Ep #184: Identifying a Grief Plateau

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | Identifying a Grief Plateau

When we first lose our person, most of us have an early acute grief experience that might look like struggling in our day-to-day, where just getting in the shower is a huge accomplishment.

Most of my clients are no longer in that stage of grief. You might be back to functioning, and everyone thinks you’re going great. You’re not in a pit of despair and life doesn’t feel terrible, but it also doesn’t feel amazing.

If you like the idea of loving life again, but it feels so far away, tune in. You’ll hear what a grief plateau is and how it might be holding you back from what you’re truly capable of.

And if you’re ready to break through it, join my upcoming workshop where you’ll learn everything you need to know.

Listen to the Full Episode:

I’m teaching a brand new masterclass called Breaking Through a Grief Plateau, happening on Thursday, December 8th, 2022, from 1pm to 3pm Central. This is where you’ll learn how to identify if you’re in a grief plateau and then break through it, and you can click here to register!
If you want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to apply for Mom Goes On.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What a grief plateau is. 
  • The difference between a grief plateau and early acute grief.
  • What early acute grief looks like for most people. 
  • How and why you might be holding yourself back in a grief plateau. 


Featured on the Show:

  • Interested in small-group coaching? Click here for details and next steps.
  • Join my free Facebook group, The Widowed Mom Podcast Community.
  • Follow me on Instagram!
  • If you are a Life Coach School certified coach, I’m working on an Advanced Certification in Grief and Post-Traumatic Growth Coaching just for you. If this sounds like something you would love, email us to let us know you want in on the interest list to be notified when it launches!
  • I send out several pick-me-up emails each week including announcements and details for free live coaching sessions. Enter your email in the pop-up on my home page to sign up.
  • If you’re looking for an easy way to remember the most important memories you shared with your person, you need Memories that Matter, a digital journal with 100 prompts for making documenting your memories simple.
  • Ep #85: New Widows, Start Here
  • The Princess Bride (Movie)

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 184, Identifying a Grief Plateau.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. We’re going to talk about grief plateaus today. And I will tell you before we jump into what a grief plateau is, that I have decided to go deeper on this topic than what I offer in today’s podcast for those of you who are interested. I want you to understand in the podcast what a grief plateau is but on December 8th, I’m going to be teaching a masterclass. And the masterclass is on breaking through a grief plateau.

So if this speaks to you, this podcast episode then I want you to go to coachingwithkrista.com/griefplateau and sign up for the Breaking Through a Grief Plateau Masterclass. Because we’re going to go much deeper and I’ll be able to do some coaching, answer your questions. You’ll also get access to me in our Facebook group so that you can ask me any questions that you have in case you can’t attend the masterclass live.

And of course we’ll be sending out a replay, so we’ll record that masterclass so that you can watch it over if you attend live. And if you can’t attend live you don’t have to sweat it. So it’ll be from 1:00 to 2:30 Central on Thursday December 8th.  And coachingwithkrista.com/griefplateau is where you go to learn all the details and sign up.

Alright, so let’s talk about identifying a grief plateau. Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that grief is different for everyone. So as I teach you this concept I want to make sure that you are always filtering this through the lens of your own life experience and never – we don’t want to be reductive. I don’t want you to assume that it has to be this way exactly as I talk about it, and if it isn’t there’s something wrong with you. Or that the way that I describe it must look exactly like you. That’s not the case. I’ve coached enough widows in my time that I see the similarities.

I see the shared struggle and the overall picture but it looks slightly different for everyone. So please don’t take what I’m going to give you and make it mean that there’s something wrong with you if you are experiencing grief differently, okay, deal. You cannot use this work against yourself, it will not help you. You have to use it for yourself. So when you lose your person, most of us have a very intense early acute grief experience. It often looks like just struggling with the day-to-day. Your whole world just feels like it exploded very often.

And getting through the day is a major accomplishment at that point. I remember feeling like kind of a walking zombie. I was getting things done, I’m pretty sure I did. I may have looked to my family who were watching me better than I felt but I definitely felt like my whole world had just shattered. And I wasn’t even sure if it had really happened. Intellectually I knew that it had happened but yet it really didn’t feel real to me. There were periods of intense emotional highs and lows and numbness, anger, all the things. All of my emotions were very intense.

And then sometimes I felt like a zombie and I wondered why I didn’t have more emotion. And I could tell that I wasn’t fully feeling the full impact of what had happened to me. So in acute grief, world just exploded, lots of highs and lows. The emotional intensity, the swinging, ups and downs is intrusive. It is difficult to manage. It might be the biggest accomplishment of the day that you actually just showered. It’s like baby steps everywhere. Often we have widow fog, intense widow fog, meaning it’s difficult to process things.

The bandwidth that we used to have in the executive functioning part of our brain is so overloaded the we can’t remember things like we used to remember. I remember trying to read and I loved reading and I wanted to read. And I wanted to learn about grief specifically but I couldn’t retain any information in those early days. It was like I was reading the same paragraph over, and over, and over and it just wasn’t sticking. Or maybe the things that you used to not have to put on a to-do list now, you can’t remember unless you write them down.

Maybe, we joke about it inside of Mom Goes On, I’ve heard so many different stories about what people have done in early grief and with widow fog specifically. But keep forgetting the same thing over, and over, and over and you go to the store and you think you’re out of Kleenex and you’re not. And now you have a mountain of Kleenex at home because every time you go to the store you think you’re out. Then yes, sometimes with poor memories we can do that kind of stuff anyway, but with widow fog it is remarkably more noticeable.

Maybe your bills are late. Maybe you forget to pick up your kid at daycare, these kinds of things where we’re just like, “Holy cow, what is wrong with me?” Makes you question your sanity sometimes, the widow fog can be so intense. It’s kind of like, if you like cotton candy almost is filling up your brain. It’s just like fluff in there. And you don’t have the ability to process as quickly or for as long as you did before. In early acute grief, for most of us, if we wanted to go back to work we would really struggle to do that in early acute grief.

It would be hard to get through the day-to-day tasks that we are used to doing. That’s not true for everyone but that’s true for many of us. So that’s early acute grief. When I am asking to find out if women are ready to do Mom Goes On, this is what I’m trying to assess because I am not most useful to women who are in early acute grief. Now, I hope the podcast is, I hope especially episodes like New Widows Start Here. Some of the episodes that are kind of grief 101, I hope those are very helpful.

But in the type of coaching program that I run, you really do need to be able to watch a short video and then spend 20 minutes on a worksheet. You shouldn’t be struggling to meet your basic needs, which is what’s happening for most of us in early acute grief. I also remember for me having zero appetite, and especially very soon after he had passed. My family kept buying me smoothies because that’s all I would drink or eat, I just didn’t care about food, it seemed irrelevant to me.

So that is not a point where what I offer is incredibly useful. But when we reach the grief plateau, which is different than acute grief, that’s where I can help. That’s where almost all of my clients are. That’s the sweet spot for me to meet them in. And what a grief plateau looks like is when you’re back to functioning. For all intents and purposes everyone around you is thinking, wow, she is doing great, man, look at her, she’s strong because on the outside you are presenting as though you mostly have it together.

If you wanted to go back to work at that point you could, or you have. Now, some of us choose not to for different reasons but it’s possible for you. It wouldn’t be too much, you could handle it. Intellectually you could handle it. You have the processing capacity to handle it, emotionally you can handle it. You may not love it but you could handle it. And this is why other people think you’re doing so great because you are handling it in their mind. They don’t see what’s going on, on the inside of you.

They don’t see what’s happening in the car when you’re by yourself. They don’t see what’s happening when you’re in the shower, or when you excuse yourself from the meeting and you go to the bathroom and you cry. They don’t do see that. They just see what we show them which is, wow, for somebody whose spouse died, looks like she’s doing pretty good. She must be really strong. And that’s what they tell you, “You’re so strong. You’re doing so good.”

And we kind of understand why they say that because we are presenting in a way that leads them to believe we’re doing good, but we’re not feeling great. We’re not in the pit of despair. What’s that quote from the Princess Bride? We’re not in the pit of despair where we can’t function, and we cry all day, and we don’t leave the bed. We’re past that part. We don’t have unmanaged depression. If we needed help for that, we’ve got it.

So life doesn’t feel terrible but it also doesn’t feel amazing. It’s kind of in the meh, meh, meh, it’s in that place where you’re like, “Is this it?” Or, “Surely this can’t be it.” Or, “Please don’t let this be it.” I’m going through the motions but I’m feeling hollow and empty or robotic. I am thinking about what I need to do to get through today. And I’m thinking about the immediate future but I’m not dreaming again. I’m not looking forward to my future. I believe I can probably tolerate it but it’s not something I’m excited about.

I think that I might not be miserable forever but it’s kind of hard to imagine being genuinely in love with my life. You might feel a little frozen, like it’s not safe to try new things or to take risks. You might be so worried about another intense negative emotional experience that you’d rather just play it safe and not try new things and we can’t blame you for that. So you might be kind of holding still out of fear. Or you might be holding still out of guilt. You might be telling herself that if you actually do go on to be really happy again it means something about how much you loved your person.

Or you might worry that other people will judge you which is really just a sign that you’re worried that you’ll judge yourself. So it’s kind of like grief groundhogs day where every day just feels repetitive because you’re not taking on a lot of new risk or not allowing yourself opportunities for growth. But you’re getting through, you’re surviving not thriving. You are nowhere near posttraumatic growth. You like the idea perhaps, at least a part of you might like it of loving your life again but it feels like it’s a long ways away or you don’t know how to do it.

And a part of you might not even want to do it, part of you might actively resist it. A part of you might actually think that what keeps you connected to your person is your grief and your sadness. So you probably don’t feel super clear on your vision about the future. You probably aren’t taking meaningful action toward goals that matter to you. You don’t really have a lot that you feel excited about. And you might actually really look forward to moments where you are distracted so that you can get away from how you’re feeling.

And you might not believe it’s okay if you love your life again. You probably look forward to going to sleep more than you look forward to waking up. And I don’t mean going to bed, you might not look forward to going to bed at all. Going to bed, you might be in the grief sleep cycle of doom as I like to call it where you actually don’t want to lay down because you don’t want the noise to go away because when the noise goes away all of the thoughts come. And then you can’t shut your brain off and you keep trying to shut your brain off but you can’t.

So then you just keep distracting yourself and scrolling on your phone or trying to watch TV which actually makes it harder for you to go to asleep. And then you sleep even less well and then you wake up even more exhausted and you repeat the whole thing over and over again. This is a grief plateau. Now, let me tell you, this is a name I made up. I made this name up because it’s what I experienced and I didn’t have a name for it. And I remember it vividly because I remember thinking, I literally remember this conversation.

My therapist was like, “You’re doing great.” And I was like, “Am I though? I don’t think this is what great feels like.” Surely this isn’t great. I kind of wanted to believe her but I also didn’t because what she was seeing, maybe it looked like resiliency but it did not feel like joy, or happiness, or aliveness. It felt like tolerance. It felt like survival. It felt like I was just doing what needed to be done and not really enjoying any of it. And what makes me the saddest about a grief plateau, which is why I want to do this workshop and it’s also why I do what I do as a coach.

But what makes me so incredibly sad is that some women literally just believe that is their new normal. They resign themselves to settling, settling for this existence that they don’t really want because they think that’s all that’s possible. They don’t really know what they’re capable of. They don’t understand what is available to them. And they’ve heard the idea that there’s a new normal and they’ll find it and that’s what they think it is, is this hollow, empty robotic existence where they’re getting by but they aren’t in love with life again.

They aren’t really excited about their future. They don’t believe their best days are in front of them. And then they tell themselves, which I did too, then they tell themselves, well, you just be grateful for what you had, it’s probably not ever going to get any better. Remember I talked about dream stealers last week? You’re having those dreams stealer thoughts, but you don’t even know to question them because you don’t know they’re thoughts. It just feels like your reality. This is a grief plateau.

So don’t stay stuck there. We do not need to stay stuck there. Now, this is why I want you to come to the grief plateau workshop. I want to teach you how to break through. Or come join Mom Goes On, I’ll teach you there too. So posttraumatic growth is possible for all widowed moms. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that. We’re going to talk about in this grief plateau workshop the top five mistakes that widowed moms make, that they don’t even know that they’re making.

I’m going to teach you, well, at least talk about, I can only do so much in 90 minutes but I’m going to help you understand the two meta skills that you must have if you want to break through a grief plateau. And then we’re also going to talk about the autonomic nervous system, why it’s so important, what you need to know. I don’t want you to stay stuck in this place. I want you to love your life again, whether you come to a workshop and I help you for 90 minutes, or whether you join my six month program and I get to help you for an extended amount of time.

Or whether you never do anything with me other than listen to the podcast. Do not stay stuck in this place and decide that it is all that is possible for you. It is not. Posttraumatic growth is possible for all of us. And listen, let me just say this too then I’m going to step off the soapbox. You can still be remarkably in love with your life even if you don’t experience posttraumatic growth. Posttraumatic growth to me, it’s available to all of us. It’s like the icing on the cake. You don’t even have to experience posttraumatic growth to still not be stuck in a grief plateau.

Because a grief plateau, it is assuming that you aren’t back to the level of loving your life that you were before you lost your person. It’s not what it once was in terms of your experience and the quality of your life when you’re in that grief plateau. You’re getting by but you’re not growing. You’re not loving your life. You’re not really enjoying your time. You don’t feel clear on who you are, or what you want, or even if you do you’re not getting it. You think your best days are in the rearview as opposed to coming in front of you.

And you might think it’s because of your age. And you might think it’s because of something else about you, or maybe you think it’s because of your loss but there’s nothing about your experience that says, “Yes, I can’t wait to get out of bed.” And you aren’t being an example to those around you of posttraumatic growth either because you haven’t created it for yourself. So that’s what a grief plateau is. You are invited to come to the Breaking Through a Grief Plateau Masterclass. Again coachingwithkrista. com/griefplateau is where you will find that.

It is on December 8th from 1:00 to 2:30pm Central. And replays will be available. And I can help you there. And of course, come join Mom Goes On, apply for it, see if it is right for you. It is such a magical experience for me. I just, I’m actually interviewing for a position on the team right now. And I had a couple of interviews today and in one of them I spoke with a woman who I don’t have her permission because it’s just now coming to my mind. But I spoke with a woman who it was so exciting for me to talk to because I never really knew the impact that the program had on her until recently.

And she graduated months ago, gosh, let me think about that, over a year ago, yeah, a year and a half. It’s been a while. All the time blurs together in my mind, but anyway when she went through the program, she wasn’t super out there with her coaching requests. Some people show up to every single call, they never miss, you see them all the time. They’re very active in the online community. They’re always posting for help or showing me what’s going on for them. And some people I get to know very deeply.

She was one of those people who I coached on occasion but she really didn’t have a very active presence in the community. And so I didn’t realize what a difference it had made to her. And it was so fun to talk to her today and realize what an impact it had made. And I want that for all of you. I don’t want your best days to be behind you. I want your best days to be in front of you. I want you to feel confident. I want you to make strong decisions. I want you to feel good about your money. I want you to feel good about who you are and what you offer the world.

I want you to live into your capability. It’s not even your capability to be honest. It’s your capacity. I want you to be able to live into what is possible for you which might be so much more than what your brain is even allowing you to consider. And I can say that because I’ve seen it happen so many times, that I’ve watched women who came into the program because they felt like they were stuck in their grief. And then once we got them headed in the right direction and we gave them the right tools we unleashed a beast that they didn’t even know was there.

We unleashed some dream or some desire that had been dormant and they didn’t even know about it, but because they then were willing to feel feelings, and to be brave, and to put themselves in uncomfortable places, they created these big things that they never thought were possible. And you have that in you. They are not special. They do not have something that you don’t have. You have that in you. And the world probably isn’t telling you that. The world is probably telling you that you shouldn’t make big decisions right now.

The world is probably telling you that you should be thinking about other people or just focusing on your grief. And yes, let’s focus on your grief. Let’s take good care of you but then, then what is in front of you? Probably so much more than you ever considered. If I could go back in time, I would have never truly after Hugo died, would have never imagined doing this work, and getting paid for it, and loving, literally waking up and loving what I get to do, would have never imagined it ever.

So what is it that’s out there for you that you don’t even know you want yet? It’s okay to not know by the way. It’s not okay to not find out. It’s not okay to not ask yourself. Okay, soapbox over. Come to the workshop if you feel so inclined. I would love to help you there. Come to Mom Goes On if you feel so inclined. If you’re not quite ready for it because it’s a little too early in your grief and it would be too overwhelming that’s okay. We’ll be ready for you when you do reach that grief plateau.

And now you know what it looks like and now you know you don’t have to stay stuck there but you know what it looks like. Alright, everybody, that’s what I have for you this week. I love you. You’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week, bye bye.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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