Patience & Gentleness: It sounds such a cliché but time really is important. Give yourself time to do what feels right for you, so choose wisely how to spend it. Meditation is wonderful as it quietens the mind, I have found it a very gentle, supportive technique for a few years now.
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 Wendy Jennings.
Wendy Jennings — The Coddiwomple Lady, is a Wellbeing Mentor from the UK. She is the author of the book “From Cancer To Coddiwomple — A Story of Love, Loss and Daring to Dream” and is passionate about empowering others to feel healthier and happier following a major life changing event.
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 was born in 1968 and I grew up in the picturesque town of Tunbridge Wells, located in the beautiful UK county of Kent. I don’t have any siblings and I enjoyed a close and loving relationship with my parents. They ran their own successful trophy and engraving business for many years.
By the time I came along Mum & Dad had fully immersed themselves into the world of motor sport, working on the organizational side of running race meetings. Our weekends were often spent attending local club events and I thought it was completely normal for a field to be full of cars. I remember being given a toy farmyard to play with when I was a child and I would remove the animals and replace them with toy cars! Brands Hatch was our nearest circuit and I spent a lot of weekends there during my formative years. Motor sport was in my blood by this time; I loved the people, the noise, the smells and of course the cars.
Therefore it was no surprise to anyone when I went to work there soon after I left school! My childhood was happy and full of fun. Mum & Dad always had time for me, although I was never spoilt — I certainly knew the meaning of “No!” from a young age! I enjoyed my school days too, I wasn’t a very academic student but I made some great friends, many of whom I’m still in touch with. Even back then, life was about enjoyment and being happy for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.” by John Wooden.
I heard this quote on a radio program soon after my parents died in 2012. It felt like a light bulb in my head showing me the way forwards. I couldn’t change what had happened but I could choose how I dealt with it.
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.
This is quite a hard question to answer as I don’t tend to analyze my qualities or character traits very often!
I suppose if I had to pinpoint three qualities, the first would be Resilience. I’ve always been very good at adapting to new situations after a major life change such as redundancy or if a relationship failed. I learned to lean into my resilience during 2012 when Mum & Dad were ill and subsequently died. Going with the flow was all I could do, resistance was futile.
Secondly I would say Courage. This almost blends in with Resilience for me. I am able to keep moving forwards even though the path ahead looks scary. 2012 was a very scary time for me as I knew my life would change beyond all recognition but my only way was forwards. Embarking on my Big Trip (my coddiwomple) in 2015–2016 to Bali and Australia was scary as I had never done anything like that by myself before. I think it also took courage to publish my book which is my own very personal story of loss and healing, because I had to reveal more about myself than I would usually do to people who don’t know me.
I think the third thing would be my sense of humor which enables me to keep positive despite difficult circumstances. I’ve inherited a trait which enables me to always find something to smile about in difficult situations. I laughed with my parents a lot during their illnesses, which I know others might find inappropriate or strange, but it helped us a lot and it still helps me to this day.
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 lost both my parents to cancer in 2012, five weeks apart. Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2012, Dad was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in May. Mum had chemotherapy but that didn’t work for her and Dad’s cancer was too far advanced to treat. It was a very aggressive form that took hold very quickly. They had both been happy and healthy up until this point. Dad deteriorated rapidly and he died in July and Mum followed him five weeks later, just before their 50th wedding anniversary. They were 75 and 73 respectively. The whole journey took just nine months.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
I think the scariest part was the speed in which everything changed and the turbulence of it all. At least that’s how it felt at the time. I also remember thinking that nobody would ever have my back in the way that my parents did, which was unsettling for a while.
I don’t remember thinking about the worst thing that could happen to me but I remember feeling concerned about what could happen if I made any rash decisions about my life too early on and couldn’t put the consequences right later.
How did you react in the short term?
I had prepared myself for this moment because I spent so much time with my parents during their last few months and I believe I had started grieving when they were both told their illnesses were terminal (within 48 hours of each other) in June. I remember bringing Mum home from her appointment with the Oncologist and then sitting with them in their living room while they reminisced over their life together. I quietly listened to them recalling their memories and it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that they were preparing themselves to depart this world and embark a new journey; one on which I was not invited. I had never felt so alone. I quietly slipped out of the house, returned to my flat and howled into a pillow. All my frustrations, anger, worry and sadness spilled out into that pillow for about an hour, until I was physically exhausted. But I also felt a sense of release when I was done.
Mum was still at home when the call came from the hospice early in the morning on 29th July to tell us that Dad had died. We both felt relieved that he was at peace and no longer in pain. We hadn’t been able to communicate with him for a few days prior to this, so it wasn’t a shock when it finally happened.
Mum had followed Dad to the hospice a week after he died so I was alone in their bungalow when I received the call about Mum early on 6th September. She had been physically deteriorating steadily since Dad died and I knew her end was near. She was still mentally very sharp until the day before she died and I’d gone to visit her but I could tell she wasn’t going to make it through the night, she’d had enough. It was strange when the call came early the following morning as I remember a split second of being surprised. I then quietly gathered my thoughts. It was too early to talk to anyone so I just got on with what I needed to do. I remember padding through to the kitchen in bare feet, making a cup of tea and going to sit in Mum’s favorite chair in the conservatory. No tears came, although my heart felt leaden and I was bereft and I held on to the belief that things were working out as they should be.
A feeling of emptiness descended over me in the following days. I constantly felt I should be doing something for them but of course there wasn’t anything to do. The previous nine months had been swallowed up with hospital visits, doctors’ calls, collecting prescriptions, running errands for them, shopping for them and generally caring for them. Their bungalow felt eerily quiet and I cried a few times, but also managed to smile between the sniffs at the happy memories I had been left with.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
The first few days and weeks were spent with urgent paperwork and passed by in a blur. I made sure I didn’t spend all my time home alone, as that would have been unhealthy and I took regular walks along our local beach in Shoreham, Sussex. It was somewhere I always felt safe and had become the equivalent of a security blanket. Friends were a lifeline too; they never stifled me but they were always there, hovering at the end of a phone or email if I needed anything. Once the dust had settled and the formalities had been filed and completed, “Me and I” made a deal: I looked myself straight in the eye in front of the bathroom mirror and told myself: “Wends, you just have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it. Nobody can do that for you, you have to do it for yourself.” I’ve never looked back…
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
For me it was all about trusting that everything was working out for the best. My parents should have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 15th September 2012 and I took great comfort from the fact that they were reunited for that special day. It would have been so unfair on the one left behind to have spent the day on their own. My parents had barely spent a night apart during their marriage, they were a team, totally bonded and it felt right that they were reunited quite quickly.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I remembered a conversation I had with Mum while Dad was in the hospice when she gave me a valuable piece of advice: “Make sure you do what you want and not what anyone else thinks you should do.” That gave me mental permission to make my own decisions and not be talked into anything I didn’t feel comfortable with. My first real emotional hurdle was going to be that first Christmas; I was given the perfect Escape Plan by some very dear friends to join them in Australia for Christmas. Being thousands of miles away from home gave me space and time to think, reflect and work out what would come next. New Years Eve was a significant milestone too. I was with my cousins in Melbourne and as the clock struck midnight, I slumped into a big sofa, drew a huge sigh of relief and said out loud: “That’s it. 2012 is finally over. It can’t hurt me anymore!”
I arrived home on 10th January 2013 with a strong sense that a new chapter was beginning: My Life Part 2: What Wendy Did Next — finding a new way of Being. I knew I would be okay, after all I now had two new guardian angels keeping an eye on proceedings!
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?
Oh goodness, I can’t possibly narrow it down to one person! So many friends and other family members each played their individual parts in my healing. I’m forever grateful to the friends who invited me out to Australia for that first Christmas as that sewed a seed for the trip that was to give my life new direction. I leaned on my Auntie & Uncle a lot (Mum’s sister, who lived in the same village) and she also made sure I ate properly! My best friend, Lisa who checked up on me almost on a daily basis and could always be relied upon to make me laugh (and supply wine when needed!)
I had a good team around me.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Yes is the short answer!
As I’ve said previously, I take great comfort from the belief that everything works out for the best in the end. The responses I had from the personal blog I kept while traveling to Bali & Australia made me very aware that my experiences could inspire and guide others who were struggling with their own situations and that is why I wrote my book From Cancer To Coddiwomple — A Story of Love, Loss and Daring to Dream. The book also helps me raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer as these can often be missed and the proceeds help me support the hospice who looked after us. Since I published itin 2019 I have set myself up as a Wellbeing Mentor to support others to feel happier and healthier following a loss or other major life change. I feel my parents’ presence and guidance all the time and I truly believe this is what I was put on this earth to do.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
That I’m braver and more resilient than I thought I was. Losing my parents was always something I’d dreaded and I always believed that I’d fall to bits, but I didn’t. My tolerance levels for needless drama have lowered and I don’t take anything for granted. Life can change in an instant so I’ve learned to enjoy every moment and follow my dreams and passions.
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.
- Patience & Gentleness: It sounds such a cliché but time really is important. Give yourself time to do what feels right for you, so choose wisely how to spend it. Meditation is wonderful as it quietens the mind, I have found it a very gentle, supportive technique for a few years now. Grief doesn’t come with a rule book, it’s important to follow your heart and remember it’s YOUR journey. I took time to journal my thoughts and let the emotions wash over me when they needed to. I have discovered there are no “stages” to grief (at least not for me), if I had to draw a diagram it would look like a child’s tangled scribble!
- Acceptance: This can be a tough one, depending on the circumstances of the loss or change. The outcome is always the same though: we can’t change what has happened, we can’t go back. It’s easy to become stuck in the “what if” scenarios such as “what if I’d done this, then they might still be here…” which prevents us from moving forwards. I ended up talking to myself reflected in the bathroom mirror to motivate me to move forwards. Another segment to acceptance is to accept that you are not alone. Everyone, everywhere experiences grief at some point in life and it’s important to feel supported and understood. There are many supportive charities and organizations that can help with this if you are struggling.
- Find a Purpose: Again, this is a tough one but loss can sometimes cause us to feel like we have no purpose or we lose our identity. I know I did, I wasn’t a daughter anymore, I’m not a parent and I’m not a sibling, therefore who was I? It took me a while to find out, I gave myself time and was gentle and patient with myself to work out what makes my heart sing. I had counseling and coaching to help me figure it out; talking things through with a coach or a counselor helps to straighten out our thoughts and see the way ahead more clearly. Loss and a major life change can cause our values to shift and it’s helpful to re-evaluate them so we can move forwards. Go back to the basics, work out what it is important to you now, again be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to try new things and to pivot if one particular thing doesn’t work for you.
- Find ways of including your lost loved one in what you’re doing now: This could be anything from hanging their favorite ornament on the tree at Christmas, planting their favorite flowers in your garden, or using some tools and equipment that belonged to them. I use my Dad’s easel for my paintings which always makes me smile. Perhaps mark a special date by doing something nice for yourself like a day trip or a treat.
- Embrace your Grief: By that I mean that grief doesn’t go away, we somehow have to learn to live with it. I think of my parents every single day and miss them more than words could ever convey. My life is very different without them around but I’m certainly not sad. I chose to be happy and positive (I still do) as the last thing they would want is for me to mope around and be miserable.
The initial dark clouds do clear and the sun can shine again if you let it.
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?
I would LOVE to start The Coddiwomple Lady Foundation! The aim of this would be to raise funds for millions of hospices all over the world by spreading joy, happiness and kindness and showing others how they too can feel happier and healthier following a life changing event, such as loss. Everyone deserves to be 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. 🙂
The author Elizabeth Gilbert. If I hadn’t read “Eat, Pray, Love” after Mum & Dad died, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do now. The book inspired me to move forwards and I’d love to talk to her about how she finds her inspiration for her writing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I can be found via:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!