Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 168, Tornadoes and Post-Traumatic Growth.
Have you ever felt put off at the idea of experiencing growth after the death of your spouse? Maybe someone mentioned post-traumatic growth and it just felt kind of icky, or it may be you’ve never even heard the term post-traumatic growth. Either way you’re not alone and in today’s podcast episode I want to offer you a different way to think about post-traumatic growth that’s worked for me and for my clients and it might help you too.
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. Heather’s Camp you all, it was so good. I know I talked about it before I left and I talk about it a lot because it’s important to me. But for those of you who maybe this is your first podcast episode, Heather’s Camp is a camp for youth who are blind or visually impaired. And it is in memory of my sorority sister, Heather Muller. And we created it in 2000, some of my sorority sisters and myself in her memory because she loved little kids. She specifically loved helping little kids who had special needs.
She was working on getting her master’s degree in early childhood special education. And when she died we really wanted to do something that she would have loved. And so, we created this camp. And so, we’ve had this experience annually since 2000, but we haven’t had it since 2019 because of COVID. So, this was the first time that we got to get back together with our campers, kind of get the band back together again. And it was amazing.
Also, Heather’s Camp of course brings with it it’s own set of memories and challenges for me because the accident that resulted in my husband’s death was on the way back from Heather’s Camp. So, he had been, his first year of Heather’s Camp and we were driving back and that’s when I had the flat tire. And that’s when the drunk driver hit us and the rest is history. So, it’s always my favorite time of the year but it always comes on the deathaversary. And of course, the trip to and from camp has its own loaded set of memories for me.
And so, I was kind of not expecting this year to be any different and it really wasn’t. but I decided in advance to make space for all of the different emotions that I would experience there. So, all of what we would classify as positive and what we would classify as negative. And that’s what I’ve learned just works the best is that if we go into a situation trying to make ourselves feel a particular way or trying to avoid feeling a particular way we give a lot of unnecessary energy to that. And it’s just not really ever very successful. And really I just don’t think it’s necessary.
It’s so much of a more pleasant experience when we just create space for whatever emotions show up to be there and just to be part of it without telling ourselves we’ve done anything wrong when they’re there and without efforting. And so, it’s really a whole different experience for me when I just let myself feel as I feel, even when I drive by that spot on the highway. I just let myself feel as I feel. And every time I have driven by it in the six years since he’s died it’s always different.
And every Heather’s Camp I’ve always had different emotions, this one was no exception. We also had a new camp. So, we ended up with a different location this time. So, we hadn’t had a camp since 2019, different location, some changes within our camp leadership and about half the campers that we normally have. But for me personally just really rewarding to watch the growth in the campers over the time we were there in a short, short time.
One of our campers, I won’t say names, but one of our campers I’m thinking specifically of. And he’s been coming to camp maybe the last seven years. And so, I’ve really gotten to know him. And he has a lot of challenges, especially in his home life. But he’s a lot of physical limitations and some social emotional issues. And when he very first started coming he didn’t want to try anything new. He really didn’t want to try anything at all. He mostly just wanted to be left alone and listen to music.
And he tried so many things this weekend, or last weekend I guess I should say. He even got – I won’t say halfway up the tock wall, but a huge distance up the rock wall. And it was just so fun to watch him grow. And also, we give out an award in memory of Hugo, my late husband, the Hugo St. Germain New Volunteer of the Year Award. And so, I always have mixed emotions about doing that too. I love giving the award. But also, it’s always hard. There’s never a closing ceremony when I don’t cry but that’s okay.
That’s what makes it an authentic experience for me is that I show up as me. And when the water comes out of my eyes it’s because it’s genuine. So anyway, for those of you following along and cheering us along, I appreciate you. I’ve gotten so many emails with people who have connections to Heather’s Camp, which is really amazing too. And if you ever have a youth in your life who is blind or visually impaired send them our way. We work with youth from all over the country, it doesn’t matter.
And it doesn’t matter if they can afford it or not, we will make sure that it gets paid for. And the more kids we can help, truly the merrier. So, one more thing before we jump into this week’s topic. A lot of you have been asking about The Memories That Matter Journal and the Dear New Widow book that I mentioned a couple of episodes ago. And I just want to tell you, those are coming very soon. We might have those links available before this podcast drops but I don’t want to promise it. So, I will say at least by next Monday we’ll have those links available to you.
And Memories That Matter is a journal that I created which I’m super, it’s not even just that I’m proud of it, I just had so much joy in creating it. And it’s filled with 100 prompts of questions that you can answer that will help you remember the memories that matter about your person. That was one of my big worries when Hugo died is that I would forget. And so, I’ve just created this little journal so that you don’t have to worry that you’re going to forget. You literally can just answer the questions and put them in writing and then you don’t have to worry so much about it.
And then Dear New Widow is a compilation of writings from Mom Goes On members. I asked them, if you could write one paragraph to a new widow what would you tell her? And that’s what it’s full of and it’s lovely too. So, we’ll get those links for you. And also, if you are a former Mom Goes On member, i.e., you have done Mom Goes On and graduated, or you are a current Mom Goes On member, you are currently in the program, don’t go buy those because you get them for free.
And if you haven’t been in the online community for a minute, go check out the announcements channel because I have linked complementary copies of both of those resources to you, so don’t go buy them.
Okay, so let’s get into this episode. It’s going to be rather short but I hope it’s going to really help you. So, I want to refer you to the episode that I did called Post-Traumatic Growth is Real. And it’s episode number eight and you can find a link in the show notes. If you’ve never listened to that and you want to know more about post-traumatic growth, please go and listen to that episode.
But assuming you already know a little bit about post-traumatic growth, and maybe you have kind of recoiled at the idea of post-traumatic growth, that’s what I want to talk about here. Because sometimes when we hear, “You should grow through your grief.” It can be so off-putting, the idea that we might grow as a result of losing the person that was the most important to us or a significant person in our lives. And what comes up for us when we think about experiencing post-traumatic growth is often, ugh.
If I grow after my person died that must mean something, that must mean that I didn’t love them enough, it feels wrong. It must mean that somehow I’m benefitting from their death and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to grow after this terrible thing has happened. And so, our brain tends to make post-traumatic growth mean things that it just doesn’t need to mean. Or we often start worrying about how people might judge us if we change things in our lives in visible ways.
Or we worry that we might be perceived as too happy as though that’s an actual thing. And so, all of this drama can come up for us in our mind when we hear the idea of post-traumatic growth. And just a primer or a reminder, depending on where you are with this concept, post-traumatic growth is a phrase that was coined in the mid-90s by a couple of researchers, Tedeschi and Calhoun were their last names. And what they studied was this interesting idea that for some people after something traumatic and of course trauma is highly subjective.
We don’t want to say that certain events are traumatic and other events aren’t. Trauma is kind of in the eye of the beholder because what’s traumatic to one might not be experienced as traumatic to another. But knowing that trauma is subjective, some people after a traumatic event were experiencing greater levels of life satisfaction and wellness than they had prior to the traumatic event and they were fascinated by this.
Because before their work it was really thought that the best that could happen after a traumatic event was a return to the same level of wellness, or life satisfaction that one had had prior to the trauma. So, the concept of post-traumatic growth totally reshaped the idea of what we now believe is possible for someone after trauma. And no longer are we just setting our sights on a return to the same level of life satisfaction or wellness.
But now we know that we can actually take any trauma if we want and use it as a way to not just bounce back to where we were before but to bounce forward. Meaning we can increase our wellness and increase our life satisfaction. And specifically, they studied it in five different areas which were increased inner strength, an openness to new possibilities in life, closer and often deeper relationships with friends and family, enhanced appreciation of life and a stronger sense of spirituality.
And for some people post-traumatic growth happens automatically. They don’t actually try to experience greater wellness or increased satisfaction in those five areas, they just do. So, if it doesn’t happen for you automatically and you want to experience post-traumatic growth, it’s still possible. So here is what I want you to think about. If you notice yourself resisting the idea of post-traumatic growth, I want you to think about this.
A few months ago, a tornado came into town and leveled most of an entire neighborhood, about three ish miles from me as the crow flies. And it also knocked out a YMCA, most of the YMCA. And I realize that where I live YMCAs are not normal. When most people talk about the YMCA they talk about it’s kind of the last place you’d want to go. But in my area, our YMCAs are amazing. They are fantastic. They are huge community resources, they are very well done. They are constantly busy. Everything is clean.
It is a place that the community gathers. In my area we love and are very proud of our YMCAs. So, I was talking to my friend Jason who works at the YMCA. He’s an IT guy and he was at Heather’s Camp this weekend. He’s one of our support staff and I’ve known him forever. And we were talking about the YMCA at handover because it is the YMCA that is closest to us. It’s the one that my partner uses all the time. It is our YMCA of choice. But wow, this tornado, it literally threw cars into the lobby. I’m talking major damage.
It was stunning the damage to this YMCA that that tornado did. So, I was asking Jason about the plans to redo the YMCA. And he said, “Well, they’re not just going to fix what was there. They’re probably going to level it. And they’re redesigning it. And they’re going to build something from new and it’s going to take a couple of years.” They might be able to salvage the water park as is, that’s the hope. But the main facility is going to be knocked down and rebuilt.
I want you to consider your person’s death as though a tornado came through your town and knocked your house over. You didn’t ask for it, wasn’t anything you could do to prevent it but it happened and now your house got knocked over. Now, just like the YMCA, you have a choice and it is not right or wrong, or good or bad, or morally superior or inferior, it’s just a choice that you get to make. We could take that YMCA and we could rebuild the exact same YMCA we had or even try to repair the one that was there, that wouldn’t be right or wrong, or good or bad.
Or we could say, “Okay, let’s take a step back. What was working in this YMCA? What spaces did people love? What spaces were getting the most use? What spaces do we want to make bigger because they were so popular? What wasn’t working in that YMCA? Where were the pain points for people? Where were the spaces that weren’t getting used? What are those things that now having used that facility for a few years, we’ve learned?”
And taking everything that we’ve learned from the life experience that we’ve had with that facility and in your case with your life up until now. We could build on that. We could take that information and build a new structure. And if we made improvements on that structure it wouldn’t mean that the original structure was bad, or not enough, or not good enough, or less than. Building a new YMCA, taking into account what we had learned from using the first one is not knocking the first one. It’s just good business. It’s just smart.
It’s just an opportunity that we can take if we want to, to take what we’ve learned and build a new building that is even more aligned with what we want. And I want to offer to you that you have the same opportunity in post-traumatic growth.
To take what you have learned from your life experience with your partner, your spouse and apply that going forward so that you have even greater life satisfaction, so that you have an even higher level of wellness, deeper relationships, a stronger sense of spirituality, an enhanced appreciation of life. A life that’s more aligned with what you want based on what you’ve learned is your option. And I promise you, it means nothing about your love for your late spouse.
It doesn’t mean you’re greedy. It doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. And other people might have opinions about choices that you make but we just let them because their opinions are not about you, their opinions are about them. And so, growth isn’t mandatory, it’s not a requirement, you don’t have to feel bad if you don’t choose to look for areas of growth, if you don’t choose to do things differently. You don’t have to feel bad about it.
But you also don’t have to feel bad when you do choose it. In fact, if you do choose it, you can pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, “I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of you.” A tornado came and it knocked down your house and you built a new one. You took what you learned and you built something that was even more aligned with what you wanted. And I think that’s something you can be completely proud of.
So please, if you have thoughts in your mind that you shouldn’t grow, that you’re doing something wrong if you do, I just want you to challenge them because greater life satisfaction, greater levels of wellness are available to all of us if we want them. And that doesn’t mean anything about our person. It doesn’t mean anything unless we decide it does. Alright, that’s what I have for you today. Remember I love you and 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 that 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.