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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guest Interview: Ellen Gerst (Part 1)

We are proud to have the opportunity to get to know Ellen Gerst in the following interview. I decided that, in addition to our contributor interviews, it would be good to talk to people whose interests overlap with our anthology, "Joy, Interrupted."  This is the first part of the interview with Ellen; the second part will be on this blog later in the week.

Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach who uses both her personal experience as a young widow and her professional expertise to help clients and readers experience a change in perspective to held them gracefully move from the darkness of loss to the light of renewal.

She is a member of the Advisory Board of Hope For Widows, a workshop leader, and the author of several books on both grief and relationships, which are available through her website at or via Amazon.  You can also connect with her on Facebook to receive tips and thoughts on finding love after loss.

INTERVIEW: ELLEN GERST, March 2012, Part 1

What role do you think writing has in the grief process and/or in your own situation as a widow at 39 years old and beyond?

I believe that putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it is nowadays) and producing the written word is a magical medium. It is a vehicle that allows you to write to yourself about your own confused set of emotions. In this way, it is a cathartic device, for it permits you to move your difficult and racing thoughts to another physical location. When you are done “throwing up” these types of thoughts, you always have the option of deleting the words off your computer or crumbling up the piece of paper onto which you inscribed your diatribe of despair and to throw it away. Whether you keep or discard your musings, you are figuratively ridding yourself of negativity/sadness/anger and allowing a space to open within you for more positive thoughts to flow.

And, although I am a big believer of writing about your angst, I think it is equally important to journal positive experiences and thoughts. When you are encountering an especially difficult time and feel nothing ever goes your way, this practice will allow you to review past entries and realize that you have also had many good days. This helps you to keep everything in proper perspective.

Many use the writing process to share their thoughts with others, as evidenced by the many “grief” blogs and articles that appear on the Internet. When I was widowed almost 17 years ago, blogs were non-existent. Instead, I started sharing my thoughts through a newsletter that I wrote for a local Arizona grief group. I wrote about all aspects of grieving – emotional, mental, spiritual and physical. It was a record of my journey as I encountered all the new circumstances I needed to conquer; I just experienced it aloud as I shared it with my audience.

Until I started getting feedback from other widow/ers, I didn’t know that most of what I was experiencing was commonly felt by others, too. Of course, everyone grieves in their own way, but there are universal and shared underlying truths about grief, and these are the ones that came shining through in my writings. This was very validating for me and encouraged me to share more as I figured out my new life. As I continued in my efforts, I helped others by providing suggestions and options on how they could approach similar issues.

So writing is both a mechanism that helps the writer and the reader. I consider that a winning combination and one of the reasons why writing through grief is so popular.

The articles I wrote for that newsletter were so well received that they became the foundation for my first coping with grief book, Suddenly Single: How To find Renewal After Loss.

What's your best advice for someone looking for "love after loss," whether in the form of a romance or other relationships?

There are many self-help books written to help you find love, mine included (Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story). It’s important, though, to keep in mind that books have a tendency to “intellectualize” the process of developing a relationship by providing a blueprint to follow. It is just as important to recognize that love is a feeling or emotion, and that it is hard for it to always flourish within rigid rules and boundaries. Sometimes when the right person comes along, you must simply discard your stringent list of requirements.

I always say that you must listen to your inner knowing or your intuition. Your body will never lie to you; you just need to learn how to recognize the language it speaks. I suggest that when you are trying to make a decision, complete a quick check to make sure that your head, your heart and your gut are in alignment. If they are, you won’t be second guessing yourself or see red flags in the distance that you may be choosing to ignore. You will feel calm and at peace with your decision.

That said, of utmost importance, before jumping into a new relationship, you must first complete your grief work. A good majority of relationships fail because either one or both parties are not ready to make the full commitment a successful relationship requires.

Consider the fact that your loss has precipitated a monumental change in your life. Consequently, the answers to the following questions have different answers now, and you need to figure out what they are.

Who do you think you are?
Is this the same as how others see you?
So, who are you really now?
How are you approaching your life now?
What do you need and want in life and in a partner going forward, and is this different from what you wanted before your loss?

This is only a small smattering of the long list of questions you will have to answer in order to figure out the new you. When you can fully recognize (and accept/love) the new you, it is then you can first begin your search for a new other. If you look for love before this point, you will very likely wind up with the wrong person.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t practice! Practice dating is one of the ways that helps you to figure out this new you because it is a source of immediate feedback. You can try out new personas and determine what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, as you continue to figure out and refine the new you, learn to appreciate the small moments of happiness found in just living everyday life. Project this happiness, and the universe will reflect it back upon you.

Please look forward to more interviews with contributors to "Joy, Interrupted" and part two of our interview with Ellen Gerst.

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