Feel your feelings: There is no way through grief, but through grief. I know the emotions feel overwhelming and too painful, so let yourself go at the pace that’s right for you, but these emotions are normal and there is no other way through but to feel them. I’m sorry ❤. Let all of the emotions flow through you and be present with them. Become an expert on your own emotions.
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 Megan Hillukka.
Megan Hillukka is a bereaved mother, with 6 children, 5 who are still here. Megan encourages and supports grieving mothers that though the worst thing has happened to them, their life is not over. Through her experience of the death of her daughter Aria, Megan has learned tools and ways of shifting grief so that it can become just a little bit lighter, and easier to live with. She helps her clients carry their grief instead of suffering with grief, and to truly learn how to walk side by side with both grief and joy.
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 grew up in Minnesota the 2nd youngest of 6 children. My childhood is one I remember fondly as a gift of childhood. The freedom to play, be outside, explore, and have fun. Days spent swimming in our pool and jumping on the tramp in the summer, and sledding and snowboarding in the winter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
Because life is so much out of my control, and my daughters death is so out of my control, yet it’s hard to give that up and know that there are things I cannot control. To be at peace with the things that I cannot change, but also to work hard at the things I can, and do the work with what is in my control is a powerful thing to realize.
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.
-Learning how to feel my emotions and not let them stop me from doing what I want: We all have lots of fear around going for our dreams and our goals. As I’ve learned to process the emotions of grief and loss, I’ve also learned to process all of my emotions including fear that could easily stop me from doing what I’m doing today. Learning to feel the fear and do it anyways has been a huge part of why I am where I am today.
-Ability to be flexible and try something out: I don’t easily get caught up in perfectionism, I’m able to do something, do my best work, and then put it out into the world. I don’t need it to be perfect, because my message and what I want to share is more important than things being perfect, if I waited until things were perfect, I would never get anything out there to help others!
-Manage overwhelm and let it go: Because I have 6 children, a husband, I’m homeschooling my children, building out a school bus into an RV and all the others things life brings, I could easily and have many times been overwhelmed. When I do get overwhelmed or stressed, it seems like I shut down and really don’t get the things I need to get done. I’ve learned that overwhelm is a choice, and I get to decide what I work on every day, and what I can cut out. This is a choice I get to make, and so the overwhelm goes away. Some things just might take longer that I would like!
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?
Yes, my daughter Aria died 5 years ago suddenly during the night. She was 15 months old and our 3rd child. I was due in 4 weeks for our 4th child. The suddenness of her death threw our whole world into chaos, and shattered everything we knew about life.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The trauma and fear of finding her in the morning is not something I wish on anyone. Your child who you love so much- dead. Nothing you can do to change it, nothing you can do to go back and fix it. The finality of her death and the lifelong way I have to carry the grief of her loss is with me forever. I imagined what it would be like to lose a child, but I never actually thought it would be our daughter that it happened to. It’s a huge fear that I didn’t think would happen. After she died, I was in shock, and it felt like this is something that happens to other people, not me. It was very hard to wrap my mind around.
How did you react in the short term?
Obviously I was devastated. I was grieving. I was a grieving mom, I was also a new mom again as my next daughter was born 4 weeks later. I was also diagnosed with PTSD from finding Aria in the morning. The first year after her death, I spent in the balance of trying to allow myself to grieve and process what happened, but also living in a state of trauma where I was so on edge and vigilant of my other children, trying to make sure nothing happened to them. The stress of all the grief and trauma was very overwhelming for my mind and my body.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
The biggest thing I did for trauma was go to therapy. I did Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help heal and process the trauma I was living with. I also allowed myself to grieve without judgement and a time line. I wanted to hold space for the pain, as I knew that grief was a normal and natural reaction to loss. I did a lot of running, biking, sitting with my pain, writing about my daughter, and talking with friends and family.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
The thing with child loss is you never fully “heal”. You learn to carry the pain you have. I’ve learned that I don’t need to get rid of the grief I have, but that I can carry it, and I will grieve Aria the rest of my life. She is a part of me and my life, and when I’ve allowed the grief to become a part of me, I have suffered less.
So the biggest thing, is allowing myself to feel all of the emotions I’m given on my grief journey, and letting them flow through me. This understanding has allowed me to walk with both grief and joy and so much excitement for my future. I do not need to “let go” or “move on” but to accept grief as a part of my life, and learn to walk with it.
Also- for the trauma portion, EMDR saved my life, and changed my perspective of mental health. Trauma can be healed, and for me, EMDR gave me that gift of healing.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
Letting go of resistance to emotion is the biggest thing. As a society we think of the heavier emotions as “bad”. Anger, guilt, sadness, depression. These are all things we should not feel and are bad. Yet- they are natural in grief, and the sooner you allow yourself to feel them, the lighter and easier they get. It seems so counter-intuitive, but when I let go of resistance and let myself fully process the emotion that’s coming up for me, that’s when I have a fuller and more vibrant life.
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 would say my friends- many different ones were amazing. Of course my husband as well, but my friends were there for me. They helped me physically: cleaning my house, babysitting my kids so I could go to therapy, bringing food to our house, and they have also been there over the years as time has gone on. They have been listening ears who are always willing to listen. They have not told me it’s time to move on, or asked me what’s wrong with me, they have been so open to learning about grief and what it’s like to lose a child.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
I wouldn’t say that I would ever choose to have my daughter die. If I could have her back, and unlearn all fo the lessons I’ve learned, I would in a heartbeat. Yet- I cannot have her back. That is not an option, and so, while her death is not something I would have chosen, I do have some blessings that I’ve been given. I have the work I do now with women because I know this pain. I have the compassion for other peoples experiences. My husband and I have such a deeper relationship because this forced us to have really hard conversations.
It’s been a lot of work, effort, sitting with the pain, feeling my emotions, noticing my thoughts, getting and asking for help, and so many other things. Getting to where I am doesn’t just happen. It definitely has taken intention and the will to make my life better.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
That I can do hard things. I’ve often thought of myself as emotionally broken, and before Aria died, I imagined if my children died I would just crumble in a ball and die with them. Yet- here I am. I have learned how to process my emotions and not be scared to feel the emotions I have.
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.
–People who understand the loss and pain you are going through: Being around others who have at least walked a similar journey helps you know you are not alone. In grief, it can feel like nobody else understands and you are all alone. When you find others who are walking a similar journey, you can see that you are not going crazy, and you most certainly are not alone.
-Give yourself grace and space to grieve: Society will try to rush you, and tell you to get over it. But this is your own grief journey, and you are allowed to do it in your own. One of the biggest judgers might be yourself. So often we feel like everyone else doesn’t let me grieve in the way I want to, but in reality it’s you who is holding yourself back. Let yourself grieve in the way that feels right for you. Let go of judgement of yourself or what it’s supposed to look like. This is unchartered territory for you, and you have to make your path through it.
-Feel your feelings: There is no way through grief, but through grief. I know the emotions feel overwhelming and too painful, so let yourself go at the pace that’s right for you, but these emotions are normal and there is no other way through but to feel them. I’m sorry ❤. Let all of the emotions flow through you and be present with them. Become an expert on your own emotions.
-Seek professional help: You do not need to do this all alone. Whether you find a good therapist, or someone like me who coaches women through grief, there are people out there who have walked the path you are walking on, and who can help guide you through it. I know it might seem like nothing can help or make it better, and that’s not the point, the point is to support your body and mind while you grieve. Not to make your grief go away.
-Find the tools to help support your body and mind through grief: I know you want to make the pain go away, and you want to feel better. Sometimes you have to be okay with just sitting in the muck. Be okay with being sad. Be okay with being angry. Be okay with being depressed. And then, from that place, you can learn different methods and tools to help your body process and experience all of these intense emotions. Some things that have been most useful to me is movement, E.F.T. Tapping, meditations, thought work, journaling, doing things in remembrance of Aria, and learning about grief.
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?
Stop Talking Start Feeling- I truly believe that the only way through loss, pain, grief, and so many hard things we live with in our lives is to actually and fully feel the emotions we have. As a society we stuff, numb, and try to hide the hard emotions. Yet these painful emotions are also real and need to be acknowledged. The more we open up to these emotions, the more vibrant and beautiful our lives can be, yet we stuff and numb, and when we do that, we are also stuffing and numbing our ability to feel truly joyful and happy.
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. 🙂
I’m fascinated with Dr. Peter Levine’s work in somatic experiencing. I have learned a lot more about trauma especially since I was living with it, and I fulled healed of it. I would love to learn more about trauma and how I can help the mothers I work with through his work. I have read many of his books and they have helped me already a lot!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I have a podcast called Grieving Moms Podcast that can be downloaded on any platform, and my website is www.meganhillukka.com There they can find all about my online programs, and how they can work with me to be a guide to them on their grief journey.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!