Tag Archives: grief process

My First Christmas Without Gretchen

My First Christmas without Gretchen

My wife and I had been married for 40 years when she passed away from breast cancer earlier in 2011.  We have two sons, Erik (31) and Mark (29).  Gretchen made the Christmas holiday season very special for us.  When the boys were young, she would decorate our home, which brought out the Christmas Spirit in all of us.  At the same time, I would put up lights outside our home in an effort to try to match the warmth she put into the decorations inside.

The effort she put into making this a special holiday for us was appreciated by us but probably not as much as we should have now that Gretchen is no longer with us.  She had a special recipe for Christmas cut out cookies that she would make for us.  We would help her ice them and add some Christmas colored sugar sprinkles.  Decorating our Christmas tree was a family affair, although Gretchen put forth most of the effort to make this a focal point of our family room.

The Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers were there because of her.  When the boys were young it was always ahigh pointof Christmas morning when they opened their presents from Santa and us.  By retrospectively looking at this time in our lives, we realize what a special mother and wife Gretchen was.

The 2011 Christmas season is the first we have experienced without Gretchen.  How will this holiday season ever be the same?  The answer is that it never will be.  However, we have to realize that she would want us to enjoy Christmas.  At the same time this will give us the opportunity to remember how important a part of our lives she was for us.

This year I decorated my home, with the help of some close friends, as a memorial to Gretchen.  I knew she would want it that way.  It is difficult to see all these beautiful decorations without thinking of her. But this is part of the grieving and healing process.  Memories are made to be relived.  But they should not cause us to stop how we live our lives.  Again, she would have wanted us to continue to grow and enjoy the days ahead of us.

Gretchen, we love you very much.  We know you are in a better place where cancer does not exist and you are filled with joy forever.  One day, the four of us will be together again so we can share Christmas once again.

When to Seek Help with the Grief Process

There are many types of losses that result in grief.  The most prominent ones are the loss of a spouse, a son or a daughter, divorce and the loss of a job.  There are also different ways that we react to these major life events.  Some people are able to work through the grief process on their own but many are not able to do this or will only be able to do this over a very long time.  An article in the January 9, 2005 issue of  Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis titled “The New Science of Happiness” says that the average time spent navigating the grief process is 5 to 8 years for someone who lost a loved one.  This was based on a study by Edward Diener, who is an American psychologist, professor, and author.

Let’s put this in perspective.  If the average life expectancy is 78 years old, this equates to anywhere from 6% to 10% of someone’s entire life.  Or if this loss occured when one was 60 years old, the average grief process could take up almost half of that person’s remaining life.  Doesn’t this seem like a long time to be spent in a state of unhappiness and desperation?  What can be done to shorten the time spent in the grief process?  Time does not heal but how one spends their time working through the loss is very important.  Everyone should realize that sometimes the best course of action is to seek help from someone who specializes in grief counseling.

Through the proper application of grief counseling, the period of time spent in this “state of limbo” can be reduced significantly.  My story is a prime example of this.  I lost my wife of 40 years to breast cancer.  I had just moved into a new home and was in between jobs at the same time.  I decided shortly after my wife’s death that I was not going to let this loss steal a major portion of my remaining life.  What I like to say is that I attacked the grief process.  I started attending a Grief Share program offered by my church.  I read numerous books on the subject and conducted much research on the Internet.  I also enlisted the help of some professional grief coaches at the Grief Coach Academy, which I later joined so I could help others who need assistance with the grief process so they can return to a fulfilling and joyful life.

By putting forth some concentrated effort and enlisting the help of grief counseling professionals, I was able to not only reduce the time spent there but also learned a lot about the grief process and how it impacts my life.  Some of the things that came out of the way that I navigated the grief process are as follows:

  • It is OK to express my feelings and show my emotions.  This is an integral part of what I was going through.
  • I don’t have to feel like I have to go it alone.  There are many people who are ready, willing and able to offer a helping hand.
  • The 5 stages of grief  have to be addressed, although not in any particular order or with equal weighting.  Everyone is different in how they address the grief process.
  • Only through a concerted effort on my part did I progress through my particular grief experience.
  • There was substantial guidance provided to me by friends, family members and professionals.  I learned to accept this because they had my best interests at heart.
  • I learned a lot about myself during this episode in my life.  Things that I could use in the future.
  • After progressing through the grief process I can honestly say that I have become a happier and more complete human being.
  • Because of my positive experience I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to helping others through this difficult period of time.  The satisfaction of helping others is the best reward for me.

The result, it took me only a few months to navigate my personal grief process.  I am so happy that I reached out for help with this issue that can have such a dramatic effect on one’s life.  How do you know when it is time to consider enlisting the support of someone who specializes in grief counseling?  Below are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Have you lost the ability to enjoy things that used to provide you personal  satisfaction?
  2. Do you find yourself not wanting to be around your family and friends because you believe you would “put a damper on the party”?
  3. Do you find yourself constantly thinking of your loved one after several months after his or her death?
  4. Are you afraid of becoming close to new people or even with existing family and friends because you fear of losing them at some point?
  5. Do you try to keep yourself constantly busy so that you won’t think about your loss?
  6. Do you feel numb to your normal emotions?
  7. Are you unable or unwilling to express your true feelings about various aspects of your life that used to be very important to you?
  8. Do you feel stuck in your grief, unable to move on, even though it has been quite some time since the death of your loved one?

To ask for and seek help is not a sign of weakness.  Rather it is the smart thing to do if you are having difficulty navigating the grief process.  It is not disrespectful to your loved one who you lost to do something to help you address the issues associated with grief.  If this can help you lessen the length of time spent grieving, then I hope you would welcome this opportunity.  If you would like to talk to me about this subject, please contact me.

Jim Koeneman

New Life Grief Counseling LLC

E-mail:  Koeneman@comcast.net

Cell:  630-267-1647

New Career Path Has Not Only Helped Others but Also Helped Me Deal with My Personal Grief Process

What better life mission could I ask for?  Training and becoming a grief coach has allowed me to address my own grief process associated with my loss of Gretchen, my soul mate for over 45 years.  In addition this provides me the tools needed to help others through their personal grief processes.

The thing about teaching others about the grief process is that I must first address my personal grief process.  It is only after this is accomplished that I can provide the proper advice to others who are going through a major loss.  This is best portrayed by the famous proverb below:

Physician, heal thyself.


At the same time it fulfills one of my most important life missions………..the satisfaction of helping someone to deal with the demons that are stopping them from returning to a fulfilling and joyful life experience.

I believe the lyrics to Mariah Carey’s song, Hero, expresses this concept very well.  This song was recorded by Mariah Carey in 1993 for Columbia Records and became her signature song.  Use this link to watch her sing this song – http://youtu.be/0IA3ZvCkRkQ

There’s a hero if you look inside your heart.

You don’t have to be afraid of what you are

There’s an answer if you reach into your soul

And the sorrow that you know will melt away

And then a hero comes along

With the strength to carry on

And you cast your fears aside

And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone

Look inside you and be strong

And you’ll finally see the truth

That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road When you face the world alone

 No one reaches out a hand for you to hold

You can find love If you search within yourself

And the emptiness you felt will disappear

And then a hero comes along

With the strength to carry on

And you cast your fears aside

And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone

Look inside you and be strong

And you’ll finally see the truth

That a hero lies in you

Lord knows Dreams are hard to follow

But don’t let anyone tear them away

Hold on there will be tomorrow

In time you’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along

With the strength to carry on

And you cast your fears aside

And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone

Look inside you and be strong

And you’ll finally see the truth

That a hero lies in you

What a powerful message.  No wonder this song became so popular.  I listen to this song every now and then to remind me that we all have a hero inside of us.  For some it might take the influence of someone else to help us release this powerful hero that lies inside each of us. 

“If you light a lamp for someone else

 it will also brighten your path.” ~Buddha


Things You May Not Have Know About Breast Cancer

Do you have a loved one who experienced a loss because of breast cancer?  Before I relate my story, let me first share some facts with you about the #1 source of cancer in women.

These facts are assembled by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which is a powerful voice, speaking for women and men across the country, demanding victory in the war against breast cancer. In 2003 it was named one of the twenty most influential groups in health policy based on a survey of congressional staff – the only grassroots group and the only breast cancer organization to make that list.

Its mission is to eradicate breast cancer, the most common form of cancer among women in theUnited States, by focusing the administration, U.S. Congress, research institutions and consumer advocates on breast cancer.  According to the National Breast Cancer Coalition, below are some of the myths and truths about breast cancer.


  1. Monthly breast self-exams save lives
  2. Mammograms can only help and not harm you
  3. MRIis better than mammography because if finds more cancer
  4. Mammograms prevent breast cancer
  5. Most women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease
  6. Men don’t get breast cancer
  7. Everyone’s breast cancer is the same
  8. Removing the entire breast is better than just cutting the cancer out and getting radiation
  9. There are drugs that can prevent breast cancer
  10. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, it is very important to make treatment decisions immediately
  11. Second opinions are only for treatment options
  12. With new treatments we can now cure breast cancer
  13. All breast cancer research is good because it moves us toward prevention and a cure


  1. When breast cancer shows up on a mammogram, it many have been in your body for 6-10 years
  2. Breast cancer mortality rates are declining
  3. We don’t know how to prevent breast cancer
  4. Risk of breast cancer increases with age; 50% of breast cancer occurs among women aged 62 and older
  5. Most people think they have a higher risk of breast cancer than they actually do
  6. Hormone replacement therapy increases your risk of breast cancer
  7. You should question your doctors

My wife and I have had first hand experience with breast cancer.  Because of this my wife, Gretchen, passed away abruptly at the age of 63 after we had been married for 40 years.  At the time of her death we had two sons, who were 31 and 29 years old then.

The impact of Gretchen’s passing was an immediate emersion into the grief process.  I can tell you that this was a very painful time in my life.  I could have given in to the grief I was experiencing and let it control my life for a long…….long time.  But my personal makeup led me to attack the grief process and to find support and counseling so I could address my pain in as short a time as possible so I could return to a fulfilling and joyful life.

I plan to give you a picture of my life together with Gretchen and our two sons, some high and low points in our lives, the onslaught of the grief process and how I was able to regain a happy and meaningful life.

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself:

 I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.

 I can choose which it shall be.

Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.

I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.
— Groucho Marx


Top 10 Things to Focus On When Faced with Grief

These are the things that I believe are the most important things to address when you are going through the grief process because of the loss of a loved one to breast cancer (or other major losses).

  1. Don’t try to go it alone.
  2. Your  family and friends are there to help you deal with your grief process.
  3. Try to proactively attack the grief process.
  4. Express your true feelings.  Talk it out and write it down.
  5. Accept the situation you are facing.  Don’t try to mask your emotions with things that only make your loss worse (i.e.  alcohol, drugs, etc.).
  6. Don’t feel that you have to rush into a new relationship to replace the loved      one you lost.  This will come in time.
  7. When the time is right, begin to put some of the physical remembrances of your loved one behind you.  Your memories will be with you forever.
  8. Consider enlisting the help of a professional grief coach, who is trained to walk  you through the grief process.  This should allow you to journey through this difficult time in a much shorter time period.
  9. Trust that the Lord would not allow this challenge to occur if he did not      believe you could handle it.
  10.  Believe that if you take the proper steps to deal with your grief process you will be able to return to a more fulfilling and joyful life. 

What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving

One of the most awkward situations that people find themselves in is when they have to say something to someone who has just suffered a major loss, like what happened to me when my wife of 40 years died at the age of 63 from breast cancer.  Usually this is when you are attending a funeral.  You don’t want to say the wrong thing but what do you say?  Here are some suggestions of some supportive things to say and some things that you should not say.

 Below is an article written by Aurora Winter that addresses this situation very nicely. 

Heartbroken: Coaching Clients in Crisis
By Aurora Winter      June 2011

Heartbreak is inevitable. Knowing how to coach people who are devastated from a death, divorce, or another heartbreaking crisis is a valuable and much-needed coaching skill. Every coach needs at least some basic skills in this arena. If you’re looking to make a significant difference in the lives of others and grow your coaching business at the same time, consider focusing on the niche of grief coaching.

Over 50,000,000 people in the US are struggling with heartbreak and would benefit from coaching. According to a study reported in Time magazine, people typically suffer 5-8 years after a devastating emotional blow, such as a death of a spouse or a child, or the loss of a career. In my experience, heartbroken people benefit enormously from coaching. They can regain a sense of peace and well-being within a matter of months, saving them years of pain.

As the baby boomers age, more and more people will be confronted by the death of their parents or spouse. Unlike prior generations, baby boomers invest in themselves, and are turning to coaching as a way to go from pain to peace.

Businesses as well as individuals can benefit from investing in coaching when dealing with layoffs, downsizing, financial loss, grief, or another crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, the workplace cost of heartbreak is $75 billion per year due to lost productivity, absenteeism, and accidents. By investing in coaching and supporting their employees through crisis, the company can get a good return on their investment.

Most people don’t know what to do to recover from grief. It’s not their fault. A coach can guide people through the steps required to heal from grief. Many people believe that time heals, but the truth is that time alone does not heal. The right actions heal.

When my husband died suddenly at the age of 33, leaving me widowed with a four-year-old son, I was devastated. At that time, I didn’t know what actions to take to recover. This life experience motivated me to study happiness and grief recovery. When I learned how to proactively release grief, I dedicated my life to helping others go From Heartbreak to Happiness® more quickly, and founded the Grief Coach Academy.

As a grief coach and a grief coach trainer, I commonly see profound transformations with nine specific coaching sessions. A great coach can make all the difference.

Most people, even great coaches, don’t know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving. If you say the wrong thing, you can actually make matters worse.

So that you will never be at a loss for words again, here are the top 10 best and worst things to say to someone who is devastated with grief:

 Do say:

• You’re not alone – I’m here.
• I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you?
• My heart goes out to you.
• What specifically can I do to support you?
• Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss.

Don’t say:

• Don’t feel bad.
• Be grateful you had her so long.
• At least you have other children.
• You’re young. You can get another husband/wife/child.
• It just takes time.

If you are at a loss for words, there is nothing wrong with being authentic and simply stating, “I don’t know what to say.”

It is a relief to a heartbroken person to talk about their loss. To have an initial conversation with someone who is in emotional crisis, be sure to do the following three steps:

It is essential to acknowledge the situation.

After his father died, I would take our four-year-old son to play at his friend’s house. Our son literally would not cross the threshold until he first announced, “My Dad is dead.”

His little playmate said, “Oh!”. That was it. But it was enough for our son to feel acknowledged. He then felt comfortable entering the home and going to play Lego® with his friend.

We can all learn from the innocent directness of children. Don’t avoid discussing the elephant in the room.

People in crisis are accident-prone because so little of their attention is right here, right now. Their mind is preoccupied going over and over the past with all the “if onlys” and regrets. Their mind is anticipating the future with fear, uncertainty or even dread.

It’s as if their thoughts are all jumbled up like wet clothes spinning in the dryer. When you listen without fixing, it is as if you turn the heat on in the dryer. The person in crisis shares their worries and concerns one sentence at a time. They can hear themselves. They discover their own solutions. Listening without fixing is a huge gift that a coach can give.

After the person feels heard, acknowledged and validated, give hope and encouragement. Here are 3 ways to give hope and encouragement:

i) Remind the person of their inner strengths, and how they overcame adversity in the past.

ii) Reassure them that they’re not alone; they have a support team, and that you’re on it.

iii) Share success stories of how other people just like them overcame a similar adversity.

People can easily get stuck in grief unless they are guided through the process of proactively releasing it. Time alone does not heal. The wrong kind of talking about it can deepen despair. The right coaching can make all the difference.

After the initial conversation with the person in crisis, urge them to get support, and make a referral. Or, if you’re trained as a grief coach, invite them to continue coaching with you so that they will see results quickly. In my experience, grief responds beautifully to coaching, and I typically see profound results in just nine specific grief coaching sessions.

Often people who are heartbroken make the mistake of thinking that they will wait before getting help. But if they had a broken arm, they wouldn’t hesitate to immediately go and get help. Broken hearts should be treated the same way as a broken arm, immediately, and by a qualified professional.

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime.
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense

in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous,

can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint

of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love,

which is forgiveness.”

Reinhold Niebuhr




Statistics About Grief

Average Grief Period – 5 to 8 Years

There is a very eye-opening statistic on the grief process.  This was reported in the January 9, 2005 issue of Time Magazine in an article by Claudia Wallis titled “The New Science of Happiness”.  This was based on a study by Edward Diener, who is an American psychologist, professor, and author. He is noted for his research over the past twenty-five years on happiness — the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being.

According to Diener, two events in a persons life with the greatest impact were shown to be loss of a spouse (taking 5-8 years for recovery) and loss of a job.  This is a significant part of one’s life to be stuck in limbo.  If there were a way to address the grief process that would reduce this to a much shorter period of time, wouldn’t we opt for this in a heartbeat?

Baby Boomers Facing Grief More Frequently 

The baby boomer generation is defined as someone  who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom and who grew up during the period between 1946 and 1964.  This would make these baby boomers between 47 and 65


Source: U.S. Birth Rate – 1909 – 2003

At present it is estimated that there are about 80 million baby boomers in the U.S. today.  Because of their age, they are increasingly facing the death of their parents or their spouse.  This translates to a very big increase in the number of people who have or will be faced with the grief process.  The estimate of how many of these baby boomers who are currently suffering from grief because of the death or divorce is about 5 million.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from grief because of a major personal loss, wouldn’t it be better for them to seek out professional help.  It has been proven that this type of coaching, counseling or whatever you want to call it can help the person to deal with the grief process in the best possible way.  And if this results in this person being able to return to a productive, fulfilling and joy filled lifestyle, wouldn’t it be worth it?