Lisa Richards talks about how coping with grief lead her to reinvent herself in midlife as a Grief Recovery Specialist
Why do you do what you do?
I recall one of the first lines in the Grief Recovery Handbook is where the author John W James advises that “no one wakes up one morning and decides to make grief their life’s work!”
I too very much feel that this is a place I have been drawn to through personal circumstances and the journey I have made, rather than actively choosing to be a Grief Recovery Specialist. Nevertheless I feel very much drawn to it and consider I have found my purpose in life which is something many people never achieve. In summary I am here to serve and support people who are struggling with the emotional pain of life after a loss whether it be through a relationship break up, divorce, redundancy or bereavement, etc.
Having been through so much loss and grief in my own life and come through it, I feel that I can empathize with people in a way that makes them feel comfortable and safe. It is a gift that I hope other people appreciate, but it only really works when people are ready willing and open to letting go of the pain they may feel and moving forward.
Why did you wait until you did to start doing it?
What is amazing and almost a revelation to me is that at the start of 2017, I’d never heard of the Grief Recovery Method let alone thought I’d be teaching and supporting others through the pain of life after loss. I was and still am an Urban Designer who wanted to make a difference to the quality of people’s lives through place-making. However throughout my life, I’d been looking for a way to let go of my own personal grief and fortunately after much searching, I had the sense to recognize that this educational program could help me when it came along.
I also promised myself that if I ever got to a point where I felt better about what had happened to me, I would try to give something back and try to help others as I had been helped on many occasions. After much procrastination, I left my public sector job in April 2019 to set up my own business to help people who might be struggling with grief and loss in whatever form that shows itself.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
To raise awareness of the need to:
- Speak more openly about grief, loss and death to improve overall mental health and well-being generally
- Dispel the myths of grief that keep people stuck and unable to move forward after loss.
- Highlight there is a way of recovery that is effective and is available now if only people knew about it
- Reduce the stigma of loss and fear of being judged
- Help people see that it is possible to have a happy and contented life after a major life loss.
If you made a change in your life, how did you make that change? What or who helped you?
In June 2017 I attended a well-being at work event where I met a Grief Recovery Specialist who talked to me about the reasons why she became a specialist. As she told me her story I burst into tears and realized we had made a connection on some level which persuaded me that there was something of value I needed to explore.
I simply chose to do the Grief Recovery Method because I felt like I had nothing to lose but everything to gain and so it proved to be the case. I also decided to train to be a Specialist myself because I realized that if it helped me let go of 30 years’ worth of grief it could help lots of other people too if only they knew about it?
How do your family and friends react to what you do?
Initially a little skeptical that I wanted to do this, but willing to go with it as they have seen how much it has been a change very much that has benefited them as well as myself.
Has your life changed having gone down this path, if so how?
Yes, I now think, dress and look very differently to how I did; gone are the black clothes that I used to wear to in effect “blend in” and disappear into the background because I felt lonely and not good enough. These days I only dress in bright colors that lift my complexion as well as making me feel happier and more energized. I have changed my outlook on life so that I now believe it is very much for living and we should enjoy every moment of every day if at all possible.
I am very mindful and aware of how I am feeling as well as actively working on my relationships with family and friends, whilst I have ups and downs like everyone else, I am on the whole much more contented with what I have rather than focusing on what I don’t. I am also grateful for the opportunity to be pursuing something that I never thought possible, which is a little exciting and scary all at the same time!
What advice do you have for women considering something similar?
I would recommend the Grief Recovery Method to anyone whether they’re suffering with a painful memory, regret or guilt about something they have done or has happened to them, be it redundancy, relationship break up or bereavement. The program helps all of us to understand more about what grief is and why we often feel stuck and unable to move forward because of it. Once aware, we are better equipped and can build emotional resilience to help ourselves when things change or the worst happens. In terms of training, I think it is really up to the individual whether they want to do it, but if you are already on a profession that is aimed at promoting mental health and well-being whether it be in therapy or counseling etc then it is a great tool to have in your toolbox.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
This year I heard from a gentleman who I met and took through the Method last year, mainly because he needed the help and I needed the practice. Having successfully completed the course, he gave me a lovely testimonial, but imagine my surprise and utter delight when he got in contact recently to say that not only had he met a new lady, but he is now engaged and couldn’t be happier. That to me makes it all worthwhile…….
I remain inspired because every time I think that may be this isn’t working so well, something happens out of the blue which suggests otherwise. It is also interesting, that the more I talk about it the more inspired I get which is odd when you think that most people try to avoid talking about the awful things that happen to them, but what I have found is that those are the times you learn most, you dig deep 7 somehow you find the strength and courage to fight on.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
At 50 I realized that if I was going to do something with my life I’d better do it before it was too late and I’d regret not doing it! So having reached this age, almost 53 now, and experienced the epiphany that was Grief Recovery, I decided to just go with what I wanted for a change and see what happened. I like the freedom this new direction has brought me and the opportunity to reconnect with myself and my family. 2019 was a great year for us albeit a little stressful at times, but we have discovered that we like just hanging out together and having fun whenever we get the opportunity…..
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
Very little really other than going through menopause and not being in control of my emotions and not realizing the effect I am having on those around me. It always feels like such a slap in the face when I get taken to task over what I think are very innocent comments sometimes?!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
Ooh lots of things…..
- To just be myself, that was good enough…….
- Not worry like I did albeit it was hard not to with such an anxious mother.
- I wished I could have seen being different as being a gift rather than isolating and feeling like an outsider.
- You were lovely and beautiful even if you didn’t feel like it
- Not to be so judgmental
- Question my parents more as they didn’t always know best
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
I’m learning all the time and reading lots of books but the best lessons I’ve ever learnt is never give up and to ask for help if you need it as most people are willing to give you a little time when you are struggling with things. Also there is lots of help and advice out there for free if only you take time to look and chat to people plus pay for any expertise you are unable to learn or administer yourself, I have an accountant and it is money well spent.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” used to be the one I used to say to myself all the time albeit I felt like I had the biggest strongest character ever at times ! However the one that resonates with me most these days is to “be the change you most which to see in the world” which is what I am trying to do and take inspiration from now on……
Which woman do you most admire and why?
This is a tricky one really as I never felt like I had any real role models growing up albeit I looked up to my Mum and although she tried to leave us and this world when I was 19, I am still very grateful to her for all that she ever did for me, not that I really ever realized. In terms of business, during my work as an urban designer I came across a lady called Alison Peters. She was a consultant who always looked amazing, I admired her for her intellect, her calmness and confidence as well as her ability to be able to think on her feet which I felt I never could. I also have to say that wearing brightly colored lipstick was one of Alison’s trademarks which I have shamelessly “borrowed”!
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
Yes that I appear confident, when I’m not!
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
The Grief Recovery Method:
Originated in the US and has been in existence for over 40 years. In the UK, Grief Recovery UK is the overarching organisation that administers and licenses the programs of which there are currently 4: www.griefrecovery.co.uk
- 1 to 1 support program
- Group support program
- Helping children with loss
- Pet loss program
The program is delivered one hour per week for an individual or two hours per week for a group and although it is best done in person, it can now be undertaken online with an Advanced Specialist.
The program is a “roadmap” for recovery which equips individuals with the necessary tools and builds emotional resilience going forward.
It is a structured, educational program which has been scientifically proven to be effective in recovering from loss.
It allows you to remember the people or things you might have lost without the emotional pain and move forward with your life.