Episode 12: Paulette Kranjac Navigating Grief: A Journey in Forgiveness

 Discover how to forgive and thrive not just survive. 

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Episode #12 Podcast Transcript:

Good morning, World - Welcome to Choices Books and Gifts, “Where You Always Have Choices”.  I'm happy to present - today - we have Paulette Kranjac and she is a grief expert. She talks about grief and how to heal from it.

Good morning, Paulette. 

Good morning, Jay. So great to be here.

And I'm very glad that you came and joined us today because we all deal with grief in our lives, every single one of us. And we've dealt with it, and we'll deal with it in the future. So I think this is such a very important subject matter. So, world, I'm going to read a quick bio on Paulette, and then we'll get into some questions to ask her. All righty. So Paulette earned a master's degree in psychology from Hunter College and is certified as a grief recovery professional.

She is an avid learner, studying in a variety of educational genres, such as programs on Body, Mind, and Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and Transformational Education through Landmark Worldwide. It's a pleasure to have you. So, Paulette, I'm so looking forward to hearing what you have to say and answering our questions because, like I said, I really think this is a truly important subject matter. So I'm going to jump right in if you don't mind. How did you come to write a New Way to Grieve?

My late husband and I had 12 people die, close family members, the decade prior to his sudden death. And we had been together 43 and a half years, and about four months after he died, when I dealt with all the things that people deal with, physical things and whatnot, I had this thought that my life was over and it was just it was like, okay, you can come home now.

And it was overwhelming to me. And I got some coaching at the time from a person who I'd known for 40 years but had a break from. He's a teacher/leader at Landmark Worldwide. He said to me, “'m going to say something very bold. Go to the mirror and look, you're still alive. It's a lie that your life is over. What's true, he said, is that you have the opportunity.” 

I think that was the word you used last time we spoke to create a new life for yourself. And with that, my journey started. I did a lot of things to accomplish that. That was in 2016 but fast forward to 2020. 

In April, a friend of mine who I'd met on my journey after Tom died, had her husband die of COVID in the very first round of people dying. It was early in April, and I could hear myself in her.  I began to work with her every day, calling her, being supportive, trying to jump-start possibilities, and just listening to what she was going through. And I realized, wait a minute, I have a book to write, and I was inside anyway. So, every morning for six months, I got up at 530, and the book really wrote itself.

Excellent. I thank you for that. So, what's the message you want to convey in this book? What are you trying to tell us?

Yes, great question, Jay. So, the byline of the book is Getting Unstuck and Finding the Life that fits you now’. And what I was able to discern was that when we forgive the person that dies, we can begin to dream again. When we forgive them. I mean, when we forgive what they did, what they didn't do, they you know, they gained weight, they didn’t gain weight.

During their life or by dying?  My question is, what did you mean by forgive them - for what they did - while they were alive or for dying? 

Okay, so what I mean is the things, the actions they took that might have contributed to their death.

So in my situation, it was my husband had gained weight. He knew, as a physician, he knew he had an issue and he didn't take care of it. And he didn't;  he wasn't acting the way he normally would have acted in the last six weeks or so. And so he didn't say things that he might have said. He didn't act consistently with who I knew him to be.

And I really had to forgive that. And I realized that if I forgave that, if I could forgive him, I could actually dream again. And the other piece, which is even harder, is if I could forgive myself – and what I mean by that – I did things. I said things. I didn't do things. I didn't drag him to the cardiologist.

So on your end - there's some things you could have done differently as well to help get your husband back on track.

Yes. Yes. So I could have taken (the necessary) action now, because I've learned all this. But then, I just couldn't.  I didn't do it.  And I had to work really hard.  That was the hardest thing for me to do Jay. thank you for kind of refocusing that for me.  The work of, “No, wait a minute, no, there's something wrong with me that I didn't do that.”  And the person I worked with actually said, “okay, you didn't do that” and I'm like, “Don't yell at me, that I didn't do that.” And they said, “No, I'm just saying, you didn't do that. Can you be ok with that – that you didn't do that?”  And I kind of lost it. I was like, “okay, you know, I'm responsible. I totally didn't do that. Okay? I can forgive myself.”  And at that moment, I realized I could start to take some actions to make those dreams come true, because I still had dreams.

I think Jay, when you get stuck in those things that “they should have done this” or “I should have done this,” it plays out every single day. It's like you're on a hamster wheel, and you don't create new life or get over grief. There's not healing per se. I know it sounds kind of weird, but it's more like responsibility.

Yes, I get you. I got you. I understand that. And, you know, that's what we have to do. We have to take responsibility. I think that's a part of forgiving. If I'm going to forgive myself, I can then move forward and start to heal in my own life because we don't want to get stuck in grief.

You know, I remember when my dad passed, I was about 28 years old and it upset me so much. I even gained weight, certain things I was going through and I never really even thought that that would happen. I mean, I loved him. We were close, but it had a very adverse effect, which I didn't realize at first. 

So that said, I would say with this book and all your approaches, why is your approach different from traditional perspectives?

Well, it's so great. I love your questions.  Actually, I think sometimes when you go for grief support. Its different.  I do something called grief expression advocacy. It's my own creation. It's a listening. And it usually can take 1 to 4 sessions. 

And what's different is , it's not about reliving and going through it.  it's listening for what the person is stuck about and then kind of showing them, “okay, is that really I'm hearing this? Is that really true for you? Like, let's look at that.”  and that's what's different. I think a lot of times in a therapeutic type of situation or even a group support, people are very concerned and they want to be helpful.

But there's a listening like, “oh you poor thing.”  And wearing the badge of “oh you poor thing” is the worst thing you can give somebody.

I agree because once you tell them all that they are feeling and all that is correct you know I can understand where we would say, okay, I hear you, and what we have to do to move on from that. This leads me to my next question because it says in your book you talk about getting unstuck. So, what are some of the common things that keep us stuck? And then how do we get better?

So I like the word better. And actually, that points to what my book really does take on.

Okay. And so this is like the last question. 

It's not so much about getting better as it is looking at where you are right now. So getting unstuck, we

we say a lot of things to ourselves. Like I was saying, “my life is over.”  And that wasn't true until somebody heard it and said, “wait a minute, look, that's not true.” And people say “they have a hole in their heart. They can't live without their loved one. How can they go on? You know, he was my everything. She was my, you know, sun, moon and stars I will never love again.”   The mind has the ability to come up with lots of thoughts and feelings.  And it's whether we can observe them and say, “that's an interesting thought.”  or we hold on to them and have it be real. I mean, that's the question. And I think that's where people get stuck. And what's really cool about grief is that it's just sadness. And sadness is actually quite beautiful and part of life. It doesn't mean it's enjoyable, it means it's precious and it opens up things for people. That's sadness.

I hear you. I think, and that's so important, and that's interesting, all those different things can keep us stuck where we can't move forward, and I think that's great. So, with that said, how do individuals grieve? Is there a period of time, or do we try to stop that early on and move forward and not only grieve but then have healthy, normal lives and get better after the grief process? 

Okay. So I think that once you start to observe what you're saying about your situation, you really have a chance to grieve, surely. And there are certain triggers of grief. And I feel that it isn't based on a timeline. They're not even stages in my opinion. It's a matter of dealing with facets. So there's the facet of memory, you know, this trace memory, this sense, this smell, this site, this being here, this holiday, all of those things are triggers.

And when you've gone through them for the first time and you really allow yourself to feel the sadness, then you're good. You know, not that you're good. I mean, you can still miss the person. And I think that's really healthy. I still miss my husband every day.

So the second part of that, which is I think something really cool that I never read anywhere, is the fact of empathy. So the idea of people showing up at church, showing of a synagogue, showing up at Shiver and everybody in your lives who loved your loved one or who loved you - seeing their sadness and who the person that died in your life, who's also been in their life  - was for them, allows the empathy to really happen.

And when that happens all over, in other words, even somebody that you knew ten years ago, you haven't seen them and they loved your loved one and you suddenly see them and it's ten years later or whatever, you're going to have an empathic rediscovery of that relationship, and in that you will feel sadness again. And once you do, you don't have to. You don't keep feeling it - for me anyway. That's what I discern, and that's pretty cool. So that you don't have to, like, say, okay, it's going to take me 20 years or it's going to take me six months. There is no time.

Okay. I like that. I think we talked about that once before. You and I were, say, a friend of a friend of yours knew your husband real well. You haven't seen them in a while. You meet up and you know their relationship and they had one you hear she passed and it can bring up feelings and things of that nature, but we don't have to hold on to them. We can move past it. Correct. Once we get through them. 

I like move through them. Move past kind of puts them under the rug. And I think you have to feel them.

Okay. Yeah. How does the mind body connection play a role in grieving now? 

Wow. Well, I'm not a health expert.  my late husband - he was a physician, as I said. He used to call me an informed health advocate because I've made it my business for the last 30 years to read and know and help people.

So the mind body connection and how does it play a role in grief? Is that your question? It is, yes. So I think we tend to, in some ways, and even with the grief recovery training I had gotten, they call it sturbs.  like there are things that you can do for your body which are like comfort food or comfort imbibing, things like that, but they're really not healthy, you know, to overeat or overindulge.

And I think that's what I'm speaking about, where I say in my book – meditate, don’t medicate.  And I think it's important to maximize your vitamin D level. That's a hormone. And I've done some work with Michael Holick on getting the word out about that. People don't take enough. And it's really an antidepressant. And that's a little known fact and it gives you a lot of energy.

The other is to take a probiotic which maximizes your good, healthy gut flora, which helps, you know, the vagus nerve goes right to the brain. So the stomach is like a second brain. So if you're if you're doing that, you're also working on your mood and well-being.

If you're exercising even as hard as it is, you're getting your endorphins flowing and you also feel a sense of accomplishment and the other thing that I talk about in my book is the role of oxytocin. It's, you know, it's the love hormone.  like vitamin D is a hormone, actually, it's not a vitamin. Oxytocin is a love hormone. So I took solace in my dog.  And I know that people do find love again. And sometimes that's an antidote and sometimes early on, if it's too early on, maybe you fall in love too fast because you don't want to feel the sadness. You'd rather feel the love hormone. So I'm just saying those are mind body connections that I know. And you have to really be alert for not partaking too much of things that are comfort food or drink, that are not good for you, that kind of take you out of the game of feeling grief, the pure sadness.

Okay. You mentioned briefly meditation. Does that play a large role in grieving? 

Well, I don't know. Everybody has a different format of meditating. We got trained on transcendental meditation and periodically. Not all the time. I do, yes. I don't do it religiously, so to speak. 

But I find that's very helpful, especially if you are feeling too, too overwhelmed. Right. You can always turn to that. And the other thing I can share is that sometimes we do shallow breathing and it really plays with the emotions. Whereas if you take a belly breath and then hold it, count for four, blow it out for four, it's really remarkable in terms of grounding.

Yeah, yeah. So I want to go back to something you had said earlier. You had mentioned that you looked in the mirror and my life's not over. So what are some of the things and how did you enhance your life? Like, I just have the question right here. Self discovery and enhancement. What have you found and discovered now that you didn't have when you were married to your husband? Who are you? What difference then and now? 

Well, a couple of things happened just in the last two weeks. Last night, I was on line for Stephen Colbert. And somebody said, help. there are hundreds of people there and somebody screamed out “help.”

So after Tom died, I worked with the state senator to make sure that there were AEDs everyplace. People were at risk because they weren't on the tennis court where he played. and I got trained in CPR and I volunteered in three marathons, including the medical tent.

I've been a student of musical theater now.  sort of popping into a practice with very high level people where I don't really belong. I was told by the teacher at the end, “Trust yourself.” , this was two days ago. So last night (At the Stephen Coblert Show) I'm like, “my God, I have to trust myself.”  I went up to the person. I said, What's going on with His wife?  I said, Bring her down. Put her down and sit her in her seat and then raise her legs. And I helped do it. And I told the woman, Just breathe slowly and think of happy thoughts. And the next thing she was fine. People in the crowd said, “You know, you saved her life and you're so inspiring.”

And I didn't have anyone but I just had my friend there and I said, “hug me.”  I had to cry. it was straight out of there was nothing else to do except do what I did, trust myself. So, yeah, that's good.

And I love all of that. So those things, helping others, how you came to that young lady's aid and all that -  those are things you might not have done earlier on, but you've learned them through your process and youre new and different.

I would even go as far as saying you an improved lady.  I want to ask one last thing - you mention this in the book and I want a better understanding of it. So your book touches on leaving a legacy or remembering loved ones. Can you elaborate on how that aspect is incorporated in the healing journey? So what do you mean - leaving a legacy? 

Well, look, a couple of things come to mind. Okay? One, one very practical one is - who is your loved one to you? Who is that loved one to the world? So in my husband's case, it was fairly easy because he's he was an artist and he was getting a little bit known and not totally known. But I did create a website in his honor. So that's one thing. The other thing for me, and then I have one more point to make, was actually volunteering in the marathon.

And I greeted about 20,000 runners and gave them water. And in everybody I connected with, I would think to myself, this person has a story. This person is from a country I don't even know in a place I've never been and probably never heard of. And they got up at three in the morning to train and they have young children at home or they had diabetes and look at them.  Oh my God.

And for me it was the most incredible connection. A moving, moving experience. I cried several times while volunteering, just thinking of what's possible for humans.  and having them triumph over their concerns, their considerations, their physical state, their state of mind.  

So I'm guessing this is what you're saying. It's by having his artwork and actually doing things that, you know he would enjoy, that you're doing is sort of holding on to the memories. Is that when I'm where is it?

I'm sorry I didn't do it when he was alive. Right. But I you know, he there were there certain things when a person is alive, it kind of solidify -  how that relationship is going to go. And certain things you just don't create because there's a no or something. He was a big “no” person. So getting back to creating the legacy, I really don't know how he'd want to be remembered, except he was a wonderful man and he was a wonderful husband and a wonderful dad and a wonderful artist and a wonderful psychiatrist.

And I think I'm celebrating him and I'm celebrating life. When I'm greeting these runners, I'm celebrating that they have heart and they have lungs.

Yeah, wonderful, wonderful. Let me ask you one other thing. So if someone hears this and sees it and wants to work with you, how can we find you?  Yes, it's the book, right?

So the book is do you have a site or something?

Yes. I have a website. It's called newwaytogrieve.comAnd you can write to me at PKranjac@newwayto grieve.com.   I’ll respond right away. 

I think you know your subject matter extremely well and I know that because you've had a personal understanding of grief on one of the highest levels we can have it - a loved one or husband or spouse or wife, you know, things of that nature.

But, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and I hope to have you back in the future to weld in a little deeper on this.

Absolutely. Thank you.

Is there any last things you want to say to us or the people? Anything you want to sign off with, as they say? 

Well, I think the message of trusting yourself is a very big message.

Love it. Love it

Thank you all, see you next time at Choices.   

Good Bye