Grief bridge

Starts and Stops

For the last few days I’ve been wondering and wandering around how to get reconnected to you, my peeps of Navigating Grief while I honor the place that is my current life. Is my work in grief or is it after? Yes and Yes. I sit in this waning December and the approaching new year and I laugh and shake my head as the pattern of here I go again, I am excited and back on track smacks me in the face! Really? Can I do different in 2020? Why do I even continue the walk of this tale I seek to tell?

Two Years 

Synchronicity… the unconventional guide appears.

For two years I have been in an incredible shift during the US and global grief that shakes my beliefs to the core. It awakens my “Do something” or go hide. Externally forced changes –personal death of loved ones and devastating violence in our surroundings – are chaotic affronts about our own need to heal. In 2017 I penned a closely and still deeply held article titled Death and Grief for a Nation in response to the Charlottesville riot, deaths, injuries and murder of Heather Heyer (Aug. 2017). I reread it right after the Parkland Florida school shooting that killed 17, reverberated collective PTSD and forever etched us all (Feb. 2018). I returned to my own words again when I heard the thundering message “do something” in the eruptions of shared grief in Dayton Ohio and at the outrage of loss and empathy for the immigrant families at our borders (Aug. 2019). Yet in my heart’s outpouring onto paper, I have stay seated in my own little safe bubble under the guise of self-care, intergenerational healing and seemingly random studies and privilege about saving our earth, people and future. My mantra is to release it all “when the time is right,” whenever that time shows itself. Is the time approaching? I know; this is insight, no responsibility. Fear.

I bought a house in 2018 and began a major remodel that reflects just me, each choice uncovering the substance of what that might mean. Into 2019, I tore out the floors, the kitchen (heart of the home) and every door and baseboard. Each wall was wiped away of its history with new paint and color. During the upheaval and adjustments (and a local snow-mageddon), one of my brothers died. Two weeks later my first biological grandson was born. I was witness to human birth for the first time after experiences of being present for a handful of human deaths. Beautiful healthy new life entered my personal death month as husband, mother and a brother all have February exit dates since 2012, the progressive start into conscious Navigating Grief.

Starts and Stops

Start and Stop
My work in progress of blog to book editing. I apparently dropped the mock up of my revised business card on top while sidetracked.

I was recently asked for a business card (for his friend) so I passed along the one I currently carry with a tag line of “unconventional guidance after significant loss.” It is accurate. Yet, I know the grieving person to receive it is nowhere ready for that realm and is not going to call me. I should resurrect my old brand of card I thought. The one I have personally outgrown, certainly not professionally. I felt like I have failed to meet him where he is by the description of things, although I know this isn’t true should we come face to face. Thus, my uneasiness to ask myself is it “grief or after” care I want to offer? lurked under my skin this past week. Yes remains my answer because I have traveled way down the road and now double back. 

Two years ago, I left a retreat with a note in hand that said I was committed to “publishing my book” an internal lifelong must-do since I was 16! Moving from writing to publishing is a significant commitment. The blue-tape note on my wall in front of me says you have already written, edit-her! The step between writing and publishing is editing. In a long soak of printing out 250 pages of all my blogs weeks ago (my story documentation in the origins of Navigating Grief), the editor has finally shown up. Hooray! It feels different this time. This commitment is for my soul, maybe it will help yours.

However, Joan being Joan, I fall into my procrastinator’s rabbit hole of distraction (what are all those studies about anyway?) and I find myself updating and cleaning up my website – edit this too – since I might try to muster another newsletter outreach after this long absence. Then what? Will I disappoint (myself)? My distraction turned to creating a new business card which is the succinct outward message and visual for Who am I now? . Never mind that this house remodel and my self-indulgence completely obliterated most of my official business, as I sidelined ongoing communications and stepped aside from openly promoting this grief coach. Fortunately, just enough calls still come in. So yes, I can believe I am still needed, valued, remembered and keep my financial boat afloat.

The website update and the development of a new business card is a purging as much as any downsizing of house and boxes of memorabilia in a big move. I am actively remodeling Joan Hitchens and Navigating Grief in all forms! My overarching Whole-Being theory I expect to share going forward includes that our seeable Environment is a reflected alignment of our actions and thoughts. Do our inside and outside objectively match?  

Beyond Who am I  

I don’t want to be known as “widow” any longer, even if the word is threaded into my tapestry. Yet, I remain “a widow.” Although I have traveled past that title, I prefer to be noticed as one whole being. I know who I am now. Probably for the first time. Now, in what ways might I provide Hope from an unconventional life guided by the invisible that death asks us to articulate into meaningful form? How will I convey I sit in the depths, not live here, as I extrapolate the identity of widow and orphan for which you relate with me? The hold on and let go is what we all want and reject at the same time. In this process I painfully shut down my long-standing widow group because it was time to liberate our collective story as much as redefine our personal narratives. This might be my mission on our global grief as well: liberate and redefine.

I am showing up right now to throw my hat back into the ring, the circle actually. The circle is one teaching way to be together in spiritual and communal exploration together. The circle is the campfire of story and lives. The circle is the wedded band of eternal connection. The circle is a pattern of natural cycles – the seasons and tides and planetary movement of the universal life force. Yet if one sits in circle too long, the fire goes out. The circle needs abundant fuel. I urge a break into the closed loop circle to nudge it into a spiral path for growth. Unconventional. Mysterious. Questionable. 

So What?

I know there is a bigger shift and energy that supports me in going forward — people and commitment and movement of a global changing tide. It is shift of healing by knowing myself and my beliefs and trusting that we will all be OK in the chaos of personal and collective deaths, grief and loss. My shift is the edited version of Joan 2.0 that is ready to get back to publishing on my website, holding important conversations and reaching out from a heart and viewpoint of life impacted by deaths. Death of a loved one. Death and Grief for a Nation.

Now What?

I have no doubt I’ll have a few more Starts and Stops in this launch of the new version of old reliable thoughts over the next few months. The technology, including a change of platforms and communications and especially the uncontrollable algorithms of social media, are a challenge. My own patterns for following shiny baubles of permission to enjoy life and continued learning are a challenge! You are encouraged to connect with me in whatever manner you choose – directly, FB, and through upcoming opportunities as they are made available. You decide if and when the time or season is right.

I make no promises. My direction as writer is to articulate and share messages of love that is the life affirming by-product of facing deaths and grief. My offer as life coach is to hold forth hope in the possibilities that facing deaths and grief is a healing elixir not only for you, but in its resonance from you into the DNA of all societies. However long it takes, I hope you might stay with me on this journey and share your own along the way!

Nine Years and a Day After Thanksgiving

Ah-Musing Starts Here

Nine years ago, I penned my first personal journal entry that was published as Grief Reflection and evolved into Navigating Grief. It was titled Thanksgiving Morning. The words arose from my pain and heart and gathering of story as I faced the diagnostic reality of my husband Dave’s terminal cancer.

One of the most important questions for me after his death, and I recognize today for a survivor, for a widow, is Who am I, Now? This often formulates loudly in year two or three, post death. The profound loneliness, the emptiness, turns inward for the long proverbial labyrinth walk to come to terms of Self, health, meaning and consciousness. Well, that’s my story. And a story of many women I’ve met in their widow’s journey. It is a story of people in general as well: Facing emptiness into Who am I, now? after the death of a loved one who helped define the sense of who one has been. It is the story of emptiness which is confronted in other griefs as well without regard for what might appear on the other side of loss. 

Nine Years

Four deaths – Significant deaths. Husband. Mother. Step-father. Brother. In that chronological order.

Two moves – Downsizing. Three years living in a “55+” rental community. Now I am mortgaged into an urban single-family home – single-person home. Ongoing revisions and major remodel, decluttering, purging, shifting, resizing, hanging on and letting go… An aging woman with two aging cats!

One business – Multiple evolutions as I opened and closed opportunities and methodologies to connect and grow individually, together and through my own development that is a life and business of Navigating Grief.

Four surgeries – A patch to cover the hole of a bone in my head; Replaced both hips with titanium; Medically endorsed eye lift so I can see more easily what is in right in front of me. Four times under the knife in nine years, confronting the will-I-wake-up anesthesia, and releasing control to the surgeon to help me make life feel better.

Countless studies –Certifications, workshops, books, retreats, travel, teaching, vulnerable calls with friends, tears—oh my all the tears, and learning anger. Pushing, pulling and stopping. Shaping, molding and reconfiguring. Questioning, doubting, trusting.

One incredible birth. A grandson.

Who am I, now? Who am I?

Evolving the Lessons

The ultimate lesson, message and inquiry is How do I love myself? And, then what? What does it matter — literally, matter? In between, I always ask my favorite lifetime question: What’s the point?

I see the connecting dots in this short list for what I am here to offer nine years and a day later after that Thanksgiving morning in 2010. This is my Model for Whole Being, illustrated in the common three circle picture of balance.

The Body (surgeries and physical care), and the Mind (educational activities) seek alignment in the intersection of environmental surrounding (home and health).

The Beliefs (Why do I still exist?) and the Mind (consciousness) seek alignment in the intersection of language via questioning the state of human and spiritual worlds. Who or what is real? Trying on truth (at least, someone’s truth). Overcoming the fear to have an opinion and saying it aloud.

The Beliefs (I know who I am) and the Body (actions) seek alignment in the intersection of energy to manifest results into creation for change, as the response to an event of change.

At its center, the Heart. Whole Being is by design to know, feel and think through a universal abundance into the heart’s resonance of life itself.    

For me this model inspires my walk forward with open eyes, in consciousness for what I believe might help change the environment for the betterment of humanity!  I know deeply in every cell that I am not alone on this path seeking whole being and being well and doing good. Which in design, means neither are you.

Beyond to a New Readiness

Nine years later on this Day after Thanks-Giving, I ready myself to talk the walk to Who I am, now, and who I might continue to discover. Its inception was profound and significant loss. I offer my Self in what manifests through conscious meaningful and purposeful action. I dare me to share my story for how the initiating death of my husband is the “breaking of the shell which encloses my understanding” for choosing life (Gibran). In this outward musing I share my understanding that we all, each of us, are here to seek and share the many messages of love.

I tell you that understanding must begin with focus on you first as you heal your personal inner wounds of your own pain and hurt when death, grief and loss forces your wake-up to familial connection and societal inequality. I invite you to walk your own path of healing with the understating and hope that it also heals me. 

This is a parallel moment from a Thanksgiving Grief Reflection nine years ago into some Ah-Musing notes, light-hearted reflections on being in life after significant loss. Surfacing henceforth is my latest evolution, Joan 2.0, coined as my brother and I fought for healing conversations through tiny text messaging and icons during the waning weeks prior to his death.

grief breakdown

Grief Breaks Down

“I thought,” she said passionately. “‘Mother f%*kr, I can’t even kill myself because my life insurance lapsed!'” Then we burst into laughter.

It was after one of those breaking points. We were talking about an incident of the week prior. We were on the phone, she lives hundreds of miles away from me, when she announced that her car had just died in the middle of the busy road. Now long time friends, we regularly peer coach and deep dive into life difficulties, too often in brutal honesty. Often in deep pains. Joyfully in witness to absurdity that is Circling Life.

I’ve witnessed and coached and shared her grief through her former husband’s suicide and a divorce and a move across the states. She has pushed and held me through my own unfolding to find my true self through grief, trauma, energy healing, and losses as I support others in the same. This wasn’t the first side-of-the-road cry. Yet, this was especially significant as a moment of one of her own coaching mantras: What if a breakdown is a breakthrough? In fear of financial lack and prospects as she changes career direction, (what, another change and transition and loss transpired from the origins of her grief journey?) the additional cost of car tow and repair is the proverbial straw on her camel that carries her. A call from the car center a bit later revealed her confession of a storm of tears and spewed anger in public breakdown shown up with all sorts of woulda, coulda, shoulda regrets and pain for a deceased ex-husband. If only… Plus, another $500 out the window.


Does it end or go away? Who deserves this? Apparently, in the midst, the thought arises that she “can’t even kill herself because the life insurance lapsed!” Thank goodness for being a responsible mother to her kids!

Accountability and sense of Responsibility* can often get us through the next few minutes. In between there is the moment of recognition that life is what happens now and those stories are old stories still in shift. They rise again. In between these two conversations was the call the day after as she explained she had came face-to-face with the visceral emptiness of being utterly alone regardless of my long supportive stand in knowing. Even though she has people and family in town whom to call. In spite of her being in the lobby of a car dealership. Grief pain is a soloist journey. It appears when when it does. The space between her own breaths. “I really got it,” she said in grounded quiet. “I got what you say about the space that is my own deep emptiness alone. That, in the void, no one is here with me except me.”

I get this, too!

I have a personal history of cars stopping when I am in anxiety! I left two vehicles on the road once-upon-a-crisis on my way to see my husband Dave in the hospital. I am never without AAA car rescue.

More and more I recognize the energetic distractions that arise from our own excess energy as car batteries, alternators (her situation), or starters suddenly cease. One is forced to slow down. To become present. To deal with what is now. To ask for help. Or decide to help yourself. To figure out the next step. And how to get there. To review what happened or learn from what occurred soon after. It requires compassion for self to turn around the lashing of blame or the feeling as a victim. Thoughts of “if only” magic is a story designed to make the pain disappear. Minds return to yesterday for want of safety and familiarity today, whether that life was real or true. We are all raised on fairy tales of “happily ever after” in a foggy notion for how happiness actually feels. Perhaps happiness is the message to love what is right in front of you.

Instead of an external break down of things around us, the stoppage can manifest as a lack of energy on the body that shows up as depression, exhaustion, caregiver fatigue, illness or thoughts to crawl into a hole and die. It is a different vehicle and usually the phenomenon is of a slowing down into a stop, almost imperceptible until there is an obvious cease of connection to the environment of people and places.

Either way, here we are…. the ask for help and how to create movement in life. Like the Type of Death*, which can be sudden or lingering, it influences what actions you make in response. Your type of break effects your perspective. Your brain will dictate to fight, flight or freeze.

Stop in the moment then look forward.

As a coach, I have multiple perspectives of grief gained through personal experiences, client care and academics. There are simple (not always easy) practices available to support our responses and growth through loss, what we tell our self and how we hear what others say. For me, the only place to start is to understand your Here. Whether you are standing in the middle of a dangerous median or need lifting out of the hole of despair, we can all use some safe perspective and guidance. For most, grief is a doable journey along life’s path. When ignored or procrastinated those paper straws build up and the burden can become a break of the camel’s back.

When grief and loss are acknowledged as ongoing human experiences that shape us, life returns to center more quickly. Even for those in those very difficult unexpected loss or the grief associated with a chosen change. Even when there are fleeting destructive thoughts. Back into movement and flow. Into a presence for life as you know now. Recovery. The other side.

These days, the buzz in media for grief and life is a trend to be resilient. Resilience is built upon applying examined experience. It makes sense then, if circumstances of life stops you in your track, you are being asked to examine the experience. Long enough to gather your energy.

* * *

A few days later… After words. The trouble wasn’t the alternator and it didn’t cost $500. The diagnosis was: “We can’t find anything. We don’t know what happened. Something shut down the program and it needed a full recalibration. $199.” Recalibration! No, I didn’t make this up! This story is shared with permission, laughter and love.


*Type of Death and Responsibility are two of ten initial Influencers for Navigating Grief. Influencers are identifiable universal aspects of loss and carry weight not judgment as you move through your individual grief. They can hinder or support you in grief and loss awareness. For example, Responsibilities in you life can get in the way, such as you have to work more hours to provide for the family and therefore put grief on the back burner. Responsibility can also be your saving grace as dedication to family or purpose though work helps keep you active, connecting, and out of the hole of depression. 

5 Minute Coach’s Corner: Metaphors of Break Down

Simple questions and metaphors to shine a light on “Who are you now?” after loss.

When the outside world is a mirror to your state of challenge what is the metaphor? New sciences are showing that thought and language are activators to move energy and create action into result. If true, then what happens to or around us can be a reflection of our state of being. Agree or not, the concept is interesting to apply as a metaphor of life.

  • In the story shared here what might it mean to you to have the car break down?
  • What might be the significance of a battery vs an alternator vs a starter as the metaphor?
  • Can you think of a time in your life when the inconvenience of something breaking or an interruption was perhaps a response to the situation at hand? It usually is prefaced with, it was not a good time for… to happen.
  • With hindsight, was the moment and the outcome different? How does the passage of time change the story?
  • In this scenario, what was thought to be an alternator turned out to be a need of re-calibration. What happened to the metaphor now?

Navigating Grief Newsletter. March 31, 2018

TESC Garden blooms

Change. Of Pace.

I have to dare myself to do things differently. The dare is to not go into a long narrative of my linear thinking processes, the cathartic inner voice to written dialogue meant to share just how I step from here into there, or there into here, and eventually around to now for ahead. From wonder into optimistic hope. Already, this much explanation is the same old process through story!

Allow me to jump to my conclusion: I anticipated a review of cycles and nature and how death morphs into life, when what I want to tell you is I am tired of trying to get this newsletter out on the first day of the structured month. It is such a cluttered day of content shoved into the inbox because it is the named First. The beginning. Yet I always start discussion about the end for Navigating Grief!

Time and loss are intrinsically tied together with the calendar as one of the measures. Change starts the clock. We start at the end not the beginning. Today, I am starting from the end of the lunar cycle as I spring forward.

The pace of my thought and nature and consciousness is currently tied to lunar cycles. A year of experientials and study into indigenous and contemporary circles, rituals and cycles has taught me to follow a more natural tide of ebb and flow. Sending my thoughts to you with the New Moon each month – the movement into light from the harvest and compost of prior weeks and the seed for what is to come – seems more aligned to my processes to inspire your own growth after loss.

If I asked myself, I would be the last person to offer this seemingly new age display of ancient wisdom, but it is an actual well-grounded action of helpful self-care in my practices. It is highly documented that nature is a healer. We know to slow down to a conscious walk is healthy and calming. We’ll see if I feel less stressed by this timing and perhaps you will also recognize a change of pace!

Enough long text, here is my top-of-mind list of universal and human cycles for you to explore. I invite you to create your own narrative in terms for how your grief and loss ebbs and flows across time as transition and transformation.

Circles. Spirals. Labyrinths.

Past. Present. Future.

Months. Years. Seasons.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours.

Lunar Cycles. Solar Cycles. Planetary movement.

Holidays. Anniversaries. Noted dates.

Old trees. Roots. Sprouts.

Birth. Life. Death.

Seeds. Growth. Harvest.

Planets. Stars. Space.

Puberty. Fertility. Pause.

Breath. Space. Breath.

Old is new. New is old. The wheel.

Annuals. Perennials. Bi-annuals.

Predator. Prey. Escape.

What else?

In the quest of Who Am I Now? through widow and orphan losses I have had to forge new relationships with nature, thought, heart, spiritual energy, body and trust. I have come to appreciate I am who I am, and my direction is to share more of this unconventional guidance for your own discovery and peace through grief and loss. If you’d like my support, dare to reach out.

Peace and warm breezes as we tilt into more light in the northern hemisphere…




Navigating Grief Newsletter. March 17, 2018

Paradise Ridge Winery CA Love

Sustainability of Happiness

Once again, at least for my moda operandi in life and work, I have written half a dozen stories in my head and I sit here with a whole new thought to share!

Having just returned from time with my ailing 89 year-old stepfather at the side of his hospital bed in the apartment I last saw my mother alive… Well, you can imagine ghosts of grief rattling around my thoughts. The time was more palatable than painful. I felt the aching reminiscent of caring for Dave, unanswered questions for my mother, wonder and awe for what lies ahead for my stepdad, and also delightful memories all rolled into one long weekend.  Yet, I want to focus on what is ahead. The HOPEHang On Possibilities Exist – is the future view I prefer to reside. Read more

2017 Year: Return to Self

I am a relentless optimist. Perhaps this is one reason I am comfortable with bereavement. After devastating circumstances and change I believe and know life can be full of love, hope and peace. My reality is that I am emotionally stronger and healthier and more confident than when those I have loved greatly were alive. I appreciate this may be impossible to comprehend and may reverberates as “I can never” in your own mind and body. It’s unimaginable in early, raw grief. It seems like betrayal. This is why I stand in hope and offer a future vision of life after deaths! Grief and loss have taught me. Healing is about rectifying the lessons underneath the pain. My summary concludes that the message is always love and your healing heals me.

During the last ten years professionally I’ve come into my own evolution and thoughts on how to move forward with loss and which tools can help through grieving. I recognize the important whole journey through body, mind and beliefs for adjusting to the transition after loss – Navigating Grief and the longer, deeper transformation into Who am I now? I call Circling Life
Read more

Time of Grief: Seasons and Cycles

I’m pondering cycles this morning along with the Autumnal equinox. This is a day of balance: an equal time of light and dark given our perspective of Earth to Sun. My ruminations arise from mindfulness and meditation, both which attune to the present moment. These practices take cue from the natural world, for sure. Being here now is one of the best methods through grief – and life – in my opinion.

I am exploring the healing aspects of community circles, group dynamics, Feng Shui, Earth elements, and chi energy. I am giving nod to the astrological influences on the patterns of our energetic life. What’s old is new again as most of these practices are ancient!

Outside to Inside Cycles

We just moved through both a solar and lunar eclipse, five planets “in retrograde” and the equinox, plus two full moons slated in one calendar month. The big word is transformation! I am also reviewing human development and change theorists as I fine tune how these processes align with my Heart Wholeness model for moving through grief. Growth cycles and circles keep coming up for me — from mandalas to birth/death. I find there is no shortage of metaphors for cycles. There are seasons, butterfly stages, calendars, story and chapters, anything in nature, really. That’s my thinking, intellectual side talking about cycles.

My feeling and emotional side says September is a big re-cycle time of the year. My wedding anniversary and late husband’s birthday are obvious grief dates. I slipped by with little concern before or during with just some family notation of Dave’s birthday. Funny, I say late husband. One, it is a weird term! No other death has this language. But two, it is a contextual aspect of my relationship. I find myself referencing, reminiscing and sharing memories socially with a sense of past life; like childhood references. Back then…

The Cycle of Relationships

Recently asked if I am single, I responded widowed, but wanted to take that back. It’s years now. Years! I didn’t really want to explain myself in this term, especially to a stranger. Single? I didn’t like that answer either. It wasn’t about my status or availability to a potential mate; this was really an innocent and casual question of life. What I noted from this exchange is that the cycle of this relationship is over; not necessarily the relationship itself. More importantly, my active grief is over. I wasn’t detached, as in putting up a defense for coping with grief; I was detached because sorrow doesn’t have a hold on me. It was that memory of back then.

Yet, I still have memory respond when we return in a cycle of this season: School. Football. Fall weather. Holidays. It is as much a visceral memory as it is habitual response. Shift the clothes closet, make comfort foods, plan for the fallow months of winter.

And Back Around Again

Yes, holidays. For my work cycle, I ponder all the people who are starting the itch of anticipating the holidays, as well as those who don’t know yet about new unknown losses that will become associated with “this time of year.” Seasonal cycles. I re-cycle the articles and thoughts and support that comes with someone experiencing the universally predictable stresses of new, first, second and ongoing grief and loss. Cycles. This literally comes and goes every year.

Does Grief Cycle?

So this question came up: Are there grief cycles? I expand on my thought from last month that there are two so-called stages of grief: transition and transformation. Isn’t that the cycle of growth? (I propose everything else is theory application, method and tools.) I can digress into the distinctions of transition and transformation easily but I will leave that for another article. Instead, I offer this idea: The cycle of grief is different than how long grief take.

How long does grief take? is one of the first and most asked questions after loss. That answer is about time, a period measured by the clock or calendar. Linear. Human thought and measure. What if we consider grief as a cycle? Circular growth of change, transition, and transformation? Now it is nature, a feeling, a sense of time not time itself. Now you come into the present, the physical body of being here now and what grief is like for you today. The journey through grief and into your life of well-being is to find balance or harmony among the constant change. The big change is a death that brings you here and continual incremental changes of living through that transition period into your transformed life.

Go gently forth. After all, the light and dark of Earth and Sun only come into equality twice a year. The other 363 days are in constant change influenced by all sorts of other universal pulls.

Energy Flows

Decades ago, after the birth of my daughter, I engaged in the first of my how to workout at home activity. It was a VHS tape to “walk off weight.” In the 45-minute daily regimen the happy, energetic leader would proclaim as the scenery out her staged window would change to rain: “no matter what the weather you are here to just keep moving.” Living in the rainy Northwest, this attitude and mantra rings true today. I’d often hear this repeat in my head when facing a dreary day. Read more