…feel your feelings and step through your fear-step by step;
…connect with a higher power or Source through meditation, nature, journaling, and other holistic activities;
…get the professional help you need so that you can move through the grief, and consciously step into your journey of life;
…surround yourself with people who can assist you in the way you need them to.
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.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathleen Elle.
Cathleen Elle is a transformational speaker, intuitive certified success coach, master healer, author, and podcast co-host. By assisting people to move through layers of pain and trauma, and to break limiting beliefs, she revolutionizes lives. Her book, Shattered Together: A Mother’s Journey From Grief to Belief — equal parts inspirational memoir and practical guide for those struggling with loss of any kind — is a #1 bestseller on Amazon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Certainly. My life got off to a rocky start, with my early childhood marred by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. My birth father was a violent alcoholic, and before I was five years old, he shot at my mother, my sister, and I while we hid in our bathroom. There was an overarching sense of chaos, insecurity, fear, and disconnection, so to say that I understand what trauma is about would be an understatement. In the midst of that period, I remember thinking once, “There’s got to be something more to life than this.” That stuck with me.
In later years, bright spots began to emerge in my world, mixed in with additional challenges. My mom eventually had the courage to leave my birth father, and my adoptive father came into the picture soon after. To an extent, that event helped to shift my perspective on men, though I would later find out that some baggage is hard to let go.
In middle school, I experienced bullying not only from my peers, but also, in a way, from my teachers. My family moved to a different town when I was in sixth grade, and except for one person, the entire class was horrible to me. Yet as fate — and lots of mutual healing — would have it, the leader of the bullies is now one of my closest friends!
Also while in sixth grade, I took up the flute, but I did not have what you might call a natural aptitude. On one occasion, in front of everyone, the band director pretty much destroyed me with criticism at how awful I was. I did not let that crush me, however. It drove me, instead. I practiced diligently, and during my senior year in high school, I ended up performing a solo.
Between middle school and high school, I decided that I wanted to become a flight attendant, but when I spoke with a guidance counselor about the idea, she told me that airlines wouldn’t want someone like me. I would have to fix my teeth, change my hair, lose weight, and do something with my posture. That kind of “advice” would be crippling for anyone, but I can attest that it was especially so for a self-conscious teenage girl.
The final irony of my adolescence came during my high school graduation ceremony. I had made it through those four difficult years with honors — and no small quantity of sweat and tears — but I never had the opportunity to walk across the platform to accept my diploma because the principal skipped over my name. Funny thing was, he looked right at me when he did it. Whether my name was left off the list or he made a mistake, the experience was devastating for me.
I did not attend college right out of high school (though I would do so decades later). Rather, the natural drive within me — a drive associated with my early belief that there must be something more to life — led me to marry young, start several businesses with my husband, have two children, and become a legislator at age 29.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Two quotes come to me, though the first is actually a formula.
A mentor of mine, the author Jack Canfield, uses the formula “E + R = O.” To paraphrase, the combination of the events in your life (E) plus your reaction to them (R) equals your outcome (O). I didn’t realize it until I heard Jack say it, but this was the maxim by which I had lived my life up to that point. There are many things we cannot control, but we do have power over our reactions and responses to the events that occur around us. Your “outcome” is the sum of those reactions and responses — the way you choose to live your life in relation to your external world.
The second quote is my own: “There is pain in grief, yet we don’t have to live in the suffering of it.” In my experience, when you move through your pain and allow yourself to embody the feelings that you are feeling, you remove all suffering. In creating shame and blame and many other self-defeating emotions, we succeed only in beating ourselves up — a lesson that I learned first hand, following the loss of my son, Logan.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
My strongest attributes are
- drive and an unwillingness to succumb to fear;
- intuition and spiritual connection.
I see these attributes in many of the stories that make up my life, but here is one that pops into my mind right away:
At a time when my former husband and I owned and operated several small businesses, including a bowling alley, the Vermont government was contemplating changing the tax structure for school funding. One morning, my husband and I, as area business owners, were sitting in on a local legislative breakfast during which a heated debate was going on. As it was happening, one of the legislators had his arms crossed and his head down, which made it appear to me that he was sleeping, or that he was at least disengaged. There was a lot of frustration in that for me.
As we were leaving the meeting, my husband said, “You should run against him.” On the face of it, this was a ridiculous proposition. I did not have a college education, I knew absolutely nothing about politics or even what party I belonged to, and I had never spoken publicly before. Oh — and I never thought that I could win. Nonetheless, we explored the idea further, having multiple discussions with other people. Eventually, I approached one of the legislators — the man who had appeared to be checked out during the meeting — and said, “I don’t know what your plans are, but here are mine. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts before I finalize my decision.” Five minutes later, he called me back and said that he would not run again, and that he would endorse me.
During the election campaign, I had two small children, was doing all the bookwork for the family businesses, and was working at the bowling alley. But somehow, I forged ahead. There’s the drive.
The first time I addressed the public, I had the speech in my hands, but I couldn’t see what was written on the pages in front of me. My entire body was shaking, I was sweating, and I was so nervous that I blacked out. Ten minutes felt like ten hours. Even the opposite party felt awful for me. It was horrific. The fact that my opponent was college educated, well spoken, and very well connected did not help! But I did not succumb to the fear — and I won. I got divorced after my first election, and was reelected three times thereafter.
In the middle of my career, I served on the Vermont judiciary committee for six years and on the appropriations committee for two, during the time when LGBTQ rights were at the forefront of the national conversation. I was involved in our state discussion on the subject, and I was the one to suggest the landmark term “Civil Union.” The idea just came to me, through a sort of divine, logical intuition. It’s a civil rights and responsibility issue, and it’s a union between two people, so I thought, “What phrase could be more appropriate?”
But my intuition wasn’t restricted to that one event. Throughout my time in government — and throughout my life up to that point, really — I just had this inner “knowing,” a sense that each step I took was necessary, and that I simply needed to keep moving forward.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
Yes. Sharing my story to assist others through their journeys has become my heart’s calling.
I had served in government for about 15 years, both as a legislator and working for the governor, and was working as a lobbyist for and the CEO of the largest commercial construction association in the state of Vermont when I lost my son, Logan. At the time, he hadn’t been speaking with me. He had been quietly struggling throughout most of his teenage years, though most people wouldn’t have known it because he was gregarious, kind, and charming. He was liked by all. But he was isolating himself in his suffering, and he was lost. At the age of 19 years, he not only took his life; he also wrote a note stating that he did not want me at his service. In an instant, I was shattered.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Well, the worst thing in the world did happen to me — especially when I found out about Logan’s note. There is simply no imagining it. The shame that I felt in not being able to save my son was immense, piling more pain on top of pain on top of pain.
How did you react in the short term?
In the short time, I found myself isolating, being alone, beating myself up, living in the darkness, and wishing that I would die, too. The thought of living my life without Logan and of facing our community was unfathomable, and I compounded the pain by isolating myself. For a long time, I didn’t even go to the local grocery store because I couldn’t bear to see anyone I knew. The only thing that kept me on this earth was Logan’s sister, Ashley.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
Shortly after Logan’s transition, I found myself lying upon his grave, begging, pleading, and wishing that whoever, whatever, took my son would take me, too. I screamed, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I don’t know how long I was lying there, but at some point, I found myself calming, and I heard this clear message out of nowhere: “If this happened in your life, then you’re meant to do something with it. Now do it.” It was then that I started to speak out about suicide.
As I look back, I see that the coping mechanisms I was using were the basis for what I now call “The Grief Prescription” or “The Three Bs” — three simple steps that people can use to move through any stressful situation in life. They are
- Be in the moment, because searching for “what was” only creates more depression, and looking into the future creates additional anxiety — the belief that what you feel today is what you will feel forever.
- Breathe. Do this consciously and deeply, closing your eyes and following your breath in and out for as long as you need to. This action brings you back into the moment, grounding you, helping to circulate your energy, and decreasing stress.
- Believe. Know that you are not alone, that you can make it through your current struggle, and — if that struggle is related to loss — that your loved one is always with you.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Grief, just like life, is a healing journey. It takes conscious effort. In the early stages, it is essential to focus on one day at a time, one hour at a time, one breath at a time.
You never “let go”; you never “get over it”; you never “move on.” What you do is move through the emotions caused by grief. For me, that meant consciously stepping into my healing journey with cognitive thought therapy, energy healing, and the creation of morning practices.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
The traumatic event that you’re currently experiencing will break down the walls between the present and any previous trauma that you haven’t moved through. While this creates additional complications in your journey of healing, it also creates opportunities for you to work through limiting beliefs, emotional blockages, and any trauma that is trapped within your body.
I created this internal shift by facing the fear and stepping through — not around — the pain I was experiencing. I started slowly, by finding gratitude in the moment, by trusting in the signs and guidance I was receiving from Logan and what I call “Source,” by connecting to nature, by eating healthily, by limiting alcohol intake, by meditating, and especially by journaling — which, for me, means releasing my emotions on paper. I’ve encapsulated this process into the “Ellelogy System,” a personalized six-month healing journey that can be experienced either one-on-one or in a group setting. Readers can find out more on my website.
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?
Many people assisted me through my journey, and I wouldn’t do anybody justice by pointing out only one. I would love to honor my cognitive thought therapist, Brooke; my teachers over the course of the past eleven years, including Jack Canfield, Dr. Deborah Sandella (creator of the Regenerating Images in Memory, or RIM, healing modality), Colette Baron-Ried, and members of the indigenous community for shemanic practices and plant medicine; and my son, Logan, and daughter, Ashley. Of course, I’d also like to honor myself for having the courage to move through this intense healing journey.
As for a story, Logan’s desire to continue to connect with me energetically has been the most powerful experience of my life. Early on, Logan hinted that he was with me in a variety of ways: by sending items falling from the top shelf of a bookcase; by leaving pennies for me in the oven and freezer (which is significant because he loved cooking and eating frozen buffalo chicken wings); and by showing me, in my sleep, what would become the cover of my book, Shattered Together: A Mother’s Journey From Grief to Belief. The book is really “our” story — mine and Logan’s — so it makes sense that he wanted to have that input.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
A light did come out of the dark space of Logan’s loss. Today, thanks to all of the healing work I’ve done, I have a whole new perspective on the trauma that began when I was very young and continued into my adult life. For example, I can now see that the hardships I faced as a child gave me the strength I needed to live through the suicide of my son and the ability to understand the pain that many others experience.
I have also developed a deeper connection both with Source (as mentioned above) and with Logan, who are my constant guides. I use that gift to assist other people to move through their healing journeys, so that they, too, can experience love, connection, and a fulfilled life. As Logan is always with me, I am able to teach others how they can stay in touch with lost loved ones — because though someone’s physical presence may be gone, their energetic presence is not. We can continue to have relationships with our loved ones even if they are not tangibly here.
All and all, I am living my life’s purpose. What more could I ask for?
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I am much more resilient than I ever thought I could be, and that a single trauma can create an opportunity to move through all other traumas one has experienced. I also learned that, throughout most of my life, I was seeking to be loved and accepted by others. But as I began to heal, I realized that I am the light that I was looking for everywhere else, and that I am never alone. I am always connected to a higher power, or Source.
One story that encapsulates this growth occurred eight years after Logan’s transition, when I decided to leave my home state (Vermont), my political career, my husband, and my friends and family in order to follow my heart’s calling — to assist others in their own grief journeys. For the first time in my life, I honored me, and I did it because of Logan, and with Logan’s guidance. I am now exactly where I need to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. I listened to my intuition and my passion, and I’m grateful that I get to share what I’ve learned with the world.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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? Please share a story or example for each.
Rather than “heal after,” I would say “heal through” — because there is no end point to a loss. The loss will always exist. But we can learn to heal through it and around it, and to become more whole in the process.
My top five recommendations are
- to practice “The Grief Prescription,” which is described above;
- to feel your feelings and step through your fear-step by step;
- to connect with a higher power or Source through meditation, nature, journaling, and other holistic activities;
- to get the professional help you need so that you can move through the grief, and consciously step into your journey of life;
- to surround yourself with people who can assist you in the way you need them to.
I can identify these ideas in many of my personal stories. One that draws them together, however, happened five years after Logan’s transition. Things weren’t perfect at the time, but I had been taking care of my emotional and physical health for a long stretch, and I had begun to build my business as a motivational speaker and healing coach. I was in a good place.
Following Logan’s suicide, my daughter, Ashley, turned to yoga. She and Logan had been incredibly close, both in age and in spirit, and I know that losing him was heart wrenching for her. Yoga was her way of coping, and she ended up falling in love with the practice, eventually training to become an instructor. Her first retreat took place in the mountains of North Carolina, and I went to support her.
I was blown away! I had never seen her so in her element, so gracious and nurturing and confident. I was inspired, and endlessly proud to be her mother. I was also impressed by the retreat itself, which — to my surprise — really brought my body and mind to another level. In addition to yoga classes, there were multiple meditation sessions each day, nature walks, all plant-based meals… Every night, I went to bed energized and fulfilled.
As a result, however, I was probably more raw than I had been in some time, and the upshot was a sort of breakdown that seemed to come out of nowhere, while I was at rest on a yoga mat. All of a sudden, I was mourning Logan’s loss with every fiber of my being, as though it had just happened. I was once again — or still — grieving over the fact that I would never be able to watch him grow and thrive and live in the way that his sister was doing. I was shocked. How could I possibly have ended up right back where I started?
Grieving is not a linear process, nor is it one with a definite end. It can and will pop up at unexpected times, in unexpected places. Even though I had been doing all the right things, and I was in the middle of the ideal environment to continue and to enhance my healing journey — I mean, what setting could be more perfect than a nature/yoga retreat led by someone I love? — I was not immune to the vicissitudes of grief.
Society tells us that loss and grief are things to get over, to move beyond, to conquer. But I have not found this to be true, and to be honest, I don’t think I want it to be true. Pain and other unpleasant emotions are as much a part of life as feelings like joy and serenity are. I think we need both in order to live fully.
“Getting over” the loss of my son would be like cutting out a huge part of my heart. He will always be there, and the best way that I can honor him is to feel my feelings — all of them; to continue to connect with my higher power through holistic pursuits; to get professional help when I need it, regardless of how far along in my journey the world thinks I should be; and to embrace the loving support of those who offer it.
And as to “The Three Bs”: While I was on that yoga mat, if I had just allowed myself to be in the moment, to take time to breathe through it, and to believe that it wouldn’t last forever, my reaction would have been very different.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be to do what I’m doing now, but on a larger scale: assisting people to move through their traumas, to set their souls free, and to find their own light within instead of seeking it on the outside, as I learned to do. We are all — in our own unique ways — capable of healing, and I am meant to help others through that process.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
Michelle Obama. She is a strong, compassionate woman who has not allowed adversity to prevent her from living her best and highest life, and serving in her highest capacity. Though she is extremely intelligent, she leads from her heart, not from her head. I find her humorous, brilliant, and inspiring, and I would love to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just a protein bar with her!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can find more info about me and my work at cathleenelle.com. All of my social media handles are on my website, as are additional resources and ways to connect with me personally.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!