Boulder’s Grief Support Network helps people put their lives back together
Losing, then finding
As with every child, each birthday is unique. With Noah, however, the differences come not from the party he chooses or getting a new Lego set. Noah died seven years ago when he was 9 months old as his mother was feeding him, cuddling with him in bed.
“It shattered our entire life,” Stern says.
No cause of death was determined. He just stopped breathing.
Stern and her husband found themselves on a journey no parent wants to take, a journey without your child.
What do you do with the knowledge that your child will never drink from a sippy cup, say his first word, go to kindergarten, read a book, graduate from college or fall in love? The list goes on.
For Stern, one of the answers was to seek help in community. The solace she found there led her to, in turn, give help in community: She started a nonprofit, the Grief Support Network, to reach out to people like herself who found themselves bereft and without a feeling of purpose after a devastating loss. In addition to her understanding of grief, she brought another resource, the knowledge gained as a yoga teacher about how emotions live in the body.
Studies show that grief has measurable effects on physical health. A study published in the journal Circulation found that heart attack risk is 21 times greater in the day after a loved one dies and six times more in the week after. Similarly, studies have shown decreases in immune system function among people grieving the loss of a loved one.
“The reasons we have health problems after going through the big experience of grief is that our culture hasn’t taught us how to move it through. It gets stored in the body,” Stern says.
She believes the effects of grief are worsened by the culture in which we live, where any mourning after the funeral is done quietly and often alone. Stern says her body felt frozen, and she felt anxious and unsafe. Thus, shortly after Noah died, she and her husband left the country, going to Southeast Asia and Bali.
There, they found people with a concept of death that was more integrated into life.
“They really rally as a community, honor the journey of it, hold the grief and talk about it,” she says.
They are also OK with not resolving it.
“They don’t pretend to know the answers. They have rituals in place that help them mark the milestone and hold it,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be as lonely as it is if you hold each other in community.”
When she started the nonprofit, she wanted not only to create that community, through a support-type group — it meets monthly at Shine restaurant — but also to give people resources to help them deal with the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of loss. She assembled a group of specialists in different fields such as acupuncture, massage, reiki, psychotherapy, chiropractic work, intuitive communication, traditional medicine and, not surprisingly, yoga.
“Being present in my body where grief lived, I see grief and how we hold it. It’s almost like water,” Stern says. “It will move through us if we let it.”
Letting go and holding on..
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