Moderation wins the day. — Three years ago, I was running on a treadmill and was feeling good, then too good, and overdid it. I let my speed dial control my ego and then suddenly and painfully, “broke my butt.” It was a tendon injury that sidelined me for months, crucial months when I wanted to be working out for my bridal vanity.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Douaire.
Melissa Douaire, M.Div., M.Ed., and Certified Grief Counselor is the proud mother of three college-aged children, living her best life in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and three dogs.
She consults, coaches and counsels at schools, organizations and corporations giving them the tools necessary to acknowledge and address the grief we will all eventually experience, understand the impacts of loss, and find the silver lining in owning our mortality. Her mission is to cast the widest net, to help the greatest number of people have their grief affirmed as it relates to death or other life transitions.
Melissa is known and recognized for her gifts and expertise as a compassionate listener, faithful optimist, and knowledgeable confidante.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Freckles, big teeth, and braids; remember Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls? I was her doppelganger. I too was raised in the Midwest; however, my mother didn’t make my clothes, at least not all of them. My OshKosh B’gosh overalls were still purchased at the feed mill before the brand had global storefronts.
I grew up in Oshkosh, WI, a moderate-sized town on the lake that stretched 13 miles wide and 26 miles long. Many summer afternoons were spent splashing in the shallow algae-filled lake, rowing the fishing boat, sailing, or water-skiing.
When darkness came, my younger brother and I would bust out through the slapping screen door for Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, Red Rover, or Kickball.
The nights ended with us covered in matted sweaty hair and mosquito bites.
Much of my childhood was idyllic and even a bit eccentric thanks to my parents’ belief in natural consequences and good humor. We had pet ducks; out of the six ducklings, two lived to a fair age, Maude and Maynard. We think Maynard was poisoned by the weird kid in the neighborhood.
Ultimately, there was just Maude left that we chauffeured around in the wheelbarrow. She would peck on the front door while we were eating lunch, encouraging us to hurry up. Maude was a bit vain and would primp her feathers admiring her reflection in the shiny bumper of my mom’s electric blue Chevette that was as small and safe as a beer can, a by-product of the oil crisis.
Late in the fall, Maude was attacked by a hunting dog that was owned by my dad’s friend who came out to the lake to, well, duck hunt.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I have always been envious of those folks that knew exactly what career they wanted from an early age and went for it! My career looks more like a homemade patchwork quilt. The culminating experiences over the past 30 years have finally brought me to my career moment of clarity and purpose. My first job out of college was an internship on Capitol Hill for a Representative; I was then hired as the Congressman’s Executive Assistant. In my youthful naiveté I didn’t fully comprehend the amount of power I was exposed to.
After a few years in Washington, D.C., I moved to Chicago and taught elementary school in Englewood, arguably one of the toughest roughest neighborhoods in the city. There was a murder where my car was parked after I left school in the late afternoon. The contrast between the most powerful corridors in the world to teaching on the streets of injustice resonated strongly. In both extremes, I was an observer to systems foreign to anything I had ever known. I was never powerful but also never powerless.
While pregnant with my third child, my mom’s cancer was back with a vengeance. I was grateful to be close enough that we could spend time together for the next four years. She had the gift of many holidays and days of nonsense with my kids before cancer ultimately won the war.
Ironically, after all these experiences, it was the loss of my mom’s life that brought me into my purpose in life.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My professor, Ken, and his wife, Katharine, held my hurt so gently when I had found out about my then husband’s infidelity. I found out on March 17, 2014 and was in the middle of my studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. If you’re going through a crisis, being surrounded by ministers and aspiring ministers is a great place for compassion!
Ken and Katharine shared their stories of hurt and heard mine while we sat in a tiny chapel for a couple of hours. I was affirmed, heard, and held in the darkest days of my life. They prayed for my healing, clarity, and peace endlessly.
Resilience came through support, prayer, and people who had known pain before and shared their vulnerability to help my healing. The love and connection they offered me was a deep spiritual connection and friendship. They were so significant in my healing process and shaping me in ministry. Ken wrote summarizing poem-prayers after each weekly class. The poem he wrote after our reading Paul Tillich’s, The Courage to Be, was so meaningful to my journey I asked him to read it at my ordination.
the Courage to Be
Oh Holy Being of all,
whose Courage to Be lives
in our courage to be…
Oh teacher of courage,
the courage to live,
to carry on, to take the next step
the courage to care,
the courage to feel,
to feel and learn from pain, mine and others
to feel and learn from joy, mine and others
the courage to see, to know,
to not run away from life,
to not hide,
the courage to face it all, bear it all,
participate in it all,
the courage to love and to be my true self, who I am called to be,
even when the world demeans or denies me,
the courage to love and to see your true self, who you are called to be,
even when the world demeans or denies you,
the courage to cry,
the courage to laugh,
the courage to dance with all the polarities of our existence,
hope and fear,
the tiny and the infinite,
life and death,
beauty and ugliness,
reason and faith,
anxiety and courage,
being and non-being,
Joy and suffering,
Oh Holy Being of all,
thank you for the gift of this day,
for the gift of our being this day,
teach us again this day
your beautiful, healing Courage to Be.
— amen. ken jacobsen March 2014
I was privileged to see Katharine shortly before she died. Her last words to me were, “We are connected through the boundless circle of Love.” This is how she lived her life and brought so many others into knowing what deep Love is. Ken and I have been friends through dark days and have been the light for one another.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
During a solemn worship service, where the lights were dimmed, I extinguished that last candle in a darkened sanctuary. As I was placing the candle snuffer on the last candle, the organist struck a dramatic, loud minor chord that nearly had me jump out of my skin. The organist no longer does that for the health of the candle-extinguisher!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich. I was reading this as a class assignment during seminary. It is about living into your “godself” and becoming brave enough to live in your soul’s purpose, despite the fears that inhibit us from living fully in our soul.
It was particularly powerful in my suffering the loss of trust in my marriage and needing courage to end what I had known as my life and find the courage to redefine myself. There were so many identity changes that occurred due to the divorce, as well as taking on a new identity as a minister which comes with many loaded perceptions from others; I needed courage!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.
So simple and true! I spent so much of my life as a pleaser as a daughter, wife, mother, and friend that I wasn’t answering to myself. This quote registered as humorous and permission to live as myself, a big duh-moment that came late in life. I hope others embrace this earlier than I did.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am addressing grief of all kinds to the largest audiences I can find. Grief and its impacts have to be brought to life. Grief conversations have always been important, but the pandemic has created an urgency that we cannot ignore. Much of the mental health crisis we are experiencing with increased anxiety and depression I believe is unnamed grief. Grief is the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. Grief has a negative stigma of weakness, similar to that of mental health.
Unfortunately, loss is inherent to life. Not only are we as individuals, families, communities, countries, and global communities suffering from staggering numbers of deaths, we have lost the rhythms of life as we knew it. The isolation that the pandemic has brought into our lives is profound and affecting our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health. Every person has examples of losses in their lives. We need to give witness to the pain, name it, and offer hope in the healing.
For years I have given pastoral counseling to grieving folks that has been helpful, but early in the pandemic, I realized that people who had never experienced profound grief were about to be saturated with the effects of it. I started by reaching out to the community college to help faculty support their students who might not have ever experienced death.
Helping others who help others to understand the symptoms of grief and how this would affect their students was needed. My mission has grown from there; if I can help one person with their grief, I can help 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000! The need is vast and urgent. I am going big.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Yoga has been with me for over 20 years and made me breathe when life knocked the wind out of me. It was a regular practice for me through my third pregnancy, during my mom’s cancer treatments, her death, and my most anxious moments. My yoga studio was my safest place to find calm during the emotional chaos of deciding to divorce.
When I found out my ex-husband had been cheating on me, I was supposed to give a sermon based upon a stanza of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” I wasn’t able to pull that sermon together under the acute distress, but it became my mantra moving along my prayer beads. I just needed to get through the day, one day at a time.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Awareness of diet, food is fuel.
Paying attention to what you take in and what you demand of your body is really important. Food is fuel. Eating only a salad the night before a long run is the recipe for a bonking! Our brain is the organ that burns the most calories, so if you are demanding a lot from it, feed it with nutritious fuel.
Just do it, before you find something else to do.
The hardest part of any workout is getting started. I like to work out early in the day before I find any distractions or opportunities for procrastination.
Moderation wins the day.
Three years ago, I was running on a treadmill and was feeling good, then too good, and overdid it. I let my speed dial control my ego and then suddenly and painfully, “broke my butt.” It was a tendon injury that sidelined me for months, crucial months when I wanted to be working out for my bridal vanity.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I think I am similar to a lot of people who have great intentions for healthy eating but occasionally give into cravings. I’m an emotional eater, and I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. Anxiety triggers sweet cravings. It is usually around getting started on a big project or writing answers to interview questions for a large publication. Sometimes it is out of the house-boredom associated with the pandemic.
Instead of eating in these anxious moments that have me climbing the cupboards for sweets, I have been trying to drink something when I’m not hungry. Hot tea, iced-tea, lemon water, or some electrolyte drinks.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Time outside, time with friends, and time spent exercising.
Ideally, I can accomplish all three objectives at once! A long walk or run with a friend is the trifecta: fresh air, a change of scenery, social and emotional connection with a friend, and cardiovascular activity. This combo is a great boost of the happy chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphin. It really is magical how my mood lifts and clarity comes into focus after a walk.
During the pandemic, my husband and I have been doing 45-minute walks up and down the hills of our Boulder neighborhood first thing in the morning. Walking in the morning sets our day off to a great start, and we find ourselves so much more productive.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
My smile has always been the way I connect with people. It is my non-verbal communication that relays my approachability, humor, and connection. The ability to connect is emotionally lifting, even in the smallest interactions: with the grocery clerk, the bank teller, the wait staff, clients, strangers in line, and little kids playing peek-a-boo on the airplane. Smile and the world smiles with you.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Gratitude, empathy, and belief in the mystery of life.
I believe these three actions connect us to each other and the God of many names.
Spiritual wellness is about believing all will be well, that the universe is abundant, and moving through life with grace, mercy, and empathy will bring us closer to each other and make our relationships with others and God soulfully satisfying.
Grace and gratitude are sisters that put troubles into perspective, squelch jealousy, and promote generosity toward others. Mercy and empathy bring compassion into relationships making them more connective.
A belief in something greater than us keeps us in awe, humble, and comfortable in the mystery that we don’t have nor do we need to have all the answers.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Nature gives us awe and the opportunity to see the miracles of life all around us. To be in nature, under the stars, is so profound. Often, we are so narrow in our vision that we forget to look up and realize how small we are, how insignificant the worries we often carry really are. Living into the mystery is believing in something bigger than I am and is oddly reassuring to me.
There are so many rhythms, cycles, patterns, colors, systems, and species found in nature. When I allow myself to be small in my surroundings, I am aware of how incredible the world is. I am only a guest, a voyeur within systems beyond my ability to comprehend. Nature is evidence to me there is a God-of-many-names at work; the tensions between interconnectivities and life mystery make me feel like I belong even if I do not understand.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The conversation around grief needs to happen at the largest levels and where the people are — at work. Leaders larger than I am can urgently address the emotional and mental health of the workforce through compassionate leadership and changing organizational cultures. Not only the current employees, but the pipeline of young adults who have lost so much during the past year are suffering from unacknowledged losses and will need assistance with their unresolved losses.
Unaddressed grief will impact the workplace endlessly when they are participants in it. A pre-pandemic statistic offered by SHRM estimated approximately $75 billion annually was lost due to lost productivity because of grief. Ideally, companies will want to invest in the wellbeing of their employees because it is the right thing to do, but it also dramatically impacts their bottom line.
I want to be a catalyst for normalizing conversations around grief, honoring the losses we all face with dignity, so that we are healthy, productive, compassionate people living lives that fulfill our destinies.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love a conversation with Brené Brown. Dare to Lead suggests that the best way to achieve influential leadership is through courage. Courage to be vulnerable and address fears. I believe the biggest fears are related to loss. Leaders are afraid to lose power, status or lose face in front of their employees. Addressing losses, the fear of losing or what can be lost is an ambient fear that we all carry with us. When leaders become courageous, they will allow conversations around losses in life. Shame can be eradicated from conversations and replaced with support. There is no shame in loss or the sadness that surrounds it. Acknowledging the transitions, adjustments, losses in identity, finances, relationships, and death is about meeting the humanity in each other.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way to reach me for more conversations around the multi-dimensionality around all kinds of grief is at www.wholepersonconversations.com, or linkedin.com/in/melissadouaire.
It is my mission to bring understanding, comfort, and compassion to as many grieving people as possible! I would love the opportunity to connect with communities in need of support for the bereavement they are experiencing.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.