Inspiring Stories is a regular series featuring interviews and discussions with well known authors, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs from within the widows and widowers community. In today’s edition we chat to consultant and keynote speaker Karen Millsap aka ‘The Grief Consultant’.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey after becoming bereaved.
I became a widow at 29 years old, my husband was murdered while teaching his CrossFit class one evening. This experience was life shattering, to say the least. As a result of his death I experienced a domino effect of other losses – my car, house, job, family, friends… I was basically stripped of everything. Unfortunately, I had to jump into survival mode to make funeral arrangements, handle the closing of the gym, and most importantly to be a “stable” parent for my 2 year old son. A lot of people would compliment me by saying, “You’re so strong!” And honestly, that would make me mad; I really wanted to say, “You have no idea what I’m feeling, and it’s definitely NOT strong”. I know they meant well, but the truth is I was numb and on autopilot.
As I continued to journey into the next few months, and even over a year, I accepted the identity people saw and didn’t share how much I was struggling with living. Again, I had experienced so many losses so I was grieving multiple events and the weight was incredibly heavy – so heavy, I couldn’t even find the words. I also, didn’t want my pain to become someone else’s burden, so I kept it all inside for almost two years. It wasn’t until I discovered that I wanted to help others in their grief journey that I realized I wasn’t being authentic about the pain I was feeling. Now, I am helping people not by being overly positive, but by being real.
Tell us more about your mission statement ‘Take my pain, turn it into purpose and pay it forward’.
About 3-4 months after my husband died, I was laying in bed overwhelmed with sadness. Deep in my heart I heard this statement, “Take your pain, turn it into purpose and pay it forward.” I believe I was in so much pain, it resonated with me deeply that I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I did. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but I felt abandoned during the worst time of my life and I didn’t want anyone else to go through grief alone.
Over the next year I started to journal what “support” would look like, what actions were helpful or harmful, and what advice would I give not just the griever, but the people around them. We all tend to isolate after any kind of tragedy, but I believe if we had help building resilience and growing through hard times, then it would create a ripple effect of paying it forward to help others. We’re all connected through suffering – grief is universal.
How important is it to you to connect with other people who are widowed?
It’s not important, it’s IMPERATIVE to get connected with other widow(er)s. There are things we can’t talk about, or don’t have the words to describe what we are feeling and only other people who are widowed would understand. This journey makes you feel like you are crazy, but really you are just battling an internal conflict between love and loss. Hearing from others who are feeling the same heartache helps break through that isolation which helps you start to rebuild your life again.
Do you feel widowed people currently receive enough support within society?
Absolutely not! There isn’t enough support because society has created myths about grieving which have become barriers to healing. “Time heals, grieve alone, stay busy…”. These myths force us to suppress natural emotions tied to grief, and after awhile that toxicity can start to manifest itself in unhealthy ways for the griever. It’s a vicious cycle. Yes we need more support, but really the ball is in our court. We have to first be vulnerable and authentic. With that, we have to be willing to educate those around us. People are paralyzed by fear, so if they don’t know what to do or how to offer proper support, then they do nothing. But if we speak up and tell them what we need, solutions can begin to be crafted.
You’ve recently started mentoring other widows. How rewarding are you finding this process?
The most rewarding part of the journey is not just hearing and seeing their healing, but always experiencing healing myself. You see, the truth is we never really stop grieving. We just learn to manage the grief differently as life continues. I still have moments where grief consumes me, tears flow uncontrollably, or I get angry. But all of that is okay, and normal! Now I don’t feel shame, or like I have to act “strong”; and by sharing this with others, we are healing and rebuilding ourselves together.
Can you share with us ‘Five Things’ which have helped you through your bereavement?
– What one book? Mindset by Carol Dweck
– What one activity? Crying!! it’s so necessary and so cleansing.
– What one quote? “I have two choices: give up or get up.” – that’s my own quote that has helped me in dark times.
– What one piece of advice? There is no rulebook or timeline for grief, just take it one breath at a time.
– What one song/piece of music? Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.
To find out more about Karen Millsap, visit her website.You can follow Karen Millsap on Twitter.
This article is part of the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series.