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Episode 15: The Art of Living in Love

    Show Notes

    After the death of her two sons, Cathy Cheshire walked away from a 30-year career as an executive in health care.  

    She heard a calling to help other learn to heal from their grief. 

    First, she studied what all the expert had to say about grief, then she created her own Master Grief Coach certification program. She learned from traditional and nontraditional professionals with various expertise in grief, including emotions, mindfulness, psychology and resilience. 

    When Angela started the One Last Network earlier this year, she searched online for such a course and found Cathy, enrolling after comparing it to a few other courses. 

    Cathy’s course is based in simplifying the information and expert research around death and loss and grief. She chunks it into understandable, memorable bits because, when she found herself in despair, she felt overwhelmed by the information she found.  

    She created the Master Grief Coach program after three years of researching the work of prominent psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and other specialists. 

    Cathy has also authored a book, “Thriving After the Death of a Child,” a powerful guide on how parents can enrich their lives with lessons about love. She recounts her spiral into a dark, relentless depression and then learned to live again in a powerful way. 

    In today’s episode, Cathy and Angela dig into the idea that we live in a grief illiterate society and how we can all take steps to change that … to normalize grief as a part of existence. 

    Because death and loss and grief are an inevitable part of living and loving. 

    What to listen for: 

    • Why grieving the loss of your pet is normal 
    • The power of memories and photos 
    • The importance of sharing your story 
    • How self-care moves you forward to healing 
    • The difference between guilt and regret 

    Find Cathy 

    CathyCheshire.com 

    Her book 

    Thriving After the Death of a Child 

    Transcript

    Angela Schneider 

    Hi, welcome back. We’re on episode 15. 

    When I started this journey earlier this year, I searched online for a course that would certify me as a grief coach. I found CathyCheshire.com and after comparing it to a few other courses, I enrolled. 

    I sucked up every bit of information she had to give and completed the course in just under two weeks, giving myself a deadline and committing to it. 

    I am — in addition to a Pet Loss Grief Companion under the tutelage of Coleen Ellis and Two Hearts Pet Loss Center — a Master Grief Coach, certified by Cathy Cheshire. 

    Cathy’s course is based in simplifying the information and expert research around death and loss and grief. She chunks into understandable, memorable bits … for one big reason. 

    When she found herself in grief and despair, she felt overwhelmed by the information she found.  

    A former executive in the health care field, she dug into learning when she realized she had to make a change … after a lifetime of loss including abuse, loved ones with addictions, relatives attempting to die by suicide, and the death of her two sons. 

    She created the Master Grief Coach program after three years of researching the work of prominent psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and other specialists. 

    In today’s episode, Cathy and I dig into the idea that we live in a grief illiterate society and how we can all take steps to change that … to normalize grief as a part of existence. 

    Because death and loss and grief are an inevitable part of living and loving. 

    Have a listen. 

    Angela 

    Good morning, Cathy. How are you today? 

    Cathy Cheshire 

    I’m great. How are you? Angela, 

    Angela  

    I’m wonderful. Why don’t we start off by having you tell us a little about yourself and who you are. 

    Cathy   

    I got into the grief world from loss myself, I’ve had a lifetime of loss, having to do with my family and abuse and divorce and relationships, and it all piled up. And I, like so many others, grew up in a family that avoided death and grief. And so it piled up for me. And then when my son died, I just crashed. I … I … was lost for several years, got sick of that, and looked for ways to help me to heal and it was challenging at first. There was a lot of ‘every year is worse’ snd I just refuse to believe that and I heard so many stories, not even necessarily having to do with my same losses but of resilience, and of how people found meaning again, after going through something terrible.  

    And I found the best help in the academic world, from Ph.D.s, psychiatrists, psychologists, neuroscientists, who dedicated — mostly because they have struggled with grief also — who dedicated their careers to studying grief. And who’s going to go to a college class? Who’s gonna read … they write textbooks.  

    Once I started down that path, I just was a sponge. And so much of that information was helpful. And I couldn’t not … I was … it was one of those things that they talked about, a calling, it was a calling for me, I could not not share that information. And I have a skill from working in health care, probably 30 years of putting scientific information to a very simple form.  

    And looking at what was out there, a lack of training for people to train. And so I created a grief coach certification program based off of all that information, and getting certified as a coach myself. So it’s life coaching with … with the focus on what I found to be the best, most helpful grief information.  

    So I’ve been doing that now for a very long time, I wrote a book that just came out of me. People talk about that, too. I have these amazing life experiences that pushed me towards spirituality, which I never really paid attention to before. Because when you go through a significant loss, you’re like, why? What’s the purpose of this? So I will, I will be doing, helping grief coaches teaching grief coaches, I’ve now expanded that to support those who want to create their own grief coach certification program. I believe, the more options there are, the more people will feel connected with different people. And the more we can continue, I think things are improving, but we have a long way to go. And people understanding what really now I see as a simple, healthy way to look at grief. 

    Angela  

    One of the things you’re alluding to is that we live in a grief illiterate society. I’ve heard those two words put together over and over again since I found you and started studying grief myself. What does that mean? And how did we get to be a grief illiterate society? 

    Cathy   

    We avoid it and what made the most sense to me when I did my research was experts saying that we went from the strong small-town communities, you know, where everybody was with the dying person, their body was in their home to now everybody’s families are so spread apart. And so we don’t have someone to guide us through a healthy, natural way to look at loss and what I want to say that has evolved for me over so many years. I used to be really angry, oh, we’re grief illiterate. And, geez, if my parents had only known better, and I get it, I get it.  

    It doesn’t make sense that you would want to allow yourself to feel the pain to heal. When I finally decided to trust those way more experienced than me and allow myself to feel that horrible pain. It’s horrible. If you love the person, a pet, whatever, whatever it is you feel attached to, bonded with, you’re gonna have pain. And I never for a second … one of the most helpful things to me is would you … would you not want to have been here and not have that love? No, I, I want it. And so it makes sense to avoid this horrible pain. But when I allow myself to feel it, it’s true.  

    You feel those horrible pains and it goes through you. And avoiding it, which I get it, I get it, but avoiding it drags it out. It’s like holding a beach ball underwater. It’s exhausting. It’s life limiting. So, I also feel like now that it’s such a simple idea to me. But what happens for me now it’s not only understanding feeling the pain, it’s understanding how your mind works.  

    Like I knew my mind was driving me crazy, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know I could be conscious and in charge of whatever I thought of because our programs — the scientific word is neuroplasticity — but all that means is the habit that you give to your brain, you can consciously change that it takes some time, but it’s worth it.  

    And so paying attention to what I’m thinking all the time has made all the difference in dealing with death and grief and healing difficulties in my life. I still have those old programs come up. I want to avoid it. And I have this, like, inside conversation in my mind, oh, there’s that program. Oh, no, I’m in charge, I can be conscious. And then over time, it’s just evolved, I can feel thankful now, gratitude that all these terrible things I went through, pushed me to figure out how to live. You know, I was very robotic before I was really controlled by all these programs other people gave me. 

    Angela  

    One of the things I learned in studying with you was the 90-second rule. And it’s so simple. And yet, it has blown my mind several times, in just being able to use that tool to move myself out of a place but at the same time, it can be very difficult to employ when you’re in the early stages of grief or acute grief. Can you talk about the 90-second rule for a little bit. 

    Cathy   

    It basically says that an emotion doesn’t last that long. Some have done studies to say 90 seconds. And what happens, how I look at that is grief comes in waves. And if you don’t allow those waves, even for the 90 seconds, or however long, that’s an average in the study, the whole tidal wave is going to be sitting there on your heart and soul waiting. That is what it means to be a human. If our family doesn’t know that, they don’t teach us. School doesn’t teach that. My dream is for it to be looked at — and again, I think it’s changing but —  for it to just to be looked at as an important part of things to learn in life. 

    Angela  

    There are so many things we’re just not taught, things in how to manage the daily aspects of life. A lot of us get thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire. But how do you … how does one go about teaching coping mechanisms around grief and mindfulness from an early age so that we can be better prepared to handle these moments? 

    Cathy   

    Books are being written. I always push for the adult to learn themselves and then put it into the words their family uses. Because if you’re an adult and you get it … you know I have a module, Understanding Grief and Healing. It’s from years and hundreds of experts and it’s put in a very simple form. And so as a parent, doesn’t mean you’re going to read it and be able to apply everything immediately. But as you’re working with that information, what I learned through certification is by teaching others it ingrained it in me.  

    And so that can do that for a parent, the same thing I’m going to learn, but I’m going to bring my loved ones along with me. And over time, that becomes your mental program. It … to me, it’s as valuable as anything else that somebody needs to learn. And I think it can feel overwhelming, because there’s so much information out there. But it really is straightforward.  

    Feel those feelings, don’t fear them, but pay attention to your thoughts. Because this is, I think, the number one way people get stuck in grief. You can’t help but feel some of those feelings, even if you push them away. If you’ve gone through something real terrible, it feels awful. And then if you don’t understand feelings and your mind, you start making stuff up. Mine was life will never be good again. That was my mantra, life will never be good again. 

    Looking back, that’s so crazy. But that’s what I did. I consider myself a, you know, with-it person, life will never be good again, life will never be good again. And I replayed all the terrible things involved in the loss and, and those who did terrible things. And that was, like, all I thought about.  

    If we don’t understand how the mind works, and it’s pretty straightforward, if we don’t understand how the mind works, we get caught up in all that stuff. And the more we ingrain it, the longer it can take to change. And let me … along that line, let me share something with you. So when I first started, I spent three years practically in bed, barely existing, quit a big career and I was so miserable. I thought I just can’t do this anymore.  

    And I was like “uncle uncle, oh, I’ll go to a support class, I’ll do anything and everything. And one thing I decided to do was focus on positive things all the time, I got Audible on my phone, which is, which is books on tape. And I, I made myself focus on healthy things all the time. Within two months, everything changed. I felt happiness again, for the first time in three years. I felt hope. I started taking care of myself.  

    I … so it is true that our mind, understanding our mind and, and playing a proactive role with it is so important, I think where people also get confused is it’s not about positive thinking. Because that’s not a balance of what we’re doing with our mind and feeling our feelings. When we’re feeling those … distraught sorrow, deep sorrow, you know, we’re not thinking happy, positive thoughts. 

    Angela 

    No, we’re not. 

    Cathy 

    But we want to think I loved this person, instead of life will never be good again We’re in control of that. That makes all the difference.  

    Angela  

    What we’re talking about here, too, is a sea change in the attitude towards death and loss and grief. To the point where you’re part of a movement to normalize those emotions and say to people it’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to miss your loved one. It’s OK to wish your dog was still here. Right? 

    Cathy   

    Yes. And thank you for what you’re doing. I got goose bumps all over. That is one of the areas that I feel gets the least attention and people struggle a lot more than they have to. The bottom line is how much you grieve is a reflection of how much you loved. And you can love a pet, a dog, whatever animal that you have a bonded, attached relationship with, and you’re going to feel grief, and it’s OK and it makes sense. And same thing, pay attention to your thoughts. Don’t say things like “I’ll never love another animal like that.” Again. I really have learned a lot about love. It’s huge, love continues after death. I have this wonderful focus on loving memories I had with my son and love in my life. And I feel now how I’m in control of that. 

    Angela  

    Gosh, I always say that Shep, my first dog, my first big girl dog, Shep taught me what the meaning of the word love is. And he prepared my heart to love more when Bella came into my life because … 

    Cathy   

    Oh, I got goose bumps again … 

    Angela  

    It’s hard to say because he meant so much to me. But I love Bella more than I was ever in a position to love him. Does that make sense?  

    Cathy   

    Yes, completely, completely. And I think love is another not as much avoided topic, we tend to focus a lot on the negative things that happened involving with the love but I want my … my son taught me with his death more about love than I think I ever would have learned. And so now I live. I live thinking I’m gonna love so that if I have loss, I feel as good as I did when my son died. We had this amazing life together. Amazing. And those memories are what I focus on. And where I think he is, not how he left. I really, I just don’t give that any attention.  

    And so I … the focus of my life is love. I used to think love was I had to please everybody. And I was a big ol’ welcome mat. Now, no, I very, very kindly, thoughtfully pull away from anything that does not serve me. I have two little dogs, Benji and Petey … and, and I have a relationship with them. In that I want to know that they had an amazing, loving life. Love not … yes, they get toys and walks, they’re probably going to come running in here to that word. But it’s my attention, my attention and how I handle situations. It’s really how I feel like I’m supposed to live. 

    Angela  

    Dogs very much teach us to be in the moment and present. Do you find that? And … 

    Cathy 

    Oh, yes.  

    Angela 

    And are they part of your grief journey? 

    Cathy   

    Yes. And they make me take breaks and they make me get exercise. And they tell me when it’s time to go to bed. We’re on a schedule. And if it’s 10:15 one of them’s standing there staring at me until we go to bed. So they make us laugh.  

    Angela 

    They do.  

    Cathy 

    They truly are loving. And we had one dog we adopted who was found on the streets and had PTSD and all those things I learned about, you know, what a person can go through. And it was one of the most meaningful things for my husband Drew and I to … to nurture him into healing. And I was just saying the other day I remember the first time he took charge of the walk. No, we’re going this way today. You know, he became his full … who he was supposed to be, which was healing for us.  

    Angela 

    Oh, that’s beautiful. Wow.  

    Cathy 

    Yeah. Animals are amazing. 

    Angela  

    They are and part of my mission is to allow people the space to step forward and say, Yeah, you know what, I loved my dog that damn much and it’s OK.  

    Cathy 

    Yes 

    Angela 

    And I’m gonna cry about it.  

    Cathy   

    Yes. Because that’s what will make you feel better, not avoiding it. What I love about what you do is you know, I never say with a lost loved one,  I wish I hadn’t taken so many pictures. With my son I had a ton of pictures but not a lot with the two of us because I was always behind the camera, too. So to have someone like you, you know who can take these most meaningful pictures is … is just, just so important. And something I think about now, I have lots of pictures. And with me holding them because those are the pictures that are most heartfelt that I look back on.  

    Angela  

    As you know, my mom died earlier this year, and I went home to Nova Scotia for the funeral. And afterward, we went up to the house to start cleaning it up. My brothers had been there for several days already. We had bins, we had four bins on the floor. And the bins were getting things thrown into it that my brothers thought would matter to each person. And I found myself looking at my bin and going none of the shit matters. This is just stuff. But when the box of photos came out, and I sat on the floor of the living room, just going through these photos, and bringing back the memories, and it just hit me that at the end of the day, I can, I can wear my mother’s wedding set, I can have the antique cookie jar, and they have little memories around them. But to have that visual reminder of those memories is so unbelievably important to me. 

    Cathy   

    It’s the best. And, and that that is what we want to do with our minds, is focused on those loving memories and photos couldn’t help more with that. That is when I think of my son, what comes flowing up in my heart is all those memories. I don’t have to lose that. And with those memories are connected that feeling of love. Love is forever. I didn’t get that at first, I was like, what do you mean, they’re not here? Oh, the love is forever. That is what I dwell on now. And it’s an amazing way to live. 

    Angela  

    And if we can carry all of those wonderful, amazing memories of my brothers and I playing on the beach, or my dog and I standing at the top of the mountain and feeling powerful and fearless and free. And instead of being so sad, and pain that we don’t have those people or pets in our lives anymore, to carry those memories and make us a fuller person. 

    Cathy   

    Powerful, fearless and free. That’s what we want to focus on and carry forward. 

    Angela  

    And I wouldn’t know what it feels like to be powerful, fearless and free if I hadn’t stood on top of that mountain with him. 

    Cathy   

    Ah, that’s so beautiful. 

    Angela  

    I think we can bring those feelings of powerful, fearless and free to others by teaching them how to carry those memories and tell their stories. 

    Cathy   

    Yes. What is so important too that I like to relay is even though I’ve studied, you know, all these experts, and they have the information on what helps the most people, that’s a great place to start. But all the experts agree it’s healing is individual. So if you don’t come across what’s working for you in healing, don’t stop doing it. Because it’s individual. 

    Where their information is helpful is for someone like me back in my first three years when I would, I was just shriveling up, you know, I will never forget it’s still as strong and it motivates me a bit. Although I’m to a point I know I’ll never go back to that again. And I think sometimes when because these two dogs — Benji and Petey, they’re my first dogs — I know what it’s gonna be like when they die and I’m going to allow that pain. Yeah, because that’s what will heal me. I’m gonna allow that pain when it comes in waves. But I’m going to focus my mind on all these amazing photos. Snuggled with their paws in the air in the golf cart, one of them looking like they’re driving. That’s what I’m going to focus all of my thoughts on moving forward.  

    And in the meantime, this is what I do. What can I do to make my dogs happy today?  

    Angela 

    Yeah … 

    Cathy 

    We went on the golf cart today to a park that’s close by. And I’m always doing things with them. I was kind of a robotic mom. I was a loving mom but I was very robotic. And that’s what my son taught me … to be present to be conscious, what is my choice today. I had those habits not even realizing, you know, not not even thinking to pay attention to how I was living and, and I just don’t do that anymore.  

    I pay attention so that I’m building my life the way I want it. And, and feelings, all of them, pure joy and pure pain. We are meant as humans to have that full range of emotion. And even though I still may have that old ‘Oh, don’t let that feeling in,’ I see it, I wrap it with love, I know why it’s there. And I allow the pain to overtake me. And I think the thoughts that are healthy for me not making up stuff that isn’t going to serve me whatsoever. 

    Angela  

    When you go back to the idea that we live in a grief illiterate society, and we now have a movement to normalize grief. But we still face the notions that we should just pull up our bootstraps, get over it. Take your three days of bereavement leave then come back to work ready to go. How do we … battle doesn’t seem the right word … how do we counteract the norms of society and create our new norms? 

    Cathy   

    It’s important to focus on ourself. We focus on making the best life for ourselves. There is no in the grief research ABC 123 ss we just said, we focus on having the most amazing life and then those who are at a place in their journey who want to know, “how did you do that” will approach us. I used to think I could help anybody and everybody but what I learned from especially coaching experts, but also all the others we’re all on this journey and … and we are here part of our own self-preservation is not to chase after any of that. And that was really hard for me because I want to … I see someone telling some someone something you know, so hurtful and not helpful and I just want to step in and clear all that up. It doesn’t work.  

    We make our lives first, those we love, what, what can we do to enhance their lives? And then we’re setting an example for those who come to a point in their life, you never could have told me after year one that I’d be where I am now. That was my program. I don’t care. I’m going to do what I want them and eat what I want him to sleep all day. It was horrible. 

    Angela  

    Sleeping all day was horrible? I don’t know about that. 

    Cathy   

    It was! You know what? I would take over-the-counter sleeping pills. And I got to a point where my body would tingle. Hmm. Like I’m sure that was a reaction to too many sleeping pills, and then it didn’t work anymore. So it wasn’t healthy sleep. It was sleep to avoid the pain that if I would have allowed it to encompass me, would have killed me. And it’s not just the 90 seconds and you’re done when it comes to a loss of a loved pet, a loved family member or a loved friend. It comes in waves. But if you allow those waves because the first ones are doozies.  

    Angela 

    Yes, they are. 

    Cathy 

    It makes sense that we avoid them. I send out love to anyone I see doing that but we can’t educate or be there for anybody who isn’t ready. Even from my spiritual journeys and all kinds of different religions, we can only help those who come to a point on their journey and sometimes they need another year of hell to get to the point where they’re like OK, I can’t do this anymore.  

    And then they truly will be open to finding … what I love about coaching is not about telling people what to do. It’s about guiding them to their own inner light. We so often, including myself, because something is so important to us or worked so well with us, want to tell everybody but it just doesn’t work that way. Our goal should be finding what works best for us. We are guides, we make suggestions as coaches because we know what has helped in the past most people but it’s all about out guiding that person to their true own inner light, and it gets buried by these unconstructive, hurtful thoughts that we create that aren’t even true.  

    So I live in a loving space with all that around me. But I send it love instead of frustration and anger, like I used to be, because all that stuff is what sent me to three years of not existing. But that’s my journey. 

    Angela  

    When you talk about the need to focus on self-care — that’s what we’ll call it — and knowing how we live in a selfie world, where, where is the balance between moving yourself forward in a space of self-care and self-love, and being so self-absorbed that we don’t care about the rest of the world around us? 

    Cathy   

    The example that pops my mind is I got so hooked in on my personal Facebook, that I wanted the perfect picture. not necessarily a selfie. But if it was one, I was spending hours, days using my editing software, to oh, let’s take that little thing off and move this over. And, and I don’t remember why. But it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m not being present.  

    Self-care is about recognizing what’s taking away from your best life. That was 2019. And I haven’t made a post since. And if I was to go back on, I would consciously have to, because that’s a deep ingrained thing in me now, because there was so much fun around that. OK, and we’d be driving home. I have 50 pictures of this beautiful sunset, no, not that one. Yes, that.  

    Instead of being present with my husband, talking about standing on that cruise ship, watching that sun that looked huge. I was flipping through pictures. So we have to consciously recognize like for me, I said, Oh — and this is back when I was really getting the stuff down, so it stuck out to me. Cathy, you are limiting your life by focusing like, you said, on the minutia. Instead of what do I really love? That moment with my husband that I’m looking at. So I had to go cold turkey.  

    So that’s several years now. It was so wonderful. I haven’t had the desire to go back. If I, if I take a nice picture, it’s a one picture and I’m sending it to close friends and then having a conversation with them. So self-care is recognizing that everybody’s different. What’s taking away from my life being the best it possibly can. 

    Angela  

    It’s interesting, because I had a conversation yesterday with Carol Bryant, who’s the former president of the Dog Writers Association of America. And she lost her Dexter, her cocker spaniel to a very aggressive, very invasive form of dog cancer in November, and she shared that journey on her Facebook page. She has built up her business of blogging and sharing that journey of her pain and what she realized was how much it helped other people. Whether we exist in a sharing society or a self-absorbed society, there’s a benefit in educating the people. All of a sudden, I don’t know where I’m going with that.  

    Cathy   

    That is a way to educate, sharing. Sharing a story, especially when it involves healing is a way to educate, because it’s another example of how somebody did it. Now will that work for you? Maybe, maybe not, maybe some twist of that. But I want it to be easier for people to get inspired. I want it to be easier for people to have ideas of how other people healed. Regular, ordinary people who go through even extraordinary type losses, it can feel impossible, but it’s not.  

    The one area all experts agree is we all have the ability to heal. But because there isn’t two plus two equals four, it can make it a little more challenging. 

    But if we do some research for ourselves, and try different things, stop doing what doesn’t work. You know, I did some of that, like, yoga doesn’t work for me. I’m a, I’m a yoga is two thumbs up, but I have a little bit of a bad neck. I’m a very stiff, tall person. So I don’t do yoga, I do tapping, I do other things that work for me. So when it comes to healing, you know, 100%, you got to feel those feelings. There’s no way around it.  

    But other things that you do to help your healing journey is what you decide truly works for you. And sometimes it’s just try and try and try different things. Keep doing what really works. I never thought tapping would be so magical as it is now. I saw somebody going like this. And I remember going please and I know this isn’t gonna do nothing. Well, it the whole tapping, whether the scientific reason that they think it works or not, I don’t care. It works. I did it yesterday, my heart was kind of racing. I couldn’t figure out why. I started tapping. Then it stopped in like five minutes, 

    Angela  

    OK, so you are physically tapping yourself? Are these strategic locations? You know, are they pressure points like acupuncture pressure points? 

    Cathy   

    Let me give you a quick what took me a long time to learn. Tapping, also called Emotional Freedom Technique, is where you are tapping on acupuncture points, which is where medical doctors started, I think in Asia, medical doctors believe that we have energy highways in our body, where the energy highways come up to the surface is where when we are emotional, go through something difficult, is where things can get stuck. And if our energy highways aren’t flowing, well, we’re not going to be as well as we can be.  

    So by tapping on these specific points, and the energy highways, I don’t have it memorized, connect to certain significant organs. It gets your body’s energy back in balance, whether you use a needle in acupuncture, you use acupressure, which is commonly done on the feet and specific parts that they push on. Or you tap, it gets your energy going. 

    The Association for Energy Psychology has done research studies just recently, because there’s a lot of people who think this is pseudo science. Well, I don’t care if you tell me to stick my finger in my ear, and I feel better, I’m gonna keep my finger in my ear. So I tried it, because — get this — I signed up for a class that the title was Manifesting. And I was very interested at the time. Forget what that book was called. Anyways, all of a sudden, I’m in this tapping class. Well, I paid my $39.99 and I was going to stay in the class. I had the best night’s sleep.  

    Angela 

    Oh, wow.  

    Cathy 

    For like a decade. I kept doing it. I got certified in it. There’s so many teachers out there. So that isn’t an area that I focus on. But I highly recommend it. It’s in the Understanding Grief and Healing module under the mind and body technique section. Just a little explanation of it and where the points are. You can try it with a YouTube video. There’s tons of YouTube videos out there and just see if it makes a difference when you’re feeling stress. Follow someone on YouTube see if it calms you down. It’s like magic for me and I’d way rather do that than take a pill. 

    Angela  

    When you think about the emotions and feelings that a lot of people who might be listening to this podcast are feeling … when my clients come to me for end of life, pet photography, they’re not just dealing with anticipatory grief. They’re dealing with disenfranchised grief as well. How do we manage all of those different aspects of grief and still wake up the next day feeling whole and ready to lose our pets? 

    Cathy   

    Can you give me an example? So I’m sure I’m understanding what you’re asking. 

    Angela  

    So one of my clients will come to me … tonight I’m doing a shoot for a 14 year old pit bull. She’s deaf, she’s not breathing well. So my client is feeling all of the feels around the impending loss of his dog, the anticipatory grief, and at the same time, feeling shame for feeling, for having to grieve over just a dog. And so there’s all kinds of really crazy emotions around that. And I … I know it’s applicable in the human world as well, where a loved one or former loved one that we don’t necessarily feel permission to grieve is dying. 

    Cathy   

    That is so common, and I come across that time and time again. Guilt: I didn’t take him to the vet soon enough, I didn’t notice the symptoms, I shoulda woulda coulda. Where I try and move those struggling with those kinds of things is if you continue that thought in five years, where are you going to be? How constructive is that? How supportive is that? How true is that? Yes, if we had this perfect world where we did everything perfect, that’s not why. So you can … can make the choice — because it is a choice — to continue that thought of it’s just a dog, I shouldn’t be feeling like this.  

    But I’m here to tell you I don’t believe that’s true. Not one bit. I think allowing yourself to feel sad because you love this beautiful pit bull who brought you joy and maybe chewed up your pillows or barked when they shouldn’t have barked. But you focus on the love you had with your dog. And when deep pain comes, feel it, come up with phrases that make sense to you. People talk a lot about affirmations. And then people will say, I am not going to love everything about myself … what’s going to work for you?  

    Nobody has ever said no to … what I want you to think of instead of that is I love the life I had with this dog. I love the life I had with Shep, I love the life I had with Shep, we’re in control of that. People have to test that out because their mind programs are so strong, they think that their reality is unchangeable.  

    And so sometimes when people are so deep in those, I’m not at a place where I can help them. And sometimes we educate by talking about this and they got it, they need to think about it for a while and it might click with them later. Because guilt can be completely absorbing. Do you want five years, 10 years the rest of your life of guilt? Or do you want the rest of your life of love because you’re struggling right now because you love this dog. If you didn’t know this dog or you didn’t have a relationship with this dog, you wouldn’t have all this. 

    Angela  

    Yeah, you’re right.It took me a long time. Shep died eight years ago. And I was wrapped up in the guilt phase.  I would see the Facebook memories pop up and look at his eyes and think I should have known. I should have known. But it’s only in the last couple of years or so since I started absorbing myself in my business, and my why I do my business. And I realized that he changed me in so many good ways.He shows me the way every step I take every day, because he’s … he’s still with me. He will always be with me, because of the journey we shared and the adventures we took. And I have those memories and he made me a better person. But it took a long time to get there. 

    Cathy   

    Well, guilt is a matter of intention. You’re guilty if you intended to do something. And even then, although I’ve never had a grief coaching client who really intended to do something that was hurtful to a person or animal, but even then the human action to that is apologizing. Especially if you are as I’m in agreement with you, my son’s still with me.  

    Not only from the love that I feel, but I have had so many amazing experiences. And, and I listen to those messages that come to me and especially when it’s surrounded by a feeling that is connected with him.  

    We have things we wish were different. And who wouldn’t, that’s a part of life. We just don’t live with this magic ball. But guilt is very heavy duty. If we, you know, intended to do something. And then if we have remorse about that, we apologize and make amends where we can.  

    And how you make amends if a person is gone is by living in honor of them living a life, you know, that they want you to have. Replace the guilt with love, replace it with the loving memories with the continuing loving. I’ll often say when my husband and I are out. Jeremy and I would have gone running in between those posts on that beach, on that beach, stretch of beach, we love the water. We live in Florida, we love it.  

    And so I make up memories sometimes. Cuz I know what it would have been like, yeah, most people Isn’t that sad? No, if it was, I wouldn’t do that. 

    Angela  

    What’s the difference between guilt and regret? 

    Cathy   

    You’re guilty if you intentionally do something mean, if you knew your dog needed to go to the vet and you didn’t take him because you’re watching a TV show, you’re guilty. And the fix for that is being sorry and then make an amends where you can and living a different life. Regret is another word I don’t focus on. Because of course we’re going to have them. I wish I took more pictures with my son, I have 1,000 pictures and six with us together. But regret is, is the same thing as where I tried to tell people is that guilt or that you wish it was different? You regret not whatever. But why dwell on regret? What’s that gonna look like in your life in five years? 

    Angela  

    Because we can’t change the past. If we could … 

    Cathy   

    No! They’re not here anymore! What we can change is how we live our life. And how we live our life in connection to our religious or spiritual beliefs or none. If you even have no religious or spiritual beliefs, how do you want your life to be in 10 years? I promise you if you focus on … this is a 100% thing, if you’ve truly honestly genuinely focused on love, as opposed to guilt or regret, you’re gonna have a way more amazing life.  

    I believe that’s what we’re here to do. I believe we’re here to live in love and make choices that fill us up that are meaningful. I love my grief work. Because I don’t think about the people who weren’t ready for me. I think about the people who write me letters. I think about the people who say, “I’ve had one-hour sessions and it changed everything.” Because they had a thought they thought was true. Or they weren’t allowing their feelings and they thought something really bad was gonna happen if they allowed themselves to feel it. And I get that feels like the end of the world. You’re gonna die. It feels so horrible. 

    Angela  

    So correct me if I’m wrong. Grief can be one of our greatest teachers if we let it be. 

    Cathy   

    Oh, it has been mine. It has been all those I learned from whether that was a direct story that I’m so thankful of someone sharing or thousands of people that a Ph.D. psychiatrist worked with, to to talk about things they learned. I learned to live. I wasn’t living before I was a I, I was influenced, and I embraced, trying to be a perfectionist and please everybody and that that’s how I was supposed to be.  

    Grief shook me to my core, forced me to go find information I otherwise never would have. You know, and it wasn’t a terrible robotic life, it was filled with the love of my Jeremy. But it shook me to live a better way. And people, people learn all kinds of different things, whether it’s something to stop or something to start doing. And a lot of people don’t like that word lesson. But it was for me. It was for me.  

    The big focus now in the academic grief world is after experiencing unimaginable loss, those that they see who go on to have fulfilled, happy, joyous lives are those who focus on things that are meaningful to them. And that’ll be different for everybody. For me, it’s sharing this academic stuff, because I wish they knew … I hug them in my mind. I send them love. They’re mostly male, very serious. You know, they write textbooks, they teach college classes. And I love them. Because without that information, I wouldn’t have come up with it for myself.  

    And once Istarted — whew! — and it was almost like the universe was bringing things, whether it was on social media or through an email signup I had, it was bringing me all this amazing information that I was ready to absorb. And I want others to have the opportunity to be exposed to healthy information so they can decide whether it’s just to be inspired of what will work for them, or something they hear about that 100% works for them. There’s so much great information out there. 

    Angela  

    I think that’s a great stop point. 

    Cathy   

    Well, I’m sending love to you, Shep, Bella, your mom, I am … could not be more grateful for what you’re doing in this most needed category of grief, how much we love our pets will be reflected in how much grief we have. And if we embrace it, that healing journey will be a lot easier. 

    Angela  

    Well, and in a testimonial to you. I’ve had a lot of emotions to process around my mom’s death, because of the complicated relationship we have. And without you I would not have been working my way through these stages so easily, fluidly and successfully. So thank you. 

    Cathy   

    Well, you were ready to hear some good stuff. And I am just thrilled that you are at a place where you want to share that and inspire others. Because the more we have out there teaching good things, you know, the better we evolve from avoiding to … once again you know I didn’t live I wasn’t alive hundreds of years ago but apparently way back when we way more embraced with love the natural part of life we live and then we die. And, and we’re supposed to be sad, but avoiding it delays it and takes away from the amazing life I think we’re all supposed to have here. 

    Angela  

    Beautiful. Cathy, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute treasure talking to you today. 

    You can hear the passion in Cathy’s voice, eh? 

    Cathy has written a book called Thriving After the Death of a Child, available on Amazon … the link is in the Show Notes … because she wants to improve how the world typically thinks about anyone suffering after the death of a child. 

    Through her own suffering and loss, she learned that you don’t ever get over grief. You learn to live with it in your heart … forever.  

    And she makes conscious decisions to wrap that grief in love, which in turn allows her to live more fully, to be more present in the moments that matter. 

    I think that’s great advise for all of us. One of my hopes for 2023, which dawns on us in two days, is to be more present with Bella, with my husband, with my life.  

    And I hope that for you too. 

    Next week, I host the incomparable Beth Bigler of Honoring Our Animals, a pet loss grief counselor, who also promotes the idea of honoring our beloved pets who have passed on by living our best lives.  

    Beth is very direct and to the point … much like I am … and so I decided to take a different path with her interview. We’re going to be talking about the stupid shit people say to us when we’re in grief and how we deal with those oftentimes well-intentioned but limiting thoughts. 
     

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