What is your definition of a grief coach?
A grief coach works with anyone suffering from a loss, large or small. Grief is a normal human reaction to change, and we all experience it much more frequently than we may realize. Unfortunately, we aren’t taught to deal with grief, we’re taught to suppress it. From our earliest years, we’re told to tough it out, to avoid being “crybabies”, to distract ourselves with activity, and to hide our grief from others. A grief coach works with clients to discover the old ideas like those that might prevent the full experience and acceptance of loss so that healing can finally occur.
Why would someone hire a grief coach?
Good question! Coaches usually select the niche because of their own experiences of grief and loss. However, we don’t presume that we know what a client is feeling. In fact, even with identical losses, we can only know what we felt, and it will not be the same as someone else experiences because each relationship is unique. A psychologist or counselor can also work with grief, and that route is a viable alternative. Where coaching differs is in its duration and its direction. Therapy or counseling is usually a longer term approach to emotional pain. Coaches readily refer clients to therapists and counselors when they see that coaching simply isn’t enough to meet a client’s needs. In most cases, though, individuals who are ready to start living again after loss are good candidates for coaching; and the results are seen in short order. A question I ask my clients is, “What would you like your life to look like going forward?” Then we work toward that goal.
How is grief coaching different from other kinds of coaching?
All coaching clients typically want to make changes in their lives to improve quality and satisfaction. However, a grief client is suffering and may have lost the ability to define quality and satisfaction. That means that a lot of tissues and handkerchiefs get used up in the coaching process for grief, and the coach has to be ready and willing to maintain a safe space for those emotions. Grief coaches can relate to the suffering because we’ve had our own, but we don’t get caught up in a client’s pain. We are willing to listen and ask questions that probe that ache and allow it to drain. The agenda belongs to the client, as in all coaching; but in grief coaching we always have to remember that the goal is peace and completion, not just an aspirin for the pain.
Why did you become a grief coach?
I didn’t start out to be a grief coach, but as I neared the completion of my training, I realized that it was my own losses that made me want to be a coach in the first place. That was when I knew that whatever other coaching I might do, I really wanted to work with clients who needed a safe place to learn how to come to terms with their losses. My father died in December of 2001 and my younger son in January 2003. My son’s death was the real catalyst, but loss is cumulative, so the back-to-back losses left me reeling. Approaching the 6th anniversary of my son’s death, I discovered that I still had some pain to resolve, and so I worked with a grief coach. After that, there was no question in my mind about what kind of coaching I wanted to do.
It isn’t only bereavement that results in grief. We grieve over being rejected by someone we’re attracted to, over moving to a new town, over losing a job, failing a test, suffering financial set backs, and on, and on. This is a normal part of life, but we’ve been socialized to think of it as isolated experiences. The same skills apply in handling large losses as in small ones. The trouble is, we’ve been taught to ignore small losses and pretend they didn’t happen. When we try to use the same logic on major losses, we wind up in an emotional nightmare. My own experience suggests that grief underlies many, if not all, of our emotional issues. And that, of course, means that helping someone learn to handle their loss equips them with skills to live their lives more fully. That’s what a coach wants for any client.
What is unique about your coaching practice?
I’m a survivor and I remind my clients that if I can do it, so can they. I absolutely know that they can deal with their losses, and I help them notice the old, useless thought patterns they carry forward from the past and challenge them to find alternatives that are more appropriate in the here and now. If we discover an old loss along the way, we deal with it; but the real focus is on forward momentum. I try to help clients learn that pain and suffering aren’t the same thing. Pain is nature’s way of saying, “Pay attention!” Suffering is something we impose on ourselves in response to pain.
I fractured my shoulder a couple of years ago. It was very painful, but the actual suffering was from fear of falling again, from helplessness, from not knowing how long it might take to heal or what the long-term consequences might be. I dealt with it by beginning physical therapy as soon as I could, by using the arm as much as possible without causing further damage, by figuring out how to dress myself and get into and out of the restraints one-armed, and I took practical precautions like using a trekking pole when I took a walk. I asked friends for help when I needed it, and I hired someone to feed my cats and clean my house while I recovered. I addressed the real, practical issues and discovered that the emotional issues evaporated because I didn’t get trapped in them. My question to myself was always, “What else can I do to deal with this right now?”
Who is your ideal client?
Everyone experiences grief, but my ideal client is a mature adult, 30 and above, who is dealing with a loss of any kind. I enjoy clients who are ready to put joy back into their lives. And that also means clients who are themselves dying or facing a possibly lethal illness. Life is a juicy, messy experience, so we can’t limit ourselves to the tidy parts.
When is it time for a person to start seeing a grief coach?
Whenever they feel overwhelmed and ready to do something about it. Some losses sneak up on us, such as when we’re dumped by a romantic partner. Others, we see coming, like the long illness of a dying parent. It isn’t necessary for the loss to have already happened to be a good time to start looking for help. Proactive grief, as in the case of the dying parent, is painful and debilitating too.
How do people contact you?
They can leave their contact information on my website at www.spiralingup.net or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be reached through Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sacramento-CA/Spiraling-Up/194768830552616.