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Love After Loss
RebuilDing Your Life
Love After Loss: Whether through death, divorce or an unexpected relationship rupture, unexpectedly losing someone dear to you is painful. I know well, from many years of serving my clients as a therapist in Denver that circumstances like this bring immense amounts of grief — and rightfully so. However, it is not the endpoint. Instead, you must realize that grief and loss are small chapters in your journey. Remember that you are capable of overcoming your grief and rebuilding your life.
In this interview, Eileen Robertson Hamra shares her journey of healing and finding love after a loss. She talks about making your way out of grief and rebuilding your life despite the many struggles and setbacks.
Tune in to the episode to know how you can rebuild your life, overcome grief, and find love after loss!
In This Episode: Love After Loss, You Will . . .
- Learn how to rebuild your life after a loss.
- Understand the importance of being gentle to yourself and allowing yourself to feel your emotions.
- Learn why you need to lean into your grief and not avoid it altogether.
- Realize why you should let yourself be open to new opportunities and people coming into your life.
- Discover the ways on how to navigate through your children's grief.
- Recognize the things that are hindering you from moving forward in your life.
- Discover the things that will help you deal with grief and loss.
Seeking Refuge in Grief
We all have different ways of processing our emotions and working through stages of grief. In today's episode, Love After Loss, Eileen shares that what helped her the most to heal and move forward was to embrace grief completely.
Some people manage to heal by pushing themselves to work and move, but Eileen walked a different path and took the time to be comfortable with her emotions. She sought refuge in grief. Refuge in grief refers to sitting with and allowing yourself to experience the different stages of grief. Through this time, Eileen was able to discover more about what she needed in those moments and to meet herself where she was at.
Having Your Grief Support
When Eileen lost her husband, everything suddenly stopped for her. The tremendous feeling of loss immobilized her. She shares that her experience through grief would not had been same had she not had her support system.
Everyone's support system may look a little different, however, Eileen encourages listeners to take the time to reflect, breathe, move, seek help, and find a supportive community.
- Reflecting and giving yourself the time to breathe. By taking things slow, you allow yourself to assess everything that happened. You can reflect on and evaluate your situation fully.
- Being physically active. By moving your body and being physically active you encourage your body to find calm both physically and mentally.
- Seeing a therapist. The support of a therapist can help you navigate your way through grief and loss by allowing you the space to fully grieve, open up, or just have a supportive presence with you in those moments.
- Having a supportive community. Allowing for your community to support and lift you up when you don't have the energy to do it for yourself, can greatly help and encourage your healing process.
Handling Grief in Children
Eileen's children helped her to get through it all. She says, “It's kind of ironic, but I would say they probably were the ones that saved me, in a way.” Because they were so young back then, Eileen had to show up for and support her children in every way. Her children pushed her to start building her life again.
Dealing with your grief is one thing, but managing your children's grief is a whole different matter. It's okay to not have the answers in every moment – just as adults handle grief in different ways, so do children. The most important thing is to not have the “right” thing to do, but love them through their grief and give them the space to experience what they're experiencing. To love and to listen, that's your only job.
Eileen suggests to support your children through grief you can try these things:
- Find a supportive therapist who is experienced working with adolescents through grief and loss.
- Create a “feelings book” to help your child understand their feelings and work through those experiences as a family.
- Practice patience and understanding with your children.
- And, above all else, listen. Listen to what they feeling, sharing, experiencing in those moments so they know they aren't alone.
Teaching your children that they are unconditionally loved and working through their emotions along side them is not easy, but grief isn't easy; it is what it is.
Waves of Grief
Eileen's children were so young when they lost their father, and she realizes they have experience new layers of grief as they age.
Eileen shares, that her children want to know more about their dad as an adult, and understandably so. Although they have support coming from their friends and family, it's still not their dad. So, as they age, they become more aware of not having their father beside them.
These waves of grief are expected and if you're feeling them years later, you're not alone. It's okay when new layers of grief unfold and you find yourself working through things that you thought you had healed from. It's important to remember that grief is not linear – it can show up in different ways at different times, and that's okay.
Rebuilding Your Life
Grief is not the endpoint of life. It's a part of a long journey of getting your life together again.
Here are a few things we can get from Eileen's journey in Love After Loss:
You may feel afraid and might not trust yourself. When faced with unexpected events, like losing a loved one or going through a divorce, people tend to be afraid. These experiences terrorize them, and sometimes they don't want to try again. This notion grows on the fear of getting hurt or experiencing these negative feelings all over again.
However, to rebuild your life, you have to have trust in yourself. You have to allow yourself to be open to new opportunities. You have to open yourself to meeting new people.
You may be stuck in regrets and can't forgive yourself. Unexpectedly losing someone makes you feel regretful for not doing so much more. Having regrets is a part of grief, but allowing regrets to consume you will not help you in any way.
It's also important to understand that you need to forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness along the way. You can only move forward when you begin forgiving yourself and asking others for forgiveness.
You may experience feeling guilty of being disloyal. People who experienced loss feel they cannot be happy and find someone else because they should be grieving. However, you have to realize that happiness and grief can exist at the same time.
“Because being happy does not mean that you are not sad,” Eileen says.
Finding Love after Loss
Knowing that you're ready to love again is a process. Here is Eileen's advice for love after loss:
- Accept that what your marriage once was – is no longer. You will continue to feel connected to your partner after loss, it's expected that you'll still feel a bond – especially if you have children together. But it's okay to accept that your earthly marriage has already ended – what once was, is no longer.
- It's okay to not to want to be alone. Part of being human is the need to connect, to love and feel loved, and it's okay to continue wanting this after loss. It's okay to not want to be alone. You deserve to not be alone.
- It's okay to provide your children another supportive figure. It can be difficult for a parent to bring another partner into the picture after loss. There may be resistance and insecurities in the family dynamic, but it's okay to want to provide your children a loving and supportive mother or father figure.
Now, Eileen is happily married and lives a beautiful life together with her husband and four children.
2 Pieces of Advice on How to Rebuild Your Life
Going through grief is a long journey but what helped Eileen go through it, and start her healing, was having a proper mentality. She shares with us two powerful mindsets you can adopt to overcome your grief.
- There is a gift somewhere in your grief. You have to believe that through your experiences, you can grow and develop.
- The answers you are looking for are right there. It takes time to find the answers to your questions. You can see them by seeking support from your friends, family, and therapists.
In the end, what Eileen wants everyone to get is that we have the power to make a change in our lives. We can rebuild our lives and find love again.
“Tragedy and forks in the road that you do not want or care to have, they're going to happen, but what we do with that is up to us,” she says.
- Time to Fly: Life and Love After Loss – Grab a copy of Eileen's book and get tips on finding love after loss.
- Visit Eileen's website and get to know more about her inspiring journey.
- Listen to “Life After Loss,” On The Love Happiness & Success Podcast (featuring an interview with two amazing grief counselors on our team).
Eileen Robertson Hamra has shared her journey of rebuilding her life and finding love again after experiencing a significant loss in her life. What are the moments that you relate to the most? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.
Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!
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Love After Loss
Music Credits: Out of Flux by Haze
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Love After Loss Episode: Podcast Transcript
Access Episode Transcript
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.
Our musical intro is a band called Haze with a song Out of Flux, which I thought was the perfect mood setter for our topic today. As I'm sure you all know, we have all been through so much this past year, and are hopefully now on the cusp of rebuilding. But that's why I wanted to speak today to my guest, Eileen Robertson Hamra, who has a powerful message reminding us that within every loss are the seeds of renewal and rebirth and that it's a process sometimes to find them. So she's here today to share her story and also her wise advice for how to heal through grief, how to rebuild your life after setbacks, and most importantly, how to find love after a loss. Eileen, welcome.
Eileen Robertson Hamra: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa: Thank you. Well, I am familiar with your story. But of course my listeners aren't. We can't really understand you without understanding that story. So I know you've written about this extensively in your book A Time to Fly but I'm wondering if you would be willing to start by just sharing your story with my listeners.
Eileen: Yes. So the story I share about in the book and that we're here to talk about is—unfortunately on December 22, 2011, my husband was flying to join myself, and we had three young kids at the time who were four, seven, and, eight. We had gone back east—we’re living in California, we went back east to visit family for the holidays. Unfortunately, his plane engine failed and he crashed and he didn't survive. So that was nine years ago this past December. That's where the story begins of my transformation and finding love again. I go through my grief, what it was like for me to support my kids, and healing, and then opening up myself to loving again. A big part of that story is also opening up myself to expanding our family. I did not actually even think that was possible and was able to have another child—actually at the age of 46, which is a straight up out of the miracle books. Miracle, but it really was about opening myself up to the possibility or it never would have happened. So that is the very long, nine year story right? [In] short. But yeah, Sure.
Dr. Lisa: Wow, well what a journey that must have been on so many levels. Maybe, I think something that's very much on many people's minds right now as we're talkin—hopefully, I hate to jinx us here Eileen, but hopefully what will wind up being the waning days of the COVID pandemic. People have lost things large and small. I mean there have been weddings that were cancelled. You know, plans for life events, careers that were scuttled. You know, so many people may have had businesses like a restaurant, other businesses that they put their heart and soul into for years and years and had to shutter this past year. So many people like myself sadly, have lost loved ones due to this horrible situation. There are many different kinds of grief. I think the most agonizing kind can sometimes be losing a person. But I don't also want to diminish the other kinds of grief that have been sustained.
I'm wondering, just given the ubiquity of that experience lately. If we could start by your insight into the grieving process. Because I mean, I know it said that there's no one right way to grieve, right? We all have to figure out our own paths through it. People that have been through grief have figured some things out often, at least for themselves, and I'm wondering what the early grief days were like for you? Looking back, what were the things that you did or connected to, or thought about that helped you through it? Can you speak to that?
Eileen: Sure. Absolutely, yes. I completely agree this whole time, I think it's kind of ironic that my book was actually launched during this time. Because it is a story of grief, although it's one particular type of grief. But I talk about other types of grief that I've experienced in the book as well.
Dr Lisa: Just on the side when we were chatting really briefly before we started talking, you mentioned that the whole launch of your book had to be cancelled. You have this whole book tour planned and that must have been a loss as well.
Eileen: Yes, yeah. Even my daughter, my one daughter, was a big dancer. She's now a senior in high school. Her dance studio Hubbard Street, which is huge in Chicago—I’m in Chicago. Their youth program did not make it through the group. I mean it's huge for the city but also it was huge for her. It’s what she had dedicated and she was like, “Mom I’m a junior I don’t want to go join another dance studio,” which I get. But it was now this gaping hole of time, and relationships, and all of those things that the activity was providing her that was gone.
Absolutely a lot of people have experienced all kinds of losses, large and small. I think you need to ask about the early days. I think one of the most important things to do and grieve is to actually be with it, which maybe sounds weird, but I'm a go-go girl. You know, don’t stop long, let’s move, move, move. That can work. I'm not saying it’s the right way. But you often have to slow way down. I think, you know, the grief I experienced with losing my husband I was like, “There was no way I could move anyway.” I mean, my body was reeling. Everything that I dreamed of, everything that I thought I could count on was, in a moment, no longer possible.
So I did absolutely slow down. I took time to heal. I think that means a lot of things to a lot of people. But for me, it meant reflecting. It meant assessing. It meant physically healing, giving myself time to rest and to breathe. I did a lot of yoga in those early months. A lot of yoga. I saw a therapist, and I reached out and received a lot of help. Thank God I had tons of community come in and buoy me with meals and with childcare help, you name it. So I think that, often when we're faced with pain, we’re like, “Well what's going to work? How can I get out of this? What's my plan now?” Giving yourself some time and grace to go ahead and heal is…. to begin.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Which means, and I think and what I'm hearing in your story, is sort of that paradoxical embracing it. I think you said something so insightful, which is, “You can't get out of this; you can't make it go away.” It really has to be being very gentle with yourself as you are allowing yourself to exist in this pain, and as you say, heal. That there’s no cure, sadly, it's an experience.
Eileen: I think also that grace and compassion also for others in the scenario. So like, I didn't know that I had all that foresight when I was going through it, or all that awareness. Because my life was turned upside down, but pretty much everybody else around me as well. In some regards it was easy to give grace to my kids or to close family. But you know, even in writing a book, I can look back and I have even more grace for myself. Did I handle it all? Well, no. Did I make mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But noticing that—yeah that was a really tough time of growth really. And I was growing and I had growing pains.
Dr. Lisa: Well on that note, you also described struggling with something that I think a lot of parents deal with and worry about in your circumstances. I mean, I can't imagine the agony that you are in, and also having to figure out how to hold the space and be responsive to your children's experience of loss, which must have been equally huge. I think we parents also deal with that in ways large and small. You know, smaller ways—going through a divorce, or a job loss, or economic insecurity. It really takes a toll on adults. I'm curious if you can speak a little bit about how you were able to have your feelings, take care of yourself, but really be there for your kids in the way that they needed you to be at that time.
Eileen: Yeah, thank you for asking that question. It's kind of ironic, but I would say they probably were the ones that saved me in a way, because they did need me. They were very young. They were four, seven, and eight. And their worlds had been completely turned upside down. So the fact that I had to get out of bed to help them was very good for me. Although I did receive a ton of help, having them to be my kids was actually good.
Waves of Grief
But I think one of the things that's interesting around grieving with children is that they think—thank God actually, I refer to this as “they fell like dominoes” in the book. But it seems like they keep falling like dominoes. Initially, the little one, Max, was the one who, the grief didn't look like grief. Because he was four, like, a traditional, like an adult perception of grief. He was really angry. I would tell him he couldn't have ice cream and he was like, “I'm going to go kill myself.” He couldn't make it at circle time. He was giggling and when he would get “Okay Max, you need to go find your calm,” that would make him flip chairs and throw tables. He was four. Although it wasn't like, “Oh, I lost my Dad, I'm so sad or angry,” he clearly had all these emotions. Right? Me learning that—I had no idea I was not a psychiatrist or psychologist. So I had to grow with him and learn ways to be with him and be able to provide space for him to grow.
Then Melanie was the next one to kind of grieve hard. She was hitting those middle school years. I had met Mike, which kind of threw grief in her face even more. Then Brooke was later. Then they've all flipped again. It's been nine years, and as they grow, as they mature, and as they have more capacity to understand, they actually have to re-grieve. Easiest example is you know, Brooke and Melanie are now looking at colleges, right? And they were seven and eight when he passed, they're now 16 and 17. They're now wanting to know their dad as an adult. They're like, “What would he like? What was it like when he chose college? What advice would he give me?” It's again like a hole. Although they're completely supported. They have family, they have friends, they have resources, but it's not their dad.
Dr. Lisa: It's like a sort of fresh round of grief at different developmental stages that they recognize the loss of not having the dad there to talk about college stuff and what that experience is like for him. It feels different. It's like they’ve become aware of this new sort of layer of dadless existence that they have to work through, and it must be a lot. But how wonderful for you though. I'm hearing in your story that you were able to have the insight to recognize, even when your little boy Max was flipping over tables, and to understand that for what it was. Because I think so much of the time, even a divorce is the catalyst for grief. Adults can be very quick to label that as bad behavior and issue punishment, as opposed to compassion. That can be really detrimental. How are you able to keep your eye on “This is what's actually happening” as opposed to, go to that punitive parent mindset.
Eileen: Yeah. A lot of coaching. I went into all therapists too. But there was actually one moment in time where I actually had to go and pick up Max from school. I was called—he was four. Literally the teachers were like “You need to come, you need to pick him up, because he flipped over tables, and he is so upset, and he said he was going to go home and get his dad's gun” which the only gun Brian had one gun was a hunting rifle that he went elk hunting with one time, “We're going to go home and get that and I'm going to come back and shoot everybody.” And I was like, “Okay.”
Dr. Lisa: “I'll be right there.”
Eileen: Funny thing was, “I'll be right there. What do you want me to do with him? I don't know.” I had been working with therapists for him. One of the practices or exercises we had to work on was our ‘feelings book’. We would identify feelings. Then we would talk about—you know, “If you're feeling silly in line at school, what are some of the things you could do? Or if you're feeling angry during the time when you're playing with your friend, what are the things you could do?” We draw pictures.
So anyway I'm going on my way to school, I'm picking him up. I'm like, okay, we're going to work on this book, because I don't really know what else to do. Then, this sounds kind of silly, but it just dawned on me. I don't know what to do in this moment, but all I can do is love him. I am just going to love him, and listen to him. There were moments where I was like, “You will never have any more Wii.” Wii was popular at that time. “You’re never going to play Wii if you talk to me like that one more time!” It was just to watch him squirm. I realized in that moment where I literally sat with him for an hour and a half on the couch as we worked through our feelings book, and he was like, “I'm going to kill you!” He was just so angry. I saw, it finally dawned on me. I was like, “Oh my God, this is him pushing me.” “How far do I have to push her? Will she leave me too?” I was crying, I was telling him I loved him. He's like, “I don't want you to love me.” But it was huge. It was huge for me to be able to have him teach me that unconditional love. That was not easy for him or for me. This is what grief looks like. I felt so much love. I don't want people to think our lives were miserable all of the time. Because they weren't, but there were some really, really rough times.
Dr. Lisa: Powerful stuff in those rough times. That's amazing. So another thing that may be helpful to talk about; I think that sometimes, particularly when faced with a loss like yours, I can only imagine that there must have been times when there is no concept of ‘next’. You know, it's like incomprehensible to think about a next chapter of your life. I know that you were able to rebuild and create a new life. But what would your advice or insight be to someone listening to this right now who is in this space where they have just had the wind knocked out of them, and there is no concept yet of a ‘next’? It's hard to maintain hope that there could be one. What would your advice to them be?
Eileen: So two things are coming to my mind. One, having the mindset, and it's not the truth but the mindset that this is not happening to you but for you. Like somewhere in here is a gift. Somewhere in here in this experience, is for your growth, or your development, and for what's next. Again that's just a mindset, but it's really powerful mindset, and it worked for me.
Dr. Lisa: It’s also one that suggests a spirituality. Was that a piece of that for you?
Eileen: Absolutely. I share about some of these synchronistic things that happened when he died, but it was very clear to me, and I think to a lot of people that do lose people, they feel them around. I mean, it's like it's not even like “I feel around.” I never heard voices or did I see images, but almost—it was really clear that there's more to this experience than meets the eye. So that mindset of this is happening for you and—also, this is a bit spiritual as well, but the answers are also right there. They really are—to me, I may not be able to see them yet. But what's next? Who's coming into my life? What I'm intended to do or what's getting created is right there for me. Sometimes it takes some time to get support, find coaches, meditate, take deep breaths, but also just open your eyes and look around.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, like that. The faith that it will show up and then being able to observe it showing up. This is actually reminding me—okay I'm such a dork and I'm going to date myself terribly. But one of my favorite movies of all time is that Castaway movie by Tom Hanks. Did you ever see that one? The thing that just meant the most to me, and that I thought of so many times since, is just how—I think it was a porta potty door, just blew up on the beach. Do you know what I mean? Things just wash up on your shore and you don't know what it's going to be, you don't know when it's going to happen. But if you're sort of in that space of receptiveness, sooner or later things show up. What I'm hearing you say is that you cultivated a mindset to notice what those things were and feel. I don't know if “cared for them” is the right way of saying it. But almost like led by them a little bit. Whatever showed up is sort of what you would move towards. Is that…?
Eileen: Trusting yourself, and your—I mean, I think one of the things in grief and when you experience something that you didn't expect or you didn't want, you get afraid, right? You go into a fear of, “Oh my God what if that happens again? What if I fall in love and that happens again? What if I thought I could trust that and that didn't work out?” Like to be able to rebuild that trust for yourself, and your instinct, and your own intuition. I don't know. Actually, I really don't know how or why. But I did have a lot of trust, probably because I felt I did feel very taken care of spiritually, and there were signs all around me of how well I was being taken care of. But yeah, when opportunities or people came back into my life, I just knew. I wasn't worried or nervous. Not that it wasn't scary. But I did step forward because I did have a weird sense of knowing.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, it sounds like you were really connected with your intuition and your inner wisdom. That created resilience in you and gave you confidence. That's wonderful. Well, I have another question for you. This may not have been true for you at all, so we can skip right over if not, but in my experience as a therapist and as a coach, I found that people can get stuck in grief and find it hard to continue healing and moving forward. If two things are present, and they're having trouble working through them, one of the big ones can be regret. So this is the sense that things were undone, or unset, or mistakes were made, or unfinished business sometimes can be accompanied by a lot of guilt. Well I'm curious, and I don't want to get too personal, but I'm curious to know if that was true at all in your process? If so, how you were able to release that regret experience, that “if only we'd done this then it would have a different outcome?” Was that true for you or did it just feel like fate?
Eileen: In a way for me honestly, it did probably feel more of the latter—like fate. I talk about regret actually in the book. Like “if you’ve just been,” right? It's really kind of a stuck emotion.
Dr. Lisa: Exactly.
Eileen: It's not particularly useful for moving on.
Dr. Lisa: I know.
Eileen: Not to say “okay, do I feel that way with…” I think I learned my regret lessons younger. You know what I mean? Not to say there were not things that I could have said about my relationship with Brian. Or even in the circumstances that I could regret. But I literally chose not to regret, because it is what it is. Regretting it actually doesn't change it, if regretting it worked…
Dr. Lisa: Oh yeah.
Eileen: If I could regret not telling him to get on a commercial flight, and that would have changed it then great, regret it and make it different. But it doesn't work. It really is keeping you stuck. And I think the biggest thing in regret, for me, is forgiving myself. Again, have I done things that are regretful? Sure. Have I said, even since Brian's passing, really awful things? Like I've told my kids “What would your dad think about this?” “Oh my gosh, what? You do that to your children?” Yes, I've done that to my children. Is that regretful? Absolutely. Do I forgive myself? Yes. Because in the moment, when I'm not acting rationally, that's what came out. Can I apologize to my children and does it have an impact on them? Yes. So I would say, look for forgiveness, on both sides too. Because I think sometimes, it's the other person that if that person only did X, Y, or Z. But until we can forgive, it's going to be very—but wherever you need to forgive, it's going to be really hard to move forward.
Dr Lisa: You are so right. That's just that stuckness that goes along with that regret experience. But you said so many insightful things. You said, just this awareness that this is not a useful way of thinking or feeling. You said something that was so powerful. You said, “I made a choice to not regret,” and that you made, it sounds like a conscious choice, to forgive so that you could move on. I know that those strategies may sound difficult to do if you're in the thick of regret. But you also said that you know the benefit of a good therapist. But it sounds like you had a lot of strategies so that you didn't get stuck in that space. That that wasn’t a…
Eileen: Yeah. I don’t know who says it, but there’s like somebody famous that says it's when you're holding on to that anger, you're the one who's actually suffering. It's like you're holding on to this piece of coal. There's some cool metaphor, I don't remember. I just probably shouldn't have brought it up, anyway there's like some cool metaphor. We think that our anger and our whatever, either towards someone else or whatever, it's like it's only hurting you. When you really look, it's like you can't love anyone until you love yourself fully. So it's about letting go of that for you really, and for others because it then flows out. So yeah, highly recommend letting go.
Dr Lisa: That’s great advice. Then the other reason, in my experience, that people can get stuck in grief, and again I don't know if this was true for you, but I have talked to a number of people who feel guilty when they start to feel happier again. Or if they go for a period of time without thinking about their loved one or without crying. Or if they start to expand into other parts of their life or feel excited about a future that doesn't have the person in them. They can get this guilt feeling, that it's disloyal to their loved one somehow, or they're being not loving. Did that happen for you at all?
Eileen: Oh for sure. There's multiple layers to that as well. Even the kids have experienced that, especially if you're trying to welcome someone else into your life. What I would just say, and this was not a capacity that I had before, and I still work on this, but it really is allowing yourself to hold both, right? Because being happy does not mean that you are not sad. It's interesting. Creating a new life does not mean that you have to forego grieving that loss.
I think that's one of the most special things I would say about my now-husband, Mike. It’s that—I knew he was the right one because he could hold this. I love him and I do love him very much. It doesn't mean that I don't love Brian and loved him. That takes a lot for Mike to handle. But it also takes something to be able to create that space, to be able to love two people, or love two things, or hold both emotions. It's tough. I absolutely—I think there's also, especially in loss, I do talk a little bit about this in my book, but there's—it's almost embarrassing to admit, but you're like, “I feel very taken care of. I was special. I was a young widow with three little kids. I had a lot of attention being given to me.” “Oh, poor Eileen” and “She's so strong” and a lot of like positive attention in the worst kind of way. Not that you ever want that. But I was very loved, and people cared about me. And then I'm like, “Oh well, what if I'm happy and independent and self-sustaining again? Is that all going to be taken away from me? Am I going to fall out of this special club?” It's kind of crazy to even talk about that, or maybe not crazy at all. But that's a reality to reconcile. Again, it's a choice, right? Just even acknowledging that those are some of the things that come up as you recreate your life is really freeing. You're like, “Yeah, wow. Well that's interesting that I have that thought.” Am I going to let that stop me from having a love again? No.
Dr Lisa. But it's almost like I'm almost doing stages of an identity that you were inhabiting for a while. Like for a while you were the grieving young widow and then had to almost rewrite that narrative. And now you have a new identity, as a second marriage and a new mom again, letting go, yeah.
Eileen: Old mom.
Rebuilding Your Life
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I am in that same club Eileen, I had a baby at 43. I'm right there with you. So okay, so now going a little bit deeper into that. So let's talk a little bit about this love after loss idea. So certainly this can come about from death. There are people that go through divorces and have to rebuild or even like a traumatic breakup, and figuring out how to shift and really that “who am I” self-concept narrative, “Who am I attached to?” But my question for you, I mean there are a couple of schools of thought about this, and one of them, which makes a lot of sense, from my perspective as a shrink, is that you really need to say goodbye to the old stuff before you can say hello to the new stuff. I say this because oftentimes I work with people around break-up recovery, or rebuilding after a divorce. What I often see are people almost looking for love after loss too soon in some ways. They think they're more ready than they are. They're hoping that like to reconnect with the new relationship will help them feel better, and to kind of like jump over some of the grieving stuff, which is a strategy and it can work. But I'm wondering what you did with that. Did you begin to expand and rebuild and seek out love again while you were going through the grieving process? Or did you find yourself waiting until the “right time?” How did you know? So that's like seven questions all wrapped up into one. You’re welcome.
Eileen: Yeah so from what I remember, okay yeah. So definitely, I would say some people may think that 18 months is quick, but that's how long it took me to be open to meeting someone else. But okay, a couple things: one, in the very beginning after the loss, if you bet some money, I would have bet money I was never going to get married again. Yeah I was like, “No, I'm good this must have been my path.” I felt interestingly, like I was going to, and I do think I actually have a relationship with Brian, and so much for me was figuring out “What does that look like now?” It was really clear that the physical intimacy was obviously not possible. But I did feel like we still had a relationship, we still had three kids together.
What was my relationship with Brian now going to look like? I think that's applicable, whether you're getting a divorce, especially in a divorce, you have to resolve that so that you're at peace with that and how that is and let go. For me it was, let go of the physical intimacy, the earthly marriage, like we were no longer—it was weird, and this is something true of widowhood. You really aren't married. I mean, you can keep your missus. But you no longer are married. You go to the checkboxes now, check widow. Because there's legal things about being married, it was really something I was thrown into. I had to figure out how am I going to accept that.
For me also, you know I love Brian, and he was a great guy. I got lucky, I really feel like I was one of the lucky people who found like a really great guy, and we were really in love. I honestly did not think I could get lucky twice. I was like, “That's not fair.” I have amazing girlfriends who can't find one good guy right now. I don't know. “It's not fair, why should I find two?” Then I was like, “But that's not useful either.” Like, I'm not going to—it's like not having a baby because your girlfriend has trouble having a baby. Like, it doesn't make a lot of sense. The emotions are there. “But that's what I want. I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life.” I also did hear it from my kids. You know, they did also want me to be happy. But they also were young enough to really want a father figure. And so, opening myself up to “Okay, he's out there. It's possible.” Then I started wondering where he was.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Eileen: It was definitely a journey.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I hear that. But boy, you're doing such a good job, to my ear anyway. Just a whole, along the way of being very aware of what you were thinking and what you were telling yourself what was okay and what was not okay, and really deliberately allowing a positive reality to take shape. That's a real strength.
Eileen: Yeah. Well, what's interesting, you know, I was like, we're only given one life. I actually read one of your blogs, you're like, we don't know how long we've got here, right? Which is indicative of the name of the book Time to Fly this is it. One of the things that was common about Brian and I, but just also common about Mike and I was like, we want a great life. Yes, tragedy, forks in the road you do not want or care to have, they're going to happen. What you do with that is up to us. I didn't know what it was going to look like, I didn't. I mean, if you had asked me 10 years ago, if I would be living in Chicago, remarried to a man I had never even heard of or dreamed of, and had a three-year-old at the age of 50, I would have been like, “You are on crack. No way.” That's my reality, you know. We're moving to Missouri too. So like, that's another whole chapter in our lives that, you know, TBD.
Dr. Lisa: I think I'm hearing a theme here that there was just a lot of openness to what was showing up and sort of an openness to what wanted to happen and being able to kind of go with it, as opposed to get all kind of hemmed in and rule-bound around what's okay and what's not okay. It's almost like you didn't have to know exactly what the future held in order to be able to move into it bit by bit. Does that…?
Eileen: Yes. Absolutely that it's- I love the way you just said that. I think part of that is I think sometimes when people have gone through really rough times and/or experienced tragedy and make it through. I did, just a little background my sister had passed when I was 23. It was sudden as well.
So when Brian passed when I was 41, it wasn't my first sudden loss. I’m going to say not that it made it easy, but I did know that things would eventually get better. I think people who—like you said, build resilience, whatever that looks like—losing a job, losing a relationship, getting hurt, and you know all these things, dreams. If you figure out a way to get through that and know you have the ability to get through it. I guess it's that trust. I don't know what this is going to look like.
Getting through it does not mean it's not painful. I think that's the thing. I think one of the things that often, including myself, we want to resist the pain. We want to be, like, “pain go.” Sometimes the only way out is through the pain. Actually, probably not always, the only way out is through the pain. But that is so counterintuitive, and not what we want and wish that was not…
Dr. Lisa: But it's good. I mean, like you, people need to hear this more, that this is actually what it feels like to be a human and nothing is wrong. You have to lean into it in order to get through it. I think that sometimes in our culture, we lose that idea. People feel like something is wrong, or they put a lot of energy into avoiding the feelings when in fact, that is the exit door.
Eileen: Yeah, I love, it's funny now that I've been through more of it lately. I actually sometimes just have that little mantra, like “lean in, just lean into it, lean into the discomfort.” You know, I've been whatever, you know, life is life. I have relationships that I might be struggling with. I'll be like exercising and I'll be ruminating, and I'll be trying to blah, blah. I'm just going to never talk to that person again or not. And I'm like, “No, lean in. Why am I so upset? Why am I so upset in this relationship? Why am I struggling? What do I need to bring to this scenario?” As always, more compassion for me or the other, more forgiveness for me or the other, more patience for me. It always comes back to that. But it doesn't feel like that in a moment. But just leaning in, holding on and waiting, you know, and I say waiting for the breakthrough. But searching, where is this breakthrough that will have me get through this? That is where all the joy is. It is and it's hard to know that, but those that have been through it do know it, you know?
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well what wonderful, just empowering and also just a hopeful perspective. Because I know there are a lot of people again, listening to this who really have just gotten like, you know, that feeling—like I fell out of the jungle gym when I was like eight years old, probably from like six feet high, flat on my back. Just just like that, when you get the breath knocked out of you when you're a kid, and just like that minute when you literally cannot breathe. I mean, I think that there are a lot of people that are in that emotional space right now. The doors are starting to reopen as people get vaccinated, and what do I want my life to be like? Well, how do I rebuild from a death, or a divorce, or a job loss, or career pivot, a failed business. There's so many things you offered, so much wonderful advice and takeaways for people that I think are really powerful: to be gentle with yourself during grieving and just understand that you need nurturing, and to allow that. Also, to be careful about the way you're thinking and to not really indulge in ways of thinking that are not good for you. But I also heard a lot about faith and hope and being open to what happens next, even if you don't know exactly what it is or when or why. Just to put one foot in front of the other. That gets better. Is that right?
Eileen: Yeah, that was a great summary. That’s wonderful. Yeah and I think it's the hardest to see when you're in the mud. So if you're in the mud and you're in it…
Dr. Lisa: That's okay.
Eileen: …that's okay, yeah. Yeah, you will get out. Have patience, and compassion, and I hope it goes faster for you. I don't want people to stay there but that is the place of growth and access. So anyway, thank you. But that was wonderful, the way you summarized.
Dr. Lisa: Well if people wanted to check out your book or learn more about you. Where would they get a copy of a Time to Fly?
Eileen: Yeah, so you can purchase Time to Fly anywhere books are sold. It was my publisher’s City Point Press distributed through Simon and Schuster. So it's everywhere. You can find it on my website, www.eileenrobertsonhamra.com. I am all over all the different social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Love to connect. Please, if this story inspired you or you just want to reach out, please feel free.
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time today Eileen this was a great conversation.
Eileen: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa: What a great conversation. I hope you do check out Eileen’s book if you feel that would be helpful to you. If you are dealing with grief right now, first of all, know I have so much empathy for you. I am a fellow traveler.
I would encourage you to check out some of the other resources we have available for you at www.growingself.com. Namely, there's another podcast episode that was released a few months ago. Gosh, more than a few months ago now. I think it was May of 2020 honestly, but wonderful interview with my colleagues Anastacia Sams and Lisa Jordan, both of whom are highly experienced grief counselors. They both shared a lot of really great tips and kind of mental and emotional strategies to move through the grieving process and hopefully have a way as any of us can. So I hope you check those out as well.
Thank you again for spending time with me today and I'll be back in touch next week with another episode.
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