If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one, whether immediate family or friend, you know the untethered feeling of being immersed in grief. The experience throws you off kilter; you don’t know where to go, or how to get there. Everything seems to be about your grief. There is a way, however, to come through grief, to find the other side, to laugh again.
Long-time Olympia resident and life coach Joan Hitchens knows grief. Her journey through grief began with the suicide death of one of her daughter’s high school friends. It continued with the loss of her father, and most recently culminated in the death of her beloved husband of nearly 30 years, Dave Hitchens, after a long battle with cancer. Through these losses, Hitchens has refined her understanding of what it means to grieve and how to find your way to the other side. Her experiences have uniquely equipped her to help others find their own way. And she is doing exactly this through her online and Olympia-based support center, Navigating Grief.
Navigating, as defined by Miriam Webster, means “the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route to a destination.” Well, yes. That is just what Hitchens does for those stuck in the cycle of grief, not knowing how to move forward. She helps them accurately understand where they are currently, identify where they are in their grieving process, and then helps them plan a route, and the activities needed to follow that route, to find their way to the destination of their choice. “We can get through what we never imagine we can get through,” she says.
Sounds simple, right? Nothing about the grieving process is simple. It’s messy, complicated, and so very personal. To help with the process, Hitchens has created an in-depth online community with her extensive website, Navigating Grief. And from this online community has grown the Discover-Create- Share Center, located on the corner of Eastside and State Streets in Olympia, the Center adds a face-to-face element to the online support and resources currently available at Navigating Grief. The Center has three distinct rooms to facilitate the activities, Discover-Create-Share, that help the bereaved on their journey of healing. “When you see your grief as a transition from what was, to what is, to what can be, the idea of grief as a ‘journey’ makes sense,” shares Hitchens.
The first room is the Discover Room. Here, you are encouraged to explore and discover your own grief using a variety of methods including surveys, journal writing, lending library, group programs offered by the center and utilizing the online discussion board. Being able to ‘discover’ your grief – identify, process, just sit with your grief – is an important first step to learning how to come through it.
The second space in the Center is the Create room. This is a place of action, of doing. This is not mutually exclusive of Discovery, though, as many people can discover new aspects of roots of their grief through the act of creating and vice versa. “One of the biggest obstacles to grief is the fear that we will forget our loved one,” shares Hitchens. The act of creation, she teaches, is a way to honor and memorialize someone you’ve lost through tangible objects such as photo journals and scrapbooks. Hanging onto the memories and creating something positive with them, rather than hanging onto the grief of loss, is a better way to remember and treasure the person who is gone. The Create space encourages creativity in all forms including writing, poetry, art, photography and includes Navigating Grief’s own custom online photo project system to help create a meaningful, lasting, and tangible record of a wonderful life together.
Create is also about moving life forward after a loss. Workshops and personal coaching are directional to designing what lies on the other side of grief, which can have a very positive and fulfilling outcome, in spite of any current pain.
The final space in the Center is the Share space. Hitchens describes this as “the Starbucks for grief”. The Share space is a critical piece of Navigating Grief. While many times people feel very alone with their grief, as if others have moved on with life and they cannot, there is comfort and healing in coming together with others who have also experienced loss and “being alone, together”.
“There are two distinct kinds of sharing,” explains Hitchens. “There is the sharing of a grief story which includes pain, loss and emptiness. And there is the sharing of the life story, which celebrates the relationship and memories you have about the person you lost.” While there are tools available in the Share center to help facilitate sharing these stories, often this space is a place for a warm cup of coffee, a compassionate ear, and a safe place to vent thoughts and emotions that aren’t easily shared with just anyone. “We need witness to our loss with someone who really gets it,” Hitchens says, and the Share space allows just that.
The Discover-Create-Share Center is open to anyone needing support to navigate the new world that appears when you’ve experienced a loss. Spouses, parents, sisters, caregivers – they all experience loss in a different and individual way. However, there are universal truths about grieving and healing. Hitchens, and Navigating Grief, help set a course for healing and a path to living a joyful life once again.
For more information, visit Navigating Grief online or contact Joan Hitchens at 360-534-0203.