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360 | Rediscover yourself with Michele Neff Hernandez’s new book ”Different After You”!

November 19, 2022

360 | Rediscover yourself with Michele Neff Hernandez’s new book ”Different After You”!
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f you are widowed: Soaring Spirits is a safe place for you to begin the process of rebuilding. We won’t pretend this is easy, and we won’t put a timeline on your process. We will provide you with a huge group of people who are making their way through their own loss, and who are willing to walk beside you through yours. We will also assure you, as many times as needed, that a full and happy life is still possible for you. Really.

If you know or love a widowed person: Our programs are not focused on the losses our community has experienced, but rather on the life they still have ahead of them. You may feel helpless as you witness someone you love struggling through the loss of a spouse or partner. Please visit our You Are Not Alone program to find a way you can easily reach out to anyone who is widowed. Connecting them with other widowed people is a valuable gift. And it’s as easy as handing out a business card.

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Welcome to positive talk radio. Our goal is simple to explore evolving ideas, one conversation at a time. So stay with us. As right now, we present. It's the holiday season. And we'd like to believe that the holiday season is great for everybody. And we're all excited about having Thanksgiving and then having to prepare and then Black Friday and then get ready for Christmas. And it's just not always that way. And so we are here today, Michelle, Hernandez and myself are here today. And we're going to talk about what the holidays can be like. Especially Michelle has gotten a program called soaring spirits International. And bless her heart, she's an angel among us, because she is working with people who've lost their significant other hand are not doing necessarily as well. And they're getting giving them hope, as to as to continuing their life on she's she's also a survivor of being a widow. And she's wonderful, wonderful lady, not the first time on the show. I am really hopeful, not the last time

we'll have to see how you do today. Well, it's always wonderful to be here. And I thank you for that warm introduction we are, it's just an odd gift to be able to talk about some of the things that are a struggle for people who often don't have a space to talk about it. Grief is not one of those subjects that we like to talk about around the Thanksgiving table typically, or any of the other holiday tables at which you might set. And so it's great to have this time together to hopefully help some of the listeners have some practical tips and some ways to support them emotionally as they enter this holiday season.

I think that is brilliant. Because when you lose somebody, and especially a spouse, and people are there for the first Thanksgiving or the first Christmas, and they want to make sure you're okay. But it's oftentimes correct me if I'm wrong, Michelle, but oftentimes, it's the second Christmas, or the second Thanksgiving, or the third, when everybody's gone about their lives, and you're still grieving over the loss of your significant other, that makes it really tough for people to even sit down and have Thanksgiving, what the hell should I be thankful for?

It's true, I think it's a combination of the challenge for especially for the month of November, right? You'll hear a lot of people talk about gratitude, an attitude of gratitude, and you know, the gratefulness idea of thinking of something you're grateful for every day, which I think is a really positive way of coping with lots of things. The trouble can be that sometimes when you're grieving, for us, as you said, we provide service for anybody who's experienced the death of the person they thought they were going to spend the rest of their life with. So spouses or partners, and for us, in particular, trying to figure out how do we navigate the sense of wanting to be grateful for the things that we still have, while acknowledging that there's a really big gap that just is never going to be filled by anyone else. And we have to get used to that space, where our person used to sit physically. And you know, you'll hear people say, the empty seat at the table, oftentimes, in military funerals or in other organizations where they represent a number of people, firefighters, police officers, you'll see that they physically represent the absence of people by having a number of helmets or a number of shoes, or, you know, so they acknowledge that there is a missing space for this person or physically missing space for this person. And I think sometimes for us, as families and as supporters of people who grieve that can be challenging during the holiday season, because all we want for our person is for them to be happy, and for them to feel loved and feel grateful. And yet for people who are grieving, that can sometimes take a while before you come to a place where you're able to feel that ongoing gratitude. I think it's also worthwhile mentioning that for some people, gratitude is the way they get through. Like they don't know what they would do if they couldn't find something to be grateful for every day. So I think knowing that we lots of people have that for as many people as there are grieving there are ways of managing your grief and for some being grateful every day and and listing those things is a powerful tool and for others, it's actually something that can be hurtful because they struggle to find those grab that gratitude and then they think there's something wrong with them because they can't

I don't know how anyone can think there's something Wrong with themselves when they are grieving. The loss of it, I think back to think back to people who I have loved in my life. And in the midst of that love, they had suddenly departed. It's not like a divorce. It's not because they're gone, and they're never coming back. It's completely different. And I, you know, you need to give people space, I think,

well, and I love to hear you say that, because that's a unique sometimes that's a unique perspective, because I think, as people who are not grieving, and we're supporting a Griever, or let's say you have somebody who you know, is actively grieving is coming to Thanksgiving. And that could be because they experienced the death of a spouse or partner, maybe they've experienced the death of a child, maybe they experienced the death of someone else in their life that's a pivotal part of their life. And you think to yourself, Okay, do I talk about it, like, maybe they just want to come to Thanksgiving and never hear that person's name. So I want to just disabuse you of that. Because the truth is that grieving people, immediately after someone dies, there becomes sort of a gap where people stopped seeing their name. And so imagine, it's as if one day your person is live, and people mentioned them in regular conversation. And then the next day, it's like they've been erased from the planet with an eraser, because people are afraid to say the name of the person. And so I encourage you, if you have a grieving person coming to your Thanksgiving holiday, to mention that person's name, you don't have to have a long, uncomfortable conversation. If you feel worried about that. Instead, you can just say, I bet you're missing for me, Phillip, I bet you're missing Phillip today. Or if it's a person that you also loved and knew I'm really missing Phillip today, I can only imagine how much you must be missing them, just to hear somebody say their name and acknowledge that they're not there. And that you wish they were and you know, that the person wishes they were, it's a really beautiful way to begin the day, because suddenly, there's a little bit of air back in the room, you're not all holding your breath to wait and see if anybody's gonna say the name of the person who died.

Isn't it true? I don't know if it's always true, but it has been in my family that, that when when the the holiday came after somebody passed, and then inevitably, we would mention that individuals name, and then we'd start telling stories.

And it's so beautiful. It's such a beautiful part of remembering you've, you've probably heard the phrase that, you know, people are never really dead until their names stop being said. And so you know, you have a physical death, but you have this ongoing influence in the world for as long as you are remembered. And for as long as your name is on the lips of the people who knew and loved you. And so storytelling is just such a beautiful way to continue not only to acknowledge and honor the person who died, but also to give everyone around that person the opportunity to process by sharing stories and memories that probably some might bring a tear to your eye and others might make you belly laugh. And so to be able to have those and share them with other people who are know and love that person is a beautiful medicine.

You know, I wanted to ask you about this because it just just came up in my own mind. And that is there are different. Different religious thoughts, spiritual thoughts about what happens to somebody after they pass on? Does that play a great deal? Because I know you, you work with your organization, soaring spiritual International is becoming a huge deal. And thank you for that. But does does the how you perceive that happen? What happens after we die? Does that impact the grief? Does that lessen it or make it worse? Or how do people how do people deal with that minefield?

Well, I think that it's an interesting question, in part because there are as many Grievers as there are, there are answers. For sorting spirits, we provide secular support, but we make space for all the ways that people support themselves and grow through grief. And for sure, some of that, for individuals is their their faith. It could be a developing faith, it could be that they have a crisis of faith, meaning that they believed one thing and then now suddenly, the test of that belief, right is when someone dies. That's the test of that belief. And so for some people, let's say they believe there's nothing There's they're 100% atheist, they believe that there is nothing after death, then their person dies, and suddenly they're like, but wait, how do I stay connected? How do I live in this space if my person is no longer there? So it could be a crisis in their mind of faith in that they believed one thing and now they're being challenged to think about whether that's still valid for them when their person dies. It also happens in the reverse of that meaning that you have a really deep religious faith and then you struggled To understand why someone's death is a part of God's plan for you and for them, and then maybe struggle and wrestle with that. Another thing is that people who have a faith journey also can really deepen that as they can sometimes find great comfort in their beliefs and what they believe for their person. And so my only caveat, and the thing to think about as a, as a supporter of a grieving person, is that no matter what someone believes about the afterlife, and whatever they may have, as a personal faith belief, it's rare that someone will find, you know, the phrase, they're in a better place to be overly comforting. Because yeah, but it's often meant so genuinely, like,

it's one thing to say, if you believe

in another life after this, then you often that that belief is always that it's a better place, it's a peaceful place, it's a place where someone's not in pain. And so literally speaking, if that's your belief, then your person is in a better place, however, having to get used to them not being physically present with you. And, and think about the holidays, as one of those times when your loved one also is missing out, right? Maybe Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday, and they loved pumpkin pie. And they were the ones who would like hoard it, not let anybody else have any, because they are going to eat the whole pie themselves. And then what happens when the pumpkin pie comes out this year, is that not only are you thinking to yourself laughing about all the ways that that person used to hide the pie, but you're also realizing like they love to pie, and they're not here to have the pie. And so while they may be in a peaceful, beautiful place, when people say to a grieving person, well, they're in a better place, it's as if to dismiss, it feels dismissive of the actual feelings you're having of missing your person. And so I asked people just to be careful about making assumptions about how people what people's beliefs are, and not including, you know, not sort of imposing your own beliefs on people, but rather hold space for whatever they might share with you about what they think of the afterlife, and what's happening with their person now, because it's easy to assume that everyone thinks like we do, but I feel like, you know, the better, we are able to keep our mind open and be curious about what people will respond to a question rather than making an assumptive answer for them, the more we learn about each other, and the better, we're able to support people in all kinds of difficult situations.

I couldn't agree more. And then the fact that matter is, is that we don't know where they are, or what the what the place they are, when we've we've got ideas, and we you know, depending upon who you are, and your upbringing, and all that, you've got a kind of an idea, but grieving really is for the living. It's for the folks that you are that are going through that every day.

And the truth of it is that though we absolutely know that life is finite, you're not really tested on that until someone that you love and can't imagine your life without is no longer living. And now suddenly, it's personal. And you understand in a completely different way, that this life that we have is finite. And it makes it changes the way you walk in the world. It changes the way you think about things that are both, you know, sort of bathro like weather, what your faith experiences, and also the way that you interact with people in your daily lives. So knowing that that life experience of grieving someone pivotal in your life changes you is also something to be mindful of when we're interacting with people who are grieving, because so often it's like, wait, but I don't recognize you. You've never been this side, or you used to be such a cheerful person. But it's a matter of getting used to like when we when we have this idea that we know that life is finite. And yet, we're not set up for impermanence. So when you think you're looking at the door, and you're thinking they're coming in any minute, even though you know, they can't physically come in the door, they're dead, you still will have to sense our bodies or minds, our whole spirit needs to adapt to the fact that the door isn't going to open and the person we expect to come through or the phone's not going to ring or when I have something exciting happened and I want to call that person, I can't anymore. Those are all things that we have to get used to as we deal with the impermanence of life, and of the people who we expect it to be part of our lives forever.

Well, and I don't know about you, but I know intellectually, that this body is going to die. Emotionally I don't get it emotionally. I don't believe it. I believe that I'm going to live for as long as I want and forever and that's We treat our lovers and our friends and our family that is with us. We think the same about all of that. And then when that doesn't happen, it can be a very shattering experience for a whole bunch of different levels.

Well, that's the funny thing, isn't it that on the one hand, like you said, intellectually, we know, we know that we're not immortal. And yet, when we're faced with mortality, it's often a shocking experience that, that causes all kinds of shifts, and requires a lot of grace, and a lot of space for the grief, the feelings of grief for the reality of the person not coming back. And for us adapting to, for example, you're gonna adapt to new holidays that you have to because there is a person who's not coming, who you would expect to have been a part of it. And so that's not only going to influence the Griever, the primary Griever, let's say, but everyone around them as well. And we just the more grace, we can give each other around, making space for that reality that new and painful reality, I think the better able we are to support people while they make that transition from I waiting for that door to open to an understanding that it's not and that I have to start creating a new life for myself.

Okay, so I got it now that we are not going to say, well, you know, he's in a better place, or she's in a better place. We're not gonna say that because we never won, we have no proof of that. And it also isn't their experience of that particular moment. So what in when you're when you're sitting down at the table, and it's the first time or maybe even the second or third time that you're having that Thanksgiving dinner? And that individual is not there? And it's obvious that that person isn't there? What should you say?

So I love to give this advice in two different formats. So and we're going to end remind me because I want to come back to the what can we do about the empty seat. But the first thing is like for a person, let's say this is your first holiday since someone you love died, and you're going to the holiday event. And now for some people that may feel like oh, I don't want to go other people are like I can't wait. And since we've had such a long gap with COVID, I think that that also influences how people might feel about this. But for Grievers, I always tell them, find an escape route. So if you are in a room, you know you're coming into the room you walk in, this is where you're going to be having dinner, I want you to look around and decide if I feel overwhelmed with emotion and I just need a break. Where am I going to go? Set your eyes on that door? Or that and where will you go once you get out the door. So that you can know that if you need five minutes to gather yourself, if suddenly, you're overwhelmed by the fact that your person is not going to be there and you can't sit still for one more minute, you have already a pre planned escape route, it makes all the difference. And sometimes it means you never have to use it because you know you can if you need to. But in those moments where you're like, Okay, I can't stay here for one more second, I follow my escape route, I give myself the time I need, and then decide if I'm able to come back in and rejoin or if it's time for me to take a break and go home. So I want to just that's one of my favorite tips to give to people as they enter their first holiday season. That's brilliant, by the way, it makes such a difference. And I and you know, just knowing that you're not stuck, makes such a difference. It helps, I think give you more stamina to do you want to spend as much time as you can. But there's a flip side to that. And that is the other people sitting around the table. So you watch me jump out of my seat and I run out the door. Be able to know that just one person can pop in and say you're doing okay, do you need any support. And if the person says no, I just need a minute, give them a minute. And also, it doesn't have to be a big deal that they left the table, they can just come back in when they're ready. And everyone can continue on. Because I think a lot of times we feel responsible to fix someone and we can't, there's no fixing the fact that this person is dead, grief cannot be fixed. No amount of you know providing distractions or, or trying to get people to be different than they are is going to change their experience. The big helpful thing you can do though, is give them space if they need it. offer support quietly, and then listen to what they say when they give you their when they give their answer. It makes such a difference to just like sort of set that tone. So then I know that I can come in, I can stay for as long as I want. And I'm not going to get many times we will say you know you should have just tried to say or there's no reason why you can't sit down and eat pie. Okay, well, let's go back to the pie. Let's say my panic attack is coming because the pies coming out. I see the pie coming and I'm like, I can't stand to look at that pie, knowing he's not going to eat it. Knowing no one's going to have any games around it and all I want is to escape so I don't have to see the pie. And then what are people doing? Come how pie you need pie? Come on, now you can have some pie. So just go and say, Do you need any additional support? No, I don't, I just need a few minutes, okay, go back out serve the pie. No, I've missed the pie. And maybe that's all they needed was just to miss the pie. And maybe I don't want to talk about it. But you know, just making space for there not to have to be a prescribed way of doing things, makes it possible for us to sort of grieve together and move through together.

And the people that are sitting at the table, that when somebody gets up and bolts out of the room, they can't take ownership of that has nothing to do with them.

It really doesn't. And so, so many times, when we feel like it does, then we're now projecting onto the person who's run out that they've made us feel bad. So not only am I grieving, not only is my husband not eating pie, but also I've made everybody at the table feel terrible. And so if we can just not own that, and understand that sometimes we just need a break, especially from, I'll give you an example, my family often does a winter vacation. And we went to Big Bear in California for a lovely weekend with my whole family. This by this time, I had been widowed for years. So for four years, we've been having plans and making trips and doing all the things without Phil. And as we were all getting ready to load our cars and drive home, all of my siblings and my parents, they had a partner. And so there's two people loading the car, there's two people who are going to be driving home, and I got in my car and I cried all the way home. Because I was the only adult I was going to drive all the way. And all I wanted was to have Phil back, sharing the time sharing the family time, being able to be the other responsible adult in the car while I drove home. Now, that was not about my family. And there was nothing they could have done for me at that time. None of them was going to be able to drive me home. And it wasn't really even about being driven home. It was about the physical absence and the increased responsibility that I felt because my partner was dead. And so know that some of this is not about anything, except that death can't be fixed, and that he isn't coming back. And I and everyone around me had to get used to that and had to build lives around that reality.

Makes it very difficult to when you are the one of they call it a third wheel.

Third, fifth seventh, yeah, none of those are fun.

When you get invited to a party, and it's everybody, everybody's paired up, etc.

Well, and so let's talk about that a little bit. Because I think two different things happen in my experience, in particular for widowed people. One is, gosh, I had a widowed person whose, whose group of friends were all paired off, and there were 10 of them. And they had been having all kinds of I mean, they've had events that nobody could count how many with the 10 of them. And then after her husband died, she got invited a couple of times, and she went because these are her friends. And then she stopped getting invitations. And she heard you know, secondhand that there was an event coming up, she called to say I didn't get my invitation, I was just checking in on the details, and discovered that she wasn't invited, because it would make for an odd number at the table.

So her that's creepy,

right? Her friends decided that they weren't going to have nine, nine was an awkward number. They were down to eight. So she wasn't invited. So two things happened for widowed people, sometimes people don't they stop inviting you. And that could be for a myriad of reasons. You know, maybe you do care about how many if it's nine or 10. But also could be that you know, that grief makes you uncomfortable could be that you don't want to impose could be that you just don't know what to say. And so you're afraid of having them come. But But then what that ends up doing is isolating the person from events that they used to go to. But the flip side of that is I always say invite them, and then allow them to say no, because that's the other piece is that maybe I am not feeling like third, fifth seventh wheel. Maybe I'm not up for it this time. And so if the friends had continued inviting her, she could have made the choice that sometimes she could go and sometimes maybe she wouldn't feel up to going. Maybe she wanted them just to be eight and not 10. And so you know, just know that your invitation is always welcome and wonderful. And if it's turned down, it isn't a it isn't a reflection of you or the party or what you're doing. It could just be that this person doesn't have the energy for that that time. So don't stop inviting. Please keep inviting people who you know, who are widowed who are single who are divorced, who are whatever their situation is, if they might be home alone, please invite them and if they choose not to come, at least you've made the offer and they know that they're Welcome in your space,

you know, I learned something. When I got divorced, we had these goodness of these friends that were very close to us. And when we were a couple, she, my wife liked him more than as much as he, she liked the other girl. And I didn't resonate as much with the guy, but I love the gal. And so when my wife went away, suddenly it became very uncomfortable. Because he was he was not the guy that I was there to see. It wasn't only comfortable with him. But I was really comfortable with. So that's another aspect that

is really is. And you know, I think that's, that's the thing is that the more able we are to just make the invitation, then we find our way forward into the friendships and renewing and or, you know, sometimes just a friend will fall away. And that's okay, too. But at least we have the opportunity to be invited. And to to know that if the invitation is not accepted, it's not about you, it's about me, it's about what I need in the moment. And I just broke my heart for my friend when you know, she stopped being invited because of the number of table seats. And that that was more important than their relationship. And that can be a very difficult discovery to make about your friends and people who care about

you. It's amazing sometimes how shallow people are. But I wanted to ask you about this, because I think this also bears on to it is that there when you are the artist when you're the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, 11th 11th, or whatever. And you feel uncomfortable with that. And so you decide that you're going to go find somebody you can get paired up with isn't isn't that a place that you need to be very careful of that you're actually not going to pair yourself up with somebody who you're just doing it so that you're not alone?

Yeah, absolutely. I want to I want to circle back to one thing you said, which was that there it is amazing how shallow people can be. And I think that the flip side of it is that it can be amazing how beautiful people can be. And when they're beautiful in that way, it helps avoid this desire this like drive to have to be coupled. And, you know, in a world where sometimes it can be really difficult to be a single or solo person for whatever the reason that brought you to that space, whether it's by choice, you're not interested, whether it's widowhood whether it's divorce, you know, there's a complicated array of reasons. But we live in a world that is set up for couples. And that can be really difficult, and can encourage people in an unhealthy way to choose to be partnered in order to be more comfortable in a world that's set up for couples. And as you said, like the danger of that, in particular for people who are widowed is that we sometimes can imagine that having another person will assume our grief. And the truth is that it does not that you can't replace people with anybody else. And in order to be ready for a new relationship. And there's no timing on that, you know, people will judge when other people up and down because of how long it takes or how short a time it takes for them to date, or to re partner. So there's no timeframe. But what I do know is that you have to be able to be in a place where you can offer your whole self and know yourself well enough to know what you need. And any kind of traumatic experience, whether it's, in our case, widowhood, or divorce, or any other traumatic thing changes us. And if we don't get to know the person who's been changed with the process, when we try to choose another partner, we're not going to be able to make the best possible choice because we don't know ourselves well enough yet this new self well enough yet to know what they need.

Exactly. And when you're a single person and, and I've had this discussion, people say, Well, you don't want to go to the gym, you can go to a movie by yourself. It's like, oh, sure, they have you ever seen that? That guy that's coming down? And great big papa the other hand and he's by himself and you go, Oh, poor man. He does.

Well, here's the trick. Kevin, you sneak in after the lights are already down. There you go. And then nobody says poor anybody. And you can go to a movie on your own and nobody will have anything to say about it. Because there'll be too busy watching the movie will do their damn business. That's right, who cares? But I mean, it's true. Like, you know, because we're set up in a coupled world. People wonder what's wrong with you if you're out there by yourself. And so it takes some time. You know, I've met many widowed people. One of the things they really struggle with is they'd love to go for dinner, but they don't want to go for dinner alone. And they, for whatever reason don't have somebody that they can go with for lots of people we fall into as couples. Like being our only person we don't, you know, friends or couple friends, they kind of fall away. And so after someone's died, then suddenly you're like, Well, who will I go to dinner with? And so, you know, one of the things we practice is deciding, like, Okay, how much do I want to go to dinner, I can either find another word friend to go with, I can go to a group dinner, I can decide that it's okay for me to have dinner by myself. But it is something that takes each person will have a different level of comfort around any one of those options. But I always encourage our widowed people, you know, just to think about the fact that we are single in a coupled world, and that is not a commentary on us. That is not a value statement. And we should do our best not to take it is such

a Yeah, because it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, if you're happy in your skin, if as as an example of if, if I had lost my, I'm pretty sure that if I was a widow, or that I probably would never get married again, only because I don't want to go through that stuff again. But that's just me, and a lot of people, but don't ever hook up, because you think that you need to because the right guy, or the right gal, maybe right around the corner. And so don't take yourself too seriously and off the market. And that kind of stuff. In the end, if you go to dinner by yourself, it's okay.

It's like going to dinner by myself, I'm great company.

You will watch a wine in a book. Oh, good.

I mean, really, like we all have a great time. But I also just want to say, you know, there are, we always learn something from every relationship we're in whether it's a friendship, whether it's a romantic relationship, you know, our family relationships. If we allow ourselves to engage with people regularly, we start to learn more and more about the kind of person who is a good match for us. And that can be a friend match as well as a romantic match. Because a lot of times when you're in a space where you're welcoming new people into your life, you want to make sure that they find you that that they see your value and that they reflect that value back to you. And you're not settling for someone who doesn't who is like an energy drain, or who doesn't project the value back to you, in order to just fill the dinner seat, you know, whether it be a friend or a romantic partner,

I have a quick story I have to tell you, I'm excited about this. I met somebody I was a bus driver and another bus driver, a woman a nice looking woman. And we got to be friends. We started talking every now and again. And finally I said, you know you want to go out to coffee sometime. And she said you're sure and I knew that she'd been dating and she was really was interested in a relationship. And but I said, You know what, let's go to coffee. And so we did that. And I found out more about her and, and she she did in my world, she she did the unthinkable thing of saying I don't like the Beatles. So he was like, you know, one of those things is like, Ah, let's see. So I said, as we were leaving, I said, you know, I'd like to get together again. And she said, Oh, that would be great. And I said, you know, just there are times when I would just like to go to a movie with a friend. Somebody that I can talk with go out to dinner with a friend. Something like that. Nothing, nothing. Special, nothing that we're gonna hold forever just just to as friends to start with. And then we'll see where it goes from there. And she started to cry. Because it was

made her cry Kevin. I did. Was she sad? Because she'd hoped you would have a relationship or

Oh, the next time I saw her she was ready to kill. And so she and I mean, I mean she was angry. And so it's so I was grateful.

I'm so excited to see where we're taking this story. Okay, where are we headed with this?

where we're headed with this is I was really grateful that I went slower and and not jump into something that I was going to be really really sad about because she was wicked anyway, so Oh, they're just to take you to take

that was your warning story. So rewarding for everyone. If they say no to the Beatles, you should definitely run for the hills.

That's it. That's it. That's it

if only it were that simple would not be nice if there was just like a one criteria. And then you're like, Okay, you're not the right one.

But what Gaby was that? Because she was on her best behavior because she wanted a relationship. Yeah, she was not that wasn't the person who she really was right? as well, and

I think it's always worth, like also saying out loud, we don't think about, you know, like, we're not dating our friends, right? We, we connect with somebody, and we kind of just decide, oh, yeah, let's go here and we're going to be friends, we don't, we oftentimes don't spend enough time getting to know our friends, I've met so many people who end up with someone who they consider to be a good friend, but don't treat them well, you know, take up their time, it's a one sided relationship, and then this, you know, then you end up in this space where you're putting out all the energy. And it's not a true friendship, but because you think your friends, it's not something you like, you know, break up, like you break up, you know, with a romantic relationship. And so I'm just always tell people to be mindful of who you spend your time with. And that you feel, and not to say that there are going to be people who are a drain, I mean, we are approaching the holidays. And so whoever that challenging relative is that you're like, oh, boy, how are we going to manage Uncle Charlie? Whoever your uncle Charlie is right? That I'm not suggesting that you wouldn't have people in your life who are drained. But I always want to just say, make sure you're having some balance. So if there's somebody who you know, is really draining emotionally, spiritually, you know, physically, whatever the drain is, make sure you that you're giving yourself the counter, at, you know, the sort of counteraction to that which is somebody who fills you up, spend time with someone who makes you laugh, some spend some time with somebody who loves the Beatles, like you want to make sure that you're you're balancing out your energy, by putting giving where you need to, but also filling up and that means having people in your life who will be the kind of people you want to spend time with who you enjoy, and who make you feel good about yourself and about you know, your time with them.

I just had a question popped into my head. So I gotta ask this is when when you are a widowed person. And in something tragedy has happened in your life? Do you have a tendency to say to yourself, I am less than because this happened to me. And it didn't happen anybody else when it happened to me? And so you have a less a less than enthusiastic view of your life. Is that does that happen?

Oh, yeah, it definitely does. I would say again, you know, everyone has their own experience of this. But it sometimes feels like the whole, you know, it's like when it rains, it pours. So your person dies. And then everything that comes after that feels like an additional burden, because you're carrying the burden of grief at this time. And you're trying to make your way without your person who, which likely means you're juggling a bunch of new tasks, which likely means that you're more responsible than you've ever been, because there's so many things that need to be handled. And at the same time, you know, the water heater breaks, and then the dog gets sick. And then you know, your aunt, who you is your beloved aunt is, you know, been diagnosed with cancer, it feels like the whole world is falling down, because part of your world has fallen down. And you're still trying to figure out how to deal with that, let alone that the ongoing challenges that life will continue to offer. So I think there definitely can be a sense of why me and there can be a sense of, you know, what's the purpose of this? And it typically stems back to, you know, the big loss, the thing that began this grief experience for our widow people. That's their widowed experience. And everything after that can sometimes feel like, you know, like bad frosting on a very bad cake.

How do you teach people to be kind to themselves?

Oh, I always tell them this, you treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. So when you are telling a story, let's say you're telling your story of your experience. You know, imagine it's your best friend telling you this you this is a person you love and you want the best for? How would you treat them? What support would you offer them? What grace would you offer them? And then use that as the standard for the grace and kindness you offer yourself?

That is, can I use that? We're gonna

use it? Absolutely.

I'm gonna make a short out of that. Okay,

good. I think that's the thing is, aren't we always just so you know, especially someone we truly love. Like, this is a person I absolutely love. I want everything good for you. How would you treat that person? And then compare how you treat yourself? What kind of language do you use with that person? Do you build them up? Do you give them the opportunity to you know, share with you the things that are hard without assuming that they're an idiot and that they aren't that good at anything? But so often when we say to ourselves like oh god I'm really struggling with this like why am I so weak? Why can't I do the thing? You know, we don't give ourselves the same kind of grace we use negative language a lot of times, especially for in pain. And so you know, I try to use it I call it the best friend voice use your best friend voice and make sure that that's the tape that's playing in your head, and not the one that says, I'm less than, you know, this has happened to me because I somehow deserve it or any of the things that when we're in pain, we can convince ourselves of all kinds of things that are just not true.

Ain't that the truth? Now, speaking of which, you have a new program. That was I don't know if it's new, but it's for the newly widowed program. And you it's Tuesdays on zoom at three o'clock. Why don't you sign up for that?

It is a fantastic program for anybody who's been widowed a year or less. We don't hold those. Those suggestions to be absolute. So let's say you've been widowed 18 months, and you're still feeling pretty new to this experience, you'd be welcome to join the call. It's a part this has been an ongoing program actually developed through the COVID time when we were in COVID, locked down, and we realized there were so many people being widowed, with no support. So the joke in the widowed community is that people are going to bring you a lasagna. So your person dies, and you're definitely getting a lasagna, some wonderful person is going to make you a lasagna. And I personally had eight lasagna in my freezer at one time after Phil died. Because I was so blessed to have people in my life who would bring me lasagna, and my kids still to this day do not like lasagna. But you didn't even get lasagna in the COVID times because people weren't able to come and offer the typical food and comfort and, you know, company that they would have. And so we started this program to acknowledge that and to provide people an opportunity to connect in community with other newly widowed people. It's basically a 12 week rotating program. It begins once every 12 weeks, you don't get kicked out. So you can go to as many 12 week programs as you want. But what you'll discover is that we provide information about topics that we know, newly widowed people are often struggle with it from, you know, energy levels to managing strong emotions, anxiety, sleep, being able to parent grieving children. So you'll find that there's a subject presenter or widowed presenter will come and give about 20 minutes of content, then do a q&a. And then we have the opportunity for everyone to check in and sort of share thoughts about what they've heard. The newly widowed program is free. The way that you would access that program is by going to our widowed village and that is on the soaring spirits website. So it's sorting spirits dot o RG you'll find a plethora of programs and resources available for any widowed person as well as the people who support them. But the newly widowed program in particular is run through our widowed village format. And what we do is we verify your widowhood before we allow you to join the call, you would be very shocked to discover how many people want to pretend that they're widowed. We I know, Kevin, that was a great face. Because it happens so much more often than you could even imagine. You've got to be friggin kidding. I am not getting you they will come I think what they imagine is that there's going to be a bunch of rich widows who are looking desperately for love. And so we have Yes, we have people site tried to sign up, they try to you know, spam us all the things so we don't allow that. You can't come on to the newly widowed call until you've interacted with our team. We give you a variety of ways to confirm that you are widowed. And then once you've been admitted into the widow village, you have access to the call, it's free. You click on the link and you join at three o'clock on Tuesdays each and every Tuesday. We offer the ongoing connection.

I am just sitting here I'm

I'm blown your mind have an eye who knew that people would want to pretend to be widowed? I wish you could have seen my face the first time I realized it we used to run long ago when we first started soaring spirits, we ran a different type of forum. And people would actually post on there. And I kept thinking how do these like what is happening? And they were you know, either looking for love or in need of a little bit of extra cash or, you know, a prince from somewhere far away that was looking for the exact right princess. I mean, just like you would be surprised so we protect our widowed community by verifying widowhood before they are able to interact with any of our programs, there are forward facing ones that are don't have any interaction all of those are available. You don't have to sign up for those. But anything that would allow you interaction either live in person or live through virtual content does require that you come through the verification process.

I would never have guessed nobody who knew who really well you know, and the other thing is that you mentioned that COVID has taken a lot of people and a lot of them were married and and so there's a lot more with on people and not not counting if you start adding up the gun violence in this country if you start adding up the opioid overdose, which was in 2001, was like 20, or no shooting was close to 100,000 people, that there is a lot of need for what you are doing, and especially the opioid crisis. These are younger people. Yeah, for sure. These are not people that were expected to pass away. And stuff. And so it's what you're doing. Michelle, I have to tell you and your group, I know, it's says, you know, we were talking before, it's like, it's a really good thing that you're growing, need to be growing? Yeah,

for sure. And the thing that, you know, the reality is, like, I often will say to people, the only thing I can think of that's worse than being widowed is being widowed and alone. And so what we offer people is the opportunity to be in community in any of the ways that might work for them. Sometimes people don't want to interact. So we have videos that are available, all of our newly widowed calls are recorded. So we record the content, and allow people the option of, you know, maybe they just want to watch the videos, maybe they're not interested in talking to other people. But what we want to confirm is that they're not alone. They're not the only widowed person, there is resources, there is a community, there is hope, for being able to rebuild a life that matters to you, even though you might not be able to imagine it at all, in the moment.

It is important that at one point that you re join humanity, because there's no point in you, sitting in your house, I live in a 55 plus community, and most of them are women, because the men have passed on. And a lot of them just hang around in their house. And they don't do anything and and your life is too precious, it's too short, you should do everything that you can to make a difference for yourself. And for those around you at least that's my opinion.

Yeah, and I think also like to give yourself the grace to, you know, process what you need to process and and also allow space for possibility allow that just just even if you cannot imagine how just the idea that there is a chance that you might actually have a really meaningful life ahead of you. Even though the person that you love so much has died. And it's also really important, you know, one of the key elements of resilience, soaring spirits has a research center in Kerrville, Texas, and our work there is to study resilience in widowhood. And one of the key elements that we've discovered influences people's ability to move through the widowed experience and move into a new and meaningful life is being able to find a way to take that person with them. It is the idea of integration, which is that you're not leaving your person behind as you create a new life. Everything you know about them, everything you've learned, everything you've loved about them, comes with you as you make a meaningful life for this version of yourself. So it's not about leaving them behind. And I think that the people who are isolated and who are struggling to create a life for themselves often fear that they are are going to be asked to or even required to leave their loved one behind in order to make that new meaningful life. And you know, we we model that that's just not true. You you absolutely bring with you, everyone you love, every experience you've ever had, even as you evolve into a next version of yourself.

I am a firm believer and don't take your your thoughts on this. I'm a firm believer that if people who love you have passed on, they have had their life, and now they've passed on. And I believe that they're still around us. And therefore, they want the best for us. They don't want us to feel badly. They want us to live the best life that we can because they know that we'll see him again. And and that's not that's my opinion, maybe that's fanciful thinking on my part. Maybe, you know, I know there are some people that can't buy into that, but but it does help me understand that when people that I love have passed on that I'll see him again. And that's, you know, that helps me.

And the other thing I think that we that our study has shown is that continuing an ongoing relationship with the person who's died is an important way of facilitating that integration. And by that I mean being able to keep their memory alive with in ways that matter to you. And so for people who believe that they're going to see them again, it's the looking forward to that day for people who are not able to believe that it can be setting up some kind of memorial activity or something that carries forward the spirit of this person. You know, I will often ask people what's one thing about the person who died that you just loved and you feel it Like the world should have more of, and can you find ways in your own life, to model that, to bring that quality into you, and the way you interact in the world as an is a way of honoring your person, and continuing their spirit in the world. So that continuing bond with the people who've died, in whatever way it works for each person, is also a key element of resilience, because we don't feel separate from the people we've loved. They are still with us in the ways that you no matter to us, whether that's photos, it can be photos, it can be music, it can be, you know, continuing on the golf day that they loved, like it can be a so many different things. But the key element being that the spirit of that person, the thing you loved about that person is honored, remembered and continued in some way in your own life.

I think that's brilliant, that then that would help you and also the other people who love that person as well.

Absolutely. Yeah. I always tell people, if you have a memory of someone who died, call someone else who knows that person and tell them that, hey, I was just thinking about so and so. And I remembered this, this, you know, meaningful, funny, you know, can you believe it kind of moment, because you're not the only one missing them for sure. So if you're thinking of someone who died, and that actually is a really good way for us to kind of as we're coming to a close, one of the things I think is so beautiful, especially for the holidays, whatever holiday it is you celebrate, is to consider putting out a memory bowl. And the memory bowl is just a small bowl, and it has papers and the pen next to it. And you encourage people if you have a memory of this person, so let's say we've come to my Thanksgiving dinner, and we're talking about Phil, and I say if you have a memory foe, write it on, you know, please write it and put it in the bowl. And then you have a minute to read the memories. Imagine like the the joy and wonder of that. And then whoever the primary Griever is, maybe it's a spouse or partner, or maybe it's a child, you know, my dad's died in the last couple of years. So if we were doing this for my dad, you know, my mom might take some home, my siblings might take some home, his grandkids might take some home. But everybody then gets a memory to hold on to. And you've both said the person's name, you've shared the experience of grieving them together in a very healthy way. And you have, you know, expanded their spirit and the things that you love about them by talking about them. And you could do that for any holiday. So whatever end of your holidays you celebrate, it could be a way of saying, let's honor the people who have died. If you do multiple bowls, if there are multiple people in your family, it's just a really, really nice way to incorporate them into the day.

I agree. Now, the one thing that I would love, and encourage other people to do, because now technology allows us to do this is take the time to do a video of yourself, or to create a memoir of yourself, something like that. When I before my dad passed away, I did an interview with him. And we did it for like an hour. And then he wouldn't have surgery and subsequently passed away from the unexpected. Wow. And so during his memorial service, I took that and edited down to about a seven minute thing. So that he could be there, in his own voice, talking about how we met my mom, all the kids and there wasn't a dry eye in the house at the end of it. And we have to if we could do that, but I offer that service to people and they say oh no, I'm nobody special. Nobody wants to know. And it's like, stop it. That's not true. You know, but, but in any event, I could go I can talk to you all day long. But you are a busy person.

Ah, well, I love spending time with you, I am excited for us to have shared just a few tips. So you know, just to wrap up, if you're a Griever, find an escape route, find escape route and give yourself permission to use it. That means you might have just a five minute break. Or you might be like I'm done. And that's the way I'm exiting. And then if you're not a Griever, you know, to make space for that to make space for it to be okay for people to only be able to participate for so long. And then consider the idea of how might you include this, the person who's died in your holidays, that could be the memory bowl I talked about? It could just be a quiet conversation with the person you know, is grieving where you say, I really miss that person. And I'm sure you must be missing them too. Don't forget the kids, please don't forget the kids. Because so many times when a let's say, spouse or partner has died. The person who's widowed comes in the kids come in and I will tell you what they're asking the kids How's your mom? How's your dad? How's your mom? How's your dad? They forget to ask the kids how they are. So remember that the kids also are grieving and that if we can say you know I've been thinking a lot about your dad or I've been thinking a lot about your mom and do you know what they loved about you? Those are the kinds of conversations that are like little gems or gifts that we can give each other, just by being willing to share what we know about someone, what we loved about someone, and by our willingness to say their names.

Soaring Go there, if you have the need, if you know somebody, take them, they're soaring Michelle Hernandez, you are a diamond in the rough and you are an angel among us. And you've built this community and it's, and thank you so much for doing the work that you do.

It's a privilege and an honor. And I love spending time with you. So thank you so much for having me.

So we like you know, come back.

Absolutely. Always.

Okay, that takes the pressure off. So, thanks. Thank you so much, Michelle, and wait right there. I'll be right back. Hey, thanks for enjoying this episode. All the way to the end. Please give us a like and subscribe to this channel. This has been a production of positive talk radio dotnet please visit our website oddly named positive talk radio dotnet for more details about us and our mission, which is to provide great positive programming designed to inspire us all. I'm Kevin McDonald and I'm proud of these shows and I'm truly hope that you'll like them and share them with friends and family. So on behalf of our entire team, remember, be kind to one another because each other is all we got


Michele Neff HernandezProfile Photo

Michele Neff Hernandez

Author and CEO

Michele Neff Hernandez is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Soaring Spirits International, a non-profit organization providing peer support programming for widowed people worldwide. Michele is the author of Different After You: Rediscovering Yourself after Grief or Trauma set for publication by New World Library in February of 2022. Her passion for supporting widowed people and the power of integration fuels her presentations and her community activism.
Michele has received a local, state, and national recognition for her work in founding Soaring Spirits, including a letter of recognition from the Vice President Joe Biden and being named a 2021 Top Ten 2021 CNN Hero. Michele’s work is featured in an upcoming AppleTV docuseries, slated for release in the spring of 2022. She resides in Simi Valley, California and shares her life with her three amazing kids, their awesome partners, her grand-cats, and one very Australian husband.

Kevin McDonaldProfile Photo

Kevin McDonald


Creator and Host of Positive Talk Radio and its Parent Company