The Right Way to Grieve Is Your Way

April 11, 2016

In this episode of The Grief Girl, hostess Kristi Hugstad touches upon the many kinds of grief talking to expert Brad Stetson, who is a chaplain focused on providing compassionate and personalized memorial services. Brad is also an author and lecturer, and has dealt with and learned from significant losses that he shares with us today.

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1:45 - Intro to Brad Stetson, whose personal experience with stillbirth led to his current line of work writing and conducting funeral and memorial services. Brad describes in detail the loss of his first child, who died in utero just days before his delivery date.

4:30 - Brad describes the shock in the aftermath, and the reactions of those around him and his wife: "No one gets real training on this and even if you did, you wouldn’t be prepared for the trauma of it." He and Kristi agree that sometimes it’s better not to say anything—people mean well but they don’t say the right thing.

6:50 - Brad and his wife experienced grief differently: she threw herself into work while he went to the cemetery often. He learned that there is absolute truth that "the right way to grieve is your way." He says that there is a great deal of subjectivity to grief, and each person needs to find out what will further them along the road of healing.

7:45 - In the aftermath of grief, you experience triggers, and will always contemplate life milestones that should have happened. Brad refers to Mark Twain’s quote: "Losing a loved one is like having your house burn down; it takes years to realize all that you’ve lost." With an infant death or stillbirth, that loss is realized progressively over time and constantly unfolding.

11:10 - Brad highly recommends that in the event of an infant loss, you should make an effort to bring home mementos such as photos, locks of hair, and hospital wristband.

12:05 - Brad talks about Forever Footprints (formerly known as OC Walk to Remember), which is an organization that he calls a "powerful healing institution" for families who have experienced infant death.

13:50 - He also discusses his book Tender Fingerprints: A True Story of Loss and Resolution. It can be helpful to read other people’s stories of loss. Kristi points out that it may be particularly helpful to men because the father's point of view is sometimes left out in this experience of grief. Brad has also authored nine other books including the upcoming Choosing to Survive, which is a collection of interviews with families who have suffered loss by homicide. He explains that choosing to survive is a basic but critically important principal of grief whatever the loss is. It’s an affirmative choice to take control of your grief and work through it.

18:30 - Examples of different types of grief:

  • Normal grief (i.e., elderly relative passes away)
  • Anticipatory grief (i.e. diagnosis of cancer)
  • Complicated grief (i.e., murder)

23:20 - Brad offers valuable tools for grief

  1. Grief groups
  2. Journaling
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Filling a calendar every day with lists no matter how basic because it will help you take control of your daily life and destiny

27:03 - More examples of different types of grief: 

  • Distorted grief (i.e., atypical reaction to loss includes enshrinement and bedevilment)
  • Prolonged grief (i.e., when griever is incapacitated that they can barely function and cannot adjust to life without the person who died)

30:05 - Brad tells us about his experience with a loss of a pet, and how it can affect a relationship between two people. He goes into detail about the loss of his family’s basset hound, and how it created marital conflict. No matter what the loss is, you can survive it. “You can do more than you think you can,” he says.

41:02 - Brad discusses his work conducting memorial services for others. He works to honor the lives of the deceased, and he feels privileged to learn about each life and witness the love people have for one another. His goal is to make a memorial service a beautiful experience for the families. He starts with a biographical tribute, and ends with asking the attendees to stand with the family who has had the loss. He also provides tips of what to say/do after the service is over.

46:50 - Brad leaves us with his outlook on loss, and emphasizes that the right way to grieve is YOUR way. He encourages families to take control of their grief. Kristi reminds us that there’s no time frame for grief—it’s unique to the individual, so don’t allow anyone to make one for you. Brad agrees, and adds that there should be no judgment—there should be no shame or stigma.

48:48 - What has grief taught Brad? Compassion. Grief is crazy-making and makes you irrational. Don’t render judgments on people after they’ve had a loss. There’s something special and unique about every person we love. Grieving is humanizing—it leaves us to reflect on life in general and find the positive, admirable aspects and seize on those things.

50:00 - If you would like to contact or learn more about Brad, visit www.bradstetson.com.

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