Audrey Pellicano is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist who believes in an all-encompassing approach to healing grief. Moving through grief and loss feels like an uphill climb. But in her inspiring words, “…the most relevant training I have had is living life as a widow.” She works with companies and individuals and also takes on speaking engagements. Her book “Widowed Now: Steps to a New Life” is expected to be out this spring.
1. Moving through grief and loss is a real challenge. Could you tell us a little about your personal story of loss and how it moved you toward the work you now do?
I met the love of my life when I was 22, and a nursing student. Joe was an intern. I pursued my career, and he his. Nine years later, we married. I was never happier. Six months later, Joe was diagnosed with CML, a form of leukemia. Although we both knew, being in the health field, that the prognosis was poor, we lived our lives, had four children and always hoped for that miracle. Seven years later, Joe died. There was little support for a young widow with four children, so I had to find ways for myself to cope with the grief. People would call me to tell me when a woman in the community lost her husband and I would invite them over just to listen to them tell their story of loss. After many years of raising my children and working in a variety of positions which would allow me the time with my children and an income to support them, I completed my certification as a Grief Recovery Specialist and now help women on their journey of grief.
2. What can a griever expect from your 7-week Grief Relief Program?
My 7-week program helps a grieving person to understand that grief is a normal and natural response to loss. We address the myths around grief and the cliches that keep many people “stuck” in grief. The outcome of the program is a sense of relief and a transition from where they were to a place of deep understanding, allowing them to move forward to recovery.
3. What are some of the tools you use in your work with the grieving?
Where appropriate, I teach guided visualization and meditation. Mainly, I employ listening, re-education and serving as what we call “a big heart with ears.” I, also as a Health Coach, offer a 5-week “Healthy Living After Loss” program where I teach self-care through nutrition, exercise and self-love techniques such as abhyanga and self-massage.
4. In today’s culture, there seems to be an absence of rituals to ease the passage because of which more and more people grieve alone. Are there rituals that the grieving can embrace to move toward healing?
Perhaps you’re familiar with a poem written in the early 1900’s: “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.” That line, sadly, continues to ring true. I believe that one of the most important rituals a grieving person can employ is to talk about their loved ones. Speak of them by their name. On special dates and occasions, refer to them and what they loved the most about the holidays, their birthdays. When my children were growing up, on special occasions I would have them write or draw something on a helium balloon. Then we would all go out and release it to the sky and watch it sending their thoughts and dreams to their dad.
5. Are responses to grief “learned” during one’s childhood years?
Yes, absolutely they are. And those learned responses to loss are addressed in my 7-week program. The more authority the person who did the teaching around grief and loss had, such as clergy, parents and teachers, the more they were believed.
6. How do we rewrite or reframe an old “script” to loss?
That actually piggybacks on learned responses to loss. We need to address the myths around grief and the cliches we all hear. “Time heals all wounds,” “You’re young, you’ll marry again,” “He/she is in a better place” all of which do nothing to support the griever.
7. A lot of people are under the impression that getting busy is the best way to keep from feeling grief. Does unhealed pain ever go away on its own?
Keeping busy does nothing but allow another day to pass. Similar to suppressing the feelings of grief with anti-depressants. Unhealed grief leaves a griever unhealed and grief should not last a lifetime. Small action steps need to be taken to come to completion after loss. That doesn’t mean that the missing ends, that memories are erased, but it does mean healing is taking place.
8. What kind of spiritual advice could you offer someone who suffers the devastating grief of losing a child?
I don’t offer spiritual advice to my clients, but I do ask what their spiritual beliefs are. Some grievers are angry with their God and they work on that loss of connection. As far as the death of a child, all loss is devastating and life will never be the same. We do address the cliches around that loss that can be so hurtful such as “at least you have other children.” Loss of a child, as with loss of any loved one, is unique to the individual.
Moving through grief and loss can take us to unexpected places of peace and understanding too.