Krista St-Germain: 5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readJun 1, 2021

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Grief is not linear and there is no endpoint. We don’t “recover” from grief. Our goal is not to move on from grief but rather to move forward with grief. As with any significant event, we weave our loss into the fabric of our life experience and adjust accordingly, integrating what has happened and continuing to live.

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 Krista St-Germain.

Krista St-Germain is a Master Certified Life Coach, grief expert, widow, mom and host of The Widowed Mom Podcast. When her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016, Krista’s life was completely and unexpectedly flipped upside down. After therapy helped her unfurl from the fetal position, Krista discovered Life Coaching, Post Traumatic Growth and learned the tools she needed to move forward and create a future she could get excited about — now she coaches and teaches other widows so they too, can love life again.

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?

I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas and had what I believe was a pretty happy, middle-class childhood. My parents divorced and remarried before I was in the first grade, and I got an ornery younger step-brother who misbehaved enough to make me look like an angel to my parents, especially during middle and high school. I went to a public school and for the most part I was a wallflower and a bookworm. I took honors classes and made mostly As, played the flute and piccolo and was the drum majorette in my high school’s marching band. I wasn’t at all popular and I never went to parties or hung out with the cool kids. I did, however, attend at least 6 New Kids On the Block concerts and if you had seen my bedroom as a 13 year old, you wouldn’t have found an inch of wall that didn’t have a New Kid covering it (Joey McIntyre was my favorite, by the way.)

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

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl

After my husband Hugo died, there was no way to change what had happened. As much as I wanted to bring him back, I couldn’t. And I knew that if I wanted to really live again I was going to have to focus as much of my energy as possible on what could change which was me. I was going to have to create my own happiness and that’s what I decided to do. Now that’s exactly what I teach other widows to do.

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.

  1. I have a very hard “why” behind what I do. Building a profitable business that impacts people only works if we’re willing to try and fail as many times as it takes. Being connected to my “why” of helping widows fall in love with life again keeps me going. When I fail at something in my business, I remind myself of the millions of widows who are believing, as I once did, that their best days are probably behind them and who have resigned themselves to a life that is less than what they want. I think about how they are suffering in silence. Connecting to my “why” gets me out of my own head, ends any pity party I might be throwing for myself and helps me try again.
  2. I talk to myself more than I listen to myself. Our brain has a built-in bias toward the negative. It’s an age-old protective mechanism that associates anything new or uncomfortable with danger. I expect that part of my brain to do what it was designed to do and when it does, I respond to its old narrative of “It’s not going to work” and “Who do you think you are?” with “I hear you brain and I love you. We’re doing it anyway.”
  3. I prioritize my own mental well-being and growth. My mental well-being is what allows me to help others with theirs so it has to be my priority. I spend time understanding the way my mind works, breaking my own limiting patterns and learning firsthand about the subjects my clients need help with. It’s cliche but you really can’t pour from an empty cup. So many widows are trying to help those they love without helping themselves first and it just doesn’t work.

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?

Of course! We were returning from a trip and my second husband, who had been my redemption story after my first marriage ended badly, had driven separately from me. When I had a flat tire and pulled over on the shoulder of the interstate, Hugo parked his Durango behind my Camry and, being the strong-willed man he was, he didn’t want to wait for AAA to change the tire. So while I was standing on the side of the road texting my 12-year-old daughter to let her know we’d be late, Hugo began pulling things out of my trunk so he could access the spare tire. With no warning I heard the crash of metal and looked up to see a driver, who we later found out had meth and alcohol in his system, stumble out of his car and fall into the ditch. The accident trapped Hugo between his car and mine and I was completely powerless to save him. It was truly a nightmare.

Fast forward to the middle of the next day. Hugo had made it through the night after several surgeries and as the doctors were preparing him for another surgery, his blood pressure dropped and he coded. I watched as the medical team performed CPR for what felt like forever, along with my stepson, father and my pastor. Less than 24 hours after the accident Hugo was gone and so were all of my dreams for our future.

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

Honestly, there was so much of it that was terrifying. The scene of the accident, how it felt like forever for the paramedics and firefighters to get him out of the wreckage, the painstaking amount of time that passed as they tried to stabilize him for transport, the ride to the hospital, all the waiting and not knowing and being completely helpless, unable to do anything. And then standing powerlessly outside of the ICU window watching the team do CPR and cut his chest open trying to figure out why his blood pressure had dropped. It was by far the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through.

How did you react in the short term?

Initially, I felt like a zombie after he died. I cried quite a lot but also felt very disconnected from my body. Intellectually I knew it had happened but it took a while for it to really sink in. I kept imagining that he’d just gone on a business trip and that he’d walk in the door and I would realize I’d been dreaming.

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

First I went back to the therapist I’d worked with before. She had been a tremendous help to me when I had gone through a divorce from my first husband. Being able to talk about what happened and tell the story to a neutral third party was exactly what I needed in those early days. It felt like such a nightmare and I didn’t want to burden my friends and family who were also grieving the loss.

I also wrote to Hugo in a journal regularly and allowed myself to take frequent breaks and rest if I wanted to. When I was able to read and retain information, I started reading about grief and healing and eventually Post Traumatic Growth.

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

I don’t know that you ever fully “let go” of negative aspects of things like this. But I was definitely able to choose how I wanted to think about what had happened. I could see that blaming myself, the driver who hit us or the doctors who made mistakes in the hospital was only going to cause me to suffer. I realized that in order to move forward I’d have to choose to accept that sometimes things happen and we just don’t know why. Even when everyone is doing the best job they can do, accidents and mistakes happen. Continuing to harbor anger or argue with reality isn’t morally inferior but it definitely creates suffering and holds us back from living the lives we want.

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

I learned to separate what I could control from what I couldn’t. And I learned to choose how I wanted to think about what I couldn’t control. I remember a couple of years later, learning a life-changing lesson from my then 14-year-old daughter.

We were at my father’s cabin in the Colorado rockies, one of Hugo’s favorite places. While looking out the window at the mountain range I turned to my daughter and said, “I wish Hugo were here.” And my daughter looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Momma, he IS here.” At that moment I realized that feeling connected was a choice I could make. My daughter had been feeling connected to Hugo because she chose to believe he was with her. I had been experiencing disconnection because I was believing he wasn’t there. Our minds truly are responsible for our emotional experience and not even death can take that from us.

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?

Brooke Castillo. I’ve always been interested in self-help and before Hugo died, I’d been listening to The Life Coach School Podcast every Thursday morning for a couple of years. Brooke’s coaching and teaching were incredibly useful to me and when she launched her Self Coaching Scholars program in January of 2017, it was perfect timing. I’d gotten back to “surviving but not thriving” and while everyone was telling me how strong I was, I wasn’t feeling strong. I decided to join Brooke’s program because I wanted to learn her cognitive-behavioral coaching techniques and apply them to my life. Part of me believed I could be happier someday but I didn’t know how and felt like I’d hit a plateau with therapy. Scholars was a pivotal experience for me. In fact, it was so powerful that I decided to quit my corporate career and become a coach myself so I could help others the way coaching helped me..

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

I decided I didn’t want to see the accident and my husband’s death as a positive situation. Rather, I wanted to do something positive in response and not let it limit or define my life. When I learned about Post Traumatic Growth I decided to use this experience to become more in touch with what I wanted in life, to become more resilient and to become a fuller expression of the divine nature I believe exists in all human beings.

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

I get to choose who I want to be no matter what life throws my way. Things that bring us to our knees, catch us completely off guard or take our lives in directions we never would have planned, are what we decide to make them. If I can learn to love my life after losing the man of my dreams, anyone can.

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.

When my husband died in 2016, the only thing in my grief toolkit was a vague understanding of the Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), a theory made popular by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. I naively believed my job was to pass through these five linear stages and that doing so would complete my grief journey. But that model didn’t fit my experience and I found myself disheartened and confused. Only later, when researching grief and healing, did I learn the Five Stages model was actually about death and dying, and described the journey of hospice patients coming to terms with their own terminal diagnosis, not the experience of the bereaved.

The unfortunate truth is that most of us aren’t taught about grief and are unprepared when it hits. With that in mind, here are 6 things you need to know to heal after a dramatic loss or life change:

1) Grief is not linear and there is no endpoint. We don’t “recover” from grief. Our goal is not to move on from grief but rather to move forward with grief. As with any significant event, we weave our loss into the fabric of our life experience and adjust accordingly, integrating what has happened and continuing to live. This is not to say the intensity of our distress won’t lessen or that the ratio of bad days to good won’t decrease. But semantics matter when it comes to our expectations of grief.

2) Grief isn’t limited to death and “dramatic” is in the eye of the beholder. Grief is an individual’s response to a perceived loss which means we can experience grief over a multitude of life events including divorce, separation, loss of a job, loss of an anticipated future. Covid-19 related changes are a prime example of grief over non-death losses (our children not being able to attend graduation, families unable to be together for holidays, a lost sense of normalcy and routine, etc). What one person might find dramatic or traumatic, another person might not, and gone are the days where trauma is defined by a textbook rather than the person who experienced it.

3) There is no single agreed-upon way to handle grief. Just as there are many theories about weight loss, there are many theories about grief. In addition to the 5 Stages Model, more than a dozen grief theories exist ranging from Freud’s work in the early 1900s which encouraged the bereaved to break the ties that bound them to the deceased, to the Continuing Bonds theory of the mid-’90s which offered that while death ends a life, it doesn’t necessarily end a relationship. Like any subject studied over time, theories change and aren’t “one-size-fits-all.”

4) Feelings aren’t problems to be solved; they are experiences to be allowed. Because we live in a culture fixated on happiness, we tend to believe negative emotions are signs of a problem. But all feelings are part of life and especially grief. Anger, sadness, and despair but also joy, happiness and relief. We create suffering when we judge ourselves or others based on how we feel. Feelings are to be felt, not fixed and they are not a commentary on the person who is feeling them.

5) The physical impact of grief is very real. It often includes hormonal imbalances, difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, intense dreams or nightmares, Grief Fog (an inability to process or retain information) and sometimes even Broken Heart Syndrome (an ache in the heart muscle that can mimic a heart attack).

6) Post Traumatic Growth is available to all of us, not just those who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is perhaps my biggest pet peeve to hear widows resign themselves to a “new normal” that is less than what they want in life, simply because they have bought into the myth, as I once did, that their “best days are behind them.” This is garbage. If we choose, grief can be the means to an even richer, more meaningful and more intentional life. No matter what happens to us in life and how intensely we grieve a loss, we are still able to choose who we want to be and create a life we love.

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?

Our society doesn’t talk much about death. I’d like to change that so people are more prepared for a loss and better able to support others who are grieving. Even more than that, I’d like every widow to know that Post Traumatic Growth is real. You don’t have to settle for a mediocre “new normal” you didn’t ask for. You can decide to fall in love with your life again even after the most soul-crushing loss.

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. :-)

Brené Brown. Her work on courage and vulnerability and her willingness to have honest conversations is refreshing and exactly what our world needs more of.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The work I’m the proudest of can be found in my podcast, The Widowed Mom Podcast. I get messages all the time from listeners who aren’t widows thanking me for helping them, too, so I hope people won’t let the name prevent them from learning about grief and what’s possible after a loss. They can also find me on my website or connect with me on Instagram.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.