One of the most striking moments in my life occurred after publishing When Mom’s Cancer Doesn’t Go Away. That work of love was created for a family member who was dying of brain cancer. I didn’t plan that title in the Little Pink Book series — it developed out of an urgent need to connect a grieving teenager with his dying mother. His father, along with other adults surrounding them, were at a loss for direction. “How do we go on? What does that look like?”
Those questions became a prevailing theme during phone calls. By heart-pouring and imagining myself in their shoes, the story line was born through the eyes of the child inside of me. That Little Pink Book has continued as one of our best sellers since 2010. A bittersweet fact, to say the least. I was struck by the apparent void of helping families with such profound loss, and the need for healing inside young and old readers. We’ve continually heard requests for other titles about loss and grief, with the most frequent being on the subject of infant loss and miscarriage. Though I understood the absolute need for such a book, I did not feel qualified to create it.
Three years later, Gabrielle Michel virtually knocked on my door, equipped and willing to help families with infant loss — and its accompanying profound grief. Rev. Gabrielle Michel, a pioneer in the grief movement, is an interfaith minister, ordained in 2000, and spiritual counselor whose specialty is helping people work through spiritual crisis.
In 2004, she experienced a spiritual crisis of her own. February brought the miscarriage of her first baby; July, the death of her younger brother. In October, she said goodbye to a dear friend who succumbed to emphysema. And on December 22nd, she joyfully welcomed her second baby into the world, only to say goodbye to her the very next morning when death claimed her as well.
Seeking solace in the midst of great spiritual pain and a loss of faith, Gabrielle embarked on a quest to find comfort. Alone, she stumbled around in the dark trying to find her way back to faith. The Grief Recovery Method was very helpful to Gabrielle in helping her work through the emotional aspects of grieving. That method led to her training with the authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook, eventually becoming a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Gabrielle discovered the critical missing pieces of our culture’s current grief paradigms. Gabrielle offers parents the tools to work through their loss and honor the life they shared with their baby. What makes her material so radical is her approach to a parent’s anger with God and the tools given to deal with this anger. Finally, parents are also given the tools to reconnect and stay connected spiritually to their little angel.
Gabrielle has vowed to shine a light on the path to faith, peace and joy so other parents don’t have to wander in the dark alone. As a result, she founded Graceful Grieving, Inc., a nonprofit organization. Her forthcoming book, Graceful Grieving: A Radical & Spiritual Approach to Healing After Infant & Pregnancy Loss will no doubt empower countless families with healing tools.
Today, we present Gabrielle Michel’s guest blog here on Hope Matters. Her story of grieving the loss of loved ones provides a spiritual window of hope.
Repressing Grief Won’t Make it Go Away
by Gabrielle Michel
If you were given the choice between diving into the darkest depths of the ocean, fully equipped with all of the gear needed to handle whatever you might encounter, OR being attached to an 80-pound anchor while you flailed frantically to keep your head above water, which would you choose?
Well, when it’s put that way, I’d have to choose diving into the depths. Grief is a lot like plunging into the depths of a dark unknown ocean. When we plunge into grief, we fear we will never resurface. So we choose instead to frantically tread water while lugging an 80-pound anchor that slowly drags us to the very place we were trying to avoid. How ridiculous is that?
Last year, I had a very important friendship end. I chose to dive right into the darkness of my grief and bawl my eyes out! I was pathetic. I cried in front of everyone I encountered and even cried during a presentation I gave about, of all things, sharing and being open about one’s grief. I was literally a sobbing mess for eight days.
As I look back, I realize it took a lot of courage to allow myself to express how I was feeling. I was honest and shared my sadness with an open heart. Then a funny thing happened. The crying stopped and I felt light and free.
If I had chosen to pretend that I was fine or tried to repress my grief, kicking wildly with that anchor chained to my legs in an attempt to keep my head above water, I would have been dragged down into the darkness anyway. My heart and soul would have been battered and exhausted. I am certain that I would still be sad had I tried to fight my grief.
But I chose to dive into the depths, trusting that I had the gear I needed to face what had to be faced. Including taking responsibility for my part in creating the circumstances that ended the friendship and understanding that I was not a victim. As a result, I became stronger and light enough to resurface quickly. It was a very empowering experience. I am using a minor loss in order to give you a simple illustration. I know that major losses are complex and more difficult to face, but the same principle applies.
In July of 2004, my brother died, five months later, my infant daughter died as well. It was as if my soul knew that the two losses combined were more than I could handle, so I put fully grieving the loss of my brother on hold. It took a great deal of energy just to get through the day, and I felt heavy and tired all the time. The blocked sadness also blocked my ability to experience love and joy to the fullest.
On the third year anniversary of my brother’s death, it hit me: my brother was gone. That is when I began to really process my grief. I dove in by writing, reading and sharing about my loss. It’s been six years and I have just begun to resurface. I am sure people thought, “Honestly, it’s been years, should not she be over it by now?”
I can’t help but wonder if I had not put my sadness about my brother on hold and given myself the time to grieve, would I have been able to resurface sooner? My guess is yes.
My energy started returning just this week! I am starting to feel more love and joy in my everyday life more than ever before. Having processed my grief does not mean I won’t continue to miss my brother, my baby and even my friend, but as long as I allow myself to feel my sadness and let it come up and out, I will continue to be empowered.
Do not be afraid to dive into your grief. Get the tools and support you need to work through your sadness and you will avoid a lifetime spent in darkness fighting to get to the light. If you need support or would like to learn more about the tools needed to effectively process your grief, please contact me by email or phone. I would be honored to be your spiritual grief companion. You, too, deserve to live a life filled with energy, love and joy.
~ Gabrielle Michel
In keeping with tradition here at Hope Matters, Gabrielle provided us with a whimsical little fact about herself — humor is healing medicine! “Before I found God, I found Dolly Parton, she’s been the angel in my life ever since.” 😉