My Personal Experience & Professional Perspective
My Personal Experience
After the sudden death of our own daughter, Kristen, in 1985, from an undiagnosed rare Fatty Oxidation Disorder [FOD], I found it very difficult to find someone that was not only trained in the area of grief, but was also a bereaved parent and someone I could talk with one-on-one that truly understood what I was going through.
Fortunately, my husband, Dan, and I found a supportive chapter of The Compassionate Friends in Champaign, Illinois for group support, but I was unsuccessful in finding more personal one-on-one support.
It was at that time that I decided I had to do something to change that so others wouldn’t feel as alone as I did, but I wasn't sure what that something might be. In my mind, my original life plan was to have our family and then return to being an elementary physical educator ~ however, my spiritual compass was leading me in an entirely new direction. After another major loss of moving away from my home and family in Champaign, I finally made the decision in 1991 to pursue a Masters in Education with a Counseling emphasis. I wanted to learn more on being with and facilitating the grief process of parents and families who have experienced the death of a child/children or other family members so I could eventually offer that one-on-one support for them. Even though I knew it was a decision that would give more meaning to my life, I wished I didn't have to make it ~ I would have given anything just to have my daughter back! Yet knowing that wasn't going to happen, I was going to do everything I could to celebrate Kristen's memory and spirit ~ a vibrant light in my life and my family's life.
That was also the year Dan and I founded a national [international since the mid-90s] Family Support Group in memory of Kristen to network other Families living with an FOD. Because these disorders were/are often misdiagnosed and undiagnosed, many of these Families were also living with the death of a child as well. After completing my graduate degree in 1993, I felt more confident in offering my emotional and grief support to the Families of our Support Group, as well as to others outside our Group grieving a similar loss.
We have since expanded our nonprofit's Mission by offering free of charge one-on-one grief support to local [East Lansing, MI and surrounding area] bereaved parents living with the death of a child of any age and from any cause, as well as for other losses - spouse/partner, sibling, and other loved ones.
This is our family's way of celebrating and finding meaning in Kristen's life, death, and her eternal life ~ we do not want lack of money or insurance to keep families from seeking support. We have also created an ongoing Endowed Lecture on Sport for Children and Youth in Kristen's memory. After Kristen's death, Dan rededicated his sport psychology passion and career in her honor ~ it also honors our two sons, Kevin and Brian.
I strongly believe my professional graduate training and my personal experience with a child’s sudden death, a surviving child’s chronic rare metabolic disorder and an unaffected sibling, some miscarriages, a father’s death [age 36] at a very young age [age 3], and the death of many other family members and friends, and several other various types of loss have helped me in my own grief journey and in helping others find their unique way along their own challenging road.
My Professional Role
I am educated and trained as a Grief Counselor and presently working as a Grief Consultant with individuals [adults only] living and coping with the death of a child/ren of any age and from any cause ~ early on in your grief or many years after the death. Additionally, even though most of my work is with bereaved parents, I would be glad to meet with you in regard to the death/impending death of other loved ones. Whenever you are ready...I will be here to support you.
My pro bono grief support via local face-to-face consultations or secure online video sessions, however, is not a substitute for you seeking local personal or group therapy from another professional in regard to your grief or other issues. I am not working from the perspective of diagnosing and treating specific mental health concerns.
My holistic, trauma informed/sensitive, and integrative counseling/consulting/spiritual philosophy entails more of a growth and empowerment model for proactively transforming one’s grief versus the medical model of diagnosing and medically treating a mental illness. My own evolving personal Grief Model integrates the concepts of several well-established grief models (ie., Wolfelt, Rando, and Worden), as well as being highly influenced by existential, humanistic, emotion-focused, cognitive, Jungian, attachment and trauma, and family/relationship perspectives.
I try to weave those perspectives within the context of how I view the grief process ~ in that it's a lifelong process within a process working from the 'inside light out,' of not only moving toward healing your 'fractured heart' from your losses, but within the the larger context of becoming more holistically whole and authentic as a human being.
Please note: The Influencing Grief Models are not to be viewed as step by step or linear ways of working through your grief. They helped me envision my own personal way through grief and were woven within my own ongoing process of becoming a more spiritually authentic person and also influenced my way of being with those I support. Additionally, it is my perspective that their main concepts are not meant to be the end all and be all of what you MUST do to grieve in a healthy way and it is NOT about 'letting go' or having 'closure' to one's grief. I believe they offer guides to help us navigate our personal grief journey's rollercoaster and vacillating emotions/thoughts/behaviors as we move forward in our lives in our OWN time and OWN way toward 'holistic healing' WITH our loved one's spirit, love, memory and light forever within us.
My relationship with parents and others is one of respectful and reflective listening, supporting, sharing and offering constructive suggestions and strategies based on my own personal and professional training and experiences. Some may prefer sharing their stories in a large support group, yet others may feel more comfortable with personal and confidential one-on-one support ~ and that is what I provide for individuals. Please note, however, that I am not working as a mental health therapist treating individuals as patients and with specialized psychological treatment [ie., EMDR]. I am working as a Grief Support resource only and all of my one-on-one support is related to loss due to death or impending death.
What I offer is a quiet, safe, and private space for you to share and explore your child's/loved one's life and death story ~ without judgment, no matter how long it's been since their death. Even though circumstances surrounding a death may be different and a child or loved one's age may be younger vs older, as well as a myriad of other differing factors pertaining to your loss ~ it is important not to compare your loss or intensity of grief with another person's loss.
Everyone's grief journey is different, yet one factor is very similar...heart and soul wounds can be raw, deep and beyond painful. Hopefully, over time and in your own way, you will be empowered to move toward 'healing' those fissures. My role is to meet you where you're at and support you as you grieve and mourn ~ not to pull you along to where others think you should be.
Oftentimes, family and friends don't know what to say or do or they may feel after a certain amount of time you should be 'over it.' Because everyone's process is unique, it doesn't follow the same path or timeline. No one can tell you how or when your process should be completed ~ and in many ways grieving a child's death [or other traumatic losses] is a lifelong process as our children 'grow up in our minds' over the years.
So please don't assume you have 'prolonged grief disorder' just because it's been many years since the death ~ you may just feel the need to once again share your story with someone that won't tell you to 'get over it and get on with your life.' Special missed milestones [ie., taking their 1st step, graduation, getting married, etc] or holidays are often triggers for upsurges in grief and some may not understand why you are 'still grieving.' I cannot give you back what you want most ~ but I can offer you compassionate listening, understanding and possible healing ways of being to help you through your evolving and transforming process.
The grief process is a very normal and personal response to loss of any kind, not just from the death of a loved one. I do not pathologize normal grief. However, there may be various factors that can sometimes complicate one's normal process (ie., Post traumatic stress, substance use, grief depression moving to clinical depression, etc).
In those instances, I often refer to other medical and psychological professionals for additional assessment and/or treatment which may involve one-on-one therapy, group therapy and/or medications. I will definitely let you know if I think further assessment and counseling/therapy may be beneficial for you. It will then be your responsibility to seek that help from a medical or therapy professional.
You are more than welcome to continue with me for ongoing grief support, in addition to possibly seeking medical treatment or therapy from another professional. Also, because I do not charge for my services, there is no need to be concerned about insurance restrictions on the number of visits ~ you can choose to come for one visit or for as many as you feel comfortable or need.
However, even though my services are free, I do value my time, so I would appreciate at least a 24-hr notice if you have to cancel an appointment.
For more information on my past grief counseling education, I have included my Education and early Grief Counseling Training/Experience 'resume' and ongoing learning. [Also refer to my Disclaimer and privacy notice for more info on my professional role.]
Since finishing graduate school I have continued to educate myself on grief counseling/consulting and spiritual counseling - I am also an ordained non-denominational spiritual counselor. Even though I am very aware of the spiritual realm and have experienced my own 'spiritual awakenings,' I am not an expert scholar on every world religion and I am not a Christian counselor. However, I am open to learning about your specific religious and/or spiritual beliefs, if that's important to you and if it is not, I meet you where you are at ~ my role is to be WITH you as you explore YOUR personal grief journey, NOT to make you believe something that doesn't resonate with you ~ and explore with you how those beliefs may or may not impact your grief journey.
Additionally, I have written several articles over the years [including ones sharing my 'awakenings'], as well as my own personal perspective on Parental Grief titled ‘Creative Building Blocks ~ Holistic Healing of a Fractured Heart’©DLG.
My 'growth and healing' heart-centered perspective on grief may or may not resonate with you and I fully realize I am not the only individual out there capable of offering support to bereaved individuals ~ others may have more life and loss experience or a more extensive educational background. From my perspective, however, it's not about competing for 'business' or climbing the corporate ladder ~ it's about giving and sharing what I have and what I KNOW I can do...giving that which I have most of ~ and that's offering a listening ear and a passionate and compassionate heart...and I would be honored to walk with you along your own road of 'healing your fractured heart.'
Schedule an Appointment...
If you would like to share your grief story and concerns within a safe and compassionate atmosphere, please call or email