Lea Lester: “Grief and loss are traumatic events”

Grief and loss are traumatic events. — Society still has a long way to go to understand trauma and how it affects people. Trauma is anything that exceeds our ability to cope. It threatens our feelings of safety. It’s more than emotional, it’s physiological. It effects people differently and that in no way speaks to their strength […]

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Grief and loss are traumatic events. — Society still has a long way to go to understand trauma and how it affects people. Trauma is anything that exceeds our ability to cope. It threatens our feelings of safety. It’s more than emotional, it’s physiological. It effects people differently and that in no way speaks to their strength or value.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lea Lester.

Lea is a licensed therapist, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, and entrepreneur. She primarily serves young adult women; helping them prioritize self-love, self-trust, and self-acceptance. Lea works from a trauma-informed lens that centers empathy, safety, and connection. She lives in the DFW metroplex with her husband and kids where she enjoys spicy food and a good beat drop.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m a married mama of 4 littles who values legacy, which looks like doing my part to leave this world a better place through my children and through my work; my faith, which was shaped in my grandfather’s Southern Baptist church, but looks different now; and ease, which I find to be the most difficult to remain true to in a world that values hustle. I refer to myself as a “recovering perfectionist” as I’m ever learning how to show up imperfectly human in a way that honors my needs and wants. I’ve been privileged to choose courage over fear the last few years and I’m on a mission to help others do the same.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Ooh…. That’s a tough one because there are so many that I return to. If I have to choose one, I have to say it’s this Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You’re playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I think it’s a beautiful and compassionate reframe of fear and confidence. It emboldens us to lean into our strengths and share them with the world as a gift and a purposeful duty.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I’d credit community first and foremost. I have been blessed with many people in various areas of my life who have encouraged and supported me. From my grandfather who had me speaking in church as young as age 4, to superiors who have invested in my leadership and visionary skills, and especially my husband who’s a supportive life partner. Even beyond that, I’m just really humbled at the sheer amount of gracious people I’ve had the privilege of knowing and doing life with, whether in a small or large capacity.

Next, I’d say my curiosity. I’ve always loved to learn and read. And I don’t necessarily mean in the traditional school setting. My greatest lessons have come from my personal experiences and the life experiences of others who have shared them with me formally and informally.
Finally, I’d credit my mindset which is still evolving as it’s part of my growth. It involves acknowledging and challenging limiting beliefs, which for me tends to center around failure and fear.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

I, like many of you, have experienced so much loss over the last year. My grief felt especially compounded because I recently lost a best friend tragically and unexpectedly to domestic violence in 2019. We were all taken aback because there was no known history of abuse.

This is a friend who meticulously hand glued seashells to my bridal shower invitations to match my destination wedding. A friend who gave up her afternoons to help me plan choreography for a dance team my first year of teaching (at no charge). A friend who’d just helped me grieve the loss of my grandmother a year before we lost her.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

There were several really difficult things to grapple with. She left behind 3 children who no longer had a mother or father. So, there was a lot of concern for their well-being.

I felt a lot of regret and guilt. Over the years we’d both gotten “busy” with life’s responsibilities. Our last conversation was planning a dinner that never happened. Just the day before, she’d commented on a picture posted to social media that she loved me. I didn’t see it before getting the news she’d transitioned. I go back to that message often. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what signs we missed, feeling like I wasn’t paying enough attention or that I’d failed her somehow. Honestly, I still struggle with that sometimes.

How did you react in the short term?

I was in disbelief. It was so unexpected. There’d been no prior instance of domestic violence that anyone was aware of. My friend had a personality bigger than life. She was very witty, outgoing, and talented. It just did not seem real that all of that could be extinguished so quickly and violently. I was also angry that someone that she loved and trusted did this to her.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

A few things were helpful. I allowed myself to feel the grief as it came in waves. I cried when I needed to. I felt the fear and anger when it surfaced. I didn’t push any of it down.

I also relished my memories. There are so many good ones! We’d known each other since we were 14 and shared some of our greatest moments together.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

I can’t say that I’ve “let go” or healed. I consider those concepts to be life-long work that I’ll keep striving for. I have accepted the loss meaning I acknowledge the reality of it and realize that I couldn’t control it. I’ve instead shifted my focus to what I can control and that’s showing up for my friend’s children and her sister.

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

David Kessler’s work on the stages of grief has been very helpful with creating an internal shift. He validated the original five stages and added a sixth that he refers to as making meaning. He describes it as transforming grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience. It’s a personal experience because making meaning will look different for every person. The commonality is that it is away to honor your loss.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

I’m eternally grateful for my friend’s sister for trusting me through her own grief and allowing me to honor this loss in my own way.

I’m also grateful to my job at that time. I know I am lucky to have worked for an organization that allowed me time and space to fully grieve. So many of my colleagues contributed support for me and my friend’s family and I am beyond forever grateful for that.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

When I lost my grandmother the prior year, a colleague at the time left a sweet note on my desk. The last line has remained close to me: “grief is the price of love.” It is a compassionate reframe of my experiences with grief. Yes, it’s heavy and painful and awful; but how lucky am I to have had something to love so dearly?

Kim, if you’re reading this, I still have that note. Thank you.

I’ve also been able to use my experiences with grief to shape how I serve my therapy clients experiencing the same feeling. I’m able to hold space for them with so much empathy. There’s a saying among therapists that you can only take your clients as far as you’ve gone. It speaks to the need for therapists to commit to their own work so we can fully support those we serve.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

This loss was a reminder of my mortality. At that time, I was living in a space of burn out, stress, unfulfillment, and unalignment. But I was too scared to do anything significant about it. After losing my friend, I acknowledged that I did not want to continue to live a life of regret. I decided the cost was too great. I began living a life of intention and I began to lean into my values. It’s been very freeing.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

Here’s my take on it:

1. Grief and loss are traumatic events. — Society still has a long way to go to understand trauma and how it affects people. Trauma is anything that exceeds our ability to cope. It threatens our feelings of safety. It’s more than emotional, it’s physiological. It effects people differently and that in no way speaks to their strength or value.

2. Grief is personal. — We think grief has to look a certain way, but the truth is there is no “right” way. And it’s not a linear experience. The most important thing is to allow yourself to feel it.

3. Community — One of the most helpful paths to healing is a supportive and empathetic network. Quality over quantity is important here. Grief can feel very lonely but being shown empathy helps validate our feelings and experience. Community also opens the door to other types of support if you are open to it (like help with tasks, etc.)

4. Grief is expansive — Any loss can lead to grief…. the loss of a job, relationship, or even a dream. Any type of loss or grief deserves care.

5. Grief is universal — I mentioned before that it can feel very lonely, but grief and loss are a part of our shared humanity. I hope that knowledge normalizes the experience. Your grief is as valid as the next person’s.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

More empathy, hands down. We are in a precarious space where we commonly “other” people based on harmful standards. How beautiful would it be if we attempted to understand what others feel or consider another’s perspective in a given situation? I think it’s imperative that we begin to recognize the humanity in each of us and remember that our worth is a God given birthright with no pre-requisites.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Is Jay Z a reach? lol.

Myleik Teele is someone I admire and who inspires my personal and business growth. I’ve followed her since 2012 and consider her a virtual mentor of sorts.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me at my website, lealester.com, and most active on Instagram at @feelwithlea.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for allowing me to share my story. I hope it brings comfort to someone who needs it.

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