Holding Space for Grief: Loss and Finding a New Normal

By Jennifer Alumbaugh, LMFT

I’ve had a few, what I like to call “Job years” in my life, those seasons when the hits just keep on coming and I’ve barely recovered my breath from one loss while I’m learning of the next one.

I had my first Job year when I was 8/9: my parents got divorced, my favorite kindred Aunt passed away, my childhood best friends and neighbors moved away, I moved to a new city and school, and my mother got remarried. That year—actually, that all occurred within a nine month span—left a lot of gaping holes in my 9 year old soul, and aged me a few decades as well.

I went to a support group for kids who experienced loss of a parent via death or divorce and met a friend with whom I became close and stayed friends over the years through high school and a while beyond. She had lost her father to cancer. We talked about loss and grief and connected over understanding the kinds of things at our age many other kids didn’t.

“Be with those who also are grieving. As you tell your stories, you will share an understanding of the heart that is deeper than words.” –Karen Katafiasz

After college I moved to Texas to be a foster mother at a youth ranch. For the first few months I lived in a staff house and was on a 4-day rotation in a house for middle-school age girls. Six months after I moved my life to Texas, I and a few other staff members lost everything in a fire that consumed our living quarters. It was a different kind of loss—of things, material possessions—no people were hurt or killed in the night time blaze. But it left a scar that I still feel today, when I forget and look for that one shawl my grandmother gave me, or those photos from college, or the first quilt I ever sewed. The Red Cross voucher couldn’t replace those things.

Six months after the fire, I was parenting in another home. This time on my own in a house of eight high school aged girls. The girls had just given me my first Mother’s day that Sunday, complete with wildflowers picked on the walk home from church and grilled cheese lunch they insisted on making me and hand written cards. May 15, 2002. Wednesday. Two of my girls and one of the boys from the other house borrowed a friend’s car, skipped afternoon classes, and drove into town. I was told they were going so fast they died on impact, in an instant. That weekend I buried three children in three days.

Last year, I lost several family relationships including contact with my young nieces and nephew who I came to Waco to help raise during my brother-in-law’s deployment. These bonds were severed due to the effects of my brother-in-law’s Narcissistic abuse and other toxic power and control dynamics among family members.

My life has been marked by some profound circumstances of loss and grief. While there have also been extraordinary joys and life scattered throughout, I began learning early on that there is no returning to the way things were, there is only moving forward, with the pain, to create a new normal.

“There will come a time to remind yourself of your reasons for living. You have a future worth enduring for, and you deserve to find a renewed sense of purpose and pleasure in your life.” –Karen Katafiasz

What that looks like is different for everyone. Around the world various cultures and beliefs have a vibrant array of ritual, ceremony, and celebrations to remember the dead, to honor those who have crossed over before the rest of us. For some, solace is found in spiritual practices and the comfort of faith beliefs and communities. For others, peace is sought in living out legacies of those passed on. Some grieve loudly, with wailing and heaving sobs unbridled. Others sit Shiva, quietly contemplating, in their homes. Some wear the clothes of mourning, muted solemn hues; others don vibrant colors celebrating lives lived, joys relished, with light and music and laughter.

death livingSome losses are private, secret, taboos whispered about in hushed tones and behind closed doors. Some losses are splattered across front-page news, a community outrage, a public nightmare unending. Some losses are respected, others are judged, some are shamed, others are “good-riddanced.” But every loss is someone’s. And I believe we must hold space for death—of a person, a relationship, a dream, a hope, a moment, a creature, an identity—in order to continue living.

If you’re like me and you’ve survived a loss or three or many, you’ve also endured the onslaught of usually well-intentioned but so often hurtful sayings and prescriptions shared by those on the outside of our suffering. In retrospect I can appreciate their good intentions, but in the moment, those words strike as swift and deep as arrows and their aching effects can linger for a long while after.

The truth is, there is no right or appropriate way to move through our experiences. The process, as much as our experience, is unique to each of us. What resonates with one, rubs another uncomfortably. What nourishes one, may set back another. There is no timeline, no expiration date, no ordered and linear path out and past grief. We grow familiar with it. Accustomed to the weight and shape of it in our lives. And around this reality, we begin piecing together a new us, a new life, a new rhythm.

tangleElizabeth Kübler Ross gave us some language for discussing loss with her classic Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), yet many of us—professionally and personally—have come to realize that 1) there are many more than five parts and 2) they seem more like facets or stations at which one may visit multiple times along their journey through loss and grief. Personally, I find myself looking much more like the depiction on the right than any kind of neat, discernable, or graceful movement. (Picture source).

While there is no one formula for expressing grief, there are both healthy and unhelpful ways of coping with our feelings in the wake of loss.   As a therapist, life coach, friend, and fellow mourner, I have sat with people of all ages, beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds through some of the darkest moments in life. I’ve sat with myself through them. In my experience, the most harm we can do is to ignore the feelings and to avoid talking about it. I know. It is scary and difficult and painful. Sometimes our losses shake and shatter everything we have come to believe, and in our grieving, we must rebuild what was razed to the ground.

I also know the beauty that can come from sharing the process with others—in therapy, in coaching sessions, in support groups, in creative outlets—we may find that in those moments when we feel we have been left with nothing, our words offer a light and a hope to another. And out of nothing, we find, a resilient something. There can be profound healing in a validating, “me too” of another sitting with us on our mourning bench. If you are finding yourself in this place, whether it is with a pastor, rabbi, elder, priest, counselor, life coach, friend, support group, mentor, therapist, or other trusted ally, I encourage you to seek the companionship of others along your journey through grief, loss, and finding a new normal. It is one path you don’t have to walk alone.


Jennifer AlumbaughJennifer Alumbaugh, MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist providing clinical and professional development consultation services at Enrichment Training and Counseling Solutions. She has extensive experience working with adolescent and adult survivors of psychological and spiritual abuse, trauma (sexual violence, childhood trauma, interpersonal violence); and complex PTSD. These, along with grief and loss work are her areas of specialization.  Jennifer practiced as a mental health clinician throughout Los Angeles County working with children, youth, and their families from 2007-2012. In Central Texas, Jennifer has worked as a Site Coordinator with Communities in Schools of The Heart of Texas at G.W. Carver Middle School; as an independent consultant and professional development trainer; and conference speaker. In 2016 Jennifer created an implemented a therapeutic creative writing program, Brave Young Voices, at Klaras Center for Families and at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department correctional campus at Mart, TX.  She may be reached at: jennifer@enrichmenttcs.com or 254-405-2496.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Financial Freedom: A Personal Approach

(Note: This is the first installment of what is intended to be an on-going series on financial literacy. Two of the Prosper Waco goals have to do with accumulating wealth: (1) Reduce the percentage of Waco-area households living without three months’ worth of savings if they were not able to work. (2) More than 50 percent of Waco households will have a net worth above $15,000. Our hope is that this series will help move our community towards accomplishing these goals both by sharing information about some of the challenges, complexities and practicalities of managing finances. — ABT)

by Phil Oliver

I write this blog NOT as a financial advisor but as a Financial Coach.   The difference is not about money, but about relationships.  As a coach over the past 8 years working with hundreds of individuals as well as churches and non-profits, I have observed many financial patterns both healthy and unhealthy that continue to impact valued relationships in peoples’ lives.   Some of these patterns contribute to financial freedom, others to financial bondage.  So, I offer to you in this blog series, my personal approach to helping promote financial freedom in our Waco community, as well as some of the observations, patterns, and choices I have seen that lead to financial freedom.

First, I must admit that this discussion will not simply be about money. Many components of a person’s ability to use money are bound and greatly impacted by the valued relationships in their lives.  This is why I am a Coach and not an advisor.

The idea of living financially free is indeed a universal pursuit; however, successfully arriving there is highly complicated because it is not really a hunt for more but an understanding of contentment.  This then gives birth to true freedom.

If I asked you, the reader, “How much money do you need to solve your financial issues?”    No matter how the answer comes out verbally, it is usually summarized by, “just a little bit more.”

This answer is ultimately the telling symptom of our society.

Many believe that money is the complete answer to freedom and happiness, but I have found, and try to lead others to discover, that contentment with money is the real issue and that valued relationships drive that contentment impacting their finances on many levels.  The guided pursuit of financial freedom then becomes a consideration, identification, and even discovery of patterns and choices in finances.

I have coached those are struggling just to make ends meet at or below the federal poverty, all the way to those who have substantial trust funds.  The underlying reason for their financial frustration is…wait for it…they spend more than they make.

As a coach, I do not give financial advice, condemn, or convince. I simply listen to their financial goals and stories and then share information and patterns for them to consider.

I intentionally reframe the whole budget approach because most households who are struggling with finances…and life…don’t believe they have anything to “budget.”   I call my approach for thinking about finances “FLOW.” My FLOW plan approach is totally dependent on the goal(s) that the person (and household) are committed to work toward to give them a sense of accomplishment with finances. I have consistently found agreement that they do have a FLOW of money and resources IN and OUT, and that right now something is NOT working for them.

My goal in a FLOW meeting is then to allow the “client” to authentically look at their FLOW and decide what they might want to change about their FLOW to achieve their current financial goal(s).

The entire process and conversation centers around the financial goal(s) for their household because of the relationships involved and the sacrifice that will be required of all participants once their REAL IN and REAL OUT is determined.

The secondary conversations occur after a deficit is found.  This usually gives way to a discussion over personal spending habits and then moving to mutual sacrifice rather than simply self-sacrifice on the part of one individual.   This is where EVERYONE in the household is encouraged to participate in the FLOW conversation and the process.  I have found this to be critical for future success!

Finally, the goal-driven discussion will ultimately lead to possible changes and action steps that could be attempted or practiced based on past patterns and habits. I share my personal experiences, research, and experiences of many others to give each client ideas and reasonable steps to consider taking toward their financial goal(s).  These self-determined changes then become the basis for their personal ACTION STEPS.  I then continue the coaching by encouraging them to courageously practice these steps and let me know how they work——or don’t work.  Both form the basis for continued, meaningful progress.

In my next blog, I will share how certain loans—payday loans, auto title loans, and even student loans—contribute to financial bondage for many in our Waco community.

Phil OliverPhil Oliver is a retired educator.   He is an independent Financial Coach, active mentor, and community activist.   He has spent the last 8 years empowering individuals and families to take charge of their finances through his FLOW system.  He is active in many community efforts to grow financial literacy and responsibility including Prosper Waco and Citizens for Responsible Lending.  He consults with many local organizations to teach and inspire their efforts to empower clients in personal finances.  You can contact him at:  poliver254@hot.rr.com


Why I chose to go to UNT

by Diego Loredo

Trying to decide what college to go is intimidating. While I was at A.J. Moore Academy, and later University High School, I never really thought about college and what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t until senior year that I actually started thinking about it.

Senior year was hectic, and it was hard for me to figure out what I wanted to do. My mind was filled with all kinds of things: paying senior dues, filling out scholarships, applying to colleges, and other things outside of school. I eventually decided that I wanted to major in journalism and be a news reporter. I’ve always kept up with the news and I loved to write so I figured it would be a good choice for me.

After I figured out my major, I ended up applying to three colleges: Texas State University, University of Texas at Arlington, and University of North Texas. UTA was originally my first choice and I was planning on visiting the campus, but then I found out about UNT Preview, which was scheduled for November. UNT Preview is an event that invites high school seniors to take a campus tour and explore the different facilities available at UNT. So I ended up going with my mom to take a campus tour. It was cold, but I fell in love with the campus and upon leaving I knew that UNT was the college for me.

For the rest of senior year, I was just preparing myself for freshman year. I filled out my FAFSA, I won the Brazos Education Foundation Scholarship, completed my dual credit courses, etc. Before I knew it, I graduated from UHS and was already starting my freshmen year at UNT. I ended up being roommates with a good friend of mine. That made it easier to get used to the fact that I was in college!

Freshman year flew by. I took mostly basics and journalism classes. I learned so many things about myself as freshman year went by. I made new friends, experienced new things, and have matured more. I ended up switching from news writing to public relations because I found out that news writing wasn’t really for me, despite being so excited for it in high school. Public relations is a lot more interesting to me, and to be honest I did it for the money.

Now I’m a sophomore living in an apartment with three other high school friends. I’ve taken numerous PR classes, I’m working with a nonprofit, and have been building up my resume to prepare me for after college. There’s only three more months before sophomore year ends, even though technically I’m a junior based on my credits. During the summer I plan on doing an internship, though I’m not sure where yet. My plan is to do an internship with FC Dallas, an MLS team that is offering summer internships for college students, but if that doesn’t work out then I will probably do an internship with a nonprofit in Denton or Waco.

Although it’s been an extremely bumpy road, I’m glad I chose UNT and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to go to college. It’s great for journalism and PR students as well as for engineering and music. I’m continuing to learn new things as each new day passes by and I’m just trying to enjoy every little bit before I start my career in public relations.

diego loredo - 2Diego Loredo is a sophomore at the University of North Texas. He is majoring in public relations. He graduated from University High School in 2014. Although he is still not quite sure what exactly he wants to do, he thinks he wants to work somewhere in sports PR (preferably soccer or college football). His hobbies include playing soccer and golf. He is 19 years old.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.