Veronica Slater faced the horrible tragedy of losing her husband while a young mother. She shares why grief doesn’t neatly fit into “five stages.” Veronica and Emily also offer strategies for helping you and your kids to grieve in a healthy way.
- “I know that we are beings that are wired to be connected to one another. So when difficult things happen such as profound loss, our instincts are to connect to others. Our instincts are also to help others carry their burdens. And right now it is extremely difficult to do that.” – Veronica Slater
- “As parents, it’s hard to know the right way to help our kids because none of us have faced this before and parents are going through grief and loss right alongside kids.” – Emily Melious
- “Grief is not a logical process for people and people don’t experience it in the same way.” – Emily Melious
- “Grief is not a linear process. To be quite frank, it’s a very messy process because we are messy, we are messy beings.” – Veronica Slater
- “The reality to me is that time does not heal. The only thing that heals, I believe, is love and how we invest our energy and how we connect to other people.” – Veronica Slater
- “I would describe grief and profound loss as a permanent void that we carry within ourselves.” – Veronica Slater
- “Be brave by being vulnerable.” – Veronica Slater
- “It’s almost like when you have to look for hope it can sometimes be hard, but if you stop and you love, there’s always, always, always something to be grateful for. And if you’ve got gratitude, then I think there’s just bound to be joy.” – Veronica Slater
- 1:26 – Why grief is an important topic
- 4:18 – The five stages of grief really don’t fit
- 11:27 – Grieving in front of your kids
- 14:21 – Do we ever stop grieving?
- 14:49 – Writing about grief
- 18:36 – The solution for grief
- 21:55 – How do we move on after a loss
Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.
[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Everyone happy new year. I hope you had an awesome holiday celebration. I really enjoy the downtime with my family, but here we go. We’re rearing up for a new year and more awesome episodes.
[00:00:31] Today we’re joined by Veronica Slater. She was a primary French immersion teacher for 10 years. She is now a Kolbe consultant and a Kolbe youth specialist. She engages her clients so they understand who they are naturally by providing context, validation and answers so that they can shape a purposeful, rewarding and successful life.
[00:00:53] Veronica is also the author of My Father’s Kite and she is presently raising four wonderful teenagers, which that has to be a busy house with her spouse, Mark in High Park, Toronto, Veronica, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
[00:01:08] Veronica Slater: Thank you for having me, Emily.
[00:01:10] Emily Melious: Sure. We’re admittedly going to talk about a heavier concept today, but an important one as we’ve been talking about… grief. I think is more on our minds than ever.
[00:01:26] It just coming out of 2020 and all of the difficult hands that we were dealt in that year, and that we’re still working through. This feels more relevant than ever. But before we dive into that, I want to understand why grief is such an important topic for you.
[00:01:45] Veronica Slater: Well my family unfortunately, had to go through, the loss of my husband. So the loss of my two eldest daughters dad, and this happened 20 years ago. Back then, you know, we’re just on the cusp of, being connected, with the internet, right? It was just about to happen. I lived in a small community with my two kids and, isolation felt real.
[00:02:11] It was very unusual for a young family to lose a spouse and a dad. And so, our family also from, for the most part lived far. And it was difficult. It was difficult to navigate, first of all, a disease that was, terminal and difficult to deal with. He had ALS, and so mobility was a huge issue.
[00:02:35]And so that’s when we went through our loss on those really difficult for me to connect with people that were going through the same thing. Now, interestingly, fast forward, 20 years later, I see huge correlations between what we were going through back then. And what is going on right now with, the pandemic, with our COVID reality, we are in Ontario, Canada, presently, and we are in lock down.
[00:03:03]Again, isolation feels very real. And, I think I know that we are beings that are wired to be connected to one another. And so when difficult things happen such as profound loss, our instincts are to connect to others. And our instincts are also to help others carry their burdens. And right now it is extremely difficult, to do that.
[00:03:32] So I think that, the story that I wrote for my girls so that they could connect to something bigger than themselves over time, and also between church connection between ourselves, is still very, very relevant.
[00:03:49] Emily Melious: So different right now. So as parents, it’s hard to know the right way to help our kids because none of us have faced this before and parents are going through grief and loss. Right alongside kids, but we might be grieving the loss of different things as well. So this is just a difficult time. And to your point, when we instinctually draw closer, in many ways, some of us are legally prevented from doing that.
[00:04:18] So it’s just hard. But one of the things that you really opened my eyes up to, I was surprised by this because it went counter to what I’ve always been told, but at the same time, it was so obvious to me once you, well, you talked about it, but you shared with me that the five stages of grief that we’ve all been taught.
[00:04:39] Really doesn’t fit. It’s kind of goes along with the Mothers of Misfits podcast, which is for kids in a one size fits all world. And this five stage programmatic. Okay. You hit stage five. You’re done. Move on. It’s not a one size fits all thing like that. It’s not that clean in it really doesn’t. Grief is not a logical process for people and people don’t experience it in the same way.
[00:05:08] And that’s so huge because that’s not at all how I’ve ever been taught about it. It was always shared to me, like it’s a formula. So can you talk more about why those five stages, formula or construct
[00:05:23] really doesn’t fit in what grief really looks like?
[00:05:27]Veronica Slater: Again, I think that, grief is a very personal journey. And so what I will say about what I’ve learned for myself and my family is that grief is not a linear process. To be quite Frank, it’s a very messy process. because we are messy, we are messy beings. And what I’ve learned is that, I didn’t live through specific stages, you know, like sort of a list that I could check, Oh, I’ve gone through this check.
[00:05:57] I’ve gone through that check. It was more like a bag of emotions that could be served to me on a daily basis. And then, you know, Well-meaning individuals loved ones, you know, try to help. I think things like, but, you know, time heals and waiting and seeing a base. And the reality to me is that time does not heal.
[00:06:20] The only thing that heals, I believe is love and how we invest our energy and how we connect to other people. And so I would describe, grief and profound loss as a permanent void that we carry within ourselves. And it sounds negative, but it’s not. I think what we actually become really good at over time is co-existing with it.
[00:06:51]When do you emotions land, I’m sure there’s a lot of people that can relate to this are having a great day and you think that you’re doing just fine and then you get in your car for some reason. For me, it’s often the car and it’s probably because I am literally in a bubble and I’m not disrupted in any way. And then there’s like a song that will play in the radio and that just triggers, know that this is where the land, the bag of emotions lands on. And, I could feel sad or I could cry, but I think what time actually does is it helps you recognize when.
[00:07:28] When your grief is ambushing you and it’s just out of nowhere just comes at you. And so now I’m just a lot better at taking a breath and saying, yeah, you know what? This is my sadness. Here’s a reminder of what was lost and here’s a reminder of how much I missed what I had. And so, yeah, I drive along and I kind of visit with these feelings. I choose to sit with them as opposed to not. And then I just thank them for being there. And that’s say see you later. And I move on. does this make sense to you? It’s almost like a way of connecting with what is deep inside of us and validating it. And then just gently moving on.
[00:08:17] And at first I think I used to be ambushed like that at the supermarket or in the car, different places. Now it tends to after 20 years it’s happening more around, birthdays and Christmas celebrations. Right. And I honestly don’t think it’s going to go away and I’m not even sure that I want it to go away.
[00:08:39]I want to keep that I want to keep the connection. Perhaps not the deep sadness, but, i’m not sure that it’s something that we can prevent or even control.
[00:08:50] Emily Melious: So I’m hearing a three-step process in what you’re saying. First is that acceptance piece being open to feeling the feels, so we say. And allowing yourself to experience the emotions that may ambush you, or they might even come in quietly but
[00:09:10] Veronica Slater: Right.
[00:09:11] Emily Melious: Opening the door to them.
[00:09:13] Veronica Slater: Yes and they need to be acknowledged.
[00:09:14] Emily Melious: That those, and then, right. So in the step two seems that acknowledgement that identification of, I am feeling sad. I am feeling loss. This is grief and calling it what it is, which feels validating, because that is an experience that’s legitimate. And we’re going through that. And then the third part that I’m hearing you say that honestly feels the most surprising and probably the most difficult is gratefulness.
[00:09:43]You even said, say thank you to the feelings and I’m thinking, gosh, I don’t know that I want to be thankful for grief, but. I understand what you’re saying in the sense of that is our connection to that person or that thing that we lost out on. And it’s a recognition of how important and valuable that was to our lives.
[00:10:08] And I think it’s, grateful that at one point we didn’t have the void, right. We didn’t have that hole in our heart. It was full from that person or that experience.
[00:10:17] Veronica Slater: Right. It’s almost shedding light to what was lost. And so I think that it’s important to do it. It’s important. It’s important to do it in front of our kids and for our kids. And to be honest, i’m not sure that I did that enough. I continued to maybe not do it enough for them, or I guess. As a way of demonstrating, like what can be done and what is totally acceptable.
[00:10:43]But I think that as parents, we tried to keep it together. We want to be in control. We want to make sure that they know that they’re safe and that they’re okay. And they’re not being parented by someone who’s completely out of control and in distress. Right. And so I think that my natural instinct at first was to keep it together.
[00:11:02] Right. And having these moments on my own and then support them as they were processing working their way through the trickiness of grief. My two daughters, are now, young adults and they’re terrific people. I do believe that they have a certain wisdom about them that they might’ve not had
[00:11:27] Emily Melious: So if the wrong way to grieve in front of our kids is to hold it all in privately. What’s the right way to grieve in front of our kids.
[00:11:36] Veronica Slater: I think it’s to be brave by being vulnerable. Right. We hear a lot about that these days. You are leading them. And so it is important to show your human side and show, you know, what is difficult and how you’re trying to work through it. And again, I think that through COVID we have had to do that many times, right.
[00:11:58] We have had to adjust and pivot quickly and we have had to, support our children through that as well, because they are deeply, deeply affected by this.
[00:12:10] Emily Melious: Yeah, and I think it’s important to recognize that. Grief is not only for the loss of a loved one. And not only in death, our kids are experiencing tremendous loss, loss of connection, loss of unity, loss of the senior year that they were looking forward to lots of that graduation ceremony that didn’t happen the way they thought it would.
[00:12:36] Loss of a typical freshman year of college, loss of going to school every day. And there’s so much emotion around that and sadness and loss. And is that not just as strong as the kind of grief that we can have around the loss of a loved one?
[00:12:59]Veronica Slater: I think it’s very similar. I think that one of the things that we are collectively mourning is a sense of normalcy, right. And that happens all the time on a daily basis. and so it is very, very similar to what I experienced 20 years ago. And so this is again, why it’s so clear to me, what is happening to all of us?
[00:13:21]I think of the people, my heart goes out to the people that have lost family members and friends to COVID because, in my case, we had a chance to prepare for the loss of my first husband, because, it was a chronic illness was a terminal illness. And so, you know, we grieved different losses along the way.
[00:13:41]For people that lose loved ones tragically or very unexpectedly. The preparation is a difference, right? when someone is sick, as in our case for five years, we had had time to, prepare for almost every single new challenge that we were handed. there are situations, a lot of them are happening right now where people are just not able to do, you know, to even have contact with the person.
[00:14:11] Right. So these are very, very challenging times and I believe that it’s going to remain challenging for a lot of us for a long time.
[00:14:21] Emily Melious: Do we ever stop grieving?
[00:14:23]Veronica Slater: I don’t think we stop. I think what happens is that it changes, it shifts. And so, as I was saying, the pain isn’t as sharp and the pain isn’t as constant. But we do feel it. The void is not really something that you can fill up. So we just get better. I think the best way I have of explaining it is you just get better at coexisting with it.
[00:14:49]Emily Melious: As I mentioned in the beginning, you wrote a book on grief for kids called My Father’s Kite.
[00:14:56] What led you to write this book?
[00:14:59] Veronica Slater: I think the first thing was this huge sense of responsibility I felt towards my children. I understood that I needed to sort of have a narrative that was healthy and that I needed to be in a good place most of the time in order to support them. And so I wanted to create a medium, that would help us… I want to say gathered together. That would be like a reminder of the things that, we could basically always count on regardless of where we were at in terms of our process, in terms of our days. I wanted to remind us of the things we can always count on. And I guess those are, love the bond and the connection that we have to each other.
[00:15:44] And that helped me explore traditions, that are family traditions or group traditions. that allows us to connect and be together. And so I wanted to create this medium, tell this story, where we could find these elements. And of course I wrote this for my kids, but really I was the one benefiting from processing all of this.
[00:16:07] And so I started to see the story in my head and it kept revisiting. It became more and more clear. I could see the images, I could see the storyline. And one day, I just wrote it down. The story talks about a family, but it explores, something that I wanted to share with my kids.
[00:16:28] I wanted them to be able to attach themselves something bigger than themselves. And so nature is of course a great medium for that, because nature very much as our life works in cycles. Right. And so there was a time for everything in nature. And because there’s a cycle, nothing lasts forever.
[00:16:48] So there’s a lot of comfort in being found in cycles. And even, periods it’s like our winter, for example, that are isolating and dark and difficult are also a great opportunity for introspection and connection.
[00:17:03] Emily Melious: Point for families that are wanting to have dialogues about loss. I know your book is being used in therapy right now for profound loss. So we’ll make sure that we share with listeners how they can get a copy of your book to read with their kids. Is there a certain age group that the book is targeted towards?
[00:17:26] Veronica Slater: Not really, I don’t believe so. I think it’s used for different groups, because there are illustrations that almost tell a whole story. that kind of runs parallel to the storyline. They can be adapted to work with different age groups. And there is a little lady bug, that it’s hidden in the images.
[00:17:47] And, so, even young kids can look for this lady bug and kind of, explore what’s going on in this story is like, almost like a little focus point or a point of interest, I guess I would say.
[00:18:00] Emily Melious: Oh Cute. Well, that sounds like it is a great way to engage every family member and have a productive conversation about a really tough topic that honestly, a lot of us might avoid talking about just because we don’t know how to even start that the conversation.
[00:18:14] Veronica Slater: And, you know, the lady bug also forces people to look hard into what’s in front of them. And so it’s almost like when you have to look for hope, sometimes be hard, but if you stop and you look, there’s always, always, always something to be grateful for. Right. And if you’ve got gratitude, then I think there’s just bound to be joy.
[00:18:36] Emily Melious: Wow. That is such a powerful thing you just said. I’m just letting that set in. And I’m thinking, is that the antidote, is that the solution for a family struggling with grief? Is it gratefulness? Is it reflecting, stopping, looking hard for hope. That might be hard to find, but is there.
[00:19:03] Veronica Slater: Right. As long as you’re not denying your potential anger or frustration or disappointment, as long as you’re able to get past that it, or you’re able to even just acknowledge it, right. You’re able to say, you know what? This really sucks. This is not fair. This is making me angry. Right? And then when you let that sink in. I think the only way to move past things is to sit with them for awhile.
[00:19:28] And then when you’re past that, then you say, yeah, you know what? It could’ve been so much worse, And then you just kind of start connecting the dots and seeing well, but all there, there’s all this beauty to be found. There’s all these silver linings. I think that 2020 in many ways, has gifted us with that collectively. Right?
[00:19:49]Emily Melious: And as you said, grief is very isolating and very lonely. And while we are in many ways, very physically isolated and have been over the last many months. At least this is something we’re all experiencing together. no one has been untouched sadly by the pandemic, but in a way that is a good thing in the sense of, we all understand.
[00:20:19] We’re all there and we can all appreciate that we’re going through something difficult. And I’ve seen because of that, people give more grace in their families, in their work places at their schools. I really do see the, to your point, silver lining of humanity and relationships.
[00:20:44] Veronica Slater: Almost recognizing what really matters it’s brought us, down to thinking, okay, well, these are all the things we still have, and this is what really matters. I’ll give an example. So when my husband was confined to a wheelchair, leaving the house could be really tricky.
[00:21:00] Right. We couldn’t visit anyone unless they had a ramp. I mean, one, step could keep us away from gathering with others. And so. Our home was really a sanctuary was really the place we’re safe and we had everything we needed to function. And again, I think that collectively, we are all experiencing that.
[00:21:24] So our space or personal space has become really important. and so giving thanks for what we have, we might have had to adapt a lot of those things that we had to make them work with our new reality, but as long as you’re still have those things, and as long as they’re still able to function, even if it’s extremely difficult, it could always be worse.
[00:21:46]Emily Melious: It all comes back to acceptance. acknowledgement and gratefulness. I love that. I can remember that. That’s great. Veronica, how do we move on after a loss?
[00:22:01] Veronica Slater: This is interesting because again, it’s really personal, right? So you have to kind of see where you’re at and what feels right to you and your family personally. I wanted children because I really wanted a family. And so we, although my husband was sick, we went ahead and had two girls. ‘ could not imagine myself back then, carrying on without my kids and my family.
[00:22:27]Having said that, within two years of my first husband’s passing, I was remarried and very happily remarried, and that was a huge surprise. It’s like for myself, it was not something that I had planned. It’s just something that happened very naturally. And so I guess, there’s, again, a lot of advice that’s given to people that have lost someone.
[00:22:48]There’s also some judgment as well. You know, you’re moving too fast or too slow. I think people just need to follow what feels right to them. And not underestimate, how big our hearts are. You know, there is room for more people. Just like, you have one baby, when you have a second one, you love them just the same.
[00:23:09] Right. Or our hearts are bigger than we think. And there is room to grow, and foster what is it that we carry inside and our ability to extend. And I think that the people that come into a family that, has grief, the profound loss… kind of also marries into that loss. And so it is important to acknowledge because that void and that, loss continues to be part of everyone’s life within that new nucleus or within that new family.
[00:23:44] And so, again, don’t underestimate how big our hearts are. We are able to accept and we are able to embrace and we are able to love big, I guess.
[00:23:54] Emily Melious: Oh, what a beautiful thing to think about in that way and what a great reinforcement of the fact that again, grief is not one size fits all. Anytime we think that every human being fits into a neat little equation or formula or box, I think that’s where we start going down the wrong path and we create unnecessary pressures for ourselves and for others.
[00:24:20]Veronica Slater: In our line of work, the one thing we really truly understand and believe is that we’re all unique. And when you really believe that you understand that people are not replaceable. So, you know the love that you carry for someone when you love someone else, it’s not replaced, it’s not thrown out. It just co-exists. And it’s beautiful because it’s there.
[00:24:43] Emily Melious: Yeah. And that is life. That is what life is all about where there is joy and happiness and elation that co-exists with grief and loss and sadness and pain,
[00:24:55] Veronica Slater: It will never be black and white. It has to co-exist. That is, I believe what makes us human.
[00:25:03] Emily Melious: One doesn’t replace the other. What a beautiful picture.
[00:25:06] So Veronica, thank you so much for helping us to find the silver linings in a difficult time that everybody is grieving in one way or the other. I appreciate your wisdom and sharing your personal story. That was, an incredibly difficult one.
[00:25:21] Thanks again.
[00:25:23] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com