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5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change

Q&A with Emily Pardy, LMFT, PMH-C, CEO & Founder of Ready Nest Counseling


Grieve Intangible Losses. You lost more than just the person. You lose future memories together, you lose naïveté that bad things can actually happen to anyone, and all the expectations that go unmet from the plans you’d hoped for. Many times, people are surprised by who shows up for them and who disappears after a loss. This can be incredibly hurtful, and is usually due to a lack of knowing what to say or how to help. Our culture tends to avoid uncomfortable situations, and loss is certainly uncomfortable. When people you love become distant, it’s yet another layer of loss you have to process.


The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job


Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Emily: I grew up on a farm in the middle of Kansas and moved to Los Angeles at 17 with aspirations in filmmaking. Years later, I met and married my husband. We had a great experience in pre-marital counseling and decided to talk to our counselor again before starting a family. After becoming a mother, I saw how valuable that step was for our relationship and wellbeing. I wrote my book, For All Maternity, out of that experience and decided to go back to school for my degree in counseling. Today, I am a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and founder of Ready Nest Counseling and Empty Nest Counseling in Nashville, TN where I reside with my husband and four rambunctious daughters.


Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Emily: I like the quote that “the only difference between failure and progress is perspective”. Life is full of risks! It’s risky to love others, to have children, to start a business. But, with risks comes rewards in tangible and intangible ways I could never plan for. I continue to grow and learn, and do my best to let life’s detours progress me forward rather than hold me back. If your perspective can hold grace for your mistakes, then you can’t fail.


In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you thrive as a therapist so much?

Emily:


Empathy.


Empathy is both an intrinsic human quality and a honed skill. I’ve always felt the emotions and stories of others deeply. Sitting one on one with someone in their darkest moments, in their most vulnerable states, is such an enormous privilege. Whenever I hear from a client, “I’ve never told anyone that before,” I feel a reverence for the space I can hold for them in that moment. It’s a sacred task to feel someone’s pain and help guide them through their journey.


Confidence.


People need reassurance and validation. I can speak with authority and confidence because I’ve seen what they haven’t. I’ve seen people move out of loneliness and into fellowship. I’ve seen people repair relationships, deepen communication, and climb out of depression. So, as an outsider to their story I can confidently express the hope they so desperately seek. My confidence in therapy can be leveraged into the beliefs they have about themselves. When they come into my office, they feel like shells of their former selves. In helping them see hope, setting small goals, and paving a road towards healing, they can “borrow” my confidence until they find their own. It’s a beautiful exchange.


Humor


Let’s be honest, if you don’t like your therapist you won’t trust or believe them! I find humor to be a fantastic tool in creating an environment where everyone is comfortable. I remember one session when halfway through a session my client looked down and gasped, “Oh my gosh, my shirt is on backwards! I’ve been walking around all day with my shirt on backwards!” As she proceeded to slink her arms inside and swap it around while we both laughed hysterically. You need to be able to laugh if you expect your clients to feel open enough to cry or feel any other deep emotions.


Do you feel comfortable sharing about your own dramatic loss or life change?

Emily: In the fall of 2017, my husband and I were trying to conceive our fourth child. After 7 months, we were elated to see the pregnancy test turn positive. Having three prior, healthy pregnancies, we were looking forward to the first ultrasound. Sure enough, a healthy heartbeat and normal sonogram confirmed we were due in July. Since it was near the holidays, we decided to announce the pregnancy that Christmas. We told our three daughters, bought gifts for our parents that would reveal the big news, and made a fun social media post to let everyone know.


My next ultrasound was at 13 weeks, and I was very much looking forward to moving beyond the morning sickness of the first trimester. My husband met me at the doctor where they informed us that they were running late. We waited and waited, and finally we got taken back to the ultrasound room. We waited some more and I could tell my husband was getting worried about being late for work. I looked at him and shrugged, “Go! This is no big deal. You won’t miss anything, I promise.” We agreed he’d been away from work long enough and I’d call him as soon as the appointment was over.


Fifteen minutes after he left, the doctor finally came in and started with the routine in-office ultrasound. It was quiet. It was too quiet. It was too quiet for too long, and I knew something wasn’t right. I don’t remember the doctor’s words exactly, but I couldn’t see the sweet flicker of our baby’s heart any longer. “Do I need to call my husband?” I remember the words felt like bricks falling out of my mouth, and the doctor nodded. By the time Josh made it back to me, I had already had another ultrasound that confirmed the miscarriage. We named the baby Brave, and still miss that baby every day.


What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

Emily: The scariest part of our loss was having to go home, tell our little girls about the loss, and wait until I either started bleeding or for the D&C two days later. What people don’t understand about miscarriage is that it can take hours, days, or even weeks for some women. Some women have the choice to wait for their bodies to “naturally miscarry”, others need induction by medication, and others have a surgical procedure called a D&C (dilation and curettage) in which they are put under anesthesia and wake up not pregnant. There’s no good or “right” option. For myself, I was terrified of seeing the fetus. I had an image in my head of a sweet little baby and I didn’t want that image destroyed by the carnage of a miscarriage. I started bleeding the next day, but I was able to make it to the hospital in time to receive a D&C and recover at home.


How did you react in the short term?

Emily: I was in shock. I truly couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was the therapist who held this pain for others, not myself. I had led a loss group for years, helping parents who had suffered miscarriages or infant loss. I was the giver, not the receiver, of hope and healing. Yet, here I was, completely drowning in sorrow and pain, and physically recovering from a medical procedure that was the only remaining evidence that I had ever been pregnant.


After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

Emily: I’m so fortunate to work with the population that understands the pain I was suffering. Knowing all the local birth resources in the area, I was surrounded by love and support immediately. What helped was sharing my story, being open about my loss, and then accepting the help that came pouring in. It’s so much harder to be the receiver than the giver. Also, now that I had gone through what so many of my clients had, I was able to channel my grief into a whole new level of empathy for others. I share Brave’s story openly so that we can turn the tide on the stigma of miscarriage and loss.


Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

Emily: I don’t think it was until months after losing Brave that I was able to talk about it without intense grief. Just a couple months after our loss, I became pregnant again with our Rainbow baby (what you call a baby born following a pregnancy loss). So, I was truly terrified and fraught with anxiety until the day I held her in my arms. Carrying a baby after a miscarriage is the bravest thing any woman can do, in my opinion. But, that experience helped me let go of grief and grow the capacity to love again. It made me reflect on the moments I did have with the previous pregnancy and acknowledge that Brave’s story couldn’t be summed up in the bad ending. No one can take away from me the joy I felt when I saw the positive pregnancy test, the elation on my children’s faces when we told them we were pregnant, or the relief of seeing that first ultrasound. I can hold these sweet memories forever, and it helps me balance the grief with the joys we experienced as well.


Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

Emily: Grief includes anger, and oftentimes people try to diffuse or avoid that emotion. But, not all anger has to land in resentment or bitterness. Anger can also steer us towards advocacy and passion. So, I was very intentional about using Brave’s story for empowering or educating others about miscarriage and loss. I remember hurtful and insensitive comments following our loss, phrases women hear all the time like, “At least you know you can get pregnant”, or “At least you already have children”, or pretty much anything that starts with the words “At least…” So, now I’m able to hold on to the spark of anger in my grief that teaches others how to speak and openly dialogue sensitively about loss.


Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

Emily: I’m forever grateful to my daughters, though they were little they kept me grounded and moving forward through that time. I’ll never forget the day we told them. My husband went and picked them up from school and they walked in the front door. Matilda, my oldest who was 8 at the time, came right up to me and asked “Did the baby die?” I nodded and she embraced me. Somehow, she just knew. My story is not unusual either, I’ve heard multiple accounts of little ones asking about loss babies their parents hadn’t told them about. There is something beautifully supernatural about these connections, and it is truly sacred to witness.


Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation?

Emily: I am so fortunate to be in a position to help others through this. It took me a while to come to terms with this, however. I had led loss groups, I had counseled many couples through miscarriages, and I honestly felt like there was no way I could possibly empathize more or learn anything new about the experience. I was as close to it as I could have been without having actually experienced it. And then, it happened to me. I couldn’t reconcile what “lessons” were left to learn. Why did I have to actually suffer through this when I already knew how valid of a loss this was? What good could come from me losing a baby when I was already doing what I could to bring awareness to the topic? I don’t have a satisfying answer for that. But, I think that’s equally important to share.


Loss is loss, pain is pain. We can’t make sense of it all the time. We can’t find reasons or lessons that justify it. I’d give up all the knowledge and empathy I have to just hold my baby. However, the loss doesn’t have to be futile either. This is the harder, bigger lesson. I had to shift my perspective from trying to solve this unsolvable problem to accepting it. I had to change from viewing this experience as wholly purposeless to an unfair exchange for worthwhile meaning. I couldn’t change what happened, so I might as well use it for good.


Can you explain how you did that?

Emily: Sharing about Brave and opening up about the pain of my loss allowed others to step out of the woodwork and express their own stories. We see this happen when celebrities are vulnerable, yet we underestimate the value of our own stories when something tragic happens to ourselves. No one else could hold my pain or feel how I felt about my baby. Instead, showing that it was okay to feel what I felt and how difficult it was helped normalize this emotion for those around me. I also poured into the Loss Community with this new found energy and compassion I hadn’t experienced prior. Prior to my loss I could host meetings or groups, but now I was actively participating in them.


What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

Emily: Peace is not something you can achieve, it’s something you have to accept. As a high achiever most of my life, I’ve always relied on hard work and dedication to reach a goal. Grief doesn’t work that way. You can’t run down a checklist of emotions and cross a finish line. In fact, the idea of “closure” had to be completely debunked as I learned to accept this newly grafted part of myself that would become part of me forever. Grief flares up, it towers over you, it washes away, and then hits again with relentless unpredictability. I had to learn that peace was accessible to me at all times, but not because of anything I did or deserved. The power of bringing purpose to your narrative and seeing it positively affect others is invaluable. Just share your story. It matters.


Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change?

Emily: Don’t compare. I remember sitting in loss group that I was leading and hearing the stories of other couples who suffered a stillbirth or the loss of twins and thinking to myself “My God, my story is nothing compared to what they went through,” and I had to really practice what I preach when I tell my clients that pain is pain and loss is loss. We don’t get to decide what tragedies are worth grieving or how trauma devastates our lives. So, learning to just accept that I’m in this “loss club” with so many has helped heal and normalize that for me.


Grieve Intangible Losses. You lost more than just the person. You lose future memories together, you lose naïveté that bad things can actually happen to anyone, and all the expectations that go unmet from the plans you’d hoped for. Many times, people are surprised by who shows up for them and who disappears after a loss. This can be incredibly hurtful, and is usually due to a lack of knowing what to say or how to help. Our culture tends to avoid uncomfortable situations, and loss is certainly uncomfortable. When people you love become distant, it’s yet another layer of loss you have to process.


Basic Needs. It may sound so simple, but things like eating, drinking, sleeping, and showering become incredibly taxing when your emotional and mental health is on overdrive. Know your weak points and ask for help if you need it. Many people need meals prepared or sleep aids following a loss, so don’t compound your suffering by neglecting these basic tasks.

Anniversary Reminders. Lots of people show up in the first few weeks. People react to the initial loss and that’s wonderful. But, then the “year of firsts” starts and people forget. After my loss, Mother’s Day was forever changed, the baby’s due date came and went, Christmas didn’t feel quite complete, and so on. Tell someone who cares what dates matter to you and ask them to text or call on those days. You don’t have to bear that alone.


A New Normal. There will be a day when your loss feels distant, when you have a moment of forgetting what happened, quickly followed by a wave of guilt. This is normal and upsetting. But, guilt doesn’t help us heal, it only keeps us stuck in what we think we “should” be feeling instead of acknowledging our present need. Now, I realize that I can reframe that “forgetful” moment as a comforting feeling of familiarity. I’m so familiar with this being part of my narrative, I don’t need to be constantly reminded of it. It’s like after you get married, you notice every time you’re referred to by your new last name. Now, being married for 15 years, I never blink at being called Mrs. Pardy. It’s who I am. It’s familiar territory, as is my miscarriage now.


If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Emily: Make therapy normal.


Talk about uncomfortable things and talk about talking about uncomfortable things! The freedom and relief I see in the faces of my clients is all the proof I need to feel how important it is to create safe dialogue and space for vulnerable moments. In our society, grief is considered something to move on from or overcome. Instead, we very much need to learn how to incorporate, tolerate, and cope with it. Therapy shouldn’t be something you wait for a problem to decide for you if you need it or not. This life will come with loss and conflict. Finding someone to share that journey with is an essential part of the human experience.


Originally shared on Medium


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If you find yourself in need of professional help, don't hesitate to reach out to us and schedule a session. Our dedicated team at Ready Nest Counseling is here to help you navigate life's challenges and transitions with care and compassion. Whether you're experiencing difficulties related to conception, pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, loss, parenting, or relationships our therapists are ready to support you. We offer both in-person and virtual therapy. Schedule a therapy session with us today and take the first step towards a healthier you. Ready Nest Counseling also offers support groups for loss and infertility. Remember, you don't have to face it alone – we're here for you.









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