, it feels a little sad when you start saying Tina.

It was brutal. It felt like, “Oh,” but it became like, “What does Tina want? Who is Tina?” It was like a little, “Okay.”

It’s the smallest of moments. You still got mail with his name all over it.

It has not stopped. The piece of mail that came was from a cremation service. I was like, “I don’t think you can do it twice.” The place is local. I thought about taking the card and his urns and putting it on their counter and going, “How do you want to do this?” I was like, “Maybe that’s a little over the top.” Two final questions for you. What gives you joy?

Hearing my children say, “I love you.” Growing carrots. Hearing thank you. Hearing laughter at a funeral. It’s the smallest of little things that means so much to me now. Smelling something that I wasn’t expecting to smell in a good way. You’re walking through the garden and you’re like, “Lilacs.” There’s appreciation in the little smallest of moments. The other thing that brings me such deep joy is when it is all for something, when we can make it for something, or when we can turn it into a podcast and help millions of people. That’s something.

Appreciate the smallest of moments. Share on X

If you could pick any age or range to speak to younger Sarah, what timeline would you pick and what would you tell her?

I’m not ready yet to talk to her. I want to be an old woman and I want to talk to her when she is eight. I’m not quite there.

If I want to get in contact with you, how do I do that? How do people reach you? How does that work?

I have a website that I’m pretty active on. It’s GriefAdvocacy.com. My email is Sarah@GriefAdvocacy.com. I’m there and I help when I can help. During the pandemic, it was a little hard. We’re in a better place now where our feet are on the sand instead of treading water in the deep dark ocean. That’s the best place to reach me.

Thank you for sharing that. You spoke a lot about the in-person work that you do. Is there a virtual component to the services that you offer? If so, what do those look like?

Our work is mostly now focused on workplace grief. How do we change bereavement policies and processes to ensure that you come back to a workplace that understands that things get a little swirly and has support systems rather than just pushing you off the benefits? That’s a big part of my mission now. That’s done in-person and online. I have a leading through loss program that’s online that’s self-paced and it helps leaders navigate employee bereavement leave with templates and tools and all the amazing things that they need at the moment.

I also launched two new courses. I have an HR course that helps HR leaders develop policies and processes as a foundation. I also have coaching through law for life coaches, executive coaches, and career coaches to learn a little about grief and how to incorporate grief into their programs. They’re all available on my website to see them there.

Thank you. I wanted to talk about all of the things you’ve done. As they lean in and understand what you provide professionally, what has been the bedrock for this knowledge that you’re able to bring to them and how you’re able to share? This is not theoretical. You have been in the trenches of being here with people and now to be able to help people in a different methodology as far as in the workplace and setting a good framework for that. Going back to your friend 25 years ago, being an advocate for them. Thank you for the amazing work that you are doing for people, Sarah. I will allow you to close up this episode however you want to.

I think I’m going to re-quote my definition of grief. Does that work?

This is your decision.

Grief is us growing a skillset and that we will ebb and flow, expand and contrast every day, but grief reminds us that every day is precious and reminds us to love again. With that, I am so grateful that you and I were able to ebb and flow through this conversation that you reminded me and asked me and told me moments in every day that held you and held me. I am so glad that you found love again. Thank you.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you for joining Sarah and me in this conversation. I want you to know there is more to come. Sarah and I are planning some workshops for 2024. Please keep a look out for our event page on our website. Thank you for being here. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but I am so grateful that you have made us part of your hood. Talk to you soon.

 

Important Links

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