Healing from grief does not mean forgetting; once you have loved deeply, that person remains a part of you forever. I was determined to heal for myself and for Carl.
I did not want to spend the rest of my life feeling the searing pain of grief. There were few resources in my tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa, so I did what seemed right – I read everything I could find. I kept a journal. I wrote about my experiences. I relied on my faith. I actively remembered. I made repeated "trips" through the years of my love for John. These “trips” included physically revisiting the places that we loved to go, cooking the same meals we had both enjoyed, and continuing to engage alone in what had been shared pastimes. One of the most painful and yet most healing activities was continuing to deliver the marriage preparation class that John and I once gave together.
Years passed. The "trips" lost their power to bring deep sadness. Healing came slowly but come it did, and I got joyfully re-married to Ken. Not long after Ken and I were married, I began giving workshops on grief and published articles based on my experience.
In the next major part of the trip I became the long-time leader of a widowed support group. It was during this time that I began to refine my support skills as I listened to the life stories of hundreds of people whose spouse had died. I taught them what I had learned, I cried with them, and I encouraged them. I was fortunate to be a companion on the path with so many good people who wanted what all people want when a loved one dies…to remember faithfully and happily…to grieve fully…and eventually to be joyful again.
Though my bookshelf was already sagging under the weight of every manner of book on grief and bereavement, I hungered for more knowledge. I earned a Masters Degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University of Chicago and a Fellow in Thanatology certification from the Association for Death Education and Counseling. “Thanatology”. Unusual word, I know. It means the study of death and dying. I continued to publish, and was increasingly asked to give both training sessions and faith-based reflection days. My work expanded into teaching when I was hired as an adjunct professor at several universities in the Chicago area.
The newest chapter of my journey was the launch of my training company Corgenius in 2008. Our tag-line is “adding heart to the brains of business”. As you've seen on the rest of the site, Corgenius specializes in teaching people how to support and interact with a person who is grieving a life-changing loss.
When John died, I needed to trust many service providers. Some mumbled platitudes and handed me a tissue before quickly moving to the comfort zone of business. Others ignored the death altogether. In almost every case, their awkwardness around me was excruciating for both of us, and I came away feeling like little more than a number in their contact list. If they'd known how to behave then, would I be a loyal customer these 25 years later? Yes. One service provider did retain my business. His uncommon insight and straightforward empathy, earned my trust and he's earned fair profit from me ever since.
Corgenius focuses on training people in the healthcare to financial services professions. The company’s training modules range from two hour to full-day sessions and take a secular, “grief happens to everyone” approach. I know how difficult these topics are for everyone so I incorporate healthy humor. I’ve been told by my students that the atmosphere is “refreshing and non-threatening”. That’s an especially gratifying statement when facing a complex and emotional subject.
With this knowledge, no one needs to intentionally let a call from a grieving person go to voicemail. No one needs to avoid wakes or be reluctant to ask a grieving person "How are you?" for fear they will actually tell. No one needs to wonder what to say a month or six months or a year after the death. As one financial broker-dealer said, "I can't think of any business where this knowledge doesn't apply." I am idealistic. Painful loss happens to everyone’s clients or patients. When it does, professionals who know how to respond will distinguish themselves and their firm. At the same time, they learn something that helps them in their personal and family lives. It is my greatest hope that everyone in our society learns how to deal with grief, illness, and death, and Corgenius is one way to help make that happen.
Attend one of my public training sessions or hire me to give a keynote address or private workshop to your company. Other than your own uncomfortableness, what have you got to lose?