Grief: Creating a New Relationship

We have all experienced grief. Listen in as we reframe how to think about losing someone that we love, admire or respect.



Nicki Kirlin, Jenna Fortinski

Nicki Kirlin  00:01

Welcome back. Yes, whoo. Another episode. Yes.

Jenna Fortinski  00:06

I’m so excited to be here. How are you doing, Nikki?

Nicki Kirlin  00:09

I’m pretty good. Thank you and you. I’m good. I’m

Jenna Fortinski  00:13

excited. We have some projects in the works behind the scenes. So I’m excited about that.

Nicki Kirlin  00:19

Yeah. And should we share with our listeners what we have going on? Maybe tease them a little bit?

Jenna Fortinski  00:25

I think we can give a little tease. So we’re working on a project of doing interviews with people. That is going to be based around breaking the stigma of mental health.

Nicki Kirlin  00:39

I think it’s a really relevant topic for what’s going on right now in our world in a general sense. Yes.

Jenna Fortinski  00:48

So I’m excited for to get that out there. There’s a lot of work that has to go on behind the scenes. So I’ve been busy doing that. Awesome.

Nicki Kirlin  00:56

Okay, I’m looking forward to that. And so, while we’re waiting for that to come out, yes,

Jenna Fortinski  01:02

we will talk about a new topic for today, which is grief. Yes. An interesting but very tough subject.

Nicki Kirlin  01:13

Agreed. So should we let’s start then where we always start, which is with a definition. So do you want to tell us what your definition of grief is? Jenna?

Jenna Fortinski  01:24

Yes. So in keeping true form to our sessions, we’re going to talk about grief, this episode is going to be specifically around the grief of losing someone in your life. So just to be clear, that there’s lots of other forms of grief. So some of those forms are around job loss moving the loss of a pet, or the loss of relationship or perhaps a lifestyle change. So there’s lots of different types of grief. But when we talk about grief, in this episode, we’re talking specifically about the loss of someone, and what happens to a person mentally and physically during that process.

Nicki Kirlin  02:04

Okay, so let’s just dive right into it, then can we can we talk about what is? I mean, I’m sure we’ve all probably experienced grief, or the loss of someone at some point. But let’s get specific about what does it feel like? What does it feel like to go through grief?

Jenna Fortinski  02:22

So like I said, Before, I think that there’s definitely a mental component and a physical component. So when we talk about the physical component, I would say that sometimes the features are similar to what we’ve talked about in the past in terms of the anxiety features. So some of the symptoms that I’ve experienced, and my clients have experienced our, you know, difficulties concentrating, you know, feeling like you can’t be as productive as you typically would be in your everyday life. Just feeling like there’s something kind of hanging over you, and you’re just not functioning well. So, and again, like physical stuff is, you know, maybe a tightness in your chest feeling like, you know, you’re, you’re worried all the time. So I think that there’s definitely an overlap in terms of physical and mental symptoms, when we talk about grief. And so what I’ve noticed in my private practice is that people typically come to me when they get to this stage of, you know, I’ve noticed an interruption in my ability to perform my everyday daily tasks.

Nicki Kirlin  03:28

So would you say that it’s something that you see, commonly?

Jenna Fortinski  03:33

Definitely, I think that when people enter therapy, it’s usually, yes, they acknowledge that they’ve lost someone, but they’re also having these other symptoms. So typically, there’s a little bit of a disconnect in terms of what the impact of losing someone is having on their life, right. But there are definitely times where people come in, and that is, the one thing that they want to talk about is that they’ve lost someone significant in their life. Well, and because it’s such a big, it’s such an impactful event.

Nicki Kirlin  04:05

Right? And to you, it’s something that you can’t ignore something that you can’t push away. Yep. As much as we try to. I mean, often, I think that’s probably a common experience, right? Where you just say, I just need to get over it. I just need to move on. And then I’ll be happy. And I’ll you know, and I’ll be over it. Yeah. Right. Is that even possible to ever truly be over it?

Jenna Fortinski  04:25

Well, I lost someone very important to me a very long time ago. And I don’t think that I don’t foresee you know, ever getting over it or moving past it. I think that I have a very specific philosophy in terms of how I see grief happening in people’s life. And I think that this rhetoric that people develop about, well move past it or get over it is not really something that should be expected of people. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  05:00

You’re teasing us a little bit there. I feel like there’s something else coming.

Jenna Fortinski  05:03

Yes. There is okay. Like always. Okay,

Nicki Kirlin  05:06

so we’ve talked a little bit about what it how we define it and what it feels like. Okay. The other thing that we often think about, we think about grief are the stages of grief, because I feel like that’s so commonly known that there are stages of grief. So do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Jenna Fortinski  05:24

Yeah, so there definitely is a theory that came out a while ago, from somebody named Elisabeth Kubler Ross. And she developed a theory about grief and saying that there are specific steps that people go through when they experience grief. Since the time of her releasing that theory, it’s been kind of, you know, question in terms of its accuracy, and whether it’s really applicable to everybody. But I think it is important to mention what those stages are that she identified, because I think that, and what the research has shown that that definitely people experience all of the stages, likely, it’s just that maybe it’s not in the order that she had outlined. So some of the stages that she outlined were denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. So those are kind of the stages that she had said that people would go through when they experience grief or loss.

Nicki Kirlin  06:22

Okay. And so you’re saying then that maybe is that fully accurate? Or is there another way to view it then?

Jenna Fortinski  06:32

Well, I think the research so not me.

Nicki Kirlin  06:36


Jenna Fortinski  06:36

let’s be clear. The research has said that, yes, people typically go through those stages, but maybe not in that order. Okay, it can be in a different order that compared to what she identified, and the way that I listed them are not in the order that she identified riser. So it’s important for me to say that,

Nicki Kirlin  06:56

yes, so what what would you say then, are the key sort of aspects of, of grief, like when a person is going through grief or processing it? What are the things that we do want to look out for?

Jenna Fortinski  07:11

I think that, from what I’ve learned, you know, again, from personal experience, and both with talking with clients is that, you know, grief is, it’s going to be different for everybody. So you’re going to have different reactions, different, you know, timeframes of how long you’re grieving, the intensity is going to be different, and the emotions you experience are going to be different. So really just highlighting that deep grief is a very individual process, and it’s different for everyone.

Nicki Kirlin  07:44

Okay. And I think that makes sense, because it is such a personal event. Yeah, you can’t possibly sort of use a paintbrush and brush broad strokes over every person is going to experience it in this way. Or it’s going to look this way, even when you were talking about the symptoms, too, right. Like, those are very individual experiences. So I think that’s, I think that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. Okay, so then how, how do we, how does a person process it? How do we move through grief? We know we’re never going to get over it. We know it’s going to be a lifelong, likely a lifelong, lifelong experience. That doesn’t mean that it has to be negative,


right? Yes, definitely. So

Nicki Kirlin  08:29

what can it look like then?

Jenna Fortinski  08:32

So obviously, like, there’s going to be a lot of different theories on this. And there’s going to be a lot of different approaches on how counselors or professionals would manage people’s grief. And I think it’s important for me to say that when I talk about the strategies that I would suggest, or things that I’ve given to my clients is that it really truly is coming from a place of, you know, what I’ve experienced in my life and what I’ve seen clients go through and just giving strategies and tips based on that. I think that the overarching theme around grief is that like you said, it is a very negative experience. And I think that there definitely is a component of grief that is negative and I think that it should be negative because it is a true loss in your life. However, like you said, I don’t think it needs to be a life long negative component to your life. Okay. So I think that my general opinion of how to move through it, which I love you using those words because I live and breathe with moving through. Yes. So important living with Yes, working with Liang through his I really like to think of this the process of grief as building a new relationship with that. person.

Nicki Kirlin  10:00

Okay, tell me what that means. What it looks like,

Jenna Fortinski  10:06

I think when we Yes, when people are on this earth, and we’re able to see them in the physical form, we have a certain type of relationship with different norms that have developed within that relationship. When someone passes or we lose somebody in our life, it is up to us to establish what that relationship is going to look like, ongoing. So the key is, is that just because someone has passed or we’ve lost somebody in our life, it doesn’t mean that that relationship has ended.

Nicki Kirlin  10:36

Okay. So can you give me some examples of what that looks like on a practical, maybe daily basis? How do we actually practice that?

Jenna Fortinski  10:45

Yes, so I’ll give you a personal example. Okay, is I’ve lost somebody that’s very significant to me a few years ago, many years ago, I guess, in 2007. And so for me, I had to make that decision to establish a new relationship with her. So for me, what that relationship looks like today is I have a beautiful picture of her on top of my dresser in my bedroom. That’s right before the entrance to my bathroom. So my relationship with her now looks like every morning when I get up, and before I walk into the bathroom, I look at her, give her a nod and say, Hello, every morning. I also have a relationship with her by usually when I’m driving in my car, and I’ll think of something that she’s done or something that she’s said and just acknowledge that she’s a part of my life. So, since 2007, that’s been my ritual with her is finding a way to incorporate her into more of the patterns of my everyday life. And I think, you know, sharing that with clients, and helping clients to discover ways that they can incorporate the person that they’ve lost in their everyday life really helps to honor what that person brought to this earth, and what that person brought to their life.

Nicki Kirlin  12:10

Right. So that you don’t get that sense of I have to go on living my life without them. It’s actually more about how I continue to live my life in this new way. Yeah. In in this new relationship, like you mentioned, yeah, totally reframing the way that you think about the loss. Yeah. So it’s not actually a loss.

Jenna Fortinski  12:29

Yes. It’s, it’s a new step in the relationship. And the beautiful thing is that you are the driver in that relationship. So you decide how much or how little that person is a part of your life. And I think it speaks to the importance that that person played in your life, and also what’s going on for you in your lifetime at that point. So there for me, like, there’s been times in my life where life has been busy, and I haven’t followed through on every part of my ritual. But then always go back to it. And they’ll be like, Oh, I need a dose of her. I need her my life or something has happened that I want her to be a part of. So I’ll acknowledge her to bring her in on a part of my life in that way.

Nicki Kirlin  13:14

It’s a relationship on your terms. exactly how you want it. Yeah. And how it works best for you. Yeah. It’s a really positive way of looking at it, I think. Yes. Yeah.

Jenna Fortinski  13:25

So I think when we lose someone, you know, really thinking about, okay, so how do I establish a relationship with that person? Now? How do I make that person a part of my life now? I guess they’ve left the physical world, but I can still make them a part of my life as much as I want to.

Nicki Kirlin  13:43

Okay, yeah, that’s excellent. Yeah. So what about this whole part of the puzzle around, usually when we encounter the loss of someone who’s really important to us, or that we love dearly? It’s overwhelming in terms of the emotions and the feelings that you have? I mean, and you go through sort of a rollercoaster of feelings, and a sense to Yeah, what do we do with all of that?

Jenna Fortinski  14:11

So I think what I’ve learned, again, in personal and professional life is the most important thing is take time to feel the feelings. So to really sit with, like we talked about the five stages that Kubler Ross had identified to really take the time to dedicate to each one of those emotions or the many others that we can experience to really dedicate the time to feeling that and sitting with it, because like we’ve talked about in our other episode about anxiety, is that if we avoid those feelings, sometimes they’ll get bigger than what they need to be and then it becomes a little bit of a black hole like we identified last time. Yeah. So really taking the time to feel the feelings helps to lower the anxiety around feeling those feelings.

Nicki Kirlin  15:09

What does that mean? Does that mean that I’m sitting in my room crying thinking about this person? Or what is like, what does that look like?

Jenna Fortinski  15:18

What do you need to do? Yes, okay, do it. And so I’ve been as practical with my clients, as you know, set a timer, set, you know, set a calendar reminder that, you know, every day at three o’clock, you are going to sit for 10 minutes and just feel what you need to feel. So that day, it might be anger, it might be extreme sadness, it might be extreme loneliness, it might be, you know, depression, or, you know, full on denying that, you know, this has happened, or full on awareness that this has happened. So if you need to actually set aside time, and if you need to do it three times a day, if you need to do it once a day, once a week, just really setting aside the time to acknowledge that those feelings are there and to sit and to feel them. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  16:13

That, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I can see how making time for that is important to avoid it becoming this massive burden that you carry around with you. If you’re always sort of avoiding it or denying it, as you mentioned, right.

Jenna Fortinski  16:30

Yeah. Okay. And I think that it’s important that, you know, like, when we talk about feeling the feelings, I also want to let people know that, you know, some strategies to get out of the feelings, because just because the alarm has gone off at 10 minutes, it might not be as easy to just shut it off. Right. So some quick strategies to kind of shut it off and to transition back into maybe getting back into your workday or getting back to your schoolwork or being getting back to being a mom or a dad. So quick strategies are, you know, splashing cold water on your face, going outside for some fresh air. So just kind of really changing the scenery so that you can get your mind back into what you were doing before.

Nicki Kirlin  17:10

Okay. Your It sounds like you’re almost coupling it with practice practices of self care. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s and it can become a part of your self care routine.

Jenna Fortinski  17:22

Yeah, definitely. Okay.

Nicki Kirlin  17:24

Yeah. Awesome. Um, okay, so then how do we know like, how does the person know when it’s a good time to talk about the grief piece? Do you even talk about it.

Jenna Fortinski  17:37

So I think the general consensus is, is that if you can talk about it, it’s great. So talking about it is, you know, either talking with loss or talking about the relationship that you had with that person when they were on the physical Earth. So really honoring maybe some of the really great moments that you’ve had, also maybe talking about some of the difficult moments that you had, talking about the impact that that person had on you. I think those are all very healthy things to do. I think there’s a time and a place for it. So really being aware of your audience, and being aware of what your expectations are in terms of response from the people that are around you. And just really taking your time in terms of being able to share that information and making sure that you’re sharing it with people that you know, can really value what you are sharing.

Nicki Kirlin  18:31

Okay? What if you don’t have anyone that can do that for you?

Jenna Fortinski  18:35

Then what do you do now? Oh, my goodness. So journaling. journaling is a beautiful way to capture the relationship that you had with that person to remember some of those memories, because as time goes on, of course, it gets harder to remember. So I’ve encouraged lots of clients to create some sort of journal that captures, you know, some of the really precious memories that you had with that person. Also, with technology, we have the voice notes that we can do in our phones, right? So you know, maybe saying out loud some of the memories that you have, so that you can capture it in your phone and keep it in the cloud or on your Dropbox, right? But just finding an outlet to let some of that stuff out and talk it out. So talking about talking things out is so therapeutic or writing things out is very therapeutic. So even if you have no one to talk to or you don’t feel like you have the right audience, there are ways to process your feelings by letting them out of your brain.

Nicki Kirlin  19:31

And of course, seeking professional help.

Jenna Fortinski  19:34

Yes, so of course, yeah, professional help is a great way to talk about your grief and to talk about that relationship and to really find what fits for you in terms of your grief process.

Nicki Kirlin  19:49

Okay. I think those are some really good, practical tips that we can easily implement into our daily lives. If we’re trying to work our way through this process, which is very emotionally charged as we, as we mentioned, yes. Okay, so I think that brings us to the end of our discussion today. So I’ll do a quick recap of what we talked about. And then I’ll hand it back over to you, Jenna to leave us with some parting words. So we talked about today the definition of grief, which we have said it can exist in, in in many forms. And today we were talking about specifically was the loss of someone who we loved or we hold dearly in our hearts. And, you know, another episode can be focused on those other experiences of loss that exists like job loss, or, you know, perhaps a relationship change or lifestyle change, we can talk about that in another episode. But those are forms of grief as well. We talked about what it feels like the different sort of mental and physical symptoms that we can often go through, and how sometimes it’s not always the presenting thing that we see when we are seeking help. Sometimes it can show itself in different ways. We also touched briefly on what we often hear about the stages of grief and how it’s not always typically fitting within that mold, that it is a very individual experience, and how we sort of work our way through it, because we know that we will never completely get over it. So we need to learn how to live with it. So and Jenna gave us some really great tips for doing that, which is one of the biggest ones is establishing a new relationship with Emerson. Anything else that I missed or that you want to touch on Jenna?

Jenna Fortinski  21:39

No, I think so the only thing that I can think of is really take your time and not feel pressured that you have to either get over or move through or be in a hurry with your grief process. So please take your time, put the the effort and the time into feeling what you need to feel and reach out if you feel like you can’t do it alone, because there’s lots of support out there. And, you know, as professionals, we’re happy to help and even just sometimes having family support goes a long way. So somebody that you really trust and somebody that you know can honor what you have to offer. So please do reach out if you’re feeling like you’re stuck. And but yeah, a big part of it is really just giving it time.

Nicki Kirlin  22:27

Okay, wise advice. Well, thank you so much, Jenna, for another excellent episode.

Jenna Fortinski  22:32

Thank you. So our next episode, we are going to be talking about socializing in an antisocial world. Ooh, that should be a good one, also known as a pandemic world.

Nicki Kirlin  22:48

Yes, exactly.


Yeah, very true.

Jenna Fortinski  22:51

So we will leave you with a quote today. And our quote comes again from Jody Picoult. An author. She says something still exists, as long as there’s someone around to remember it.