There are never enough positive examples of what is possible after the loss of your spouse, and my guest today is here to illuminate exactly that.
10 days after the death of Debbie Sinagoga’s husband, she was back at work, running his company, playing in a national tennis tournament, trying to make her life exactly like it was before he died.
While spinning in the numbing and buffering I think we can all relate to, Debbie experienced the destruction of her career and relationships along the way. But she’s since used her loss as an opportunity to work on loving herself, to redefine her life and her values, and she’s here to let us in on her journey.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 132, Widows Unfiltered: An Interview with Debbie Sinagoga.
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. I’ve got another interview for you today. I don’t think we can ever get enough positive examples of what is possible after losing your spouse, and so I’m never going to get tired of doing these interviews.
And I think you’ll sense it in the interview with Debbie, but from where I sit, it’s just been really fun to watch her change. It’s always fun for me to watch clients change, especially her self-confidence and self-concept grow and improve, it’s just really rewarding for me as a coach.
So I really hope you enjoy this interview with Debbie. Before we get to that, I know I promised you an update on the event I had at my house a couple weeks ago. It was amazing. Yeah, it was just amazing. There was a moment where we were all sitting in my basement and we were kind of towards the end of the day. We had 11 people come in, Mom Goes On graduates, Mom Goes On Masters members from all over the country, one even from Canada, and we just did a whole day of pampering and sharing stories.
So, I brought in hair people and makeup people and my favorite videographer Matt flew in from Utah. And then a photographer I love who works here locally. We took turns, we did hair and makeup, and everyone got to tell their story and be photographed and then we did lots of food, and later, I took everyone out to dinner in the largest limo I have ever seen. 18 passenger Cadillac Escalade, it was crazy looing but really fun. And we went to the Wine Room at YAYAS, which is the restaurant that Hugo and I got married in and I actually hadn’t been back in the restaurant since he died. And so that felt like a really special full circle moment for me to share with them because, who’s going to understand the grief grenades or at least the potential grief grenades of an experience like that besides a group of widowed moms, right?
So it was an amazing event, and at one point we were sitting in the basement and all just kind of waiting I think one person was being interviewed and we had one left to go. One of the women, Suzanne, said- it makes me emotional just thinking about it- but she said “you created this” and it’s just the craziest thought, right?
If I go back to August of 2016, and to those of you who are there right now, because maybe your person just died. But if you had taken me back to days or even months after Hugo died and said “hey, you’re going to go on to create something really powerful. You’re going to go on to not only love your life again, but you’re going to go on to help other people love theirs.” I don’t know if I would have believed you. I don’t know if I would have believed you. Goodness people.
So if you’re in that place where you can’t see the future, and you can’t imagine that your future could possibly be as good or better than your past, I just want you to know that it can be. So it’s a really cool moment, it’s funny how it’s still sinking in, but it’s a really cool moment for me to look around the room and know that I really did create that. And there’s nothing special about me, not that I’m not special, we’re all special, but there’s nothing that I have that you don’t have.
So that’s what I want you to hear, that anything is possible even if you can’t see it or imagine it right now, what it could possibly look like, just know that others have come before you, myself included, and you can do it too. Okay? Okay. I’m going to clean up my tears and were going to get into my interview with Debbie.
Alright, so I hope you enjoy it. And to the ladies who spent their weekend with me, I love you so much. To the women who didn’t get to come and spend their weekend with me, I love you all so much too. We’ll definitely do it again for sure. Alright here’s my interview with Debbie.
Krista: All right. So, welcome, Debbie. I am really excited to have you on the podcast to tell your story!
Debbie: Thank you. I am glad to be here.
Krista: Yeah, so I was trying to—As I was preparing for this, I always go back, and I just think about where was this person, at least from what I remember when I met them, versus where they are now. Of course, I don’t live in your house, so I don’t know exactly where you are. But you know, the shifts that I have witnessed and changed in you have been many changes in you. So, I really look forward to hearing what your journey has been like and how things have shifted for you. And also, so that they can benefit, right?
We were talking before we hit record, and I was saying that my intention is that people always listen to this podcast, especially when I do an interview with another widowed mom. They see some of themselves in it, right? Maybe it’s not their exact journey, but they go, oh okay, if she felt it and she’s doing okay now, right, then maybe like, there’s hope for me too. I can do it, too, so that’s really what I am excited to have happen in this episode.
So, why don’t we have you start by just kind of introducing yourself, telling us a little bit about you, how you became a widow, that sort of thing.
Debbie: Okay, perfect. Well, my husband Richard died five years ago, October 23rd. So, I hit the five-year mark, and it was a really interesting week of reflection because it really made me realize how far I had come. And it feels so long ago, and it feels like yesterday. He died unexpectedly. He had cardiac arrest in the middle of the night; he was gone within a couple of hours. So, it was quite the shock to my system. And it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I actually realized that, probably what I have been experiencing for probably the first three years of his death was PTSD, and I didn’t even really realize that.
All of a sudden, it hit me one day, and here I am.
Krista: What were the signs that kind of hit you that made you realize that?
Debbie: Well, I had another friend in my life experience some PTSD, and I remember working through that with him. Then, I started to reflect that night in the ER when Richard was coding and his stepson, and I were holding his hand. I remember after he died while we were holding his hand, I looked at my stepson, and I said, you know, you just experienced something really traumatic here. If you need any therapy or coaching, you let me know, and we’re going to get it for you.
But I never thought I would need it. I just thought he would need it because he experienced it. Even though I was in the same room experiencing the same event. Then, a friend who really tried to encourage me to get some coaching because some of it is just a shock to the system. You know your brain is messed up and some might be widow-fied but some of it is just, I was scared, paralyzed, I didn’t even want to go out of my house.
I made my parents stay with me for a month. I wouldn’t even drive anywhere at night by myself. It was just the shock of fear, of something so sudden and traumatic affecting my whole brain, and it just affected every part of my body, even at work. I had to have everybody double-check what I was doing. Because I had no confidence in the fact that I was doing it right even though I did it every single day, and it should have been wrote to me, but it really wasn’t.
So, I started to think about it, and then, of course, I started to learn about widow fog, so I’m sure it is kind of a blend of both that I was experiencing and going through.
Krista: And so, then was someone else telling you at that point, hey, I think you might benefit from support, or were you starting to kind of think that you wanted it?
Debbie: Well, it was a combination of things. I had one specific person in my life who had been doing a lot of therapy from a divorce and kept suggesting that I was not handling my grief. I was avoiding it, and that I really needed to go talk to someone. And of course, my attitude, no offense was, I don’t need therapy, that’s for people with problems. And I don’t have any problems because I’m totally fine. I just had this traumatic event happen, and I can figure it out on my own. And so, I started working with a therapist, a local therapist, and I remember just thinking at the end that she wasn’t really giving me any takeaways to go work on myself. It was just more me going and complaining and her acknowledging and affirming. Then, I would leave and go back the next time and do the same thing again. I just knew that there was more to what I was dealing with, and I am smart enough to know that there’s something else and that some of my behavior patterns were recurring from even the past, and they were recurring and coming up. I was experiencing and witnessing it, and I just knew—I mean, I only have how many years left in this world? I wanted to make the most of them. So, that is why I decided to seek out some assistance and try to really figure out what was going on.
Krista: Yeah, okay. So, then what was lifelike when you reached out to me? Do you remember?
Debbie: Yeah, oh, I remember very clearly. I had just come out of a two-and-a-half-year relationship with somebody whom I met about eight months after my husband died. And now, hindsight is I should never have been in the relationship. Because I was really probably avoiding and buffering and everything else that goes along with not wanting to deal with my grief. And I was on Facebook buffering, as a matter of fact, looking at everyone else’s life and how wonderful their world is and how horrible mine was. How envious I was that they have these beautiful children and these wonderful relationships, and it was COVID, and I was locked in my house.
I remember seeing a post about you. I think I clicked on a podcast, and I just tell ya, your voice was so comforting that I was like, I need to reach out to her. She is a widow and a mom, and you know, I had gone to a couple of grief show groups after Richard died. Like a couple of months after, and then I went about a year later. And everybody in the was dealing with different levels of grief, different people in their life grieving. But they were all like, older, more retired, and they didn’t—nobody I couldn’t relate to any of them. I mean, nobody had a career and was also trying to handle her husband’s business. And all the stress that went with all of that and try to recreate my life again.
Then, I saw you, and I was like, oh my gosh! She is young. She is vibrant. She deals with moms who have kids, and I think I can connect. So, that is why I reached out, and the rest is history.
Krista: I love it. And also, as you were talking about, you know, having a career, that was kind of the big part of your loss and subsequent transition, right? Because you two were kind of the power real estate couple, right?
Debbie: We were he was a custom builder, and I’m a realtor, and after he died, I would say ten days after he died, I was in his office running his business, and I didn’t know anything about construction, new home construction. Even as a realtor, that’s a totally different aspect of the real estate industry. So, I also had a lot of fear and stress going on. But I was fortunately surrounded by really great people. But, at the end of the day, I knew the book stopped with me, and I was responsible for that business. So, yeah, there are a lot of moving parts and when he died. That night in the ER, I was really angry with real estate. Because I felt like it took away our life, all we did was work, which is why we were a power couple. We were successful, and then at the end, when you look back, there’s not much there, except work and TV dinners, sitting watching TV for two hours and then going to bed and getting up to do it all again.
Debbie: So, that was another struggle that I took on coming into this. Is trying to figure out if I wanted to get on that hamster wheel again or if I needed to go on a different path.
Krista: Yeah, how has your perspective shifted? So, I think before I let you answer the question that I ask. I love it when I ask a question, and I don’t shut up long enough to answer. One of the things that post-traumatic growth teaches is that we, you know because it used to be that people would think after a loss that the best thing that they could hope for is just to kind of bounce back to how they were before the loss. Right, and post-traumatic growth comes along and teaches no actually we can use any sort of loss or trauma as a way to create a life that’s more aligned with the values that we have. Right? That’s more of what we want, and so I was just kind of wondering as you were talking about being mad at real estate, how his loss, then you know, shifted your opinions about work and how you spend your time and what you value and how that might have been different?
Debbie: That’s really interesting. When I walked out of the ER that day, I said two things. I said I’m going to give him the best funeral I can ever give him because that’s the last thing I can do to honor him. The other thing I said is I’m never going to sacrifice or compromise again, ever. And I wasn’t really quite sure what I meant by that, but I knew from my gut that it meant something about how I was living my life even when he was alive that I wasn’t fulfilled. And so, I just said no, I’m never going to sacrifice or compromise. And you know, for a while, I was really, really good with that. Then, you start to get back into your normal routine. Then, you fall back on the hamster wheel.
I think about the time I met you. I was sort of in that transition of ending another relationship, seeing a lot of recurring traits, features, characteristics of myself, behaviors that I didn’t really like. At first, I was laughing because I always used to blame Richard or other people for my frustrations, and then I started to see my same behavior in the next relationship. And then, go back into my work role, and you know, maybe there’s something about this. I think maybe it’s not the other person. I think maybe it is really me.
Krista: You are the common denominator.
Debbie: Yeah, I am the common denominator in all of this. So, one of the things you know about careers I really struggled. Because you know what, do I just switch widgets? Is that really going to change how I am feeling? Or do I have to focus on the widget? And—Or on myself and not the widget. That’s when I know we struggled a lot with that when we did the master’s program, and what I came away with was I really do love what I do. And I am really, really good at it. And it provides me an amazing life and amazing world and a lot of freedom. A lot of times, I don’t have freedom when I have a lot of work going on. But it gives me the life that I want. So, I realized I was a very fortunate woman becoming a widow because I didn’t have stay-at-home kids that I had to figure out how I am going to be that single mom creating a new life with a new career and managing children. I was that person that my stepchildren were grown, and now it was just focusing on what I wanted for a change. And sometimes, I think when you are in a marriage, you get lost, and you forget who you are. Because you become so co-dependent on that person that I think it’s funny because two of the main
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly be excited about even 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 just 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 what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you because two of the main things that I can say that I lost was my confidence in myself and my ability to make decisions because I let Richard do that.
If he said—We would make a decision about something, and he said this is how we are going to do it, I would just be like, okay. And I think I learned to stop having my own thoughts and opinions about things. And so, for me, it’s been really interesting to go down the path of how to redefine my career because I think my career has always been really what I wanted it to be. It just looks a little different, and I kind of have put myself in my client’s place and slowed down a little bit and realized it is not all about how much money you make. It’s more about the people that you serve.
Krista: Mhmm. Yeah. What—
Debbie: —And of course, that still brings everything else that you need with it.
Krista: Yeah, yeah, and you mentioned you were kind of distracting them and buffering with social media. Which, I mean, selfishly I am glad you did, cause’ that sounds like it’s what connected us. But I think we can also, a lot of us do that with work, too. Right? And it’s so easy when you have a career, like real estate, where people want your attention, and there’s always a need, and it’s kind of easy to get lost in the work that you are doing and then not take time out to look at the feelings, right, and the thoughts that might be keeping you stuck.
Debbie: It’s so true. A week could go by, and all of a sudden, I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s Friday? And I feel like I sometimes forget to have those feelings, and now I will do some tapping or some meditation, or I’ll just go for a long walk and pop in one of your podcasts, and I just listen, and I learn. I even listen to them in the car, everywhere I go. I just try to keep reminding myself feelings and thoughts. That feelings are not problems, and I feel like I have a really tough brain. I have a really tough brain because my brain is hard to switch. And like, wow, and all the years—I’ll tell you one of the biggest things for me is feelings on top of feelings, layering feelings.
I listen to your podcast recently, and I was blown away that I did not even know that existed. And I would say guilt was probably the number one emotion I had in my marriage. And it does not even exist in my world. I refuse to let it exist.
Krista: What shifted?
Debbie: Well, one, I have nobody to answer to but myself. So, the only person I can be mad at or feel guilty with is myself. And two, I think I just learned that I can’t control somebody else’s thoughts or feelings about what I do. So, I just have to make the best decision for myself, and if they don’t like it, I can accept that they don’t like it. But I’m not going to make it mean anything more than that, and that’s where I was layering feelings on feelings.
Krista: Yes, yeah. That’s right there. What you just said is a total recipe for freedom.
Debbie: It is.
Krista: Right because if we and most of us do this, and I think it’s, we are socialized as women especially. We really are often trying to people please. We’re trying to own other people’s feelings and get them to be happy and get them to like us, and get them to not be mad at us, and taking responsibility for, you know, how they feel and blaming ourselves for it. So, being able to let someone genuinely have their own feeling without trying to change it and make yourself guilty about it, that’s a big deal.
Debbie: Well, and it feels to me like because I been able to really understand that concept, it’s so freeing to me. Because I can do something, and such a typical example of me is, I will make a comment, and then I will make myself wrong about the comment. And then I will feel guilty that I made myself wrong about the comment. Then, it just keeps layering, and now I am like, you know what, Debbie, you can’t control that person doesn’t like you if that person doesn’t want to list their house with you. I mean, in my world, there’s a ton of rejection.
So, you have to understand that every single day I get rejected all the time. And sometimes that builds up, and it makes you become very insecure and lack of confidence. Now, I am just like they didn’t have to do business with me. It’s their decision, and I’m not going to make them wrong about it. I’m just going to move on. It’s kind of like that abundance kind of conversation. There are just other people out there to be friends with. And it’s so funny because I have had to learn to love myself, and I really realize I don’t think I ever did that. I was always pleasing everybody else and not really loving myself first because once I do that, it’s amazing how much the relationships with those people shifted. Even though their opinions probably never did, it was just my imagination about what they were thinking. Then I made that, you know, all about thing and made myself wrong.
Krista: Like, people can’t see me, but I feel like, if I could just if that was the transformation, I could facilitate with everyone. Because I think people come into, you know, when you are in the middle of grief, it seems like all your pain and suffering is related to the loss. Right? It seems like what prevents you from loving life again is the loss. But sometimes, it’s a lot of junk that was there before. Right? It’s our confidence. It’s our own self-belief. It’s stuff that was kind of masked sometimes by the relationship, right? Like you—Even if you were not unhappy in the relationship, but maybe somebody is having a similar experience where you were having where your identity kind of became you as part of the couple. Or you know you gave some of what you used to be comfortable with doing to your partner, right?
Then it’s the loss that just kind of shines the spotlight on all of the cracks in the foundation that were there. Not because we did anything wrong but because we are human, right, and the relationship is just kind of covering it up. But I think that is what I hear you saying is that, you know, being able to love yourself again it wasn’t really the loss that had you not loving yourself in the first place, but the loss gave us the opportunity to work on that.
Debbie: Exactly. Yes, I agree with that. And to just really be with, however, you think and feel. Like that was one of the other really big revelations that I had was that I was resisting a lot of things. If you resist, it persists. I think was your quote? And for me, I always had this philosophy that life is supposed to be amazing, and every minute of my day, I should be enjoying every moment of it because life is short.
Then, when your husband dies, it becomes even shorter. Because you think you’re also mortal, right? And you’re also going to die, and then you’re like, oh my gosh, I only have how much time left to live. I need to go make the most of every single moment. Then, if you’re not making the most of every moment and you’re sad, or you’re frustrated, or you’re hurt, you make yourself wrong about it, which is that layering of feelings that I was so good at. One of the things that I did is I just said. You know what, Debbie, if you’re really sad, like two weekends ago when I experienced my five-year anniversary of his death. I just set home that Friday night and had a little drink, went in my backyard, and I just cried.
But then, I was with it, and I cried. But it didn’t last very long. Then I started to look around and look at everything I have done. Look at all the accomplishments I have made in the past five years, and it’s funny because I wasn’t resisting any of those emotions. I just let them be. It’s amazing how much more quickly you can move through it because you’re not resisting that thought.
Krista: Yes, yes, which is a hard sell for people in the beginning. It’s a hard sell to say you know all those feelings you don’t want to feel. Well, let me help you feel them.
Debbie: Well, that’s why we buffer. That’s why we do all of the things that we do is just to avoid the emotions. But, you know, at the end of the day, I think you said one time to us if you don’t have those feelings you are really not living life, cause’ life is meant to experience all of it. If you don’t know sadness, you don’t know happiness. We have to have the contrasting feelings in order to have the full gambit of emotions in life.
So, sometimes—I always hear your voice, and there’s that. There’s that moment when. And I always start laughing. I always go her voice will never ever leave my mind, but it’s such a soothing one, and I sort of always smile at myself and go yep, there’s the moment when I am layering my emotions and making myself wrong. It’s funny because if you can learn to laugh at yourself a little bit, it’s amazing how much better life can be.
Krista: I totally agree with you. Yeah. You can laugh at your brain, too, and realize that you know it is going to have those patterns. It’s not because you have a—I don’t remember what did you say earlier, a stubborn brain? It’s kind of not even a bad thing. We just have brains that are really efficient and like patterns, and if you can see your own patterns and recognize them and see yourself as separate from your own patterns and laugh at them, then it’s so much easier to change them, for sure.
Debbie: I want to add something that when you are around people, people want to see more of the genuine of it anyway, and that’s one thing that I found. After Richard died for the first like year or two, I could just be around somewhere and start crying, and they were totally okay with it. I was like, wow. I was always that person that was always the happy, fun, always up person, and the strong person and I would just break down. People will be like—I met more people and reconnected with more people in my world because I was probably a little bit more human and real because I wasn’t just always trying to people please and maybe be a little disingenuous with my personality.
Krista: Yeah, I love that. So, let’s say you can go back in time. Maybe it is shortly after Richard died, but some of those early acute days of grief, right? What do you think you would tell yourself?
Debbie: I would first tell myself to breathe. I would and slow down. Because ten days after he died, I was back at work, running his company, playing in a national tennis tournament, and I went back, and I avoided it. I was trying to make my life be exactly like it was. I mean, I was even doing the landscaping, cleaning the windows, doing the pool work. Everything he would do, I was putting that on my plate on top of everything else on my plate, and to this day, I don’t know how I am even alive. I should have just been exhausted and dead because I was overdoing everything. But for me, it was like, trying to keep my life normal. I think what I go back and do is I would just allow myself to have more of the emotions just come in and be with it. Because I really didn’t experience grief until I started doing my work with you two years ago.
So, it was almost three years into Richard dying that I actually set down, and I had my darkest moments.
Krista: I hope if people are hearing this, and it sounds familiar to them, like, what I don’t want any of you to do is blame yourself for that. Right? It’s a normal human tendency to want to get away from things that are unpleasant. So, it makes complete sense why we want to distract ourselves and just go back to normal and pretend everything is manageable, controllable, and grab all of his additional responsibilities and put them on ourselves. Because then, if we do that, the logic is that we don’t have to feel sad.
Debbie: Well, I was trying to control everything in my world. It destroyed relationships. It destroyed my career for a year. I had my worst year, one of those years because I was trying to manipulate, and manage, and put things in a place, in a box, like, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to look. It’s supposed to look like, and I would force things, and it didn’t work. That’s when I started to really have my breakdowns and started to really almost a meltdown of everything going on. And after I did that, everybody who knows me said, that’s because you been avoiding your grief.
Krista: Yeah, shoving that beachball under the water, trying to hold it there.
Debbie: Yeah, for as long as I could.
Krista: So, when you came into Mom Goes On, I’m curious; first of all, what were you worried about?
Debbie: I think the first thing I was worried about was talking in front of everybody. Because I really, even to this day, have an issue with the fact that I think people don’t really care about what I have to say. Which is why I don’t really post on Facebook, or Instagram, even though I am a realtor, and everybody posts their listings and what they’re doing. So, that people remember them. I’m just not that person. I am that kind of private person. Where I just believe that my story is my story. And my close friends know it, but I don’t share it.
So, I think that was probably my biggest thing. How do I speak in front of a group of people because it has to be relevant to everybody? I need everybody to—If I am going to do it, I need everybody to benefit from it, or just don’t do it. So, I think that was probably one of my biggest concerns. The next one was just hoping that I actually really get something out of it. Like, a takeaway that I slow down enough to actually work the material, and I will say that I wasn’t really that good at doing the material.
But I absorbed a lot, and I listened to the podcasts. Just listening to everybody else talk and share their stories gave me such a perspective about we are all going through it. Even though differently but we’re not alone out there. There’s a lot of women who are going through what we’re going through and having to figure out life and move forward.
Krista: Yeah. It’s so much easier. I remember pretty clearly the transition when I stopped coaching one on one and started doing this kind of coaching in groups. I just remember there were so many one-on-one sessions there for a while. I just kept thinking, ugh, I could see someone suffering because whatever the pattern was, it wasn’t the pattern that was making them suffer as much as it was their thought. That it was just them, right, there was something wrong with them. That because they were feeling this way or experiencing it this way that they were doing it wrong.
I just remember thinking, oh, I just got to get all these women altogether. So, that you can see no, this is how thoughts cause feelings, feelings drive actions, and actions produce results. This is just the way the model works, and these are the grease models that we have. It’s not you. There is nothing flawed with you, right? This is just the way of it. I think it’s very normalizing cause’ then you get in there and you see a bunch of other people, and you realize, oh, I am not the only one, maybe there’s not something wrong with me. Maybe this really just is how it goes.
Debbie: Well, and I think one of the biggest moments that I had, like, an ah-ha moment was that there were a lot of people experiencing grief in this world, and I always looked at myself as a victim of that grief. Because I really was the first person of a lot of people in my world to lose somebody, especially a spouse. It was amazing because I don’t think a lot of people could really relate to me. But the few people that could, and the first people at my door, when they heard, I found out they were all women who had lost their husbands in the past. That was pretty eye-opening for me.
Then, I started to go, wow, there are a lot of people who have gone through grief. Maybe I am not the only one, and maybe I am just acting like a little baby right now because I just need to get over myself and realize that I need to address this grief. And then, when I did that, I started to also realize that, like, my stepkids were also grieving. But I wasn’t very good for them because I thought that I was the only one that really needed to be concerned about losing my husband, even though they lost their father.
It maybe isn’t the same level of grief, and we all go through it differently, but I don’t think I even acknowledged that they were grieving because I was so absorbed in my own.
Krista: So, we do a lot of work in Mom Goes On, on relationships. How have you noticed your relationships shift or change?
Debbie: Oh, my gosh, like a 360. Some of it might have been COVID-related, too, because I started doing all this in May of 2020 when COVID was starting. But I mean, I used to talk to my mom and dad once a week. I was talking to my parents every day, and I was doing a weekend Facetime with my brother and his family, and mom and dad.
I started a group of women who did cocktails on the green belt, and we would get together every Saturday. We were all single women, and we would get together and bring our cocktail or drink, or some food and a blanket, and we would all social distance on this green belt down the street from where we all live, and we would just go hang out, and we all become very very good friends, and none of them knew each other before until I made the introduction.
My client relationships have shifted. They are amazing. I have the most amazing clients in the world. It all just came down to the fact that I had compassion, and I looked at people as people. I went to a therapist at the beginning and, when we were talking about how we lose everything when your spouse dies, I mean, it really feels like, I live in Phoenix, and there’s a reason I live in Phoenix. Because I think I am a phoenix. Like, my world burned to the ground, right, rising from the ashes. And you lose a lot. You lose, you know, some people lose a second income. Some people might have to downsize and lose a house.
In some ways, you kind of lose your in-laws. They become a little bit more distant. You lose friendships. You lose a companion and someone to share your life with. And my therapist said, you know Debbie, your problem is that you put everybody in one bucket. You would put friends and clients in one bucket. And you look at them all the same. The reason that you’re hurt is because they don’t look at you the same. They know they are either your client or your friend, and you have to dump that bucket out and re-establish two buckets.
My world became very small for a while because I had to really sift through that. I had to be like, okay, who are my clients? Who are my friends? Who are both, and she said some people will just fall away. That’s just the nature of the beast, and then you have to re-invent your life. That goes to the whole controlling thing where I was trying to manage and keep everybody together as if nothing ever happened.
It really wasn’t like that. And so, I had to work through that. But as I worked through that and I started to understand the other side their emotions and feelings. I just want to accept it and be okay with the fact that I might not see them anymore, but that’s okay because there’s always a time and a place. There are always people in your life for certain reasons. So, as I was able to sort through that and really understand, I think my relationships with people became stronger and deeper. But there are just not as many people. I have a smaller circle but a much more powerful one.
Krista: Yeah, you know, from my perspective too, I will add because I get to watch people from the outside, right. One of the things that I saw happen was you said you were experiencing more compassion for others. What I think was also a part of that for you is that you started extending more compassion to yourself, right. When you’re like the high-achiever, perfectionist, with high standards who has that track record of always getting the good grades, successful career, knocking out of the park at every level which that to me is, you. Right? A lot of high-achieving there.
Then we tend to be really hard on ourselves. It’s harder to be compassionate with ourselves, and then it is hard to be compassionate with others. So, it seems like you are more compassionate with yourself, and less demanding of yourself, more accepting of yourself, and that has also then filled into your other relationships.
Debbie: Right, because I think I was always very critical of myself. Even critical of myself, even when I flashback into my marriage and how I managed certain things. I always think I should have done it differently, and I think that’s why I even had a relationship after he died. In that relationship, I think I tried to overcome my shortcomings in that relationship like an extension of my marriage, even though it wasn’t. I think I tried to make it an extension of my marriage, and I tried to make up for the wrongdoings. It didn’t work. That’s really when I started to go. I really need to trust some of these things.
But at least I was able to identify it. I think that is where you sort of go under a microscope. So, not only are you dealing with grief. But you are sort of dealing with your own identity, who you are to the core.
Krista: Completely, yeah. How lost did you feel with that regard, right, you know, after Richard died?
Debbie: I only lived in my bedroom. I had a 7,000 square foot house, and the only room I went in was the kitchen and the bedroom. I would close the door and put all of the shades down. I was that scared and mortified, and you know, he was always the person I came home to. I would bounce ideas off of him because real estate is a very isolating business. I was by myself doing my real estate, so I would always come home to him and just say okay. Here was my scenario today. What do you think? And he was such a brilliant man. And such a compassionate guy and everybody loved him that I always trusted his responses.
After he died, I didn’t have any of that. So, I had to, like, do it myself. I came up with the saying, and my saying was, God give me the strength to make the best decisions possible and the courage to accept these circumstances if I don’t because that was my thing. All of a sudden, I had to make my own decisions. I was used to Richard kind of telling me what to do, and then I would go do that. So, I would say that probably was the hardest thing for me was not having him there as that partner to talk to things about.
Krista: Yeah, so do you remember—I remember one specific circumstance for me where I just remember standing in the bathroom and looking in the mirror, and what was floating through my mind was like, I am not even sure who I am, right? Like, who is that person in the mirror? It is kind of a strange I see myself; I know that’s me logically. I know I am looking at myself, but in my mind, it was, I don’t know who I am. Right? I am curious if you had a similar experience where you’re not looking into the mirror exactly but what was floating through your mind? Do you remember some of the thoughts when you were struggling in that way?
Debbie: Well, I know that he was definitely my rock. He was the person that I trusted with all my business decisions, and since 90% of my life is business, that was really, really hard to deal with. I know that I had to manage a lot of moving parts with his business and house. I remember I would just drive around, and I would just talk out loud to him and just be like, I have no idea what you want me to do with this. But I am going to do the best I can, which is why I came up with my saying because there were a lot of decisions to make. I was really lost, and I think I would just go home and literally walk around my house. I would walk around my house and go to the bedroom and close the door.
That’s what I did, and I was scared. I lived in a lot of fear for a long time. Just fear of everything, fear of driving by myself, fear of going to an appointment, I would literally shake when I would go out. It took me probably seven months to get through just that. I slept with a gun by my bed. I had an alarm installed. I had my keys to my house changed, and I don’t know what it was, but it was just fear. I would say fear was my number one thing. Like how will I ever make it the next however long I’m going to live without him because he did everything. I always felt safe and secure when he was there.
Krista: Yeah, I think some of the most challenging thoughts come to us in the form of questions like that. How will I ever make it without him? How will I make it without my rock? How will I ever? And it doesn’t show up necessarily as a sentence, and it shows up as a question. So, you did one round of Mom Goes On, which is the initial six months. Then you did masters, yeah, what was that like to work with a coach, to be in a coaching community?
Debbie: I loved it. I think that in the past two years, it has catapulted my life, personally and professionally. And as I said, I think the number one thing it’s done is it’s given me my confidence back. It has allowed me to just understand who I am. Because I honestly really didn’t know who I was when Richard died. I just got so sucked into whatever he said, and I just said okay. Because I was working and I was busy, and I had other things going on, and for the first time ever, it made me like, have to sit back and really think about who I am; all the exercises, activities, and the workbook activities you gave. I mean, those were hard for me because I would sit down and I would go, well, I don’t have any problems.
Then, I would go on the next zoom call, and I’d be like, oh yeah, no, I have that problem. No, no, I can relate to that person, too. You know, I think I am that person too. But for me, I think what happens is I really just disconnected to the whole world. Even in my marriage, I was so disconnected that I don’t think I ever really thought about who I was. So, like selling my house and downsizing into my current house.
I went to a completely different size house, a completely different style of home. I created everything myself. I got a different car, and I brought on a business partner. I am going back to church, going back to God. I had left him for a while, and that was really amazing and just being around all of the powerful women. I mean, seriously, the women that you work with are so powerful, and they’re doing so many amazing things in this world. And it’s all because they’re starting to realize who they are, their inner strengths.
Krista: Yeah, sometimes people will ask me—I think they worry that maybe what will be in the group is just, you know, a bunch of women who want to give up or use their status as a widow as an excuse to not really pursue the life that they want. It is the exact opposite of what we attract, right? We attract people like you, those who weren’t messing around before the loss and don’t really want to mess around with it either.
Debbie: Right, and there’s something internal that if your instincts are saying there’s something more, and God’s giving you a second chance at something. Because I truly believe he is in charge. I personally believe—I believe everything happens for a reason. I know that there’s something out there that he is giving me, and he is sending me down a path. I don’t know what it is. All I know is that I am here to do the best that I can, and I am not doing that if I am playing small.
Krista: Yeah, totally. I sometimes hesitate to have conversations with people before I interview them because good stuff comes out in the brief conversation, and one of the first things I asked you I wanted to make sure listeners heard. Because I asked you how your business was going, and what had shifted for you and so, can you talk a little bit about that?
Debbie: Yeah, 2019 was my worst year, personally. It was before I met you. I was having a horrible relationship. Just clients, it was just not working out with a lot of clients, and all of a sudden, I realized at the beginning of 2020 that I think I was the common denominator. And that’s when I reached out to you and got involved and really started to look at how I interpret things, how I view things, and my business at least doubled, if not tripled in business. I have a partner now. I am so blessed. The beautiful thing about all of it, I am doing better professionally than I ever have, and yet, I feel like I have more free time than I have ever had. I have been able to go on trips, vacations, see my family.
Krista: Yeah, after all the conversations I have had with you, that right there is really big in my brain because that is not the experience of work you were having before. It was I can’t breathe.
Debbie: It was not that at all, and I really feel. It was so funny the other day. I was like, I am bored, I’m bored. Okay, you are misunderstanding boredom with peace.
Krista: Wow, it’s so unfamiliar peace.
Debbie: And it’s so unfamiliar that I am sitting here going I am bored, and then I am like wait, I am really not bored. Every relationship in my life right now is amazing. Like I don’t have the turmoil going on with anyone in my world. I am not in a relationship with anybody, which you know I question that a little bit, but I also am not completely ready for that. Because I still think I have a little bit more of me to work on. Because I still have to be completely 100% okay with me before I can go find that other person.
And my business is great. I am working out. I just hiked the Grand Canyon, 25 miles in 12 hours in one day. You know, I just have a really well-rounded life except for the relationship part, but you know what, it is all going to work itself out. But it’s been great, my career has been great, and I mean, that’s the peace. The peace of—I just don’t have any of that guilt hanging over me anymore. I don’t have that frustration; I don’t do what I don’t want to do, and I do what I do want to do. I used to do what I didn’t want to do all of the time to people please. Now, I just don’t do that anymore.
Krista: Kudos to you. Truly, it’s easy to give credit tools—It’s easy to give credit to the coaching program or the coach. But I am always trying to remind people. I offer the same tools in coaching to everyone in the program, and not everybody takes it, applies it, and runs with it, right? And so, what you have created in your life you get 100% credit for. You did the work.
Debbie: But I also have to say in fairness to anybody looking at doing this work, I wasn’t 100% engaged all of the time like a lot of people were in your program. There are some people that were studying to become coaches and to become mentors, and that was never my path. My path was like to just kind of identify who I am and to see if there’s another way to look at it. Because at the end of the day, this whole concept of thoughts and feelings is really the fundamental basic element of everything in your life.
Your thoughts create your feelings, and only you can control those feelings. And you can even control somebody else’s feelings. Right. Stay in your own lane, as you used to tell me. Stay in your own lane, and I can say that during the six months that I grew as much as I grew even after the master’s program and I got out. Because when I left the master’s program, I thought, oh my god, how am I ever going to survive without Krista in my life at least two days a week. And I actually panicked about that a little bit.
It wasn’t until I stepped away that I did have some confrontation, and I am not going to lie. There were some moments that confronted me that I thought, okay, I need to go running back to Krista because I don’t know how to handle this in my world, and I’m like, no focus on some of the things and other tools some of the things she taught you. Because you can hear it and hear it, but you have to use it. You have to implement it into your daily life, and the only way you really do that is to get back out in the world and do it.
So, one of my biggest expressions that I always told myself, and I’ve told every friend who has lost somebody since. Whenever you are having a down moment, just get out your front door, walk out your door, go outside, be outside with nature. Because sitting in your house is not going to do you any good. At least, in my opinion, that’s my opinion. But that’s how I survived it, but I think that this work is amazing for everybody and everybody will take with it what works in their world. That’s the whole point because grief isn’t the same for everybody.
Krista: No, it’s definitely not, and I love what you said. The last thing I want to do is create a dependency on me or on the program. Right? We really want people to be able to understand, okay, this is what I am—You know, I notice myself resisting my feelings, why am I doing that? What is so off about this feeling? What would I need to shift here, or I noticed I am really attached to this painful story and being able to write it down and do a thought download and see, oh this is not me, there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s just the story I have about myself right now, and I don’t have to listen to that story. And you’re able to normally think about your thinking and think about your feelings and coach yourself in a way that you couldn’t do before you came; that’s my goal.
Debbie: But that’s not how it always is. I liken it to driving a car, if you’re sitting in the passenger seat going somewhere you barely ever remember how you got there. But when you’re in the driver’s seat, you always know how to get back out.
Debbie: Always, and it’s the same way. You just sort of have to implement. I have your workbooks sitting around, and every so often, I will just open it up, and I’ll just go to a page and go, ah-ha, let’s practice this today.
Krista: That’s my goal, right? Cause’ people all of the time are saying, well, I am behind, I didn’t do every page in the workbook. Okay, oh well, you still have the material forever. You can, you know, and maybe sometimes I don’t know if there were pieces of the program that may be in the moment didn’t speak to you. That then later becomes relevant.
Debbie: It truly is that way, and for me, like I said, the master’s program was great. It took it to another level. But even just I’m continuing on, I don’t even know what you call that program now, but I am still involved, and I still can be on the calls and hear what’s going on. For me, that is almost like maintenance for me. It’s like that’s what you have to do. Even when you work out, you know, it’s not like you just train one time, and you’re in shape for the rest of your life. You have to continue to work at it, and for me, I continue to work at it.
And I listen to podcasts all the time, and I love your new videos cause I can just pop it in my ear, and I can just go for my walk and listen to it for three or five minutes. Then, I can get on podcasts, and I actually just scroll through them, and whatever one hits me in the moment, I just play it. Some of them I might actually know by heart but.
Krista: I love it. It’s like the little mental emotional workout.
Debbie: It is.
Krista: Well, I am so proud of you.
Debbie: Thank you.
Krista: So proud of you. Is there anything we missed that you wanted to tell people or cover?
Debbie: I think that I’ve probably covered most of it. I think that what we’ve gone through is tough. And I think we ought to love ourselves a little bit and to invest in ourselves a little bit because we have a lot of life left to live.
Krista: Yes, you certainly do. It is going to be fun to watch you live it. Thank you for being on the podcast, Debbie; I really appreciate it. I know people will be uplifted by your story.
Debbie: I hope so; I hope I can help someone.
Krista: If people want to get ahold of you, if they want to reach out to you, maybe let me know afterward. If you’re open to that, if anybody wants, cause oftentimes I will have people email me and say, oh, you know what that person said on your podcast really resonated with me, could I get in touch with them? So, we will talk about that later. Thank you, Debbie, I appreciate it.
Debbie: Thank you.
Krista: Take care. Buh-bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about, even 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 what you deserve.
Go to CoachingwithKrista.com and click “Work with Me” for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.