Bella’s Story: Losing my Father to Brain Cancer

Did you know that it’s actually healing to talk about our deceased loved ones? Sharing what made our person so special and reliving our favorite memories of them helps us process our loss and keep their memory alive.

That’s why we invite members of our community to share their stories of loss! When we share we heal and when we read each other’s stories we find inspiration and hope in each other’s journey.

In our next community post, Bella shares the beautiful memories of her father who she describes as “one hell of a man” and how she is coping with her loss…especially during the holidays. Read her story below!

My dad was one hell of a man… and putting him into words is probably one of the most difficult things to write. Because he was SO much more than I could even begin to put into words!

Some of his biggest achievements and accolades included being an Army Ranger, graduating from West Point, he was a neural linguistic programmer with his own business, a world traveler, and a family man.

I admired a lot about my dad – he had this big personality. You could always feel his presence in the room, partly because he wasn’t a small dude, but also due to his spirit. His gift in life was being amazing with people. He could ask you “how are you?” And in an instant he was able to make you feel so seen, and so heard. He was insanely into his biking, and most weekends you could always find him in Deer Creek Canyon taking long rides. Anything that got him closer to the mountains that he had fallen in love with years earlier.

My dad believed wholeheartedly in humans, and supported all of us in the things we wanted to do. Including me, he had three other kids – all with big personalities, and lots of goals to pursue. My oldest brother is teacher, my older sister an oncology nurse, and my younger brother an avid adventurer in Vail. Included in this family is also three grandkids, Daphnie, Tallulah, & Fletcher. I mention all of us because he loved his family SO much. Making sure we got together monthly for a weekend BBQ, spending Black Friday at the mall to people watch, and always taking all of the photos possible.

He owned his own business, as a neural linguistic programmer, where he spent his days helping so many people find new ways to be successful, and rewrite their neural software. The man knew how to make an impact with his words, and his overall presence.

After years of living in Colorado, my dad decided to take his love of the ocean and incorporate it into his life. When I moved to Tampa, he jumped on the opportunity to get closer to the water part of the year. My mom and him would come every other month to enjoy the warmth and continue building my dad’s business. That is unfortunately around the time that he was diagnosed.

It was January 2019 – my dad had been experiencing what he described as “word salad” — he could process the thing in front of him, but wasn’t able to say the word. He then proceeded to check into the hospital, there they discovered a marble size mass in the front lobe of his brain. From there it was all a little bit of a blur, he swiftly made his way back to Denver, where he had an appointment at Sarah Cannon. As much as the situation was difficult, we were blessed with the fact that my sister was a nurse at this particular institute. What we learned from this point on was tough, he had a stage four glioblastoma – brain cancer.

There weren’t a lot of options, and there were choices to be made. The first step in the process was to remove the tumor. Unfortunately with brain tumors, it is extremely difficult to remove the entirety of the mass, it has a growth property that causes the tumor to spider web through the brain.

My dad fought a valiant battle, and on January 4th, 2020 he passed. The brain tumor had entered into his spinal fluid, and it was just too far past to do anything else.

To say that the last twelve months has been easy, is an understatement. Layered onto his death, 2020 has definitely given all of us a huge list of obstacles to overcome. But it really has been more about sharing, and being open about what his death did to me.

Grief in no way easy. I had to really search for a number of tools to support myself when the waves seemed to crash down even harder than usual.

My go to in life was spin, and still is. I love the way that the music makes me feel, and how it connects me back to something that I know my dad really loved to do as well. Especially as we get closer into the holiday season.

My dad always was the first to play holiday music, he loved to drive home the long way so we can see more of the lights that decorated homes and yards, and always put the best hand written notes into his gifts. This year, I plan to do as much of this as possible – for my mom, and to honor my dad’s legacy. I realize that this Christmas will be different, and that even his one year passing will bring up a new set of emotions and challenges to work through.

So I will leave you all with this, a note my dad wrote in his journal back in 2000, one that I look at daily to remind myself that right now, in this world – kindness is everything… and even in the most grief filled moments, we can realign to find the positive in the situation.

“My center is my family, my soul, my friends, my health, myself. It is not work, it is not politics, it is not mean spirited people. Life is about love. Life is about joy. Life is about pain. That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

– William Sumner, The Inevitable You

5 Tips to Survive Thanksgiving (while grieving)

Thanksgiving is just days away and anxiety might be setting in as we prepare to see what the festivities will look like this year … during a global pandemic. The stress over getting sick combined with the emotional burnout of wearing masks while we eat with friends, keep an extra six feet away from our closest relatives, or ZOOM call into family dinner is a lot to take in.

But for those of us grieving the loss of a loved one, COVID is just one added layer to an emotionally complex holiday. Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of our missing loved ones, our changed family dynamics, and a bittersweet combination of the joy in the present and longing for the past when our love one was with us.

We asked our Community Manager Abby, who lost her father almost two years ago, to share her top tips for surviving Thanksgiving while grieving. Take a look!

Have more? Tell us in the comments!

1) Make space for your grief.

There are triggers everywhere during Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the empty chair at the end of the table where he used to sit or that someone forgot to make our person’s signature pie this year. Whatever the trigger may be, it is helpful to make space for grief and anticipate that we might feel big emotions. Make a plan for coping with potential triggers to make it easier to manage in the moment.

For example, mine is taking my dog for a walk around the block or taking space in my room to tune-out the overwhelm as I tune-in to my favorite podcast.

2) Keep an old tradition (or start a new one!)

Keep your loved one’s memory alive by carrying on their favorite tradition.  Carrying on legacies that that my Dad left behind, such as running the Turkey Trot 5k that he did every year, helps me feel close to him and appreciate the memories we made when he was still here.

If it’s too triggering to carry on a tradition without them, that’s okay too. We know that the traditions just don’t feel the same without them. My dad and I shared a love of Christmas music and we would always start listening too early in the year. I’ve found it hard to listen to Christmas music at all since he’s been gone. So maybe you start a new tradition, one that signifies new beginnings and  honors their life.

Both are a good fit. Do what feels right for you and remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Trust in your process.

3) Say yes to help.

Support is key during the holidays. Take some of the weight off your shoulders and accept when friends want to help you shop for groceries, meal prep or take the lead on organizing gatherings (even if they’re e-gatherings this year). My mom has been my role model for surrendering to her grief when it’s needed, she doesn’t let her pride get in the way of family members wanting to do things for her during the holidays. Last Christmas, my grandma wrapped all my mom’s gifts so she could visit my Dad’s grave alone. You could see the weight lifted off her shoulders by just that little piece of support.

It is also super helpful to surround yourself with others who “get it” and might not be so merry too. Venting can be therapeutic — especially with people who truly understand your pain points and frustration.

4) Don’t feel guilty if you just can’t.

Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from gatherings or anything else you don’t want to commit to when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Last year I got overwhelmed by pretty much everything during the holidays, I felt guilty when I wasn’t thinking or talking about my dad but when we did talk about him I got extremely testy and sad. My survival tactic was taking lots and lots of space from the commotion, either in my room or on a walk around the block.

Covid isn’t the only reason you might need social distance this year!

5) MOVE your body!

Exercise isn’t just about burning calories from eating too much on Thanksgiving – it’s about processing big feelings and emotions too! When I get sad about my dad’s absence during big events, I do a barre class to stay grounded. When I get angry about losing him at such a young age, I go to a cycling class and spin the anger away. And when I feel guilty, like I should have done more to prevent his suicide, I blast music through my headphones and run as far as I can.

Take a moment and get away to do your favorite yoga flow, for a run or walk the dog around the block.


Hi, I’m Abby! I’m the Community Manager for moveTHRU.  I was a Junior at the University of Denver when I lost my Dad to suicide. You can read my story of loss here. Through fitness and moveTHRU, I’ve found my safe space to talk about death without fear of being a “downer,” learned how to cope with my grief, and most importantly moveTHRU and process the loss of my dad. Grief can be very isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. As the Community Manager, I hope to expand the reach of moveTHRU so that more people can have access to the moveTHRU resources and support that I wish I had from the very beginning of my grief journey.

 

ANXIETY: How to moveTHRU

What am I going to do? 

The question haunted me. It kept me up at night. My husband had died six months ago. The shock had worn off. Reality was hitting me hard.

I was alone with two kids under three. I had no job, no future plans and no will to do anything more than to get out of bed in the morning and maybe workout later.

My thoughts would spiral — I can’t do this. Why me? This isn’t fair. WTF???

My heart would start racing as I desperately searched for answers. It felt like I was losing control of my own mind and body. I wanted to scream. I wanted my husband ’s hand to hold— to help me calm down and tell me that everything would be ok. 

But he wasn’t there. He was gone. And deeper into the spiral I went.

To make it stop, I would curl into a ball in my empty bed, break down in tears and cry. 


Anxiety. 

An emotion that author Claire Bidwell Smith dubbed as (and named her book) “the missing stage of grief.” We experience anxiety after we lose someone special to us for many reasons: 

    • The intense and varied emotions brought on by grief.
    • The threat of your own mortality and the unpredictability of life.
    • Logistical issues like managing finances and the deceased’s belongings or estate, etc.
    • Supporting other family member’s — comparing grief or feeling pressure to be the “strong one.”
    • Unresolved issues or fear of forgetting your person.
    • Unprocessed grief.
    • Healing from the trauma of losing someone in an instant or having to watch someone slowly die.

Anxiety occurs in relation to a stress — a physiological and psychological response to a real or perceived threat. For people who experienced a loss, that threat is the death of our loved one. 

When we’re confronted with a threat, our sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, causing them to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as part of our body’s nature fight or fight response. Emotionally, we might feel tense, jumpy, restlessness, irritability and sometimes start anticipating the worst. Physically, we might experience a racing heart, shortness of breath, sleeplessness and headaches, among other symptoms.


After recognizing how anxiety felt in my body, I was able to notice when it came up. Typically this was when: 

1.) I had too many stressors — remote learning for the kids, too many commitments with friends, too much work or too many fitness classes to teach. 

2.) I had unprocessed grief — if I removed the stressors mentioned above and still felt “off”, this told me that the stress was internal and usually involved grief that I needed to process. 


Our knee-jerk reaction to anxiety is to avoid it, to suppress it or to make it go away. But anxiety is our body’s natural alarm system — like a siren trying to warn us that something outside us or within us needs our attention.

For me, this meant listening my body, stopping what I was doing, and asking myself — where is this anxiety coming from? Why am I feeling this way?

If the anxiety was too overwhelming, sometimes I needed to do an intense workout — spinning, running or HIIT — to calm down before I could start investigating the root cause.


During Isabelle’s 5th birthday I noticed that underneath the joy and fun of the festivities, I felt a sense of irritability and restlessness. I was snapping at my boyfriend and parents over nothing! I kept feeling like I was being suffocated. I needed space. The party, the friends, the gifts, the decorations — it just felt like so much and I needed to escape. 

The Monday following the celebrations, I went to yoga. I moved my body. I breathed. And in shavasana, I cried. I felt so much sadness release. As I found stillness lying there on my yoga mat, I realized that I hadn’t made any space to grieve Ian’s absence during Izzy’s birthday. While my mind told me that everything was ok, the emotional memory stored in my body told another story.

As soon as I acknowledged my sadness and gave myself room to feel it, the anxiety dissipated.


Like most of our feelings, anxiety is there to tell us something too! If we can notice it, take a pause, and move thru the overwhelm with exercise, mediation or breath, then we can typically find the clarity to understand what’s driving it.

Did this help? Tell us in the comments below or share with a friend who could use this advice.

Want to learn more about how to move thru anxiety and other emotions experienced during the grieving process? Check out our 8-week online course.

FEAR: Let’s Talk About Death

I can still feel Ian’s arms wrapped around me, grasping me tightly — almost desperately. The tears stream down both of our faces as the doctor’s news settles in. We hold each other as if we are holding on to this one moment in time — the only certainty we have left.

Ian’s terminal cancer diagnosis propels us into the world of the unknown — where tomorrow is never guaranteed and each milestone, each good-bye, each “I love you”, could be your last.

Death is imminent.

I fear for my husband’s life. Will he make it? Will he live to see Theo turn one?

I fear for my life. How will I survive without him? How will I raise a two young children by myself?

My mind wanders. I fear for my future without him.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. Ian is still alive. It’s been 15 months since his cancer metastasized. He’s beat the odds, but his time is running short.



I can still see the hospice nurse’s heartbroken look as she makes eye contact with me. I know what’s coming and I can feel her proceeding with caution — fearing my reaction. She starts to cry as the words leave her mouth. I wrap my arms around her; lifelessly comforting her as the air is sucked out of my lungs.

Ian will pass tonight. Ian will die.

For a second the room feels like it’s spinning, but then a new sensation takes over.

It’s relief. It’s calm. It’s peaceful.

I no longer fear my husband’s death. I’m ready. I’m ready to surrender — to stop the suffering, the fighting, the uncertainty and guessing. It’s his time.

Ian passes away in the early hours the next morning.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. I feel numb, disconnected, then angry, and sad. The fear returns — but in a whole new way.

I fear this new life without my husband.

I fear for my children’s life.

I fear for mine.

I fear that I’m not strong enough to do this by myself.

I fear for my heart — that if I open it up it will break again.

I fear that there is no going back — no return to “normal.”

I fear my own grief — it’s power to trap me or transform me.

I fear what other’s think about my grief — how I’m handling my loss.

I fear for my children’s grief — for their life without their father.

I fear that this is all too much.

I fear that I can’t survive.

I fear that I’m losing him.


I feared Ian’s death, and now that my worst fear became my reality — I find myself fearing my new normal without him. But what I’ve learned (and grief expert David Kessler puts so well) is that fear doesn’t prevent death. Fear only prevents us from living!

Luckily, Ian knew this secret all along because in the month’s leading up to his ultimate death, he chose life. Death was already certain for him — so why fear it? He chose life and made the most of it.

Same with my hospice nurse experience. Once she told me that Ian would die that night, all of the worrying, the waiting, the guessing, the speculation — the anxiety — was gone. It just was. Ian was going to die. So what could I do with the remaining time I had left with him?


Death is the ultimate change, the ultimate end. It is a change we think we can’t understand and an ending we think we can’t survive. But although the change happens whether we want it to or not, we can find freedom in accepting it., and in understanding it as a prelude to something else. – David Kessler


We fear death. We fear for the day that we will die. We fear for the day that our loved one’s will die. We fear for what our lives will be like in the aftermath of such a loss.

We fear death in an anticipatory sense — like in the case of Ian’s terminal illness — or even right now, as the whole world fears the potential risk of COVID-19.

We fear death both for its finiteness, but also for the unknown aftermath. What happens after someone dies? — for both the person dying, as well as their survivor.

Yet, much of our fear surrounding death is attributed to how we perceive it.


Fear is an emotional response induced by a real or perceived threat. – Psychology Today


Fear is valid — it’s a response — meaning, we don’t always consciously control it. Yet, what intrigues me about this definition is also the word “perceived”.

Yes, death is an ending. A painful ending. An ending to someone’s life. A life we don’t want to and can’t imagine living without. The threat is real — no one wants to say goodbye to someone they love, or feel the hurt of loss.

But the threat of death is merely a fact of life. Our perception of death is what makes us truly fear it.

Kessler explains that the way our society views and even talks about death — he lost the fight to cancer, heart failure, he left us to soon (ie. Like abandonment), she didn’t make it — adds an element of choice to the experience of loss. Like if he tried harder, we would still be here — he would have beat it!

Death is not a choice. In fact, death is a certainty! It’s not something that we can opt-out of or defeat. Death, just like birth, is another phase of life. Yet, society positions death as the ultimate enemy. Something to be feared, conquered and destroyed.

So if a loved one dies we — death wins. We lose.

This perspective does a major disservice to anyone facing a terminal illness or for survivors of a loss.

For those facing death, it ignites fear. If shifts the focus to fighting a battle that cannot be won (in some cases, not all); instead of focusing on how to live more in the remaining time left. For survivors of loss, it sets us up for regrets and blame — for getting stuck in all the should haves, would haves, could haves; for finding a doctor, a person, or higher power to blame; or for asking “why me?” as we try to make sense of the loss when most of the time it’s senseless. It’s an uncontrollable outcome of life.

Once we accept that somethings just are, that there are no choices to make, no winners or losers, and that life will unfold in a meaningful way despite the meaningless nature of such tragedies — it takes away the element of fear.


Now, I think it’s important to point out that I never would have considered this perspective or written these words before Ian died. But, the experience of his death and the grief that has followed has taught me how to surrender. To let go of control. To stop fighting and accept the gifts and challenges that each day brings me. I’m still learning, but this mindset is honestly my survival mechanism for navigating life without him. (I even dedicate an entire module on Surrender in my new moveTHRU Grief course — it’s that powerful!)

So if you are facing a terminal diagnosis, supporting someone who is, or have lost someone and are wallowing in the darkest depths of grief asking yourself what just happened to my life? — please remember that your fear is valid!

My advice is to lean into your fear — FEEL IT! My safe place for experiencing emotions is through movement — yoga, hiking, or jumping on a spin bike.

Then once you’ve felt it, challenge it. Ask yourself:

  • What are you truly afraid of?
  • What is the threat?
  • Is the threat real or perceived? (It can be a combination of both!)
  • How much control do I have over this threat?
  • And most importantly, is this fear potentially limiting me from experiencing life fully?

Fear isn’t about avoiding death. It’s is about missing out on life.


Thank you to my late husband Ian who inspired me to live fearlessly even though there are days I’m scared shitless of my new life without him, and to his mom Leslie who sent me David Kessler’s book Finding Meaning – The Sixth Stage of Grief. It’s helping me make sense of the senseless.

Dating As A Widow (Continued)

This quote sums up what being in a new, stable, and loving relationship is like for me now… as a widow.

I’ve been practicing the act of surrender a lot since my late husband Ian died — letting go of what I thought my life should be; and embracing what it’s becoming.

I’ve done this in many areas of my life, but most recently in my romantic one. I’ve been seeing Taylor Ames since the world ended in March and it has been an emotional journey for me. I wrote about dating as a widow before and thought I had the answers, but this experience has brought forth so many questions — as well as new insights and revelations about myself, my evolving definition of love, and what type of person I desire and need as a partner.

Why?

Because this time my relationship is not coming from a place of loneliness; from a need to fill a void, feel whole or complete; or from past-patterns I picked up from falling in love when I was an 18-year old college freshmen.

Source: @createthelove

This time, my relationship is coming from a place of a choice — a deliberate decision that is supported by my body, my mind and my heart being in total alignment (ie. not just choosing with my heart in decisions of love — but with them ALL).

I’m embracing what this relationship is becoming…

But it’s not as easy as I thought.

A new relationship means opening up my life and sharing all that I hold sacred in it — present, future and PAST — with someone new.

I feel it …

  • When Izzy runs and and jumps into Taylor’s arms when he enters a room.
  • When Theo and him “bro” out over how much food they can eat or playing ball together.
  • When the kids wrestle on the floor with him, just like they did with their biological father Ian who is no longer here physically to touch them, hold them, and do what Taylor has the privilege to do with them here on earth.

And it hurts.

Yet at the same time it feels right. It feels like love. It feels like hope. It feels like a new normal.

I like my new normal a lot. But allowing it to materialize while still holding so much love in my heart for my late husband — the father of my children, my soulmate and best friend — is hard.

It’s a balancing act of letting go and holding on; of creating sacred space to honor both old and new love; and allowing myself the time and space to process the complex emotions and feelings involved.

I’m far from mastering this, but I’m committed to taking it one day at a time and letting go bit by bit as I figure it all out! 🙂


If you’ve read this far you might be thinking that I need more time to heal. Maybe it’s too soon for a serious relationship?

If you feel that way I do think that you are partially right. I do need time to heal. But healing is a journey in itself and I’m not sure when that finish line will come…or if it even exists.

I also love this quote from @Yung_Pueblo that Taylor shared with me.

I have so many thoughts about dating, love and relationships that I want to share with you (and will in due time). Finding love for a second time and figuring out how this all materializes is part of my grief journey — which is why I’m opening my heart up to you.

I hope that this post resonates with anyone who has lost an old love and is open to letting in the new! And if you have any insights, questions or tips for me please leave them in the comments below.

For now, here’s to embracing what our life is becoming…whether we envisioned it this way or not!

xx,

Emily

4 Tips to Find Freedom in Grief on July 4th

Milestones are tricky when it comes to grief and loss. We tend to “prepare” for the big ones like death-anniversaries, major holidays like Christmas, or your deceased person’s birthday, by anticipating that the day might be emotionally challenging. But, what I’ve found after more than 15 months since my husband Ian’s death is that the more subtle ones tend sneak up on us — presenting an equal struggle or even more of one because they catch us off guard!

We are approaching July 4th, which for most people might be categorized as a “smaller holiday” — a subtle milestone. But for me, it’s also my wedding anniversary with Ian. This Saturday, July 4, 2020, would have marked six years as a married couple.

I don’t know how I’ll be feeling on that day, but what I do know is that I’ll give myself space to welcome whatever comes up and feel it. My grief journey has taught me to embrace the pain as a sign of eternal love — the invisible string that keeps us connected. This Saturday, I plan to visit our wedding venue up on Lookout Mountain and explore the surrounding natural scenery with my two kiddos to remember the day;

How dapper Ian looked in his designer suit. (He got very fancy after living at the Raffles Beijing Hotel for 3 years! 😉 )

His delicious smile that made me fall in love with him.

The way his eyes locked on mine walking down the aisle.

The electricity in the air from the rain storm that had just passed and from energy that everyone who attended our wedding experienced collectively that day.

Love bursting from within us like fireworks.

And while there will be no fireworks to light up the night this year due to the pandemic, I’ll never let go of the spark that connected our souls here on earth and our spirits into eternity.


I revisited my blog post from my first wedding anniversary without Ian. At the time I still wore my wedding rings, in addition to his wedding band, which I had turned into a bracelet. I was still holding on to my old identity — loving wife to Ian and mother to his kids. It’s been a painful, yet profound process to shed these identities and I’ve taken my time to move forward in a way that feels organic and true to me.

I’ve learned that while I’m no longer Ian’s wife, that does’t diminish my love for him; and while our family is missing its father-figure, that doesn’t make us any less whole.

I’ve learned that pain is the greatest catalyst for self-discovery and growth — and this theme comes up time and time again. Which leads me to my last lesson —

That there is always a lesson!

Every life experience — as tragic, unfair, and hopeless as it may seem — can teach us something new. And this awakening is pure magic.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see these lessons when you’re in the thick of pain and struggle — so if you are, I offer the advice to give yourself grace, give yourself time, focus on doing the next right thing and most importantly give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.

And for these sneaky holidays like July 4th, here a few tips I’ve picked up from my personal grief journey:


TIP 1:

If you make social plans, remember that you have every right to bail last minute. Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to feel right up until the moment we are “in it”, so give friends or family members a heads up.


TIP 2:

If you’re not comfortable with cancelling, then just don’t commit! Reserve the right to join the party last minute or late. Remember — you do what’s right for you!


TIP 3:

Remind yourself that this one special day is literally just another day. Consider making space to grieve a couple days before a holiday or milestone if you feel like something might come up. This way you can be in more control of your emotions and enjoy the special day as you envision.


TIP 4:

Holidays bring family and friends together. So when our loved one isn’t around to attend the party, it certainly deepens the void. As you see their warm embraces and hear their laughter, it will intensity your loss. Remember to:

  • Take a deep breathe.
  • Feel the pain.
  • Remind yourself that pain is love.
  • And that love is just as alive as the people surrounding you.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know that not one day passes without thinking about our deceased person. Milestones or holidays don’t change that. They can trigger our emotions, but we have the power to prepare to lean into our grief, save it for another day, or feel whatever come up in the moment. You have the freedom and power and to choose whatever path is right for you!

So this July 4th — a day to honor our nation’s freedom and independence —, I invite you to celebrate your loved one; celebrate the freedom and power of creating your own unique journey; and celebrate the lessons — the magical transformations that unfold when we fully embrace struggle and feel it all!

Fatherless on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just around the corner — a joyous, light-hearted day to recognize Dad for all that he does! But for many of us — those who have lost their father, fathers who have lost a child, or widows who have fatherless children — the day can also bring up pain, resentment, jealously, sadness and a host of other difficult emotions.

In our next community post, Gina tells us about her story of losing her father at a young age to an addiction related accident. She explains some of the complexities involved in losing someone to an addiction and how after 12 years of suppressing her grief, she now is confronting it head on to find new meaning from her loss.

Ironically, this Father’s Day falls on the 12th anniversary of Gina’s Father’s death. Find out how she will honor his legacy by recreating one of her fondest memories of dad and how she is moving through her grief in her story below!


I remember the last time I spoke to my dad on the phone, exactly where I was, what I was wearing, what I was looking at and what he said. He said that he wanted to ‘pull through this,’ and in a tearful manner how he wanted to see his kids grow and see them have kids and be a better father. I ended the call wishing him a Happy Father’s Day. Three days later, he passed away on June 21, 2008, due to complications from a pain killer addiction.

My father was absent most of my life, struggling with mental health and addiction following a bad accident; he would pop in and out overtime. While he was still alive, I felt like I was losing him, slowly to a disease I always questioned why he couldn’t control. My three siblings and I sometimes say that while he physically left this earth in 2008, we felt like we lost him well before then.

When I reminisce of my father I think back to when I was younger, before the accident, when he was ‘normal’ to me. My dad had a lot of love to give; he loved Valentine’s Day and would spoil my mom, my sister, and me with gifts. He was my younger brothers’ role model — owning his own business, working hard and long hours to provide for his family of five. Many people say I took his smile, looking back in photos he had the biggest one when he was with my family.

For over 12 years, I compartmentalized my grief. I packed it up and stored it away for another day, telling other people “oh we weren’t that close,” or “he wasn’t really in my life,” — rationalizing in my mind that as a woman, I was fine because I still had my mom. But even girls need their dads too. And as I grieve, I grieve both my father who died, and the loss that I’ve had even when he was alive.

Today, now more than ever I find myself feeling that loss creep up. Grief is funny like that, it hits you when you least expect it. I think about getting married and not having my father walk me down the aisle and often excusing myself from the table at weddings during father-daughter dances. But, I never thought that even small things like grilling out, maintenance my car or small home improvements would trigger tears and flood of feelings. I recently bought my first house on my own and inherited a lot of home improvement projects. A friend shared with me a YouTube Channel called “Dad how I do” by a man who grew up without a father that teaches people without dads to do home repairs. Things such as unclogging a bathtub drain, fixing a running toilet, putting up a shelf — his videos are full of dad jokes. I checked it out and immediately burst into tears – it is just not the same.

This Father’s Day oddly falls on the 12th year anniversary of my father’s death. This past year I’ve focused on working on the grief I’ve put aside for a rainy day. One way I have focused on working through complicated grief is through movement. Being introduced to moveTHRU has really allowed me to find community in grief – something I’ve never really had. But more than that, it’s allowed my body to release the physically stored aspects of grief. As a therapist myself, it is the biggest outlet I have. Recently I started to tackle some grief work and after spending two hours discussing my loss, I came home to jump on a rented Kaiser stationary bike. It felt so good to sweat it out. Hot Yoga is also great for crying – as I found no one will know if its tears or sweat!

Recently I was in a recovery focused meeting and we were sharing the gifts of our loved ones struggling with addiction have left us. For me, my father hasn’t left me many — but one I can remember is that he taught me how to ride a bike (beyond the Kaiser one). I talked about how vividly I could remember the park and the path I learned to ride on. I haven’t owned a bike in years — so two weeks later I was able to get a used one that otherwise was going to be thrown away! It felt like a ‘God moment’. I made a promise with a friend, who too, has an absent father that this Father’s Day we will go on a bike ride together, to celebrate our dads.

Living the Loss of Both Parents

When you experience one loss, death becomes more tangible — more real. You realize that no one is immune and that our loved ones can disappear from our lives in an instant. Even though we deeply understand the fragility of life and the meaningless, unpredictable ways that our loved ones can get ripped away from us, it’s doesn’t mean that it prepares us for more losses to come. It’s hard enough to comprehend losing just one person we love — so how do we make sense of our world when it unjustly takes away TWO?

Brett was just 11 years old when she lost her mother to breast cancer (six years after her diagnosis). Her death made Brett grow up fast. She learned about the certainty of death, it’s unpredictable nature, and the monumental impact it makes on our lives. So, when her father died suddenly when she was 27 years old, Brett couldn’t believe that the “universe would be so cruel to take them both.”

Brett shares her story below.


Nothing about either loss of my parents compares to the other. Drastically different in circumstance, I personally experienced the two on grossly different scales. My mother was originally misdiagnosed. Had she not been, she may still be here today. Six years in and out of hospitals, hospice at home, chemo, radiation, and morphine drips fueled the chaos of the unknown. In a daily warp of an uncertain truth that though no one had answers, no one could predict the good or bad days, and no one knew whether she’d be alive or not after school, I knew for certain that “mommy won’t be here as long as the other mommies” (her words exactly).

Most adults can’t grasp or cope with the fact that we all die one day, but as a child, having to accept that as your truth, as your norm, is quite the awakening. I grew up fast. I had too. Fortunately, my mom guided me as far as she could, leaving me with valuable lessons no mother would imagine teaching such a young girl.

After her death, I grew up with a dad who did his best to ‘mother’ an adolescent female. He was incredible, but clearly unable to offer all the female guidance a growing girl deserves. My greatest challenge was having to figure most things out on my own. My parents raised a strong, independent, warrior type girl, who was far beyond her years in maturity, but life is confusing, especially when she who taught you the lessons has already passed on to the other side. I was previously taught about what I had yet to experience, yet to understand. Growing into those understandings as a reflection of stories she had shared was at times sad, but also encouraging. I had a mother who knew things. All kinds of things and how lucky I was that she guided me, told me the truth about life before it even came to fruition.

My dad was always my hero — I was his girl! But after my mother’s death, he showed grit, a survival instinct that I could only hope to emulate one day. As a small business owner in the emergency service industry, he was working insane hours to provide. My dad remarried shortly after our mom died, it was a rough several years, to say the least. We were pretty much on our own through middle and into high school, but as a teenager, we began to reweave a relationship. I came to understand the challenges of parenting, the challenges my dad faced through his own grieving and post loss survival. I saw him as a human, not just my hero. We became friends, best friends. So losing my Dad suddenly, was far more damaging than how I lost my Mom. A period of anticipatory grief allows for a certain kind of preparation leading up to the point when you get to say goodbye. I always knew my Mom would die. I never thought the Universe would be so cruel to take them both. I never got the chance to say goodbye to my dad.

His death was my worst nightmare come true. It was a shock — like having your legs kicked out from under you. I was angry. I was sad. Confused. Baffled. My world suddenly became chaotic again, but this time, instead of a chaos induced by uncertainty, it was a chaos induced by pain and the absolute certainty — the finality of death. I could physically feel the hurt throughout my body. My challenges were more visceral this time. My body hurt and my heart ached. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I drank. I smoked. I did everything I could to self destruct while still maintaining the outward appearance of strength in order to uphold the identity I’d carried for so many years: the strong, responsible one. A warrior.

The greatest challenge after my dad’s death was recreating an identity without him, according to the new normal, and pulling myself out of the greatest darkness I’ve ever known. Each day was a challenge. Finding joy was a challenge. Being me was a challenge. Wanting to live life without him was a challenge.

I coped with my mom’s death while she was still here. She prepared me the best she could and school counselors were a wonderful resource by giving me a chance to momentarily escape the chaos by holding a calm conversation in a controlled environment. I was very loved by my dad, my family, shared growing up with my brother – my dearest friend and closest confident, and felt a sense of purpose. I felt a responsibility to overcome so that my dad and brother could do so also. I relied on girlfriends who supported me and also relied on my faith. Growing up religious – as my mother had taught me – I saw the strength she absorbed from her faith and I followed suite.

After a period of about six months that directly followed my dad’s accident – I call it the fuzzy period because it’s truly just a fog – I began to develop new routines that honored me and my body. After six months of self destruction, overworking, little sleep and unhealthy exercise, I started seeing a therapist, I began to eat regularly, drink less, and I went back to yoga. I began to run and hike again, allowing me to connect with nature. And I returned to my journal, reflecting on my reality as opposed to ignoring or distracting from it. I coped by doing the best I could each day. By taking small steps toward the lifestyle that I knew I wanted and needed to live, but understanding that it wasn’t going to happen overnight, I eventually came to a place of peace.

Fortunately I was surrounded by an infinite amount of love and support from the most beautiful people in the world. My community held me up, allowed me to feel deeply and honored my process without judgment. And it always helps to remember that my dad didn’t spend his life sacrificing and working his ass off so that I could be a victim to my losses. He did it all so we could be happy. And so I chose to be happy, I chose to be a survivor, I chose to find joy in life and appreciate my final moments (because to me, we are consistently living our final moments). That’s what dad would want me to do and I sure wish he’d had more time to do the same.


It’s been 22 years since I lost my mom and seven since losing my dad. I’m 33 years old. Still to this day, I miss them both. I wish I could ask my mom what it’s like to be a mother, what it means to be a woman. I wish I could call my dad to get his opinion, share a funny story or tell him I’m scared, let him save me. It’s like a kaleidoscope of emotions — all interchanging on any given day, at any given moment — mingling and overlapping, bright and beautiful or dark and chaotic. I can’t anticipate how I’ll feel each day, what will come up, how reminders will emerge. I mean, I could just set the kaleidoscope down and NOT feel, but for me, that’s not an option. And so I carry it proud and I let the shades and shapes of my emotions, memories and stories color my world. Each day is a new story, a new feeling. Their deaths will always be real and there will be more deaths to come.

And so I am grateful that I now know how to appreciate moments. I don’t take this life, or the people in it, for granted. These losses have completely morphed the way I see and walk in this world, for the better. I am lucky. Their lives and their deaths have been my greatest teacher, made me who I am proud to be.

Exploring the Life-Death-Life Cycle

We’ve all heard the phrase with every ending comes a new beginning. Right? But did you ever really stop and think about it.

Endings are inevitable.

    • We fall in love, all is well, but with time our values and needs change, so we decide to end the relationship.
    • We go to primary school, high school, maybe university and beyond, then with graduation, our formal education ends.
    • We get land a job. We work hard for however long it takes to become disenchanted, seek something new, or get laid off.
    • We get married. We start a family. And with each new role — mother, father, spouse, head-of-household, friend — another past identity evolves or fades away.

Endings are a part of life; and beginnings are inherently dependent upon them. Endings and beginnings can’t exist without the other.

While beginnings are viewed with excitement and vitality, endings are approached with fear and sadness.

Beginnings are viewed as success, yet endings are viewed as failure.

Our society tends to celebrate quantity — how long we stay in a job, survive in a marriage — but fail to even acknowledge quality. (How many “long” relationships do you know that are dysfunctional)?

We equate change with disruption and turmoil. Consistency with peace and stability.

And to top it all off…we qualify ALL OF IT!

Stable = good

Disruption = bad

It’s such a strange phenomenon.

And, like all the other endings we might experience in life, death is by far the most feared. The most taboo. The most avoided. Yet, the only certainty we have in life!

So why we are so afraid of endings?

I don’t have the answers, but I’m committed to asking the questions and changing the conversation around death, end-of-life and our societal fear of “endings”.

In the video below, Natalie Levy of She’s Independent — a women’s empowerment collective — and Life Mastery Consultant Kevin Carton — who helps people discover and live their soul’s purpose — join me for a conversation on the Life-Death-Life Cycle. This cycle explores how the inevitable endings we experience throughout life are merely doors to new beginnings.

Watch the video and leave us any comments or questions to keep the conversation going! I continue posting videos of virtual chats here on the moveTHRU blog. If you would like to follow the conversation live, follow me and moveTHRU on Instagram or sign-up for the moveTHRU newsletter.

xx – Emily

A Mother’s Day to Remember

As we mentioned in our last community post on grief & loss, talking about death can be difficult. Sometimes friends or acquaintances don’t want to talk about a deceased loved one because they’re afraid of bringing up sad memories or causing more pain for the person grieving. What they don’t understand (and what we are here to clarify), is that the pain never really goes away — it just changes — and talking about our deceased loved ones keeps their memory alive!

Kathleen Place, who lost her mother when she was just 10-years old, dedicated this past Mother’s Day to writing the following post. She explained…

My mother loved to write about her journey with terminal illness in letters & her journal. When she knew that she was very sick, she wrote all five of her children letters that we could open later in life (like graduations and weddings) reminding us that she will always be with us. I decided to write my story on Mother’s Day, and it felt like I was writing to my mother. Dedicating time to remembering her and going through old photos albums was so special. I feel so lucky to be her daughter and even more lucky to have her as my guardian angel.

Kathleen shares the rest of her story with us below!

My mother passed away from a hard-fought battle with ovarian cancer in 1998 when she just was 41 years old. I was 10 years old at the time, so the biggest challenge for me was understanding how permanent loss was. I also found it extremely difficult to share my feelings. None of my friends had lost a parent and I did not want to be looked at differently — I just wanted to fit in. So instead of talking about what I was going through, I stayed silent and made it appear that I was doing better than I really was.

The challenges I have faced since my mothers passing have evolved over time. It took me years to be ok with and figure out how to communicate my emotions. For a long time, I thought if I shared my imperfections, people would feel sorry for me and look at me differently. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realized I was only hurting myself by internalizing my emotions. I started to go to therapy, which was one of the single best decisions I have ever made. Over time, I was able to open up to friends & family, which started to create deeper and more meaningful relationships.

At the same time, I started to change the way I viewed working out. I used to be a long-distance runner and while it was a great workout, it was never something that I completely enjoyed. After realizing how much I liked building relationships, I wanted to incorporate that into other aspects of my life, including my workouts. I started to mix it up and began taking fitness classes like dance, spin and yoga classes. I was out of my comfort zone, but I LOVED it. I fell in love with the fact that you can get an amazing workout, do something fun and meet new people. It came into my life at exactly the right time and I am forever grateful for the fitness community.

Losing my mom at such a young age affects me in different ways, at different times up to this day! There are times when I would expect to be sad, but I am not. For example, on my wedding day I thought I was going to miss my mom so much, but instead of being sad, I felt her presence and love more than ever. On the other hand, there are times in everyday life that I find myself yearning for her. Like recently I went to a doctor’s appointment and I remember looking at the chair next to me thinking “wow I wish my mom was here”.

Grief is unpredictable and no matter how long it has been since a death it can and will still affect you. Lately, as I am getting closer to the age my mother passed, I have been thinking a lot about my mothers’ perspective and how hard it must have been for her. Her battle and ultimate death has made me appreciate everything that I have and has made me realize the importance of embracing life while we can. 


If you are reading this and have recently endured a loss, please know that we feel you. We share these stories to provide hope and inspiration through living examples — as each person who writes a story here has lived it … and has survived.

A Mother’s Loss

Death can be a difficult subject to talk about. It’s painful, unpleasant, emotional and hard. No one likes unhappy endings or tragic good-byes.

But, when death becomes a part of your life, it’s a hard subject to avoid. Loss changes us. In the beginning it certainly makes life more unpleasant, causes constant emotional turmoil and significant pain, but with time, the grief experience evolves. We find gratitude, meaning and love for our loss. We never “get over it.” We adapt.

We carry our loss.

While others find it difficult or awkward to ask us about our loss (which we excuse because they are just trying to be supportive and polite), we secretly want people to ask us about our special dead person — to help us remember him or honor her life.

Talking about death.

Sharing our stories of loss.

Connecting with others who share our stories.

Helps us heal!

That’s why we’re sharing stories of loss from members of the moveTHRU community so that we can collectively honor our loved ones and move through grief together. Loss can feel lonely, but you are not alone in your grief.

In honor of National Bereaved Mother’s (May 3) and Mother’s Day (May 13), we are sharing a story about a childless mother from our friend Lindsey.

Lindsey lost her unborn baby at 38 weeks. She went through labor and delivery, but when she returned home from the hospital, she didn’t have her baby.

She was a mom with no child to bring home.

Sometimes we forget that loss can occur before life. And that loss is just as painful as losing someone in the flesh. Read Lindsey’s story below to find out how she endured this tragedy to find more meaning in life and eventually got back to enjoying Mother’s Day!


Lindsey and her husband see their baby Everlee for the first and last time.


September 17, 2018 was one of the hardest, but sweetest moments in our life — the moment we saw our daughter Everlee for the first and last time. She was 6lbs 8oz and as our first born, Everlee made us parents.

My pregnancy was uneventful and healthy. We were nervous and excited to become parents and preparing as most parents do — the nursery set up and car seat installed. I was 38 weeks pregnant and thinking we could have her at any moment. Then, one Saturday, I told my husband that I hadn’t felt her kick lately.

During the hospital tour weeks earlier, I vividly remembered the nurse telling us that if we didn’t feel the baby move, to come in. So, we went into the hospital that night. But, we didn’t expect to hear the silence. The nurse looked for the heartbeat and then said she would have the on-call doctor there within minutes. I looked at my husband concerned but thought it would all be ok. When the doctor came in he confirmed that Everlee did not have a heartbeat.

I was in shock. How could I have just been to the doctor and everything checked out perfectly?

Two days later I gave birth to our first child. An autopsy showed that Everlee had an umbilical cord accident. Her cord had “kinked” and acutely cut off her blood and oxygen.

Our bodies are so amazing and the process of growing life is so complex, how could something so small like a “kink” take it all away?

After losing Everlee I was in disbelief. Coming home as a “mom” and recovering like all mom’s do, but not having a baby to hold is something I don’t wish on anyone. For several months I was numb, just going through the motions. We had so much love and support around us, but that didn’t take away the pain. I couldn’t make sense of WHY this would happen. The hardest part for me was trying to overcome the devastation.

Being in some of my old friend groups that all had kids or were expecting children was very difficult — actually suffocating to be around. They didn’t understand the pain I felt and of course couldn’t relate no matter how hard they tried.

The way I overcame my heavy grief was to connect to others who had lost children. I found comfort relating to others who had walked the same hard road. I also MOVED my body. It was my therapy and the only way to clear my mind. I had to start off by just walking, but then I progressed into yoga, cycle and running. I could feel the weight of the grief lift as I exercised. As I MOVED I felt like I could start to take on the day.

I met Emily through Rush Cycle and was able to attend the moveTHRU workouts. This helped me see there were others out there needing movement to express all the emotions that come with grief and loss. It was like a great therapy session with the added benefit of exercise.

The loss of my daughter impacts me every day. When people want me to overcome grief or “move on” I know she will always be with me! I am a different person because of her. I think about her every day.

So much of her story has so much light!

I have been able to see how precious life is.

I have been able to relate to others on a deeper level who grieve.

I have become more spiritual and able put things in perspective.

Everlee has taught me so much. She’s given me purpose, strength, the ability to be vulnerable and helped me grow.

Although some days are easier than others, I wish that I had her here and I could hold her close. I wish that I could experience all the “first” parent moments with her and watch her grow up into a beautiful girl inside and out. I feel like I’ve lost out on these moments with her.

Mother’s Day always brings out these “what if’s”. My arms ache more on Mother’s Day wishing I could have her — a living child — here. But in the end, she has taught me so much and given me so many gifts. I am forever grateful for her. She has allowed me to celebrate Mother’s Day…even though it may not look like it on the outside.

Tips for Living with Grief

Last week I hosted an Instagram LIVE chat with Chloé Pestana on the subject of grief. Chloé and I had met at a New Year’s party in Oahu, just nine months after my husband Ian died. As friends drank champagne and partied around us, Chloé and I found ourselves in a deep conversation about loss and grief. Chloé had lost her three-year-old son Legend just about two years before I lost Ian. Although we were strangers at the time, we were instantly connected through our respective losses. This beautiful stranger, who had lived every mother’s worst nightmare just two years before I lived mine, gave me so much hope and inspiration that we can survive, if not thrive after someone we love dies.

Since the party, Chloé and I kept in touch and in light of the global pandemic, she reached out to see if I’d talk openly with her about our stories of loss and grief. We both agreed that as the whole world grieves the loss of normalcy right now, some tips about coping with grief might really help!!

So we jumped on Instagram LIVE and got real! But, half-way into our conversation, we stumbled over the word coping. Chloé and I both agree that as grief evolves from a place of profound pain into love and gratitude, it doesn’t feel like coping. It feels more like remembering and appreciating your deceased person. You don’t cope with grief, you live with it. But, this evolution takes time, the feelings are always bittersweet, and just like life, it’s unpredictable and varied.

So here are my top tips for living with grief:

Give yourself space.

Grief comes with a lot of intense feelings and emotions (feelings are attached to a thought, while emotions can be experienced subconsciously). As a single-mom, I’ve found it highly difficult, if not impossible to process my feelings and emotions with my children around. I literally have to make physical space to find solitude and stillness to move through my grief. For me, unprocessed emotions feel a lot like anxiety. My chest tightens, my heart starts to race, and frantic thoughts and energy takes over my mind and body. THIS is when I know I need to call the babysitter, make space, and lean into my grief.

Get moving!

I’ve always struggled with naming my feelings and emotions — especially in the months shortly after Ian died. I remember feeling numb and “off”, but struggled to attach any meaning to it. With the simple intention of just “feeling better”, I found that moving my body was the best cure. Research shows that trauma and emotional memory is stored in many places in the body (not just or even primarily, in the brain). So verbalizing our emotions can be really difficult when we’re just FEELING it! Emotion is also energy. It needs a place to go. Exercise is how I found this release.

Listen to your body

Instead of choosing one go-to workout to move through my emotions, I let my body do the deciding. If I felt anxious, I jumped on a spin beak to escape into a dark room filled with loud music. If I felt angry, I grabbed a set of heavy weights and fueled my deep muscle burn with inner rage. If I felt afraid or unsettled, I grounded my feat on a yoga mat for breath-work and intentional flow. Each type of movement addressed a different type of emotion.

Give yourself breaks from being “in it”

When people talk about grief, they often use a wave analogy. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes you choose to ride them and sometimes you don’t. By finding stillness to ride the big waves, I’ve had profound breakthroughs in terms of self-discovery and healing. But, I’ve realized that I need a break — to take a pass on occasion — in order to function day-to-day. As I mentioned previously, grieving takes up space. Sometimes we need a break to go out with girlfriends, play with our kids, and just enjoy sunshine, laughter and being happy!

Share your story

I started the process of sharing my story to raise money for Ian’s cancer treatments on GoFundMe. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this is how I was processing my anticipatory grief. And, after Ian died, I didn’t want to stop . I gained therapeutic value from not only writing the updates, but also receiving feedback from readers expressing how inspired they were, or who simply wanted to send their love and support.

Whether it’s on social media, in a private journal, talking about it with a therapist, or just with a good friend, sharing my story has supported my healing in so many ways. When we share our story we make sense of the insensible. We start to connect dots and draw parallels that we never thought existed. Instead of the victim asking “why me?”, we create our own “why”. While I’ve found inspiration from others’ stories, I know that others are inspired by mine. It’s been a beautiful, empowering, mutually-beneficial experience.

Surround yourself with love and support

Both Chloé and I attribute much of our ability to live with grief to the amazing support systems we have in place. What I’ve found though is that I was very selective of who I included in this sacred safety net. When you are grieving, there is only room for love and support. So surround yourself with people who emanate it! And be weary of sharing your precious energy with those who don’t.

Give yourself permission

I saved this tip for last because to me it’s like the golden rule of grief. Give yourself permission to to feel whatever you need to feel; to do whatever you need to do; to say whatever you need to say; and to just do you! There is no rule book. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are no “shoulds”. You are your best guide. Give yourself the permission to be the authority on your own grief journey!

Check out Chloe’s tip on her blog!

Have any tips that have helped you live with grief? Please share them in the comments below!