How Parents Can Slow Down, Find New Community & Hold Space for Ritual in Grief

11 May 2020 - Tracey Wallace

Welcome

One of the most frustrating, yet common and honestly privileged experiences all of us are having right now is WiFi connectivity issues. We haven’t been spared –– and our Instagram Live series has had it’s fair share of issues. Our audience is so incredibly forgiving, as are our guests.

A continued thank you to you all as we figured this out in real time!

This week, we chatted with Sarah Shaoul. She is the host of podcast Grief, Gratitude, Greatness. She is also a life coach and a writer, though none of those descriptions seem to even begin to cover the immense amount of work and holding space for grief that she does.

Our conversation touched on the importance of ritual, and how parents who are grieving, and whose children are grieving, can find some peace in these moments –– knowing that they are seen, that their grief is valid, and that this time is just incredible –– in all the positive and negative ways. You can find our conversation below and the transcript after that.

Dani: Sarah, thank you so much for being here. Let’s start by having you introduce yourself.

Sarah Shaoul: Absolutely. My name is Sarah Shaoul and I host the podcast, “Grief, Gratitude and Greatness,” where we explore the different ways that people grieve, the gratitude that allows us to persevere and the greatness that we expect that we discover along the way.

I can tell you a little bit about how I came into this work. Actually, I was a small business owner most of my adult life. I had retail stores, and I love engaging with other people, but I really was never paying attention to grief.

Once I started to notice how impactful grief was, I completely threw myself into this exploration, which is what led me to the podcast.

Dani: A lot of us are experiencing grief in our own homes in a myriad of different ways and parents, especially, I think are going through a tough time. What is your philosophy and your experience for parents right now?

Sarah Shaoul: Well, a lot of what informs how I help others parent through grief is by just observing how, as a child, I grew up where everyone ignored grief.

I grew up with so much love in my family, so I’m a really well adjusted adult, but that love often tried to make up this loss rather than address the loss.

So, one of the things that I encourage people to do is to acknowledge your grief and your child’s grief.

It’s so hard to parent. It’s hard to take care of yourself and have to take care of others, and that’s the number one question I get asked quite often by grieving parents.

“How do I care for my child?” The answer is you need to care for yourself first.

Dani: The word, “self care,” gets thrown around so much, but I don’t think people really have a holistic context to what it means. What have you seen be really good and even simple examples of self care?

Sarah Shaoul: I think we have to really expand how we view self care. Self care isn’t just –– and not to minimize anything –– but it isn’t getting a pedicure or having a bubble bath or a massage.

It’s a really challenging time, too, when you’re feeling more isolated than ever as we’re in quarantine, as you’re trying to take care of children. Some people are trying to work. Those who are trying to work are trying to navigate everything from unemployment to loans, and also trying to help their kids attend school. We’re also teacher’s aides!

It’s an incredible time and it’s very, very taxing.

So, part of taking care of yourself, especially when you feel like you’re on this hamster wheel, is you have to anchor yourself in ritual.

That can look like all kinds of different things.

You need to anchor yourself in a ritual that allows you to step away from all the noise and that is meditative. All these things can be very meditative.

Dani: Self-care can be anything. It is really just a commitment that you make to yourself, and they help ground you in the day-to-day being so important.

Sarah Shaoul: I think it’s a very difficult time for people because every day does feel exactly the same as the previous day.

When I speak about ritual, I’m talking time that’s really intentional, even if it’s just going and standing in your backyard.

The other night, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a ritual, but sometimes you have to do something that’s so out of the norm, too. I got out in the street and we socially distanced with our neighbors and danced in the middle of the street at night. It was so fun!

I’m not saying you always have to look to make everything fun, but being open to something you would never have done before is a really wonderful thing.

Dani: Have you seen new ways that parents have been able to connect with their children? Or how they can help foster community even when quarantined?

Sarah Shaoul: Yeah, I’m thinking about a woman that I had on my podcast who lost her husband when her child was just a few months old. I remember asking her the question because she said a lot of people would come take her daughter and go have experiences with her daughter. She said it was really important because her daughter needed to be with somebody who was happy.

She needed to have that emotion displayed for her.

I know another woman who was separated from her child’s father and he died a few weeks ago.

She is very sad, and she wants her daughter to be able to engage with others. The challenge right now is that you can’t really do that, except for over Zoom calls or in digital ways.

Except, that’s not true either.

This woman told me, and I just thought it was so incredible, that her child was playing Tic-Tac-Toe and writing messages with wax crayons or something on their front window. They have a big picture window, and people on the street would stop and engage.

That is just so incredible that people are getting so creative and innovative about how they engage in community. Community is essential.

One thing I always say about grief is you have to be witnessed, and then your community has to witness you and hold you. That’s going to be in a Google Hangout or on an Instagram Live or Zoom call, or maybe that’s just having friends stand outside your window.

Dani: Yes, the virtual communities seem to really be helping people right now. They are a sort of lifeline, it seems.

Sarah Shaoul: What I hear often is that you can be really surprised by the community that ends up holding you up in these situations because sometimes the people that are the closest to you might not be the ones that show up in the way that you need them to.

So, it is important to plug into grief groups and other organizations where you are so welcomed by people who get it. That’s what I hear often; it’s important to have people who get it.

They know what it’s like to have been there.

There’s this kind of magical connection that I know I’ve had with people, and there’s this underlying trust because they know that you’ve gone through it.

They also know that they can be real because another thing that happens with people who are grieving is that they feel like they have to ban it. The reverse happens, and suddenly they are having to take care of everybody else and make sure everyone else feels comfortable.

Dani: That particular experience of the end feels so right to me because I remember when I lost my brother, the worst times of my life, I put on a smile more than any other time, and tried to please people more than any other time. I’ve never been more exhausted trying to pretend to be happy!

Sarah Shaoul: I actually just listened to David Kessler talking about this the other day and it’s so true and something I talk about, but it’s something that I think is really good for us all to be reminded about –– and that is, we shouldn’t compare our grief to someone else’s grief or compare how someone else is grieving.

I think especially when we come to a day like Mother’s Day, there’s a lot of assuming that goes on, assuming like, “Oh, this must really be a shitty day for you.”

Well, it might be, but maybe it’s not. So, we have to be very thoughtful about how we hold those who are grieving. There are mothers that are grieving the loss of their children and that is very, very difficult.

Just reach out to those people on Sunday and just say, “I love you. I’m thinking of you.”

I know as someone who lost their mother as a very young person, Mother’s Day was such a difficult day for me, always. I didn’t feel comfortable around other people. All the kids in school making mother’s day cards. That was really tough, but then I became a mother and it changed.

Dani: You get to be the person that you wanted, for your daughter. I can’t speak for you, but maybe it brings a lot more meaning and maybe a lot more layers to what Mother’s Day could possibly mean?

Sarah Shaoul: It’s interesting. You said the word, “meaning,” and I think we should be careful about how much meaning we apply to certain things.

Like Mother’s Day, we sure do!

We’ll apply a lot of meaning to Mother’s Day. Mothers are the best. They are the apex, but some people have really complicated relationships with their mothers.

So not everyone feels like their mother is the best.

Dani: Do you have other resources on your website or podcasts, or is there anything that you can offer to our audience to learn more about how to hear other people’s stories or learn how to become more compassionate in this way?

Sarah Shaoul: I think podcast is just a library of resources. So, there are podcasts on all different kinds of grief.

I really strive to find people with interesting stories that are compelling and to which people can relate. What I hear often is that they don’t feel alone because there’s somebody else that had an experience that is similar, or they’re inspired by a story to move forward in their lives.

I think it’s so important to have a public education aspect to the work you’re doing and the work that I’m doing and so many others.

We don’t really have a culture around how we address grief and how we grieve. We don’t have a lot of ritual that’s directly associated with how we grieve in this country. So, we have to create that for ourselves.

The first thing we really must do is stop judging how people grieve and we must stop avoiding it because avoiding grief just makes that grief turn into anxiety. I often say that grief is not a mental health issue, but when grief is not addressed, it can easily become one.

Dani: Yes! I think that’s why grief is so closely tied here in the US to conversations about mental health because for so long, not to speak for all of us, but a lot of us push it down in different ways, avoid it in a million ways. I think that resonates.

Sarah Shaoul: Right. Just give people the space to grieve. Stop rushing people.

And you know what?

Once you’re grieving, it’s always there. It’s always there and it’ll come up whenever it wants to come up.

So, just let people be with that. Stop rushing them through it and stop being surprised like, “Oh, didn’t that happen whatever time ago?”

It’s a pain that resides within you always, and it comes up and it goes away at its own rhythm. As soon as we begin to accept that as truth, we’re all going to be just so much better for it.

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