Giving Ourselves Permission to Grieve with Shelby Forsythia

Today, I’m talking with Shelby Forsythia, the author of Your Grief, Your Way and Permission to Grieve, and podcast host of Coming Back: Conversations on Life After Loss. Shelby will be looking back to her early twenties when grief pulled the rug out from under her in the form of losing her mom. Life as she knew it ended, forever changed by this event. We’re talking about this crushing blow, the aftermath, and most importantly, the comeback that put her on a different course, one that allows her to help others reclaim their power and their peace of mind after a devastating loss.

What to Listen For:

  • Who was Shelby before grief turned her life upside down?

“I loved myself before my mom died… and I think there’s a temptation that a lot of grieving people have… because they can’t go back to the old self.

They hate them, but I actually really loved the girl that I was before my mom died. I was in college. I was in my senior year of college, and I had these grand extraordinary dreams of becoming a C-suite executive in an advertising firm. I knew that I had a gift for words, and it was reinforced by my professors and my classmates.

And I thought I would be writing copy for the world’s biggest brands and helping sell things or sell services or sell causes that were going to change the world.”

  • The worst possible cherry on top of four years of back-to-back losses
  • Fracturing with several smaller losses before the biggest loss broke her
  • Rejoicing after her mom had been declared cancer-free
  • Thinking her mom had pneumonia and discovering the cancer was back and had rapidly metastasized

By the time we got the news, that there was nothing more they could do. It was December 19th, and they said now’s the time to call in hospice. Anything that we could do now at this point would be a matter of time, not a matter of cure. We can buy you time. We can’t buy you life anymore.

And so we called in hospice and got everything set up at the house. And I think they predicted, I mean, whoever knows what doctor’s numbers are based on, but we thought we might have six weeks to six months or so. And then she died in seven days.”

  • The black hole that followed her mom’s death
  • The moment she felt the line was drawn in the sand

I got a call from my dad as we were getting our coats and getting up to leave. We were literally getting sliding out of the booth at this diner. And I got the call from my dad, and I remember walking outside, and there were two sets of doors. I remember pushing both sets of doors open and getting about five feet away from her car, but still where traffic was coming in and out.

And I just dropped to my knees on the pavement. And I immediately started crying. I felt it was as if I couldn’t hold up my own body anymore. All the strength I had, almost all of the life force that I had was just gone in an instant. And I had to be picked up off of the pavement.

I was literally weeping and wailing in the parking lot of this diner, December 26th, 2013. So it was the day after Christmas people were, you know, treating their Christmas hangovers with French fries and diner food, and gosh, I remember it being cold and hard.

I think those are the sensations I remember the most. It was cold outside, and the ground was hard… and thinking back now, I’ve never thought about this before, but it was very metaphorical of a world without my mother felt very cold and very hard. And so that feels very appropriate as the place where it all came apart.”

  • Feeling like she was no longer a participant in her life but simply along for the ride
  • Feeling like she’d been wandering in the woods with no GPS for over two years
  • Losing her passion for her dreams

In my mother’s death, it was like, all of my dreams for the future also died. And it wasn’t even that the dreams themselves died; it was that my passion for the dreams died. And so I would look at those things and be like, yeah, I guess abstractly, I still want them, but the drive to achieve them or the drive to get there was dead. And, and so to live a life with no goals or no aspirations or no real sense of direction or purpose or motivation or aspiration, or whatever you want to call that driving energy that would propel you somewhere willingly that was very much absent.”

  • That part of her that was always whispering, “this is not a full life”
  • Starting to read again, propelled by a random lending library and how this helped her start moving forward
  • What was she reading?
  • The moment she got furiously angry after getting her wallet stolen and thew a fit that allowed her to release grief energy without judgment

“I think by that point it was like, this is the end of your rope. The choice your choices are now either grieve or die. And I was like, okay. I’m going to grieve. And it really only lasted about, I mean, 20 minutes, a half-hour, and I was laying on the floor and it was breathing really heavy because I had just yelled for a half hour and all the tears were drying up. And I was like, what was that?

And this became the crux of my first book and this little internal voice inside. I think the same voice that kept saying there’s more than this, something else is out there for you, kind of smirked at me and said, you just gave yourself permission to grieve.”

  • The freedom she felt in giving herself permission to grieve
  • Hearing that little voice at various times in her life before her loss
  • How that voice was persistent and patient while she was lost in grief
  • Striving to make more meaning in the world in her mother’s absence
  • Tuning into that voice and letting it guide her regularly in her new life
  • What her grieving process looked like

“It was like, I told my head to shut up and my heart to have a voice. I was like, shut up, up there in the attic space got to come out and say what it needed to say. A lot of this was done through practice. Action steps for grief that I found in books and things.

I realized I need to, even if I can’t communicate with my mother, and in real life, I need to tell her I’m angry. I need to tell her I miss her. I need to tell her that I’m not okay. And so I shifted from this place of trying to fit myself into the expectations of what grief should look like, heavy air quotes there, and allowed myself to tell the truth of what was actually happening. It was like, I’m not doing well.

Some of my friends and family don’t know how to support me. This is actually affecting my brain and my memory so much more than I thought it would”

  • The shift that happened when she stopped pretending and started telling the truth about what was actually happening
  • Working with others and their grief
  • Her measure of doing well in grief
  • How the reorienting process looked for her

“Reorienting is often about allowing more things to die.

And this was hard for me because I was granting myself more permission to grieve. I was asking for more permission to show up in the world. I was not necessarily facing my grief head-on, but I allowed it to sit at the table. So I was like, okay, you have a voice now, so you can speak up and, and blah, blah, blah… but this was really the time when I had to start allowing my old dreams and my old visions of myself to die because I was like, all of this grief is so centered around the loss of my mother.”

  • Finding the new compass and following where it points
  • When her passion and drive returned, but her dreams were no longer a good fit
  • Wondering what life would have looked like without grief
  • Releasing that life that she could no longer live
  • Shifting what success and accomplishment looked like for her
  • How she got started helping others with their grief journeys

“Falling into this line of work of being in and working in the grief space, what happens next continues to arrive for me. I find myself very rarely chasing or in pursuit of something.

I have goals. I have dreams for myself; some of them are unchanged from my five-year-old self. Some of my dreams I got to keep after the death of my mom. They still resonate, and they still feel true. But reorienting… gosh. In redefining success and accomplishment, what if we also redefined productivity, work, rest. “

  • Practicing the art of receiving
  • Learning to be okay when she didn’t have the answers yet
  • Trying on several things until something felt aligned

Many nights, I would fall asleep and feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. And I, I suppose I can equate it now to like when reptiles shed their old skin. And they’re kind of that raw shiny don’t touch me yet. I’m not ready to be out in the world kind of sensation because my new skin hasn’t really hardened yet.

And so I felt very soft and mushy and pliable and, mutable. And part of that was good because I could literally become anything like the possibilities are endless, but also the possibilities are endless, and there was terror that came along with that.

  • Discovering the things that remain constant even through our grief
  • Meeting the new Shelby
  • Stepping into the work she does now while she was still grieving herself
  • The gifts that her grief gave her
  • Reassuring others that they are not alone

“It has evolved to this place of I’m helping people feel less alone in the world as like an undercover mission or subconscious mission, always. But now, so much of the work that I do is helping people reclaim their power and their voice with grief and this peace of mind that comes from knowing in the midst of all the garbage and the hail storm and that tornado, that is grief that you’re going to be okay.”

  • Finding and growing her faith in herself

“I did an interview, probably two years ago now. And the host asked me, she’s like, what’s the biggest thing the loss of your mother has taught you? And I was like, but I really don’t need a mother. And it sounded very harsh and very dismissive. And I immediately followed it with, in losing her, I have had to force myself to take care of myself. And for as shitty as that is, and as garbage as that feels, it is also something that has given me so much faith in myself. Now I’m always listening. I know when the alarm bells are sounding, I know when something’s wrong. I know. Even if I don’t exactly know what needs to happen next, I can listen for and tune in to what’s happening in the moment.”

  • You know more than you think you do

About Shelby Forsythia:

Shelby Forsythia (she/her) is the author of Your Grief, Your Way and Permission to Grieve and podcast host of Coming Back: Conversations on Life After Loss. Through a combination of practical tools and intuitive guidance, she helps grieving people reclaim their power and peace of mind after devastating loss. Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, Bustle, and The Oprah Magazine.
Facebook and Instagram: @shelbyforsythia


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