Melissa's episode embodies several different ways one may experience grief. And as she shares each story, she also provides insight into loss from her perspective as a clinical psychologist.
At age 4, her older sister (age 7) died of leukemia. Melissa's earliest memories are related to her sister battling leukemia for eighteen months and being bounced from house to house while her parents were away with her older sister for her healthcare.
And, once her sister died, life went on as if it had never happened. Many peers didn't even know she had a sister until she was in high school. Her sister's death was something that was not talked about.
Once a young adult, grief was once again a part of her life when her grandfather passed away. It would be the first time she and her sister would begin to talk about their grief from the past and present with each other.
However, grief would knock on Melissa's door not once, not twice, but five more times. When Melissa was 25, her mother died unexpectedly at age 51 of a heart attack. Even more heartbreaking in that loss was that she and her mother had had a falling out eight months before her mother's passing, only adding to her grief.
Seven months later, her younger sister of a pulmonary embolism. She would then experience three miscarriages before welcoming a healthy baby boy after a challenging and trying pregnancy, where she managed to carry her son to 36 weeks gestation.
Melissa goes on to share how not all grief requires medication. She provides insight into her belief around this (a belief we both share) and the four women personality types that women (moms without moms, in particular) would benefit from having in their lives.
This is an episode that moms without moms (due to a myriad of circumstances) would benefit from hearing, and anyone who has experienced devastating loss or trauma as a child.
If you are struggling with grief due to any of the 40+ losses, free resources are available HERE.
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Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Melissa Reilly. She is a clinical psychologist, parent, coach and mom without a mom. Although grief had been a part of Melissa's life from the age of four, she was shocked to find that a resurgence of grief would be a part of her birth experience. Through her personal and professional life, she has come to recognize that moms without a mom experienced grief during the years postpartum and beyond, even if they don't recognize it. She's passionate about helping moms without a mom heal through grief, build community, feel joy and motherhood and move from feelings of isolation, insecurity and overwhelm to a place of confidence and resilience. Thank you so much for being here. And for your time.
Melissa Reilly 0:48
It is my pleasure.
Victoria Volk 0:50
We're gonna dig right in. And I'm interested always to talk to other child Grievers like myself, because we have a lifelong relationship with grief that a lot of people don't experience or can't even understand or comprehend or wrap their head around. And so your grief experience was even much younger than my own mind was around. My dad got sick or wound when I was six. And so then he passed away within 18 months, but yours started when you were four? Yes, so let's start there.
Melissa Reilly 1:28
Sure, sure. So I was born into a family, I was the middle child of three girls, and both my parents were living in together. And when I was two and a half, three years old, my older sister was diagnosed with leukemia. And so back in the 1970s, leukemia was almost always terminal. I mean, it's still extremely dangerous and scary diagnosis now, but back then there was there was very little reason for hope. So my parents did the best they can and provided as much treatment as they could, for my older sister, we lived in a rural upstate New York community. And so the best treatment that was nearby was in New York City. So my parents would spend lots of time in New York City with my older sister, as was appropriate. And then my younger sister and I, she was 18 months younger than I, you would be in the care of anybody that was able to care for us. And then unfortunately, after, you know, a year and a half battle with leukemia, my sister passed. And I was at the age of four when this occurred. And so my earliest memories include trips to New York City, being masked back with nobody was, and just the, you know, everything that came along with that, that long process. And then, of course, the the grieving process. In fact, one of my earliest memories is a dream that I had after my sister passed.
Victoria Volk 3:14
Blank, can you talk about them?
Melissa Reilly 3:17
Absolutely. So as you can imagine, a four year old does not have a very strong understanding of what death means, right? So I was very used to my sister, and my parents being gone for periods of time, and then they would come back and things would feel happy or good or safe, right. And so it was common for me to ask, you know, my first question is, when's Kim coming home? When's Kim coming home? Right? And so my parents would always answer well, you know, the day of her funeral, which my sister and I were not at. I remember, you know, the ride home in the car. And just playing in the backseat with my sister and then asking, you know, the obligatory question, when's Kim coming out? And there was silence. And it was pretty obvious that that something was wrong. And so I don't remember who answered it was likely my mother who said that she died. And I remember not knowing what to feel, knowing I should feel something right. But all I could think about was wanting to get home so I could keep playing. I was four. Right. So that's a typical response. But so I didn't quite understand. And then I would keep asking my mother that question over and over. So when's Kim coming up? Well, she died. How do you remember, you know, we talked about that? Oh, yeah, I know she's dead. But When is she coming home? So really kind of struggle with that. So one night I had this the stream and my sister when she was ill were this night gown that I remember, you know, it was way too that blue flowers anyway, So in this dream, she was in the psych round, and she came down, I was in my garage, she came down kind of from the sky. And, you know, greeted me. And we started to play. And she's like, I said, Oh, good, good. You've come home. And she's like, No, no, I'm going to take you to where I live. So she took my hand, and we floated up, you know, to my four year old version of heaven, which was puffy clouds and little sheep. And, again, we played for a little while. And then she said, Okay, it's time for you to go home. And I was like, okay, so she brought me back down. I'm like, great, you're staying. And she said, No, you live here. I live there. But it's okay. We'll see each other again someday. But not now. You stay, I have to go. And it was extremely profound. Because at that point, I stopped asking the questions. And I know that to be true, because I've since looked in, you know, my baby book that was barely written, except the few passages that talked about it. Melissa is having a hard time. And then all of a sudden, Melissa seems to be better. She stopped asking. So that was just always there. But you know, I, you know, that dream, I always found comforting that idea that that she was okay. And she was up in the puffy clouds with the sheep. My version of heaven.
Victoria Volk 6:27
How old was your sister than when she passed away?
Melissa Reilly 6:30
She just turned seven. And unfortunately, in fact, the day before we're recording right now, yesterday, was her birthday. So she would have been the D52.
Victoria Volk 6:45
What do you think when you look back in hindsight now, as a professional, doing the work that you do, in knowing about grief that you do? What do you think could have been handled? How do you think it could have been handled differently? For you and your younger sister?
Melissa Reilly 7:06
Well, that was a great, great question, because of a number of things. One, my parents did the best they could. But my mom was so determined, right? To make sure that my sister's death was not going to impact me and my younger sister's life. So they just plowed forward as if nothing happened. And again, it was with the best of intentions, right? We had just all suffered, and she didn't want us to suffer anymore. So a couple of days after, you know, a couple of days after my sister died, my younger sister turned three. And my mother had a birthday party for in our house, right? So she's, like, just buried her oldest daughter, and now she's having all these, you know, little toddlers around for birthday. I mean, she did everything she could. And then, you know, I started kindergarten at the age of four, because she wasn't gonna let anything stop me. Right. So, but But clearly, you know, I wasn't ready. And then, you know, again, with the best of intentions, it was so painful, but we never talked about that at Victoria, our family, just one day she was here. And when they she wasn't, and life went on as if nothing happened. And we literally never talked about it. We never talked about my older sister. And we never talked about the experience of her dying. And so what happened and I realized this, at the time, until it was much later that what that did is that created the sense that death was something that was so terrible, you could not even talk about it, or it would destroy you. And, and I didn't realize that until I was in my young 20s. I was blessed off for my grandparents lived until my adulthood. And me and my younger sister, were talking at the time in which my my first grandfather was having major medical problems and was becoming clear that he was at the end of his life. And so we were talking and both of us we're expressing our fear of him dying. And she made this this comment, I don't think I'll survive it. That's pretty startling response. Right? And so that so a man in his 70s, who's lived a full life having a natural death, right? I don't think I will survive it. I don't know how I will get through this. And so thankfully, I was in therapy at the time, right? And I mentioned that to my psychologist, and she was stunned. She was like, wow, that's that's, that's not a usual response to a normal death. And I was like, really? Well, why not have it? It's that hard, but how are we going to be okay. And it was at that point that we were able to discover that that unintentional thing that my parents said by never talking about it right to me Let us have a happy normal childhood. What it did is it created this undeniable terror of death. Right? which thankfully, you know, worked through, you know, that's not an issue anymore. In fact, I'm very comfortable with death. But you know, this idea that your children don't remember, or children don't grieve in the same way as the so maybe that's your children do not grieve in the same way. But the profound nature of childhood grief is still present and evident. We just don't have the language in the prefrontal cortex to process it in the same way as adults do. So,
Victoria Volk 10:41
Oh, so much to unpack there. I had a similar experience, like it just wasn't talked about. I take that back. And this isn't to vilify parents, right? You know, because I've had guests where they just want to be clear, like, they did what they could, they did what they knew, right? And that's what I talk about all the time, as we resort to what we know. Yes. And if we didn't receive this education, of how to address grief, and how to process it, and all of these things that I talk about on a regular basis, we resort to what we know, and we don't know what we don't know. Right. And it does create a lasting impact in a negative way, it just does when we don't take ownership of learning this stuff. And that was, you know, a lot of my experience in a lot of ways, too, but a little different, of course, because my situation was different. But yeah, not talking about it. Children will create their own stories. Yes. You know, what I talk about a lot, too, is how grief, we kind of grow up with grief as a child Grievers. And it changes with us, and we take us everywhere we go. And so it's always there. How did that change for you? I'm especially curious into your teenage years.
Melissa Reilly 12:04
Well, I, you understandably, so became quite depressed at the age of 13. I mean, it was clearly genetic, in my, in my family history anyway, and growing up with grieving parents, you know, has an impact. But I remember, you know, becoming a teenager and just becoming utterly, you know, depressed and feeling this intense sense of something missing, and just something wrong with me, and just never, never enough. And, you know, again, parents did the best they could, right, but, but they were impacted by their own grief experience. And so part of then what I learned to do was try and be the best that I could be right, to make them happy. without ever knowing I was doing that. It just became part of who I was. and AM, you know, I mean, I don't know that I'd be the person I am today, if it wasn't for the experiences that occurred early on, but in adolescence, always needing to be what others wanted me to be, you know, which can become quite problematic, as you can imagine, always trying to make people happy, and just internalizing all those feelings of bad thought being good, never good enough, and just miserable, and not really feeling like there was any place for me to talk about those things. Again, I think my mother would be horrified to hear that that's how I felt. But but that that is how I felt right and hiding her process from me to the best ability that she could only meant there wasn't an openness about it, which meant, I never felt that permission to be open about it. And, you know, it was an unusual experience. Nobody, I went to a small little school, nobody that I knew had siblings that had died. I wasn't really exposed to other child Grievers. In fact, interesting story. So my sister would have graduated high school two years above me, and when her senior year would have been one of the people that gratefully took took us in, during that time was aware, right that I had an older sister, in fact, the same grade, as her oldest daughter was. So that's one of the ways that we were connected, because my sister did go to kindergarten periodically and a little bit of first grade when she wasn't in the hospital or when she wasn't, you know, in danger. So there was a little bit of awareness there. But anyway, so So she said, Oh, your sister would graduate. We should include her picture, you know, in the senior picture section. So, you know, we got this picture, which was, you know, again, that that quintessential picture that's always in your head it right that the one that's always given. And for her it was right before her her final relapse until it was like when she looked her best at her oldest picture. So that was put in the yearbook. And it was, it was beautiful. It was a full page tribute right of this little seven year old, barely seven year old little girl and her name. And I remember when the yearbooks came out, I had a whole bunch of people come up to me and ask, Who is this little girl? She was your name? Like, nobody knew I had a sister, like, oh, well, that was my older sister. So then I had to keep you know retell the story. And what struck me Victoria was how people kept referring to her, that little girl's your older sister, is the phrase, little girl, because I didn't see a little girl. And I didn't realize I never saw a little girl, I only ever saw an older sister. And I didn't realize that actually, until just a number of years ago about how significant that was, because I could never see my sister through my current lens. I always saw from that lens of the preschooler that the tiny person like always, just constantly, just back through that set of eyes, which means means I was always can go back to that place of early life experience without without knowing it. I mean, it for most of my life, when I looked at the picture, I was startled by how I never saw this little girl ever. I do now thankfully, no, because I'm in a much different place. But it just really struck me as odd.
Victoria Volk 16:43
There's so much in that because when you don't have anyone to relate to you, you do feel like you're all alone. And I relate to much of what you shared small school, same thing, like I didn't know anybody that lost a parent and adults didn't know what to do or say and know is we all we just we aren't taught this stuff, you know, how did this experience? And you know, grief is it's never just one thing, right? It's always it's cumulative, and it's cumulative ly negative, and I have not yet met a single Griever, who has not had multiple grieving experiences, even though like you said, in your information that you would submit it to me, you just don't even realize it. And so, what have been some other experiences that have informed your life today, work you do?
Melissa Reilly 17:41
Well, um, like I said, I was I was blessed to have all four of my grandparents until adulthood. And then, you know, I started to lose, you know, I lost my first grandfather, and that was it an end of life death after a fulfilled life, you know, with us having a good relationship. So, with regards to grief experiences, it was, it was natural and normal. You know, there was nothing complicated about it, other than the sadness of the loss. So I was very thankful to have that experience, because it was, in many ways, a healing, corrective experience for me, to know what it was like to grieve as an adult, when everything was, was healthy and appropriate. And then unfortunately, not long after that I had a series of losses. So my mother passed away at the age of 25. I was 25. She was 51. Wow. Yeah. So very, very young died from a heart attack. Suddenly, my little sister bless her heart died seven months after my mom passed away. So those two losses were were very significant and very difficult. And a complicating factor for my mom's dying was the fact that we had a falling out eight months prior to her death. And that falling out, never was completely healed. So so we were pretty much estranged for those last eight months. So that made that difficult. And then, you know, my younger sister had mental illness, and she was just really struggled, and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, probably four to five months out of those seven months, you know, not in a row, but in and out, in and out, in and out. And then in supportive housing after my mom passed, unfortunately, I was the one that told my sister, you know, about our mother's death that my dad had called me when my mom died. And you know, so I went, you know, we lived in different places. I lived in Pennsylvania. I was living here, actually in Pennsylvania. At the time. They were in New York. So I went right up. And then my sister was living in Connecticut. So soon as I got there, you know, we drove to where my sister was living, and she was living in a supported housing community. And so we told the staff members, what was going on and it's Make sure she was there and to have a staff member present. And my dad just couldn't do it.
Victoria Volk 20:05
This couldn't do it. So I did. I needed to tell her and your dad is still living.
Melissa Reilly 20:12
Yes, he is. He is God bless him here. He is. So, you know. And then, you know, when my sister died, seven months later she was in the she was in the hospital when it happened, pulmonary embolism Go figure. But yet the doctor called me because he couldn't do it. I get a call in the middle of the night, the psychiatrist in a mental hospital telling my my sister had died. Again, yeah, drove up to my dad. And then so then he was just beside himself. And, you know, he's like, I'll never forget, his comment was like, I can't put everybody through this again, we're not going to have any funeral or anything. I said, No, that's not acceptable. You know, you're not putting anybody through anything, she died. And so we had funeral and, and did all that. But I needed, you know, to arrange it and make it all happen. And again, I'm not angry at my, my dad. I mean, the, you know, this was the second child he had buried and it was only seven months after he buried his wife. So oh,
Victoria Volk 21:28
It's amazing that he is still alive, you know, in a lot of ways because grief, it takes a toll. It's exhausting. And is there a part of you that maybe isn't even surprised in a way about your mom's sudden death? And even your sister's like sudden death?
Melissa Reilly 21:46
No, no, not at all. I mean, it's just a lot. You know, my sister's best friend when she was in seventh died in a house fire, you know, and both my parents were there, because they were part of the community ambulance and fire squad. I mean, so just so so much that and then, you know, my dad remarried and his second wife died after 15 years. So we buried her. And now he's married to another woman. But But yeah, it's just, yeah, yeah. So she, she died after my son was born, my, but my son doesn't really have a memory of her because he was too young.
Victoria Volk 22:22
And that's just it, right? Like these experiences. Never leave us. Because then you become a mother. And then all of these insecurities come up. And all of these moments that you don't have your sisters, and you don't have your mom and you don't have these shared experiences. And this is where people, I think, kind of, I mean, I fell into the trap of thinking, Gosh, I guess I'm just here to suffer my entire life because it was just loss, trauma, loss trauma. And you can get easily in that downward spiral. And I kind of want to circle back a moment to where when your sister older sister did pass, because and why I asked how it kind of showed up for you as a teenager, because what I've come to realize lately is there's always there's like two camps of kids, child Grievers. It's those that act out anger, slipping grades, go down a different path. And then there's the other that don't want to rock the boat. Don't know, boundaries are people pleasers try to be the best at everything they do. You know, there's two kinds of kids that are child gravers. And what's interesting to me, and what is what society does, and really what is damaging to children is that in my opinion, is that we look at these children like you and I, who wanted to be the best we could at everything we did and had this underlying perfectionism about us and didn't want to rock the boat. And, you know, everything I just said, and then the children that other children that are deemed as problem, children, and neither really received the support that they need neither. No, but the children that choose a different path. This is where I'm not surprised that we are a society of addiction. Right?
Melissa Reilly 24:27
Absolutely. My sister struggled with addiction terribly. And, you know, it was a way that she coped with the mental illnesses that she experienced. And just, you know, I mean, she encountered death she was barely old enough to talk right you know, I mean, her own life was was filled with it. Their own. It was just terrible. You are a licensed right? You're a licensed psychologist.
Victoria Volk 24:54
Okay, so in your professional opinion now, was it grief that your younger sister Did she have like a diagnosed?
Melissa Reilly 25:03
Yeah, my grief, grief was part of both of our lives. Right. And, you know, kind of fueled the development of personality. She also definitely experienced she had bipolar one. And there were times when, when when there would be, you know, a psychotic process to it as well. Now, would she have had that had our life been filled with grief from the beginning? I don't know, I think both of our lives would have been extremely different, right. But you know, both of us through our childhood, we experienced our emotions through physical problems, right. I had migraines that were so bad at the age of 13, I was taking in China medicine, and I was the only child I knew that would go to sleepovers with her heating pad, because I would get leg pain so bad, just all these weird physical things that weren't physical. I mean, they were I mean, they were true physical symptoms, right. But they were caused by emotional distress. So the brain, as you know, forms over 25 years, our brain isn't done growing until 25 years old. And so when it is flooded continuously by the stress chemicals, and constantly in this place of hyper vigilance, our whole physiology is impacted, and our whole sense of self is impacted. And our whole ability to regulate emotions is impacted. And so your mental illness and grief become intertwined in many ways. And so I don't think they could have been teased apart for her or myself, or, you know, my aunt, my, you my mom was an only child. My father had one sibling who was 15 years his junior, so she was closer in age to us. She's more like a sister to me. And yet she was kind of this last child also, because, you know, nobody talks about my family. Certainly, you know, for her, it was like nothing ever happened. And so in more recent years, thankfully, her and I actually been able to talk about what it was like living, you know, our childhoods and the ramifications of that one experience or sequence of experiences and how it impacted us, you know forever.
Victoria Volk 27:18
Well, and that's just it, right? You can have one event, but the ripples of it is everlasting. Yes. And so as a mom, now, you have one child? Well, I
Melissa Reilly 27:32
Well, I have two sons, my oldest came into my life when he was three years old when I married his father. And then I birth our younger son, and he's the only child that I gave birth to.
Victoria Volk 27:45
And so what I know, you spoke a lot, you spoke of that in your information you submitted in So how has that you know, and that shapes a lot of the work that you do and the people you work with? So can we talk about that?
Melissa Reilly 27:59
Absolutely. So, you know, it had been 15 years since I had my that, you know, my mom had had died, I you know, was married now and unfortunately, had three miscarriages prior to the pregnancy with my son. So just kept experiencing grief up to a degree, right?
Melissa Reilly 28:20
And I was just blown away. I was like, you know, and I knew a miscarriage was was common, right? One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. So it is pretty common, but by the time you have three, that's pretty rare. And so at this point, I was like, Oh, my goodness, what is going on. And we are in the process of finding that out when I became unexpectedly and unintentionally pregnant again, and was terrified. And really, as that pregnancy progressed, I knew I was extremely high risk these feelings of longing, again, that I hadn't had for a while this longing for someone who is missing resurfaced, and was just overwhelming and continuous. So now it was all of these people. I felt like I was missing as well as the fear of losing another and I was having these distorted thoughts that I wanted a girl but having a girl was frightening to me because all the girls in my life died. So the men seem to be okay, but females not so good. So, I went into labor with my son at 26 weeks until the remainder of my pregnancy was either in the hospital or in bed and back and forth, getting shots and doing all kinds of things to sustain that pregnancy. which thankfully, despite only being given a 10% odds of maintaining the pregnancy, I carried him until exactly 37 weeks. Wow, gave birth and and, you know, he was healthy. What we discovered late, he's got some neurological Oh issues based on some of the shots that were given, which had to be given. But you know, in general, he's doing amazingly well. But it was at that point during the pregnancy and then giving birth that I realized just how alone I was and how unprepared I felt, and how isolated and insecure and what an imposter and this was coming from someone who was just days shy of her 38th birthday, who owns clinical practice, who taught Child Development at the graduate level. So I had all these resources behind me, I was very confident in who I was, as a woman as a professional. And I was so blown away with insecurity, and isolation and overwhelmed and not knowing what I was doing by this little infant. And I felt like I didn't have anybody to ask, because I felt such an intense feeling of shame over not knowing what to do. And nobody understood. You know, I was getting all these platitudes. Well, moms feel that way. Sure. Yeah. All moms Yeah, that's normal. That's normal. That's normal. Well, it isn't. It isn't normal to be a mom, without your mother, and to be going through all of this. And that's why I'm doing this because I know now my son is now 11. And I still look back on those first few years. And it still pains me by just what a difficult time it was for me. And it saddens me that that my son's first few years of life involved all of that. And it saddens me for me to write it was just such an intensely difficult and troubling time, and nobody was talking about it, nobody is talking about it, nobody talks about it. So so that's why past couple years, I made the decision, you know, in my clinical practice, I was starting to see more moms without a mom. And it became something that I began talking about with them about how different the experience is, and how real that that sense of isolation and lack of community impacts us and how draining it is, and how grief for a mom, you know, either a mom that's died, or a mom that you don't have a relationship with. And I can get into that in a few minutes. How that is real, even if you're not recognizing that as a grief process. And so, after working with a number of moms within you know, my clinical practice, you I realized there was this this real gap that I thought I was well positioned to fill. And so that's why I began you might my coaching program, specifically designed for moms that have mom this way I can reach a broader audience, right. And so not just those that are coming into my clinical practice, because of mental health issues, but but those that that you know, are from a place of health, and just needing some specific assistance related to mothering is as a mama.
Victoria Volk 33:14
What are three things? Or I don't know why three came to my mind. Maybe I think I know that you have three things to share. But so three things came to my mind, what three things, tips, suggestions, things that you've learned? I don't know three somethings about your experience, your own experience, and what you try to get across to those you work with in terms of moms without moms.
Melissa Reilly 33:45
Okay, so absolutely, I do have three things. So it was perfect. But first, I want to define who a mom without a mom is. So you are a mom without a mom, if you are a mother who is separated from your own mother, by death, by emotional estrangement, or physical distance. And the reason I include all three of those things is because there are three or three categories is because there are three things that all women in those categories seem to, to share. So one is that grief process I talked about. So you're either longing for your for your own mom, that can't be part of your life, or you longing for the presence of a mom who is loving and supportive and can provide guidance. So those moms that are separated from their own mother by emotional strange men, you know of their mother may be alive, but they're not in their life because of either toxicity, emotional abuse, and so they still don't have the ability to connect to go to the They have emotional baggage themselves related to memories of their mom, right. And so it creates that difficult piece. And then those mothers that are separated from their mom by physical distance, they also experienced this grief, this this loss, this sense of not having what they thought they would have when they became a mom. And again, that's somebody there. So, so we experienced grief, right? Second thing is there is difficulty with community. All right, so Mom's got a mom don't have the same go to person that other moms have. And so I have some strategies for that as well, right? So Mom's got a mom need to build strategically their mom community, they can't just rely on a relationship they they're comfortable with that being their mother. And then the third thing is mom identity. Right? So who am I as a mom, when I don't have my mom to mirror myself after. So there's lots of moms out there whose moms died when they were really young. And so they they may not even have, you know, that role model figure, right? Or they had a mom and their relationship was, you know, not good. And so how do they, you know, figure out who they are, that's like their mom, but not like their mom. And so all those factors get pulled into play, you know? So those, those are three common threads brief difficulty with community and then struggling with mom identity. All right. So when it comes to grief, specifically, the one of the things that the three things that are really important, right, is first to be able to recognize that what you're feeling is grief. All right. So, you know, grief, can show itself in many different emotions. So we've got sadness, hopelessness, anger, fear, right? We also can experience different ways of thinking, right, this longing, the questions of what would have been those conversations that we never had, or would like to have replaying over and over in our head. And then of course, physical symptoms, right? The the decreased energy, changes in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, right? So we have all those grief experiences that we may or may not label as grief. And I think many moms, particularly in postpartum, get identified as having postpartum depression, which they may or may not have. But the underlying contributing factor is a grief process. So first, we have to recognize right, identify, oh, you know, I'm not necessarily thinking about my mom. But I'm just feeling really kind of alone and isolated, and just yucky. Right? Let me identify that that's okay. You know, maybe that's part of grief. So I can normalize it. The second is to be able to express our cultures, you know, all too well, Victoria, is so uncomfortable with grief, right? And so people don't like when we express our stories, even the happy ones, right, they try and cheer us up, or take us down a different path, right, and distract us, you know, get her mind off of it. While it's not really helpful, we need safe places to be able to express our stories, right? The good ones, and the not so good ones, then the third is to be able to fill in some of the gaps, right, and that kind of leads into that community piece I was talking about. So filling in the gaps means getting the support in ways that you're needing that that person that you've lost, would have felt or filled. But in different ways.
Victoria Volk 39:07
All good stuff. I can identify with some of what you said there. Even with a postpartum you know, I experienced that after my second but even more so after my third child and it was kind of a struggle of a pregnancy. Yeah, as well. But go see your doctor. Right away. They want to give you a pill, you know? It's yeah.
Melissa Reilly 39:30
Yes. Oh, my goodness. And you know, don't get me started on that, that you don't medicate grief.
Victoria Volk 39:35
Hey, let's go there. But what I've seen in your practice or what have you all this what can what guidance can you give people listening before they take that step? Like how do you? Here's a good question. Yes, I think it's good. How do you discern for yourself? Well, you know, I guess I just need to get on something. They're trying to say that I should you know, you can just a small milligram, right? I don't know what else to do, I'm overwhelmed with all these feelings and emotions just going to get on this thing. And that's, you know, they suggest this.
Melissa Reilly 40:09
Well, first and foremost, grief hurts, it is painful. It hurts to the core of your being. And it is normal, I think that is so important to realize that grief is painful, not all hurt, creates wounds that you need to do something about. So for example, if I were to pinch you, it would hurt, but it would not create a wound, the hurt would diminish, and you'd be fine. But if I were to pull off a piece of your skin, that would cause a wound that we then need to treat, you need to do something about. We, in our culture, when we're exposed to pain, we become distressed, and we fear that it's creating this wound, something that we need to do something about. And that just is not the case, most of the time, grief hurts, it is supposed to hurt, we have lost someone or something very dear to us, and it is going to hurt however, you have the ability to be okay, even with the hurt, the pain, the hurt itself, is not damaging, and the intensity of that pain is not lasting. In that way, forever. Grief lasts forever, right? I will grieve the entirety of my life. And I know that but my grief experience now feels very different than my grief experienced it at earlier times in my life. So the first and foremost thing is if you are experiencing pain and you are crying, if you are struggling to get out of bed, if you are distracted, and you are in the early stages of grief, that is normal, it is really okay, that most of your energy is going to simply functioning, I want to give you permission to just let all of your energy go to simply functioning. It's really okay. Now, it is not appropriate to medicate an uncomplicated grief process. Many physicians, medication is their primary tool, right. And they are physicians because they want to help people. And so they give the tool that they have, unfortunately, they give it too quickly, I don't need a hammer to push in a tack into a piece of cork board. It's not appropriate. So when you make a decision for medication that should occur. After several other things have happened, you're one that you're talking and you're getting support around your grief process. And that talking can be with friends family, it can be with a you know, professional, so counselors, therapists, psychologists, a coach that specializes in grief healing, and after a period of time, so I'm talking several months, you are still not able to function in basic ways, right? So caring for yourself caring for your loved ones, functioning within your place of occupation, or academics. You know, if you're in the academic route, that's when you start to consider medication. But, again, simply because you're not back to normal self, after, you know, three days, three weeks, three months or a year, that isn't necessarily a reason to then go on medication, that if you meet criteria for a diagnosable mental illness, then certainly medication could be part of your treatment process. But if that's the case, then I highly recommend, you know, getting support through counseling, and not just medication, because medication alone is no more efficacious than counseling. In fact, in long term research, medication alone is less efficacious than counseling, because you don't learn anything simply by taking medication.
Victoria Volk 44:17
And that's where I think the biggest pieces is you learn you have to learn new knowledge in order to apply it and integrate it into your life. And there is a fabulous quote, I shared it on a different podcast episode, I think, but I got it in my inbox, and I just I just love it. And it talked about how knowledge isn't power. It's the application of knowledge that truly empowers us. Yes. And so that's what we talk a lot about in Grief Recovery. It's, as you know, in the work that I do with specifically grief, it's multi layered. And so I would even say, even if it's not within the Year, give yourself some time. Oh, gosh, it's layered, and it's yours, especially if you've never had therapy or never addressed anything you've got probably decades. Right?
Victoria Volk 45:12
It's tough to work through.
Melissa Reilly 45:13
Right? And one year is simply the achievement phase. Right? Because it's the year of firsts. Which doesn't mean it gets easier or better necessarily, right? For me many times your three was a bigger struggle. And then, you know, depending on your own experiences, right, so, you know, when your child, especially if we start thinking about milestones with your own children as they age, right, so your child turns, for me, you know, the year they turned seven, was was a trigger year, right? It was constantly hyper vigilant about how they were doing, and constantly thinking about, Oh, my God, I can't imagine their life being over. Oh, my God, I can't imagine what this was like for my parents, right? So there was a real increase of my own grief process, you know, coming, you know, at a time that knew had nothing to do with their milestones, right? It was just the age in which I had my first grief experience. So so it gets gets triggered at many different times.
Victoria Volk 46:21
And that's where to I think childhood, grief is very different than opposed to someone who may have first experienced grief as an adult. Is it really is this lifelong relationship?
Melissa Reilly 46:36
Yeah. You know, and I think one of the blessings that I recognize now is that I'm very comfortable with death.
Victoria Volk 46:46
I go there. Yeah,
Melissa Reilly 46:48
I don't fear it, right. I don't like it.
Melissa Reilly 46:52
I don't fear it.
Melissa Reilly 46:55
Which provides me with a sense of comfort, and a sense of resilience. And so I feel very comfortable going to those places of fear and grief, and with the people I work with, right, and I can hear their stories, and I can just sit with it, knowing not only that I am okay. But they are okay to even though their feelings so badly in the moment. And that the best gift I can give them is to honor the space that they're in. But to change how they feel, to simply honor it and give it the space it deserves.
Victoria Volk 47:39
That probably never was given. Correct for a lot of Grievers. Right. Right. Is that one of the things that grief is taught you?
Melissa Reilly 47:51
Oh, without a doubt, without a doubt.
Victoria Volk 47:55
Is there anything else that you feel? I mean, you share it a lot woven into your personal story and in the work that you're doing? And, and thank you for the work that you're doing. Thank you. That's a really probably an untapped area of grief. I haven't seen it before, I guess. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Melissa Reilly 48:15
Well, you know, I think one of the biggest things, takeaways today, I want listeners who are moms, that a mom to know is that you are not alone. And that what you're feeling is real. And significant. And so I encourage you to reach out to talk about it, to let people know that you need support when you need it, you know, to build up a sense of mom community. But most of all right to know that you are okay you're doing the best that you can. And your mothering may look different than other people's mothering. And that's okay, because you're doing it on your own. And I applaud you.
Victoria Volk 49:00
So do you have a community?
Melissa Reilly 49:03
I do. I have my my personal community. And then I have, you know, my professional community. So my personal community? I include four people, right? So wise woman, this is the woman that can answer your questions and, you know, has lots of information and that could be a professional, right? Your emotional support. So this is the person that will listen. Anytime that you just need to express your emotion. They don't try to cheer you up. And they don't give you advice, they just listen.
Victoria Volk 49:35
Like a personal showman.
Melissa Reilly 49:37
Melissa Reilly 49:39
The fourth is the go getter. So this is the one that can get things done. So you need laundry done. She'll do it right. So the we all have friends like this that are always busy and always doing something and we think oh my god, I can't keep up. Right? So the one that you can ask to help at any time. And then the fourth is the late night talker. So this is somebody that you can call Part, basically, anytime. So those are the four people, I recommend all moms, but especially moms, that a mom to have in the corner. And, you know, I have those in my life. And then you know, professionally, you know, I'm building a community of moms without a mom. And so I would invite your listeners, if you're interested to reach out, you know, offering recall, you know, we can connect, I can hear about your particular situation, right? I encourage people on social media there are, I'm on Instagram. So you know, I talk a lot about moms without a mom. In fact, that's my my name. My mom said that among you. And so to become part of your community of people that get it.
Victoria Volk 50:47
So people that work with you then get into a, like, you have an online community?
Melissa Reilly 50:53
I will be creating an online community. I haven't formed that yet. But that's in the works. So hopefully, I'm hoping by this summer that I'll have a group, you'll probably start with a Facebook group, but I will be developing a larger coaching program. But right now I'm doing just individual coaching. And I'm part of that community so.
Victoria Volk 51:21
Wnd where can people find you, for your website?
Melissa Reilly 51:25
My website is momswithoutamom.com. So very easy, and it's moms with an s some moms without a mom.com.
Victoria Volk 51:36
Nice, and I'll put the link to your social and website and things in the show notes. And awesome. I love those four kinds of moms to have in your corner. That's, that's wonderful. That's a wonderful tip just for anybody. Yes, really?
Melissa Reilly 51:51
Yes. And no, the strengths are your friends, right? Because none of us are all for those. Right. So if you know that, you know the person, that's the go getter. She may not be the person that's great at just listening. And vice versa. I mean, I'm a great listener. And, you know, at this point, I'm, I'm kind of a wise woman as well. I am not the go getter. My laundry stays in my own machine for about a week. So you know, we all have our strengths. So, so, you know, don't expect one person to do it all.
Victoria Volk 52:24
And that's the thing, you know, like my, for my podcast, cover art. It's me on an island with a megaphone. And I didn't have that sense of community. You know, when I, I was a new mom. I mean, I had some family here, but you know, it's the girlfriends. You know, it's I think that's so important. As a mom took me a long time to develop that and curate that for myself. Yes, yes,
Melissa Reilly 52:52
Yes, yes, it is difficult. And I was an older mother. So you know, my friends all had teenagers and young adults.
Victoria Volk 52:58
Oh, sure. I mean, that's another grief. Right? Like,
Melissa Reilly 53:01
Yeah, being out of sync? Absolutely. So but yeah.
Victoria Volk 53:07
Oh, good. Thank you so much for everything that you share today. And it's unfortunate that we have to go through some really difficult challenging times to be in a space of healing, helping others heal. But I wouldn't change anything. And I don't suspect you would either.
Melissa Reilly 53:29
No, no, I wouldn't.
Melissa Reilly 53:31
And not at all. Again, you know, I am the person I am today because of all that I've experienced and learned and then what I've done with it.
Victoria Volk 53:41
But there can be guilt and shame in that too. It's like, you know, this is where I want. I had a fleeting thought when you were talking earlier about, you know, the emotions that grief brings, you know, you're talking about sadness, and anger and all these things, but there's also joy. Yes. And then we feel guilty for feeling joy.
Melissa Reilly 54:00
Absolutely. Because, you know, I talked about having containers, and we can hold multiple containers, right? And so you can grieve for the loss, you know, of a mom, you know, and the longing for that and have the joy of being mom and love your child, right? You can experience all of that. And so you don't need to feel guilty that this may be you know, front and center right now. That doesn't mean this isn't there. Just that front center, and it's okay.
Victoria Volk 54:33
Yeah, so yeah, moment to moment. Absolutely evil. And that's absolutely not as normal and that's natural. You're not crazy.
Melissa Reilly 54:40
No, not at all.
Victoria Volk 54:41
Well, thank you so much for being here today.
Melissa Reilly 54:45
You are very welcome.
Melissa Reilly 54:46
Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it very much.
Victoria Volk 54:49
And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.