Ep #207: Learning to Receive in Grief

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | Learning to Receive in Grief

A few years ago, I would never have been able to give myself the opportunity to receive good things.

If something didn’t directly support my children, I considered it frivolous.

Maybe like me, you have lots of “shoulds” and rules about investing in your own pleasure.

Consequently, you’re preventing yourself from enjoying life again, settling for good instead of great.

Tune in this week to hear why it’s essential for us to learn to receive while grieving, the reasons you might find this challenging, and strategies you can try to increase your ability to receive in grief.


Listen to the Full Episode:

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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:

  • Why it’s a problem when we don’t learn to receive in grief.
  • What you might be feeling that is making it challenging for you to receive in grief.
  • 3 things you can do to increase your ability to receive in grief.

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 #184: Identifying a Grief Plateau
  • Brené Brown

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 207, Learning to Receive in Grief.

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. Guess what? My daughter comes home this weekend on the 20th. She comes home from Spain. She’s been there since February. And the 20th is also my birthday, 48 years, 48 times I have gone around the sun, eight times I have gone around the sun without Hugo. It’s crazy how time flies but also it feels like it was yesterday. Would you do me a favor for my birthday, would you give me a present only if you like the podcast? If you don’t like the podcast, don’t do this.

But if you do like the podcast, would you go review it, would you leave a rating and a review wherever you listen to the podcast? That would be such a gift to me because I want this podcast to reach more widows. There are 11 million widows in the United States alone. And this podcast is doing good, but we are nowhere near reaching even a million of them would be amazing. So if you would leave a rating or review and especially review.

When you actually write what you think about the podcast. Not only do I read it but it for some reason tells the podcasting gods that the podcast is good and it suggests it to more people. And also it helps me get higher caliber guests on the podcasts for you. It’s actually something that guests really do consider when they’re looking at podcasts is how many ratings and reviews particular podcasts get and the higher the better. So if you would do that, that would be amazing.

Also at the time you are listening to this, I am recording it in advance, by the time you are listening to this I will just have come back from a trip to Greece which I’m really excited about as I sit here and record it because obviously I haven’t gone on it yet. And it’s actually quite relevant to what I want to talk to you today about which is learning to receive. And the reason it’s relevant is because a few years ago I didn’t know that I would have been able to give myself this kind of opportunity.

I would have not been willing to invest that amount of money in an experience that didn’t either directly support my children or I don’t know, I just would have had a lot of shoulds and rules about that being frivolous. And I’m changing, I’m changing. My friends have invited me to come hang out with them for a week. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to just do things in Greece including heart to heart talks. And I’m going to be hanging around a group of women that I love. Most of them live in Greece or in Europe and they are other life coaches.

One of them is coming from Canada but the rest of them are all European based. And so it’s not as far for them as it is for me but I am really excited to be able to spend time with them. And to be able to invest in myself and in my own pleasure and let myself receive good things in my life. So that’s what I want to talk to you today about specifically as it relates to grief. So we’re going to talk about why it is a problem if we don’t learn to receive in grief. We’re going to talk about what we might be feeling that makes it so hard to receive in grief.

And then we’re going to talk about why we’re feeling that way in the first place. And then towards the end I’m going to give you three things you can actually do to increase your ability to receive even in grief. If you’re in my Mom Goes On coaching program you’re going to get five more. But I’m not going to cover all of them in the podcast. So the reason this is even on my mind, not too long ago I got two emails in a pretty short order from women saying that they believed they were doing pretty good. They didn’t need coaching and they didn’t want to take a spot from someone who did.

And I had a lot of mixed feelings about this. First of all, no one needs coaching. It is not a need. As much as I, of course, could probably sell it better if I believed it was a need. I don’t believe it’s a need. I believe that everyone who has coaching is usually glad they have it. I believe that we can get to where we want to go faster when we have a coach but it’s not a need. It’s not like food or water or shelter or a need. It’s not a need. And I don’t ever want anybody to think that they need it because then you miss what you actually already have. You miss what’s actually already inside of you.

And what I believe is that you have everything you need inside of you. That you’re fully capable. You can read all the grief books. You can listen to all the self-help podcasts. You can get all the support that you want to get, you have access to that. So anybody who tells you that they need a coach in my opinion is a little suspect. But that said, to me those emails spoke to a bigger problem that is worth talking about which is our ability to receive. I think that receiving in grief, our ability to receive is so important for a few reasons.

If we don’t learn to receive, we’re probably going to take on too much. We’re going to get physically and emotionally exhausted. We cannot parent the way we want to parent. We will not be joyful in the way that we want. We will burn out. Not being able to receive means we’re not able to take as good of care of ourselves as we deserve. We’re going to burn out, we’re not going to take care of ourselves. We’re probably going to feel isolated if we aren’t able to receive.

If we’re not able to open up and accept support from others, we’re probably going to start feeling even lonelier and more disconnected from people who love us. And then when we feel disconnected we disconnect and then we get even more isolated. And then that makes grief even more difficult and it impacts our overall well being. We benefit from community, but when we can’t receive, we feel more isolated, we experience less community. If we don’t learn to receive, we’re probably going to miss out on opportunities for growth, for figuring out who we are and what we want, for new experiences.

Those women who, I don’t think it was an issue of not wanting to do the program. I think they just genuinely believed they didn’t need it and that it was almost selfish of them in a bad way to take up a spot. Now they aren’t going to get to receive all of the goodness, all of the growth, all the perspective, all the tools, all the life changing stuff that I know Mom Goes On offers and it breaks my heart because where else are they doing it? What else are they not letting themselves have?

Where else could it be better than it is, but they’re telling themselves someone else needs it more than they do and now they miss out. And also I think about all the other women in the group, those two women are probably amazing. And now the women who are in Mom Goes On are going to miss out on those two women and what they could have learned from them about their unique life perspective and their unique history and experience.

If we don’t learn to receive, this is when we stay stuck in a grief plateau. If you don’t know what a grief plateau is, go listen to episode 184, How to Know if You’re in a Grief Plateau. There’s usually that initial acute grief where our world feels like it fell apart. Then at a certain point we get back to functioning, we’re going through the motions, people are telling us we look strong and we’re doing fine. We don’t feel fine. We don’t feel strong. We don’t feel great. We’re in a grief plateau.

We want to experience posttraumatic growth. We don’t know how to get there and so we resign for what is familiar but not what we really want. If we can’t receive, which requires the ability to get other support from other people, take time, invest in ourselves. It’s going to slow us down. It’s going to make it more difficult for us to move toward what we want and create the level of happiness that we want to experience again. It’s my honest opinion that if we don’t learn to receive in grief we will block ourselves from loving life again.

We will block ourselves from the rich fulfilling life that we want after our spouse dies. We will settle for good at the expense of great. And it’s easy, we can see why it happens. we just get so used to what we have. And it’s like it’s fine, I’m fine. And it doesn’t even occur to us that better is possible because we’re like, “It’s fine.” We just get used to it.

I remember a therapist one time, I won’t dredge up the whole story but basically she said to me, “Krista, it’s like you’re the frog in the boiling water. When you jumped in that water it was room temperature and then the heat got turned up slowly and gradually over time and you didn’t ever jump out because it happened so slowly, so gradually. You didn’t notice that it was happening.” This was a long time ago before I even met Hugo. But it’s that, it’s that we don’t even realize because, yes, it’s familiar, and maybe it’s so much better.

Where we are is so much better than where we were in early grief, that our frame of reference is now focused on how awful it used to be and it’s not so awful anymore. But we don’t look forward and see how good it could be if we develop the skill of receiving. And I also think that our relationships can suffer if we don’t learn to receive. There are people out there who want to support us. There are connections that we have that we value. And when we aren’t willing to accept help from those people, they don’t get the chance to feel good about giving, we shut them out.

And I don’t know about you but for me, I want to keep the people who love me close. I value those relationships. And if they want to give, I want to give them the opportunity to give and I want to be able to receive, but it’s not always so easy for us, which is why I’m doing this podcast episode.

So let’s talk about what might be making it hard for you. I’m going to give you a whole list of reasons that it might be hard for you. And even if only one of them applies, this is worth working on. Maybe you will relate to more than one, but even if only one of them applies, stay until the end and listen to the three things that I’m going to tell you that you can do. So here’s why it might be really hard for you to receive in grief.

A lot of us are very afraid of vulnerability. We do not want to appear weak. We do not want to appear fragile. We want people to think we are strong. We have some ideas around vulnerability and it being bad. Now, I believe, I’m a big fan of Brené Brown. I don’t know if you all know Brené’s work. But I am a big fan of Brené, she is a vulnerability researcher and shame researcher and many other things. But I believe being vulnerable is a sign of strength. Being vulnerable, feeling scared and doing something anyway, softening when we feel fear, man, that’s hard.

That’s a sign of a strong person when we’re willing to be vulnerable but most of us weren’t taught that. So of course, if we think that accepting help, receiving is going to make us appear weak or fragile. We don’t want that. And maybe we pride ourselves on being independent, self-sufficient, which makes it really hard to accept help from others. Some of us really worry about burdening other people. We don’t want to burden people that offer us help and then we tell ourselves I don’t want to be a burden. Yet, they’re offering us help.

And we’re denying them the chance to help, or we make ourselves feel guilty for even wanting the help. I had so many thoughts after Hugo died about how I should be able to handle something. I should be able to do it. And I made myself feel terrible when I struggled to handle something because of my thoughts that I should be able to handle it. And I made myself feel guilty about that and a lot of us are doing it. Some of us have trust issues, maybe you do too. We have issues trusting others.

Maybe you had a support network that wasn’t there for you in the way that you wanted them to be or maybe somebody burned you earlier in life, even before your loss. Maybe you’re suspect of someone’s motivations. And so it’s hard for you to receive because it’s hard for you to trust. That’s a skill too that we can learn. And I will just tell you, I should probably do a podcast episode on this.

You don’t need to learn to trust other people as much as you need to learn to trust yourself to navigate whatever happens that other people might do. Some of us find it difficult to receive because we’re worried about being judged by others. We’re worried that other people will criticize us, they’ll tell us, “Well, she’s not handling her grief well. Or she doesn’t have it all together. She’s not doing as well as I thought she would be doing. Her husband would probably be pretty disappointed”, or spouse.

So we worry that if they offer help and we accept it that they will be criticizing us and we think that’s a problem, their criticism. By the way, it’s not. Other people’s criticism is not a problem for us. What we tell ourselves when other people criticize us is a problem for us, but other people’s criticism is not the problem we tend to think it is. Maybe for you it’s a stigma that you grew up with. Maybe there’s a stigma attached to what it means to ask for help or get support especially as it relates to mental health.

A lot of us, we didn’t choose it on purpose, but have a stigma about asking for help, what it means. Maybe you identify as a control freak. Maybe you identify as somebody who really doesn’t want to let go of control, who really wants to try to keep it all together. Maybe it feels scary to change. Maybe if you accept help from someone and you worry that the dynamic of that relationship might shift and then you’ll owe them and so that feels hard.

I’m thinking of one of my clients, I won’t say her name but I’m thinking of one of my clients and I know because we’ve coached on it so many times, just it’s come up in different places for her that all these people in her world keep offering her the opportunity to get help. I mean they’re offering to babysit her kids and to come to her house and to bring her food and get her a weekend out or a night out.  And it’s really hard to accept for her because she makes it mean so many things.

Her brain makes it mean so many things that she shouldn’t. She should be near her kids all the time. She should never take a break. She should put them first. She should be able to handle it. That it’s greedy, that it’s selfish, all of these judgments. So if you are struggling to receive, what I want you to hear is that there could be a lot of reasons, you’re not alone and it makes sense. So let’s talk about why it makes sense.

How did all of these reasons get into your brain in the first place? Don’t you ever wonder that? Why do I feel guilty when I think about putting myself higher on the list? Why do I feel uncomfortable when I think about other people offering to help and burdening them? Why do I tell myself that I should be able to handle it? And here are some reasons, see what ones relate to you.

First of all, and it’s all socialization, it’s all social conditioning. We don’t realize how much our conditioning impacts the way we move through the world, the way we see the world. And by that I mean what did we learn from our culture? What did we learn from the society that we live in? What did we learn from our family? What did we learn from movies? What did we learn from television? What did we learn from books? What did we learn from our faith institutions? It’s all different for everyone. We’ve all been conditioned differently because we’ve all had different life experiences.

But it’s really worth considering how we have been shaped in such a way that makes it hard or harder for us to receive the help and the support and the love, the assistance, the good stuff, the pleasure that we would like to receive now. So here are some ways that I see it.

First of all, gender roles. Often we have been taught as women we’re supposed to be caregivers and nurturers, which means most of us are prioritizing other people’s needs above our own, our children, our family, our friends. We make their needs matter more than us because we have been conditioned to believe that we are supposed to be caregiving. We are supposed to nurture. We have also been taught to value self-sacrifice, especially as women. I’m whispering. I don’t know why I’m whispering.

But it literally makes us feel so guilty for receiving help. It makes us feel so guilty. We literally, it is not selfish to take care of ourselves, meaning it’s not selfish in a bad way. This whole label of being selfish, it makes me a little crazy. Who said it is not okay for us to be selfish? Who said we have to put everybody’s needs above ours? Who said we’re supposed to sacrifice everything for everyone? And when we buy into that, which I get why we do because we’re literally marinating in it, it makes us feel bad when we actually do receive help.

Some of us have bought into the strong woman stereotype that we’re supposed to be able to handle everything on our own. Maybe we saw our mother do that, but we believed it’s ideal if you’re strong and you handle it all on your own. Think about how that can impact your ability to receive help because then we worry that now we’re going to be weak or somehow we’re incapable. But guess what you all, we cannot do it all alone. I mean listen, I don’t want to do it all alone, it’s better when we don’t. Maybe you can squeak by but you won’t be enjoying life.

What would it be like if we just gave ourselves permission to drop the strong woman nonsense and decided that strong women ask for help? That’s possible. I think society often stigmatizes grief. We have rules in our society around how grief is supposed to go, most of them completely unhelpful and highly inaccurate. And we’re supposed to somehow, something magical happens at the year mark, we’re supposed to be better. We’re supposed to have moved on. We think that grief is linear. We think that it comes in stages.

We think that we’re supposed to reach this place where we’re done with grief. So of course, if we have been taught that and of course, if other people around us believe that, then when that is not our lived experience, which I promise you it almost never is. And I’ve coached hundreds of women and I can tell you, you are not alone, you are not broken. What we hear about grief does not match how we experience grief. But if we think we’re the only ones then guess what we do? We isolate. We aren’t honest. We’re reluctant to accept help.

We don’t want to tell people that it’s hard because we think they think we should be better by now. We think we should be better by now because we were conditioned to believe inaccurate things about grief. And the more I think about it the more mad I get. This is one of my goals. I hope that the ripple effect of the work that I do is that more people will be grief literate and then more people will slowly over time, we will shift the experience that people have in grief.

This is why I’m willing to go on almost any podcast that I get invited to if somebody wants to talk about grief because there’s so much misinformation out there. I just want to normalize this stuff so that we aren’t so surprised and we have people in the future who have different experiences of grief than the one that I had. Okay, a couple of other reasons that we struggle so much to receive.

Depending on our culture, in some cultures accepting help, asking for help is seen as inappropriate. Expressing how we feel is seen as inappropriate. So depending on the culture and in some faith traditions as well, we learn different things. It might go against the norm of a particular culture. And some of you might be yelling at your phone as you listen to the podcast and being like,  “Hey, I don’t have anybody who is even offering.” And that’s common too. Sometimes, again, we’re people’s worst nightmare and we kind of become a little invisible sometimes.

They go back to their normal lives. We aren’t saying that we need help. They think we’re fine and the offers aren’t being made at a certain point. So that is no commentary on you. That doesn’t mean anything bad about you but sometimes we’re just not even being asked. And for all of the reasons that I have already discussed, we are uncomfortable asking. So hopefully some of those you related to, probably several, notice how many of those issues show up as shoulds in our mind.

If you’ve ever watched any of my trainings, usually when I talk about shoulds, if I’m doing a graphic I will always use a little poop emoji because should thoughts feel like you know what, I should be able to handle it. I shouldn’t be greedy. I shouldn’t ask for help. I shouldn’t be so weak. I should be doing better than I am. That’s how it shows up in our brain. Or maybe it shows up as I don’t need it, just like those emails that I got, I don’t need it.

Okay, you don’t need it but do you want it? Would you like your life better if you had it? Are you worth giving it to? I’m going to say yes. Who cares if you don’t need it? I want it is just as valid. Another way it can show up in your brain is I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Again, the frog in the boiling water. You’re so used to where you are, it does feel fine but not fine good, just fine familiar which is different. So yes, you don’t need it and you’re probably fine.

But are these thoughts serving you? Are they moving you toward the experience that you want or are they holding you back from the experience that you want? I know they feel completely true when you’re thinking them. I know that your brain is finding lots of evidence for how it’s true. And of course, because of how we’ve been conditioned. All of these thoughts have been in our brains for decades. Our brains have been finding evidence for how we are supposed to be in particular ways. We have these well established thought patterns of what we should, don’t need etc.

But just because a thought appears doesn’t mean we’ve got to believe it. Just because a thought appears doesn’t mean it’s serving us. Just because a thought appears doesn’t mean we have to keep believing it. I really want you to hear me.

Alright now, I want to give you three ways that you can increase your ability to receive, you can learn to receive. Now, again if you’re in Mom Goes On program, I’m giving you eight total. Watch in Slack, I’ll put them there. But for the purpose of this podcast I want to give you three powerful ones. And they won’t probably not feel comfortable to you.

One is when you go to plan your week, however you do your planning, plan your pleasure first because if you’re like most widows your pleasure isn’t even getting put in the plan, let alone first. You are an afterthought at best. And by pleasure I don’t just mean manicures and pedicures, please. I mean things that actually bring you joy, I mean things that you do for you, that you might define as selfish but they feel good and you like them and they are rejuvenative and you want them and you plan them first. So that’s number one.

Number two, I want you to pick one thing that you’ve been telling yourself you should be able to handle or something that you’ve felt really uncomfortable asking for help. And I want you to ask for help, one thing this week. Come up with it right now, what is it? It’s uncomfortable. You keep telling yourself you should. I can’t even tell you for how long I told myself I should be able to handle all the house cleaning. I could handle it but should. No, not helping me. I finally hired a housekeeper. One of the best things I’ve ever done.

So pick one thing you’ve been telling yourself you should be able to handle or you feel uncomfortable asking for help and ask. And here’s what I want you to hear. It’s not going to feel comfortable, that’s okay. Ask somebody to watch your kids. Say yes to somebody when they offer you something. Put yourself in the place of receiving, let it be uncomfortable and receive it anyway. The only thing that’s really happening is that you have a vibration in your body of discomfort. Maybe you feel guilty. Maybe you feel worried. Maybe you feel awkward.

It’s just a vibration in your body caused by your thoughts, it’s going to pass. It is not a reason to not receive. So pick that thing, ask for help, let it feel uncomfortable, receive it anyway.

And number three is I want you to decide to invest in yourself. I want you to decide, this is a decision you get to make, that you are going to learn how to receive, that it is going to become easier for you. And decide to make that happen by investing in yourself. There are a myriad of ways that you can do that. Investing in yourself might just be doing the other two things that I told you and doing them every week and making that a priority. Now, I’m going to tell you to hire me as your coach and come and join Mom Goes On, and let’s blow the crap out of your life.

But it doesn’t even have to be that big. You decide, I’m going to learn the skill of receiving. I am going to invest in myself, whether that is time, whether that is money, whether that is the therapist that you’ve been putting off, or the group support that you’ve been putting off. It’s something, it is an investment that you make in yourself. I hope it will be with me if that’s appropriate for you. You are worth investing in. You invest in yourself and you allow yourself to receive the benefits of that investment.

And maybe it’s reading a book. It can be many things but it is like saying, screw you, social conditioning, I matter. I matter. I am worth investing in. Not because it will make me a better parent, which it probably will. Not because it will make me more productive, which it probably will. Not because it makes me more valuable because that’s impossible, your value is already fully intact. But because your satisfaction with life matters. And when you invest in yourself it increases and you matter and so does your happiness.

So I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care if maybe you just every week you plan your pleasure, you ask for something that makes you uncomfortable and you receive it. And you just decide, I’m going to do that until I get really really good at it. How you invest in yourself is way less important to me than that you invest in yourself because again, who knows? You might decide to do that group therapy thing and then it serves a purpose for a while and then later it’s not the thing you need. And then you evolve and you choose another way of investing in yourself.

The point isn’t how we do it. The point is that we make a commitment to doing it and that we see ourselves as worthy of doing it and letting ourselves receive.

I was thinking of one more thing that I wanted to tell you because it reminded me. Way back in the day when I used to own fitness centers when I was in my mid-20s, I used to give a t-shirt away. I might have told this story on the podcast before. But I used to give a t-shirt away to women in their first month of having been a member at my club if they did three workouts a week for all four weeks, they would get a t-shirt that said, ‘It’s official, I’m amazing. I completed 10 workouts in 30 days’ or whatever it was.

And I gave these t-shirts out on a regular basis and it was really just something we did because I wanted people to form the habit of exercising regularly and getting comfortable in the space and being a part of our community. And so I’m not beyond bribing with 6-shirts. And I remember just my heart breaking when there was a woman, I can still picture her. She got that shirt and she came every day. It wasn’t even every other day kind of deal. She came regularly.

She earned that shirt. She took it home and she even actually cut it up in a way that she made it into a cute little fringe and she wore it, I don’t know, one time. And then she brought it back and she couldn’t accept it. She said that she’d been really thinking about it and that she felt like, I don’t remember the words she used, but basically she wasn’t worthy of a shirt that said, ‘It’s official, you’re amazing’. She couldn’t receive ‘It’s official, you’re amazing’.

And I don’t think I really knew what to do with that at the time other than I just honored her request and took the shirt back. But it’s official, you are amazing. You are worthy of all good things. You are amazing exactly as you are. You are worthy of investing in. Your pleasure matters. Getting help is absolutely something you deserve. You don’t need to feel guilty about it. You don’t need to feel bad about it. You don’t need to judge yourself for it. You don’t need to worry about what other people think about it.

It makes total sense why you do given that we were all conditioned in ways that have us thinking and feeling this way. But just because we were conditioned in that way, just because those thoughts show up, doesn’t mean we have to keep listening to them, okay. Okay, go forth and receive what is good in your life. Get the support that you want. Enjoy the pleasure that you want. Ask for the help and receive it. Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox.

If this podcast is helpful for you, please go rate and review it as a special birthday present to me. I would love it so very much. And if you haven’t applied to Mom Goes On, why not? What are you waiting on? What is waiting for you that you are not allowing yourself to receive? Come on in, the water is great, okay. Okay, 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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