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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Guest Inteview with Ellen Gerst: Part 2

Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach who uses her experiences to help clients through the grief process.  She can be reached via facebook.  You can find the first part of the interview here.

What is the mission of the website "lost and found" and how might non-widows, such as people in general struggling with losses of all kinds, use the resources offered on this site?

“Lost and Found” is a pair of opposites that reflect the natural duality of the universe. By experiencing both ends of the spectrum, one comes to understand and appreciate the other. This concept does not only apply to one type of loss but all kinds, both big and small.

Learning to move gracefully through the cycles of loss and subsequent rebirth in one’s life is a skill not taught by society. In fact, most shy away from talking about loss and feel awkward around those who are grieving. I believe this is because it brings up one’s own mortality or how frail the line is between success and failure. And no one really wants to go there!

When loss occurs, mourners are dropped into a foreign land. It’s almost as if they are watching a movie with subtitles, but the words scroll across the screen so fast that they can’t read them. On top of feeling rejected by society, there are no instructions on what to do and how to feel. They are lost without a map to follow.

This website offers a lifeline back to the main road – to help mourners of all categories find their way back to solid ground and eventual renewal.

The name of the website was also chosen from a quote by Clement Robinson, who said in 1584 that “I much rather be lost than found.”  This struck a chord within me, for I wholeheartedly agree with him.

When you’re lost, you become a seeker. You seek for knowledge, understanding, love, truth, your place in the world, and how to connect to yourself, to others and the world-at-large, amongst other things.

On the other hand, “being found” can equal complacency or stagnation. It’s possible that you’ve reached a place in life that all is going smoothly. You may feel comfortable enough to lift your hand off the “tiller of your ship.” When you do, what can happen? Your ship, or life, may start to veer off course because you weren’t paying attention or you allowed yourself to operate on auto pilot.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating that you look for drama in your life, and you certainly need to appreciate and revel in the times when things are going well. You simply need to pay attention and to always be seeking to become the best version of yourself. It’s a lot easier to make minor corrections as you go along vs. having to make a complete turnaround.

Although the word lost usually holds a negative connotation and found a positive one, when you take into consideration the explanations I’ve offered above, “being (a little) lost” is really a good thing. It makes you always strive to be and do your best.

You mention the idea of a "grief journey" --what can people do to navigate this journey with grace and dignity?

The grief journey is all about self-reflection and introspective thought. When the life you had planned gets ripped away, it is virtually impossible for you to remain the same person you were before your loss. Your grief journey is really a journey to find the new you who will emerge as you face the challenges (and rewards) of loss.

One suggestion on how to accomplish this feat is to become a reporter of your own life. By that I mean, ask yourself the six questions that every reporter attempts to answer when writing a story. In fact, you are writing the Story of Your Life Part II, so ask: Who? What? When? Why? Where? and How?

During your quest for answers, here’s a small sample of some questions you can ask yourself.
Who are you now? Who will be the participants in your life going forward?
What am I going to do with the rest of my life? What do I want to accomplish going forward?
When, if ever, will I feel like myself again? When will it get better?
Why did this happen to me?
Where am I going to live, work, etc.? Where do I fit in?
How am I going to do this?

Moving forward through grief with grace and dignity is a process. It’s pretty hard at the beginning when all you want to do is crawl into a hole and not come out. In your anger, you might lash out at those who are trying to help you the most. Moreover, your emotions reside on the surface of your being, and so you are especially sensitive to the comments and actions of others.

Mourners always have a choice to either reflectively respond or reflexively react to their circumstances.  They must also conserve their limited energy. For example, mourners can choose to waste their energy on anger over inappropriate or hurtful comments or choose to be happy for the people who have never experienced loss and realize that is the reason they don’t know how to act toward one who is grieving.

I believe that moving through all circumstances of life with grace and dignity comes down to a person’s perspective. Move a couple of degrees to the positive and a whole new world can open up. Additionally, the universe is a giant mirror and whatever messages are transmitted reflect back to the sender.

Accordingly, if you stay mired in negativity and mad at the world, you will encounter more situations that will make you angry. On the other hand, if you make conscious decisions to project out hope, gratitude, love, and grace under pressure, you will be presented with situations in which these positive feelings can be planted, take root and bloom.

How can writers dealing with topics and loss find a supportive community for sharing their stories and connecting with other people?

When I was widowed 17 years ago, the availability of a supportive community for young widows was practically non-existent. As the Internet grew and social media pervaded society, lots of organizations that connect widow/ers globally have sprung up, including, Hope For Widows, the Widdahood, Open To Hope, Legacy.com, and Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, to name but a few.  Each of these communities offers mourners a venue to share their stories and connect with others in similar circumstances. Blogging is also another popular way to tell your story. There are also anthologies who look to publish stories of loss, too, one of which I was the co-editor, Thin Threads of Grief and Renewal.

I have found all the aforementioned communities to be warm and welcoming. Those who have experienced loss seem to feel an almost immediate connection to others who have experienced the same pain. They are willing to open their hearts and their ears to hear the stories of others.

I might briefly add some of the reasons why it is important to tell our stories.

  • To heal. When you touch the life of another, especially one who has experienced something similar, an immediate bond is formed. The gap is bridged between the teller and the listener, and both feel less alone. This act of connecting and knowing that somebody “gets you” is very healing.
  • To evaluate. You may feel that you haven’t progressed very far on your journey. However, when you hear the story of someone who has spent less time on the roads of grief, you can accept that, even though you may not be in the place you want to be, you have come a long way on your own travels.
  • To change your perspective. When you swap stories with others, it allows you to hear different perspectives as well as learn about different ways to handle similar situations you’re encountering. When you only hear your own story in your head, it can become difficult to decide what sounds right or wrong. When you release your thoughts, out in the air (so to speak), it allows you to hear your story with a fresh ear and to decide if your feelings are appropriate or not.
  • To validate.  Without connecting to others in similar situations, it is easy to think you’re going crazy with all the random thoughts that may cross your mind. When you share and discover that others feel the same, you can heave a big sigh of relief.

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