Society will often say to bereaved parents (or guardians), "I cannot imagine your loss..." when expressing their sympathy. However, these words can feel like a thousand paper cuts to the bereaved because, if they're anything like my guest, Karla, they want you to imagine, even briefly. As Karla shares in this week's episode, we are all capable of using our imagination; however, when it comes to child loss, no one wants to imagine it. Karla herself never imagined she would experience such a loss in her life. And today, her beloved Theo would be 18 and off to college.
Theo means "God," and Karla never imagined how much her spiritual life would suffer when Theo was diagnosed at three months old with a brain tumor and died six months later. She needed God and her spiritual practice more than ever during that time, and yet all of the tools and teachings in her toolbox through her therapy practice, yoga, aromatherapy, and more were of no interest to her; she wanted nothing to do with any of it. That is until she was ready to face the one unimaginable loss she could not change.
Through this episode and Karla's story, you'll learn two important lessons her grief taught her, as well as her insights around balancing the fear of the world and something bad happening with living, and in particular, the challenges parents with other living children face after already burying one child.
We also talk about how her practice evolved with her grief and how it's also enabled her to sit with other grievers, including other bereaved parents and guardians, in their pain.
When unimaginable loss happens, every aspect of our lives takes a hit. But when our spiritual life is bruised, finding meaning, which Karla explains is very personal, can be the fuel needed to get up in the morning and keep moving.
Karla lives her life with one thought: to live a life that would make Theo proud.
May we all strive to live our lives to honor our departed loved ones - in even the smallest of ways. 💛
This episode is sponsored by Do Grief Differently™️, my twelve-week, one-on-one, in-person/online program for grievers who have suffered any type of loss to feel better. Click here to learn new tools, grief education, and the only evidence-based method for moving beyond the pain of grief.
Would you like to join the mission of Grieving Voices in normalizing grief and supporting hurting hearts everywhere? Become a supporter of the show HERE.
Victoria Volk: Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Grieving Voices. Today, my guest is Karla Helbert. She is a licensed professional counselor, internationally certified yoga therapist, compassionate bereavement care provider, certified yoga instructor, certified hypnotherapist, reiki practitioner, and an award-winning author. Her life changed when her firstborn child died of a brain tumor in two thousand six. Carlos Therapy Practice has a focus on loss, grief, and bereavement, working in particular with those affected by trauma and traumatic death. She is also the author of Yoga for Grief and Loss, The Shakras and Grief and Trauma, and Finding Your Own Way to Grieve a creative activity workbook for kids and teens on the autism spectrum. It's a mouthful
Karla Helbert: Fill up.
Victoria Volk: And that's amazing because I often see that even for myself personally, grief can either crack us wide open and, like, have us go down all these different paths that we never imagined, or it can really take us down in our lives and devastate every aspect of our lives. And we never meet our potential. We never see our potential, and we don't take chances on ourselves and go after these things that are not only healing for us in the process, but also bring healing to other people, and that's exactly what you've done through your grief and experience. And so I do have questions. But, often, like, even for myself with certifications and things, like, what came first? And I know that you were a therapist for many years before your son passed, but can you describe how things shifted for you with that experience? And share about your son too, please. Yeah, sure.
Karla Helbert: Yeah, sure. And when you were talking about, well, we can either be devastated or we can have this potential, there's like this huge spectrum and you can be any place on the spectrum at all sorts of times because it's certainly I mean, when your child dies. And there's lots of other catastrophic losses. But anytime you have trauma and grief intersecting, it can be really devastating. So there was a lot of devastation. And I will say, I think that I was really fortunate just to being me. And I felt like I cannot turn away from this, like I had to be in it, I had to feel it, and I had to do something with that energy. And I think that's a a big part of it when I work with other people or when you see situations where people are not growing in their grief or developing because it is really a developmental process and when you're not being nurtured and supported and having that really fertile ground where to put your roots down so that you can then grow people often don't. And it's not always their fault. I hear like, oh, the choice. There are choices to be made sure. But also when you're in a situation where you don't have the personal strength maybe to stand up and say no, I'm not gonna accept this notion that I'm supposed to be somewhere other than I am or that I have to subscribe to the five stages, which we don't really have to get into that, but it's so permeated in our culture that we're supposed to somehow lend the early follow these stages, and they're not linear at all, and I know you know that, and get to the place of acceptance. And that means so many different things to people and also people don't know. I didn't know.
Karla Helbert: I took a whole semester long. I think that just makes me laugh. Elective course in counseling and death and dying and grief and bereavement in grad school. And when it happened to me, I still was sitting there going am I going through the stages like I'm supposed to? Am I fitting in like I'm am I grieving like I'm supposed to? And I just had this moment of like, what why they're supposed to and that notion of acceptance at the end of the line makes some people just feel it's insulting and like you're supposed to there's no such thing that closure. There's no place where you're done with this. And if you can't understand that and integrate it and then stand in that truth for yourself and what it means, you often feel to squash down and if you are not behaving and responding, like, our culture says you should in grief, which is ridiculous, the expectations that are placed on grieving people, then you tend to just sort of keep it to yourself and then you have these emotions like shame, and that increases your sense of isolation and you don't share and you don't grow. And if you don't have access to support and help and the nurturing and the love and all those things that go along with appropriate and healthy development then you might not reach those places. Like, there's no, we hear a lot too right now in our in our world about post-traumatic growth it's not a promise. And it's also not a contest. And I know I've done a lot of stuff. But it wasn't immediate. I mean, it took me a long time to sort of unfold that process.
Karla Helbert: I was a therapist. And primarily, I mean, I was working in a private school with kids and teenagers, with autism, and other developmental disabilities, which were co-occurring with lists of mental health diagnoses, but severe behavioral challenges. And I did that for a long time. And then my son died in two thousand six of a brain tumor, and he was a baby. And that was just a whole the whole thing from the moment of the diagnosis through his illness and the surgeries and the treatments and his death, it was just horrific. And then he died. And I thought because I had a lot of time. Well, we had five months between the time we decided to withdraw treatment, and he went home, and we had amazing support from pediatric hospice. But I thought oh, I'm gonna handle this better because I've had all this time to get used to it. And I'm grateful for the time I had. I mean, I certainly know many people people who do not have time. And it's just this sudden thing that happens when you're in immediate shock and it's very difficult to even process. I had the opportunity to plan what I wanted for his funeral. I was able to be with him. I was able to had a lot of processing through those times. But when he died, like, I had no idea what it was gonna be like. I was plunged into this, like, depth of despair and everything I thought was true about the universe and my belief system was just like and I did not know what to do or how to put it back together. And I started taking because I maintain my license and we need to have CEUs. I decided, well, I'm gonna try to learn about grief. I'm gonna try to learn how to figure this out for myself. It wasn't because I wasn't gonna be a great therapist. And for me, support groups were incredibly helpful. I'm still I'm involved with the MISS Foundation, which we're a nonprofit organization that supports families after the death of a child. And I was fortunate enough to have had a group already here. A lot of people think that I started the chapter in Richmond, but I did not where I live. And I went to the group. Every time they were meeting. And when the facilitator at the time found out I was a therapist, she wanted me to help her run the group and at first, I really didn't want to because I was like, if I do that, I'll have I won't have space. But, like, two years in, I thought I can do it. I've gotten so much help. I know I can do this, and so I did. And then from there, I started doing some groups with local hospices and those people were asking me, do you have a private therapy practice that we can meet with you? And I did not. I was still working in private schools. But when my daughter who was born two years after my son died, which is about when I started facilitating those groups, went to preschool, I had time. So that was like four years in that I actually started a part-time therapy practice. And started writings and things as well. I mean, I've always written things, but for other people to read. Although I did keep a blog throughout his illness and wrote a memoir which has never been published and I don't know that it will. I don't feel like I need to at this point. But I hear a lot of people feeling when they come to me that they're not doing enough, that they need to do something big. And really, like that whole idea of the tree and your roots, a lot of people when they go through something like this immediately want to just jump into this huge project, which is okay because you have a lot of energy to put into things, but it's also not giving you a chance to establish your own roots and see, like, what you need. And so some people can't, like, they can do both at the same time. But a lot of times, it's just overwhelming. And for me, like, I did it just sort of unfolded. It was not a plan. It wasn't a thing that I said I was gonna do and that's just how my journey has been. Although, I will say, the yoga piece of everything I do, I started my yoga teacher training before I was ever pregnant with him. And those skills really helped me through a lot of that journey. Although when he died, they felt useless.
Karla Helbert: So I had to sort of integrate that and figure out, like, well, when I wrote the Yoga for Grieving Lockbook, it really came from me spending a lot of time and looking back and seeing how all the skills that I had learned really were supporting me through all of that, and I just didn't realize it. Like, yoga is a lot of people think that it's depositors, and it's so much more than that. Which is what the book is really about is the takes the branches of yoga each chapter is about a different branch of yoga and talked about how the tools within each of those branches are really incredibly helpful in grief. And the yoga postures are like this much of it. They're only part of two of the different brands of the yoga. And the rest of it or it's philosophy, its spiritual practice, it's meditation, it's self-inquiry and awareness, it's a lot of different things that I realized later, really were carrying me through. So I'm not sure I answered your question. But it for me, that whole journey of becoming and I'm still doing it, still unfolding was a slow thing. It was not a planned thing. It's just kind of how I ended up getting to know my own grief better. And for me, the motivation because that's when we talk about finding meaning or creating meaning, that's such a personal thing. And if something you have to explore on your own for me, the overall motivation is you have to help people, but I was already doing that. It's really to me creating a life and living a life that my son would be proud of. And sort of doing things in his honor even though I don't even really, like, talk about it so much, but it is the motivation behind what I'm doing.
Victoria Volk: What is his name?
Karla Helbert: His name. Everybody mostly knows if it's Theo, but his name is Felinious Luther Helbert.
Victoria Volk: That's beautiful.
Karla Helbert: It's a big mouthful. But that Thelonious Monk, my husband is a huge fan of Thelonious Monk and the whole time I was pregnant, I really thought, well, not the whole time. Until I got the twenty-week ultrasound, I really was sure that he was a girl. And so I had only thought of girl names, and I was like, when I found out he was a boy, first of all, weird. I don't even have a penis inside you, like, twenty-four hours. Sounds like Oh My God, I really have to adjust my thinking around it weird. And I didn't know what to call him and we were looking at an album cover and I thought that's a cool thing. Well then, what about Thelonious? And my husband was thrilled with that. And my dad's name is Luther, and his father's name is Luther. So that was his middle name. Mhmm.
Victoria Volk: Oh, it's beautiful. Right.
Karla Helbert: Everybody mostly called him Theo
Victoria Volk: And you had shared that he would be eighteen now.
Karla Helbert: He would be eighteen now.
Victoria Volk: When was his for when will his eighteenth birthday be or when was it?
Karla Helbert: Well, it passed till this coming year, his birthday is on May Twenty-sixth Twenty Twenty-Four, it will be nineteen years. And he died nine months old. He wasn't a year old. He didn't live to see his first birthday. So the death date when we get there in February will be eighteen years that he's been dead, but then nineteen years of his birthday following way though.
Victoria Volk: And when I hear something cocky?
Karla Helbert: Crazy for me to think about that sometimes, they'll just tell me.
Victoria Volk: So my son, his name is Xavier John, and his due date was May twenty-six two thousand five, but he was born May twenty-fourth.
Karla Helbert: Oh, wow.
Victoria Volk: So we were pregnant at the exact same time.
Karla Helbert: Oh my goodness.
Victoria Volk: And gave birth around the exact same time.
Karla Helbert: Wow. That's amazing.
Victoria Volk: Yeah. That's never happened before in an interview. So
Karla Helbert: Wow.
Victoria Volk: I know it. So
Karla Helbert: Thank you so much for sharing that with me.
Victoria Volk: And thank you for sharing you didn't mention it, but the Reiki, how has that served you in learning? Because I know how beneficial that has been for me just to learn about energy at self in the energy of emotions? Can you yeah
Karla Helbert: Oh, yes for sure. And emotions are energy. Mhmm. Absolutely. Well, you know, everything is energy. But it's interesting because I'm trying to think of when it was one time and then, like, late nineties. A group of my friends all went to go get Reiki trained. And it's totally a thing that I would be down with. I mean, I am, but they asked me to go and I didn't do it. I just I don't know. I really can't remember why I said no. Because it sounds like a thing I would be like, oh, yeah. Let's I wanna do that with y'all, but I didn't. And I was the only one out of this group of friends that I hung out with a lot that didn't do the Reiki training at the time. And they were all coming and breaking me afterwards. And I was like, oh, cool. And I just, like, let it go. And I really think it's because I was gonna need it a lot more later.
Karla Helbert: But so in twenty thirteen, I guess, I went another thing that I've been really interested in for many years is essential oil and aromatherapy. I'm not a certified aromatherapist I've been working with them for a long since nineteen ninety. And a friend of mine said, oh, there's this weekend workshop about a Aroma therapist, but aroma therapy for therapists do you want to go? And I thought, well, okay. And so for me, a lot of things after he died, just I've always been a very spiritual person. I always call myself spiritually promiscuous. Like
Victoria Volk: I love that.
Karla Helbert: Sort of, like, avenues and studying different religions and paths and stupid interested in so many ways. Like, I really believe that the yoga that I'm trained in, which is integral yoga, our motto is truth is one and path are many, and I absolutely believe that. So I've learned a lot about a lot of different things over many years. But when he died, it was like none of that meant anything. It was just that loss of my spiritual self. It's still makes me cry. I was just like, who am I now? And the only thing that really helped me then was I and I'm again fortunate in this because I've worked with lots of people who say that they cannot. They hear all these things about signs and connection and communications and they don't have it and they can't feel their children or their other loved ones and but I knew he was around. I knew he was there. I couldn't believe in anything else. It was all gone, but I could believe in that. And I could talk to him until the o means god, sort of male, like, okay. Well, if he's around and I feel that, then somewhere, there must still be this divine presence. I just don't know where it is. It was truly this dark night of the soul space. A feeling disconnected totally separate from that source. It was awful. I stopped doing yoga, the awesomeness. I did chant. That was one of the things that got me through chanting, and just being taking a lot of bath, a lot. But so many things that were who I was just were gone. And I had hundreds of dollars in essential oils. Just hundreds and hundreds just sitting on a shelf doing nothing with them. Because for me, that was also part of my virtual practice, like using them in a spiritual way and in ritual and add mixing them together and potions really, but, like, ways that for me, like, really carried the energies of the plant. And I just didn't want anything to do with it. I would put lavender on a cotton ball vacuum. That was about it. But I said, well, okay, I'll go to this thing with you. And it was like a turning point for me. It was really really what I needed in that moment. And the two women who were putting it together the wrong therapist was named Katiebugs. And I love her and she and I became really close over the years and she's become like a mentor and the other woman, Barbara Davis, is a licensed therapist and also a Reiki Master. And that's the first time I met her and she became a really important person for me and I thought, okay, it was funny because at that weekend workshop, mostly everybody there were, like, bodyworkers and acupuncturists and massage therapists me and one other person were psychotherapists, and it was like, I don't even have them in the right place, but we had to learn some certain acupressure points and work with the oils and work with people. And one person I was working with that, are you a reiki person and I was like, no. And she said, are you sure? And I was like, well, I'm pretty sure. She said, but I can feel the energy in your hand. And then I said, oh, okay. And then I looked into it more after that and went to train with Barb Davis. And it really helped me regain a spiritual connection and a spiritual practice. And I think had I done it all those years ago with my friends that wouldn't have happened. And I think something in me or something in the universe just new, the right time for this is gonna be later. And so that was in twenty fourteen. I did my reiki training level one, level two, and worked with it on myself a lot. And on some clients, but I didn't really, like, get into really using reiki with a lot of other people until the pandemic. And to my reiki master level in twenty twenty or maybe twenty twenty one. It might have been, like, right at the change of the year. And started working with it differently in a way different way. I mean, for people who are who under who know about Ricky, I would use punchalization in and send it decently, like, just a prayer list? Like, I'm sending this to you. I'm sending but I didn't start working decently with people really in session until the pandemic when we I was doing the master level and working with it in that way because I really couldn't wasn't seeing people in person. And it was a profound experience. And many people that I've worked with distantly have said, the feedback from them is even more powerful than what you get in person, which has been an interesting experience for me.
Karla Helbert: And then last year, I started teaching some people. I haven't done tons of it, but it is incredibly powerful experience every time I do a reiki training and the right people show up. You know, once you are supposed to be there in that moment and the groups are just so cohesive and they stay in touch, and it's just really interesting. But that part, I think that weekend was really I'm gonna know because I can feel the difference. Really profound. And then from there, the reiki journey started. And I'm really grateful for it because I think it wouldn't have been the same. Had I done it earlier. I can't know for sure but
Victoria Volk: Mhmm. Well, and I had similar experience, although I did my reiki master, I think, twenty nineteen. And then I did Corona Holy Fire Rakey Master. And then I phoned biofield tuning, which is his tuning fork, so I got certified in that. And so, yeah, it's what I've heard you saying up to all this point is that it's like when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Right? And it's being open to receiving what it is that is there for you to learn about yourself, about healing, about whatever it is that is peeking your curiosity. And where I think people come into our lives too just to nudge us like they're brought into our lives to nudge us and then we might not ever see them again or speak to them again. I've had so many instances of that one off conversations that just, like, change the trajectory of my life sometimes. I've published a book because of one off conversation with someone. It's been bizarre. Yeah. And I think the message that I want people to hear and what you were sharing is that to be open, really, it's important to be open to support and be open to the nudges and to getting out of your comfort zone. Because I think we can become very comfortable with our suffering too.
Karla Helbert: Oh, yeah. I think you're right. That's true. And then it's scared to what is it that the devil? It's easier to stay somewhere than to face the fear of something that's different. And it is scary. And I think I'll stay often to people in grief. We often feel like we don't we don't wanna move. We don't wanna literally go out. We don't want to do anything. And I'll say, go when people ask you to do something, drive your own car so you can leave, but try. And just yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine and we're planning a webinar, and we're talking about just, like, basic tips. And I said, you know, when somebody that you love and trust sent to you. Let's go take a walk or maybe you should take a shower. Just listen to do it. Just do it. You just never know how one little thing might really shift how you're feeling in a moment. And sometimes, just taking a shower can really, like, change how you're feeling or going out and walking around the block and getting some sunlight. I mean, those things are so basic. But so important. And especially really early on when you're in those spaces of devastation, we often don't want to do anything. You don't care to take care of yourself. Like I talk a lot about self-compassion, and self-care. And when you're in those places, you don't care to have compassion for yourself or take care of yourself. And so really, you're right. Like, that just do it anyway. Like, just take this moment and listen when somebody gives you a little bit of a nudge. Because you don't know how just this one little shift can change the energy of your emotion. Because as we said before, emotions or energy. And I've shared many times that word emotion comes from the Latin verb, a move air, which means to move. Emotions are supposed to move. We're not supposed to just, like, hold them tight and just But I know because when you're in pain, like physical pain, you just don't wanna move, but everybody knows if you don't move that arm that's hurt, it's gonna freeze up. You have to take those little steps to allow on an emotional level, also the pain to move. It doesn't mean you're gonna be fixed or cured or you're not gonna grieve do grief stays with us forever? I mean I was just I can if I talk to you about it, it's right there. It doesn't go away. I just now am strong enough to carry it that building your emotional muscle and all of those things are energetically motivated, but it includes the physical aspects too of taking a shower, going for the walk, taking the chances and having lunch with a friend. And it's scary because we don't know you don't know from one minute to the next sometimes seconds, what's gonna just bring you to your knees any moment. A song, a look, a kid that looks like your kid or you never know and they're everywhere, these dangers. And if you don't make the effort to become strong enough to handle them when they show up. You never leave that safe safe circle it's how your world gets smaller and smaller. And I don't think that's a good way to live. Mean, I can't I've had conversations where people say, well, who are you to say? I'm I can it's my business if I wanna keep my world that small. You're right? You know, that's true. You can't ever make anybody do anything. But I don't want to live in a little tiny box. Know, so in order to be able to expand, you have to, as you say, be keep being curious. You're curious about something. Go find out. Like, curiosity is a very healthy place to be always.
Victoria Volk: And that's the hardest thing I think when being, like, on the therapeutic side of it or renew assisting others in grief And for a long time, I just felt this like, I just wanted to, like, help everybody. Right? And you can only help those that really are ready to help themselves who are ready to be open, right, to the support. And that was the hardest part for me when I first started this my work of working with grievers too is being on the other side of it. Right? Like, you just you just wanna bring everybody with you. Like, there is hope. There is support. There is a path forward. There is joy and happiness waiting for you.
Karla Helbert: It's hard believe sometimes, I mean, I remember vividly being in the space of thinking, okay, well, I'm never gonna feel joy again. I guess that's alright. I mean, I've had little kind of burst of oh, I feel happy for a minute. That's okay. I mean, I had accepted that was weird when that first happened, but I'm never gonna feel joy again. I mean, who knew? You can. It's not and so, you know, the for me, the most profound thing was really real. And it was did not happen overnight. Is being able to hold grief alongside other emotions. And it's hard to do because grief, especially traumatic grievance and the trauma aspect of it really has to be worked on, like, how do you deal with post-traumatic stress issues when they come up. Like, that's a different thing, learning how to calm your nervous system down and understand how it works. But the grief itself does not need to be healed. It's a normal and a natural response. And in the beginning, It is so overwhelming that it's impossible for other things to come in and feel. But the more you learn how to carry it, the more than you're able to have that space for other things, it doesn't mean that this is gonna go away. It doesn't. And then that not being afraid of learning that grief isn't your enemy, that was huge for me too. But and I remember talking to a really good friend of mine. I was on one of the death anniversaries, and I was saying to her, I hate this so much. I hate this grief. I hate it. And she's like, you don't hate it. And I was like, yes, I do. No, you don't hate it. And I was like, oh, I totally do. And she said, no. You hate that he's dead. You don't hate the grief. I was like, okay. That is true. That's true. The grief is just there because he's dead. Like, there's Of course, it is. And so, like, that for me was another little turning point of really realizing, okay, I don't have to try to get rid of it. How can I, like, make friends with it a little bit? It's a constant companion. You know, it's always here. Even in that the the metaphor of sort of, like, this thing being huge and you can't see around it at all and or you're just blind to buy it. And then eventually, it moves out here and you can see around it or under it and then it's here and so it's always right there. Or maybe it's like right here most of the time and oh, I know you're there. If I wanna come get you. And then there's those days where it's like, oh, look, here I am. It's never like this for me anymore. And his grief isn't. And I,really feel that the only thing that scares me and it's that true for a lot of grandparents as my living child. Then I don't know what will happen to me if she were to die before I die. I just hope she won't. But here, I'm all I'm pretty confident that I can handle anything grief-related that comes my way in regards to his death. I can I can handle it even if it's here? and it doesn't stay here very long. It's just like, okay. I know. And then it goes back here. But it's always part of me. And in the beginning, had you told me that'll be like, I don't want this, and I understand that completely that impose to protest and to push this away and to not have this be your reality is absolutely how you feel. And I get it. And so you're right with the where people and people are ready. And in this job, in my job, I No. There's nothing I can do to help you. I can't fix this. Like, I can't fix the grief. I cannot change how you feel. I can offer you suggestions, I can be there with you, and it doesn't scare me. And so now in a lot of ways working with dramatically grief people, I don't I'm not responsible for their healing. I can just be there with you in it, and I'm really good at that now. And I think a lot of people who do this work, including lots of therapists, are not comfortable in that discomfort. It's also a cultural issue. This is much fun with culture. Like, our culture is not comfortable in the face of other people's pain. They either, like, don't wanna be seeing that. Or they want the person that they care about to be who they used to be, which is also impossible, or they wanna fix it for them and take like, when people say, oh, if I could do take this away from you, I would never want somebody to take my grief away from me. It's inexorably connected to my love for my child and you're not taking my breath away. It's impossible anyway. But even early on, I knew that. Like, I had to feel it. But if this it is a developmental process and a journey, like, nobody overnight just as like, okay, I'm ready to be healing now. I mean, just and for me, I don't even really use that language because I think the idea is that grief can be healed and it doesn't need to be. And I'm never gonna be healed from that trauma, relationship problems with other people that show up, physical issues. A lot of times, this can be healing, all that depending on what has happened. The immune systems are depleted. People have autoimmune problems because of extreme amount of stress that their bodies are under. And once you start dealing with the emotional peace and find the right physical support, that stuff can be healed, but the grief doesn't need to be. It's a learning process too with all of those things growing, learning, developing, but I don't need to heal from it. So but other I don't suggest other people use my words, but figuring that out was also huge because for several years, I thought I needed to heal. And I tried and tried and tried and thought about it and wrote about it and finally, when I started thinking about it in a different way, it was a relief to just be like, oh, and god, I don't have to heal from this because I'm not.
Victoria Volk: I have a lot to reflect on that because it is. It's like this, it is a constant wound. Right? Like, there's nothing ever that will bring your son back and Right. Or any loss that anyone experiences or any traumatic experience that someone has, there's nothing we can't go back in time. We can't change it.
Karla Helbert: Right.
Victoria Volk: And so it is this ever present wound. But like in grief recovery, what the language And I use healing but more towards, like, energy work. Mhmm. But when it comes to grief, it's more of the a sense of recovery. And almost like, you know, like the twelve-step programs of alcohol or substance abuse disorders and things like that. But for me, personally, it was recovering from the pain. Mhmm. It was and that's what I feel like grief recovery addresses is the pain so that when you have those moments that show up in your life that remind you you're not pulled back to the pain. Mhmm. Your relationship changes because your relationship continues with your son. Your relationship continues who never passed.
Karla Helbert: Absolutely. Yeah.
Victoria Volk: And so it's and she's yes. So grief recovery. What it did for me and what I see it doing for clients is it helps them change the relationship moving forward? Because I think there's a lot of you know, what's the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations and anything that you wish would have been different better or more. And I think that's the story on repeat in a lot of people's minds and hearts and that's really difficult to let go of.
Karla Helbert: Oh, totally. Yeah. And that's for me and a lot of other bereaved parents. And in a lot of ways for anybody who's the loved one, but that those ideas of, like, what we what would have been if he would be now. Like, I was not expecting, for example, fact that school stuff has been with hard for a lot of years. But I didn't even really think about it. All the kids going off college this last summer. And I was like, oh my god. Like, it went it's interesting. I looked at it. I was like, wow. And a lot of the things I was reading from a lot of mothers being devastated and grieving. And I just thought, oh, gosh. Yeah. I'm not gonna I can't I couldn't say anything. I didn't comment on anything. I didn't because I just thought, okay. It was it was very hard to read. And I don't know if he what would he be doing? Will he take a gap year? I don't know. Would he be going to college at all? What would he be doing? I don't even I don't know. All things you don't know. That's all still there. But for me, yeah, like, you know, language is so important how we talk about things and what we think about words. I mean, I'm a big word nerd. So I mean, to me, I'm always like, look up the ophthalmology of this thing and see where it comes from. But that's why healing and the thought around that. But it really is how we because the way you're talking about grief recovery, like this resonates with me. I don't like that word because I think in a lot of places, people assume it means you get to go back to who you were before and you don't. And I know you know that. Mhmm. And so it's hard to our language is still limited to on how we can really express it's hard to talk about. I write a lot about grief. I mean, I have written a lot about grief and there's still no words that really can describe your actual experience in it.
Victoria Volk: Can I read something that you shared with me in your application here?
Karla Helbert: Oh of course.
Victoria Volk: Because I feel like a lot of people listening who have lost a child will resonate with this. So I asked, what would you like to scream to the world? And you had said that others who did not know this pain could fully you wanted them to fully feel the catastrophic immensity of not just my pain, but the totality of living with such traumatic loss and the ongoing experience of what it is truly like to live without the person you love and cherish most. I wish they could experience it so they would know and if only for a few minutes what I was going through, and I imagine that as a feeling that you have kept all these years. Even when you're reading those messages of the moms when their children were going off to college and things, I imagine, like, it really touched me. That's why I wanted to bring it up.
Karla Helbert: I can I didn't remember what I wrote in the so but that's true? Because, you know, people will say. And this and it is I do concur. I would not wish the death of a child. On anybody. I don't really have any enemies, but if I did, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, people say. But I do wish that for just an instant, people could really feel it. Because I don't think I mean, I know. So I also have this thing that I don't like it when people say I can't imagine because human beings have the capacity to imagine anything. Like, we've imagined worlds that never existed. Galaxies far, far away and all these things. And it and I think what it means when people say that is they don't want to imagine it because it's new scary because if you really really. And I know you can never if you've not experienced it, you cannot know what it's actually like. But people don't want to try to imagine. And I haven't had a conversation with my mom not too long ago. Which was really interesting because she's one of the people who just have historically over this whole period difficult to talk about this with. And she's gotten so much better over the years. She's really, like, taken in a lot and I think learned and had I've seen her deal with grief with friends and other aspects, and she's gotten so much better at it. But she asked me something about how do you work with all these people's pain and what how do you do that all the time every day? And I was trying to explain it and and that this conversation went into the phase of that because that was happening at that time, everybody's children were going off to college, and I was talking about it. And she said to me, oh, bigger. She said, well, when you went to when you went off to school, I cried every day from month to month, it was awful. You just have no idea and I was like, Okay. Now imagine, I'm an only child. Imagine if you would never speak to me again, never see me, never hold me, never touch me, never hear my voice, never mail me, but I don't want to hear that. And I was like, okay. This is what I'm talking about. And I didn't you know, we were we were out at our house. I was making dinner and all. I just went back.
And it's interesting too. I like that I mean, for me that moment, if that had happened fifteen years ago, I would not have been able to even talk to her. I would have had to leave. You know, it was just no, it's interesting, and I remember miserably in those moments. Early on in grief. Just wishing that people could feel how I felt. Just for a few seconds even because grieving people and I experienced it too are so judged. It's like I mean, yeah, you're tired of our grief, oh my god. Imagine having to do it every single second. We're sick of our shit too. Oh my god. We can't do anything about it. And then for that gets back to that, what you said earlier, it's a choice to do something. It's so hard. So I have so much sympathy and sympathy for people who are in those places, and I work with people who it's protracted. And it's just, okay. You just keep doing these things, and then there might be a little shift, a little shift. And I had a woman once. It totally sticks out to me. Our son took his own life. She came in, she walked on my sofa, she's just crying crying crying. And for, like, twenty minutes, all we did, she sat there and told me how she can't do this. And I said, but you're doing it, but I can't do it anymore. But you're doing it. This went on and on and we had a lot of conversations around, okay, what are your options? And to killing herself, completely just like taking every drug and just staying high and she didn't like any of those options because all of those had bad consequences. And I thought well, Okay. We're doing it then. And then we shifted the conversation and we're talking about other things. And when she left, she was laughing about something and we were just it was not we're having a great little time, and I said, you know, I want just want to point out to you. This isn't to say that some great healing moment happened but look at how differently you feel right now as opposed to how you felt just like an hour and a half ago. That doesn't mean you won't have those moments again, but you've got through it. And now we're in a different place totally. Just remember that. It can change. It can. And people just don't believe that often when you're in those places of just total pit darkness, but it can't.
Victoria Volk: You just highlighted a very important point is that especially in those moments when you're sitting in it and you'd have don't see a way out of it. You can't see the label from inside the jar. This is where you need support, you need someone else to light the way for you, to show you that you can shift your perspective in an instant.
Karla Helbert: It is variable. Don't have that Yeah. Right. And a lot of people don't have that. They don't have that help and support. And it's it's hard because a lot of times people who may not be the kind of person who would reach out and go find it are the ones who need it the most. I mean, you see this, people who are help, seeking people just naturally be like, I I need to go to a group or I'm gonna go find a therapist or whatever. And now I've said a few times on different podcasts. Now what is so helpful? Even more it's I mean, it's been almost twenty years, which seems like a long time, but it all those things really fast. Then, like, there was very little support. Now, you can and social media can be really devastating for many people, and it can be really helpful but there's so much more. And you need to be discerning because not every place that's supposedly helpful and supportive really is and there can be a lot of toxicity, but this is where you knowing yourself and learning, having that self awareness and starting to pay attention again to your own wisdom, finding the places where you feel safe and comfortable there's so many more out there now than there were even when I was going through it. I felt really alone. I mean, it's really thankful for the miss foundation and the group that was here. And that's one reason I've stayed so connected and and still very much active with with the foundation. Is because it's what really helps save me. So having that support and there's so many more options now and that's really, really good.
Karla Helbert: When I wrote that book yoga for grief and loss, Actually, the the other book defining your own way to grief book that's for kids on spectrum, that came from a story that I wrote one of my clients is for my son, any of this happened with him. This kid was a new kid to me. Both of his grandfathers had died. And one of those grandfathers was, like, his person. And there was nothing anywhere. I could find no resources. So I wrote him this little story that's at the beginning of that book, but then turned into chapters because I couldn't find anything out. And now, there's more support for people on the spectrum. There's more support for grief parents. So I remember finding there was one book that I found that was for marine parents at the time. And then there were a couple more, but there really weren't that many resources even for bereaved parents. There was nothing for siblings. So, and all of this has grown a lot over the last fifteen years. And there's so much more out there. It's easier to find support than it was, but you have people that it's hard for them to reach out. Which is why I say also to other people don't stop reaching out to the greeting person. They may not come to lunch, keep asking them. And a lot of times, what happens is this victim blaming kinda thing, oh, well, she doesn't wanna come to let her sit there. It's part of it is because they don't understand how grief is not a disability or a disorder, but it can be debilitating. Had trauma with it, you have all of that combined. It can be terrifying to walk out of your house. And they need support. You need people who the people who love you who are gonna keep coming back instead of getting annoyed with you because you're not getting over this. Are you still sad about this? It's been six months or less? I mean, it's just like amazing. So for me, if people could've veld it, just for an infant, maybe they would have more other lips.
Victoria Volk: And zip their lips. Right?
Karla Helbert: It's like impossible. I get that it's impossible.
Victoria Volk: It's like I equate it to society's response to grief to grievers, like a thousand paper cuts. It's like every little comment, every little inciliation, every judgment, or every whatever it is. It's like just another little paper cut on a griever. And the thing is what this is why I started this podcast is like nobody has to die for you to be a griever, for you to grieve. Like, I guarantee you these people that say this stuff, this un these unhelpful things, have a lost dream, or have a less than loving relationship with a parent. I mean, we grieve, have a loss of career or finances. Maybe the less they're home, everything went up in flames. Like, we all grieve something as we just forget. We forget.
Karla Helbert: Yeah, well, maybe that forgetting. I don't know. Because when you've had these huge losses, catastrophic losses, you can't forget. And I don't know. I mean, maybe when people have those other those other kinds of grief and those other losses and they forget, they sort of think, well, I got over these things. I mean, and people equate these things together, they do. I mean, I've seen it. Like, it's amazing. Oh, I know exactly how you feel.
Victoria Volk: Oh, yeah. Mhmm.
Karla Helbert: Because my grandmother died, my dog died, my whatever died. I mean, it's like
Victoria Volk: My aunts, cousins, brother, sister.
Karla Helbert: Yes. Whatever, you know. I mean, it's just like,
Victoria Volk: trying to relate and trying to relate you're creating more harm. And Yeah. You talked a lot about support and making sure that grievers seek support and you talked about ways that you found support and what you looked for and what helped you. But overall, what has your grief taught you?
Karla Helbert: I don't think you asked me this ahead of time.
Victoria Volk: It was on the form and you selected it.
Karla Helbert: Oh, well. Okay. Okay. Well, today, I think well, the thing that came to my mind very the first thing is that I'm not special. Like, I so in the beginning when this first happened, one of the things, right, that was, like, universe shattering and this idea somehow that I was protected and special. Even if I didn't really say that to myself and I think like a lot of people walk around with this assumption that they're exempt. They know bad things can happen, but somewhere they don't think it's gonna happen to them. And I was just, like, with the why, why, why, why, why. And then I just had this, like, thought, but this was really early in. Oh, why not? I mean, like, why not? Why not me? What's I'm no different than anybody else. I mean, I'm just I'm special. I'm just special and I'm just as not special as anybody else. And I think it also had taught me And that was really eye-opening. I was like, okay, what does that mean now? What do I how do you navigate the world. And it's scary. How do you navigate the world when you know for sure these terrible things can happen? And I've had to learn how to balance that fear? Because it's still there. I mean, I know all the things can happen. So it's how do we balance that fear and then at the same time knowing that. And maybe it's the curiosity piece because I'm I've always been, like, very curious and open to lots of things. It's like, well, if I know that, then how do you make the most of this one this moment that's happening now. Right now, as far as I can tell and everything I can do, everybody that I love is safe. Everybody is okay. Now what do we do? We live in this moment. We live in this present moment as much as we can. We plan for what we can plan for. But you can't control everything. And that's been really hard. Like, I've tried my best and I've really have tried my best. Some people say that and I don't always try my best at everything. Try my best. To try to be the kind of parent. That I think I would be if I didn't have a dad child, but learning how to, like, let her go into the world she's gonna be fifteen on her next birthday. Oh my god. She's gonna drive a car. Like, how it's ongoing. How do you balance this stuff? It's taught me how to be able to live a more balanced life to let go of what I don't control or hang to how to really surrender to things how to learn how to surrender to that grief because it cannot control it. And then how to then take the steps to continue learning and growing. I mean, those are the things I've learned from my grief. For sure.
Victoria Volk: I'm glad you touched on that with your daughter, like, you know, that fear of I mean, you've lost one child. Right? That fear never goes away. Right?
Karla Helbert: Now when I know many, many families who've lost more than one child, it's it happens a lot. And it's a real fear and a real possibility. So how do you live? And that's the thing I address with lots of parents that I work with who have living children. How do you live with this? Without being crazy, without being super controlling, letting them have and have made mistakes, I'm sure not definitely not a perfect parent. I do feel I've tried my best to not control her and let her have experiences climbing trees. Oh my god. I used to love to climb trees. Nobody paid any attention to me. Climbing the trees. I was so scared to deliver climb trees, but I let her do it. Thank goodness she was not like a daredevil child. Really glad for that, but it was really hard. But I wanted her to have those experiences. And I'm gonna have to let her drive a car at some point. That's worse than climbing trees because there's other people driving cars and on phones and drilling and drag all these things. So it's just like to terrifying. Is scary for non bereaved parents?
Victoria Volk: It is. Yeah.
Karla Helbert Yeah. It's a it's a challenge. It's a challenge. And it's ongoing. I mean, their times when it's harder than other times. So, like, that's a skill. Right? So, grief has taught me many skills to move through my days.
Victoria Volk: I do have one question kind of on that topic. What would you say to parents I have this belief system too that, like, a parent's anxiety can become their child's anxiety. How do you express that to parents in a loving, compassionate way. I know.
Karla Helbert: I mean, in my kid. I do. I mean, I see it in my child. And and there's so much, like, we knew nature or nurture all these things. Like, she's her own person. She has a lot of anxiety. That I never had. Really, we're very different people. You know what I mean?
Victoria Volk: It's a very different time too.
Karla Helbert: Yes. Yes. There's so many things. Like, I would never wanna be a teenager right now. It's just so scary the world that they are living in. And so there's that, I mean, when they do active shooter drills at school. I mean, she's terrified, but there was one day that this is a middle school. And she that happened and then she had a nightmare that night that there was a shooter in her school. And she didn't wanna go to school the next day because she thought that it was gonna come true. And I said, I mean, we had a long talk about it. And I said, because I can't tell her it's not gonna happen. I can't. I know people whose children have been killed in school shootings. I know them. And I can't tell her it's not gonna happen. But I told her, I said, I understand that you're scared. I know. And she knows of the children that I know. I mean, she's aware. She knows what I do. She knows a lot of things. And I said it, but it's like lots and lots of accidents happen in cars every day, and it's scary to drive a car. But what if I say, we're never gonna get in a car again because we might be in an accident. We would never go to go anywhere. We would have to be only where we could walk, and I send this to her, that would make our world a lot smaller. I know it's scary. But we have to figure out how to breathe through our fear, do the best we can, protect ourselves, and take care of ourselves. But also live our lives. You'd have to live your life. You'd have to go to school. And it was so hard sitting here in a school. And every time this happens, it's like, mean, I think of it all the time when she goes to school. But, I don't know, there's not even a but. It's a very, very difficult. She does have a lot of anxiety and some of it is the world. I mean, the pandemic was horrible, living through that as children and teenagers. And what that had done. And we were terrified during the pandemic for her to catch it, like all of these things. And when she was a child, I mean, I know when I was pregnant, I was terrified. There's only so much you can control and even in terms of, like, what anxieties rub off on her? I'm like, I've talked about my husband's fears. He's been through the same stuff I've been through, and he's a different person. And the way he deals with trauma is very different. She's living with two traumatized parents. And grief stricken parents. I mean, I even didn't even know how I thought I'm gonna bring the child into this house that's still with grief. Is that the right thing for me to do? And I did. And I think I do think too that she's a more empathetic person she does not have hang ups about grief at all.
It is normal part of her life. I also tried. I didn't wanna push a relationship with her brother on her. Like, she never knew him. Let her come to her own sort of thoughts and feelings about it. I have a hundred percent sure. Like, none of us, grievers are not can avoid our own stuff coming off on our children. I just think being as self-aware as possible and as open as possible to your own feelings. Like being telling yourself the truth about stuff is number one important thing. Okay, how am I affecting her right now? Can I need to manage myself first before I can manage the whole oxygen put your own oxygen mask on first? But I know that it's impacted her. It can't not have impacted her. I don't know how much of her anxieties or because of me or my husband or whatever stress or whether she absorbed in utero. I don't know. I can only do what I can do and try to be as aware as I can, as loving as I can. Come back to her when I've made mistakes. I've done that too. She's a really good kid and she's very smart. She's funny. She's creative. She's finding her own way. And I just do my best to do my best. I don't know.
Karla Helbert: There's not a lot I can say to people because I get it. I understand. That fear and that learning to balance it is hard. And we don't always I don't even know what success looks like in that, but your kids as much space to be themselves. And we're guiding all the time and once she's an adult, to get out of the way and let her live her life. I mean, I've always thought like our job as parents is for them to not need us later. Hopefully, right, for her to be able to be on her own in a contributing adult in society and be as happy as she can be as content as she can be with who she is. I mean, I hope that I've done that. And I think some of that is unavoidable.
Victoria Volk: And to piggyback on that, I think the best way we can do that is, like you said, have a self-awareness about ourselves and sweep our own doorstep and look at our own parts.
Karla Helbert: Yes. Do your own work. I mean, that's really important. Because if you don't if you if you're not aware, then nothing can change. Like, that is the first part, self-awareness. That something needs to change or it never changes.
Victoria Volk: It's a great way to end this podcast, I think.
Karla Helbert: Thank you so much.
Victoria Volk: Yes. Thank you. And I'm gonna put links to the books to your everything in the show notes, but where can people find you if they'd like to connect with you and work with you?
Karla Helbert: Oh, for sure. My website is the best place, and you can always any any of the contact forms come straight to my email. Also, I'm not sure whether this is gonna air, but we're a friend of mine, animal rogers who's also a bereaved parent. Her story is very different from mine. We're doing a free webinar for marine parents on December fifth. And that is gonna be from five to five thirty seven eastern time. Yeah. And that information is off the on my website. And you can just click there. It's free, but you do need to register just to get the link and everything. I think that'll be a really helpful thing for people. My website is just my name. It's www.karlahelbert.com. It's Karla Helbert. And all the stuff I do is on there, and any email that you send come straight to me, and I will write back.
Victoria Volk: I will put that information in the show notes. And I
Karla Helbert: Can also find me on Instagram. I'm also on Facebook. I don't do Twitter so much anymore. X. No. It's really not there anymore. So Instagram and Facebook are places to find me. And also my website, you can just email me and I would love to hear from people about reiki, about bereavement, about whatever. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that I do about yoga. So Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It's been really, really great talking to you.
Victoria Volk: It's been my pleasure. Thank you for sharing your story. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life much longer.