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Losing Keven
Episode 922nd August 2023 • Beyond the Smile • Marylayo
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A Mother's Journey Through Grief

In today's episode of MaryLayo Talks, I’m with guest, Barbara Legere, to talk about her experience of losing a child to suicide. We discuss how she managed to cope following the death of her son, Keven, and what’s kept her going.

This covers:

  • What was Keven like?
  • How did he end his life?
  • How did you deal with his death?
  • What forms of support helped you with the grieving process?
  • Did you find there was a stigma attached to suicide?
  • Tell me about your book 'Keven’s Choice'?
  • Tell me about your latest book 'Talk to Me I’m Grieving'?
  • What should someone not say to a grieving person?
  • How can someone help a person that's grieving?
  • What advice would you give someone who's child is struggling with substance abuse and expressing suicidal thoughts?
  • What advice would you give to someone who's recently lost their child?
  • Bible verses for bereavement

Take time out. Delve into what may lie beyond a smile and listen in to the conversation.

Guest details:

Barbara Legere is the author of 'Keven's Choice – A Mother’s Journey Through Her Son’s Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide' and 'Talk to Me I'm Grieving – Supportive Ways to Help Someone Through Grief'. Barbara is an advocate for harm reduction and ending the stigma towards substance abuse and mental health issues.

Guest's website

MaryLayo's spiritual wellbeing tip: Meditate on the bible scriptures Psalm 34:18 and Matthew 5:4.

Connect with MaryLayo:

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For help in dealing with mental health related matters, please seek specialist advice and support if needed.

Transcripts

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Marylayo: Welcome to Marylayo Talks, a podcast

that discusses mental health and spiritual

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well being.

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Before we jump in, there may be episodes that

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are particularly sensitive for some listeners,

and if that applies, then I hope you'll be

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able to join me whenever you feel ready and

able.

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Today's episode is on Bereavement, and I'm

with guest Barbara Legere.

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Barbara lost her son Kevin to suicide and is

author of Kevin's Choice a Mother's Journey

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Through Her Son's Mental Illness, Addiction,

and Suicide.

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I started off by asking Barbara what Kevin was

like.

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Barbara: Kevin kind of had two sides to him.

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He had the happy, loving side, and then he had

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the side that struggled with depression and

anxiety and substance use disorder.

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But he was the kind of guy that everybody

liked.

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Kevin, he was very easy to like.

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He was friendly.

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He was very generous and loyal to his friends.

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When he was in high school, he was the guy

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that all the girls would call and say, I'm

stuck on a date or I'm at a party and I don't

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feel safe, and he would go pick them up.

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I still get stories from his friends.

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I love it.

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They write me and tell me little things that I

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didn't know before, and that makes my day.

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But we were very close.

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We were very close.

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He's my only child.

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I'm a single parent, so we just had a really

strong bond, and we talked about everything.

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And he was a wonderful human being with a

broken heart.

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Marylayo: You mentioned about his struggles

with mental health.

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So how and why did he end his life?

And how long ago was that?

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Barbara: It was August 11, 2020. So it's

coming up on three years.

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And Kevin started struggling with depression

when he was very young, around nine years old.

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And I noticed it, his teacher noticed it, and

that's when I started getting him help as far

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as therapy, medication, et cetera.

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Then he seemed to be okay for several years,

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so we stopped the medication and he went on

with life.

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But in high school, that's when he discovered

drugs.

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And once he started using heroin, he felt

great.

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It made him feel like he didn't have to worry.

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He wasn't depressed.

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He had self confidence.

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He didn't have a care in the world.

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That's when you start, but then it turns into

the nightmare that changes your life forever.

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So at one point, he told me several times that

he was going to take his own life.

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He tried to prepare me for years, and it was

so difficult because I didn't want to believe

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it.

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But he did tell me that that's how he was

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going to end his life.

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And he didn't mention it for two whole years.

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So I kind of thought, oh, good, we're safe

now.

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But one morning, he told me that he couldn't

do it anymore.

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He said, I'll never be able to stop using

drugs.

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I just never will.

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And he didn't say he was going to end his

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life, but 15 minutes later, I heard a gunshot

and I knew what it meant.

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I knew that he had done that.

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Marylayo: That's very traumatic in terms of

how it happened and how you found out.

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You've been through a lot, Barbara.

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So tell us how you dealt with his loss

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initially and how you are still dealing with

his loss, because that wasn't that long ago.

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That wasn't that long ago.

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So tell us how the grieving process has been

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for you.

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Barbara: Well, the first few days, it's like

you're out of your own body.

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You can't even comprehend what's happened.

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And then the months, you're just devastated.

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To the point where, for me anyhow, it was hard

to just walk to the mailbox.

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It was car and go grocery shopping.

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Everything I did felt like I was just forcing

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myself to just do the basics of life.

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That whole first year was extremely difficult.

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It just hits you over and over and you realize

again and again what's happened.

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But during that first year, I felt led to

write a book, and that started helping me get

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his story out, which was comforting to me.

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I felt like it was something he wanted me to

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do, so I worked on that.

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And then the second year was difficult in a

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different way because it had been a whole year

since I'd seen him.

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So the second year was more about missing him

and just, he's not here for this, for that.

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It doesn't get easier.

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It just gets to the point where you can handle

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it a little better, where you can deal with

your day to day.

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You can get through it.

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The pain never goes away.

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The heartbreak never goes away.

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But we do find ways to get by because we don't

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really have a choice.

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People tell me all the time, you're so strong,

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you're so strong.

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Well, I don't have a choice.

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I have to carry on with life and my

inspiration now it's just sharing his message

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with other people, helping them understand

addiction and mental health and why people

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take their lives and how to deal with grief.

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So by doing that, that's kind of my purpose

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now, and it's really helped me.

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Marylayo: You talked about in the first year

your book that you were writing, how that was

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a focus point and that how it really helped

you.

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What other forms of support or ways to help

you with the grieving process?

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What other ways of support were there for you?

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Barbara: Or did you that's a great question.

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The number one thing for me was finding a

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support group of parents that had experienced

a similar loss.

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I already belonged to one, so for me, I didn't

have to look for one.

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I had lost someone who was like the son of me

to an overdose five years before Kevin.

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So I was already attending this meeting for

five years and when I lost Kevin, all those

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people were there for me.

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They were the ones that understood what I was

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going through.

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They were the ones I didn't have to explain

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anything to because they knew what it felt

like.

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They knew what to say, how to act around me.

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I just highly recommend anyone that's had a

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loss to find a group specific to their type of

loss so they'll realize they're not alone.

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And there are people that understand, because

unless you've been there, it's one of those

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things that you can't understand unless you've

been through.

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And hopefully it's something no one wants to

go through, and I hope no one ever does, but

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it happens every day.

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Marylayo: Yeah, very true.

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And you've given really good advice there

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about not just a peer support group, but one

that is specific to the type of support that

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someone needs.

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Can I ask about there's a stigma attached to

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suicide, and can I just get your thoughts in

terms of how different that might be if you

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think it's different to losing someone through

other types of circumstances?

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Barbara: Yes, it is different.

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I can see the look in people's faces when they

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run into me now.

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Not my close friends, but other people

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acquaintances, and they have this look on

their face, and it's like they don't want to

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mention it.

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It's like a topic that makes them very

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uncomfortable.

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But I think the stigma against it is people

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think several things.

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First, they think that it's a cowardly thing

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to do.

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Then they think that it's a selfish thing to

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do.

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And in most cases, that is not why someone

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leaves.

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It is not cowardly.

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It takes a lot to actually go through with it.

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My son wrote poems about it that I found

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later, and one of them was called I can't

remember what it was called, but that's what

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it was about, how it takes courage and

selfish.

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You could say that.

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But I don't think that is when someone is in

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so much pain that they can't handle life, to

them, in that moment, there's no hope left.

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They are out of hope, and that's why they do

it.

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It's because they're out of hope, not because

they're a coward, not because they're selfish.

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They just feel like they're at the end of the

rope.

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And the majority of people I've talked to say

that their person thinks they would be better

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off without you.

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Like Kevin would say it often you'd be better

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off without me, mom.

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You wouldn't be stressed out about me all the

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time.

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So that's another thing in the back of some

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people's minds when they make that decision.

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Marylayo: Sure. So I mentioned in the intro

how you've written two books, and you

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mentioned one of them, and you wrote that

during the first year after Kevin's loss.

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So tell us about the first book called Kevin's

Choice.

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Tell us about that.

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And I think you've kind of alluded to why you

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wrote it, but you can tell us more about that

as well.

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Barbara: It was about three months after I

lost him that I started getting this feeling

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that I needed to write a book.

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And I did not want to write a book, but it was

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almost like I could not get rid of the

feeling.

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So I sat down and I just decided, this book is

going to be about helping people understand

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what it's like for someone who's addicted to

drugs, what it's like for someone who has

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mental illness, what it's like for a parent to

spend years, my case, 13 years, watching their

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child's life be destroyed by drugs.

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And then I touch a little bit on grief.

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I was so new at grief then that I didn't write

a lot about it in the first book, but I think

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I give a good picture of the stigma against

it, how difficult it is to get health, at

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least over here in the US, in my state,

California.

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So, yeah, that was kind of main purpose.

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And I talk a lot about Kevin.

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People that have read it said, oh, I feel like

I know him now, know his childhood and his

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issues and all the good things about him, too.

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So that's one of the reasons I wrote it as

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well, just for his memory to stay alive.

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Marylayo: It sounds like, if I can describe it

that way, a beautiful way of almost like his

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legacy continuing through those pages and

through those words and through those memories

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and the experiences that you have.

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And then the second book.

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Talk to me.

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I'm grieving.

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What drove you to write that and tell us more

about what's in those pages?

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Barbara: Yeah, that was written because after

experiencing being in grief for a couple of

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years, I realized people don't know what to

say to you when you're grieving.

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It makes everyone uncomfortable.

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We don't talk about death in this society very

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much, and so people rely on the cliches that

we all have heard over and over, and some of

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those are hurtful, and especially when it

comes to suicide.

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I heard some very hurtful things said to me,

so I realized if people knew what to say and

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they knew how a grieving person is feeling,

maybe that would help everyone to handle it

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differently and to say more supportive

comments and do more supportive things.

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So that's why I wrote that book.

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Marylayo: Thanks, Barbara.

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So what you said reminded me, actually, of

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when I lost my mum and how I noticed that

people know they knew I was grieving, but they

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didn't really address it or mention it, or

they didn't know how to, and maybe a few did.

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And there was one time someone did ask me how

I was doing and I just got really emotional

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and even though I didn't mind speaking about

it, so I really do relate to what you mean

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about people feel like they're walking on

eggshells and they don't know how to approach

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someone and what to say.

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So firstly, given that your book was all about

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talk to me, I'm grieving, what should someone

not say to a grieving person?

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Barbara: Well, there's a whole bunch of

things, but the number one things that I would

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never say is any sentence that starts with at

least, like, at least she was old, or at least

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you can get married again, or at least you

have other children, or at least anything.

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Anything that starts with those two words is

dismissing the person's loss, and it just

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makes the person feel worse.

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The other thing that people tend to do is to

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compare your loss to their loss.

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I have 100 things people have said to other

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people in the back of the book and some of

them are outrageous.

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But one thing that people like to not like to,

but do is they'll say, oh well, I lost someone

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too.

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And they'll go into their story about their

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loss when your loss is new and they're not

even mentioning your son, they're talking

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about their brother, which is another great

loss.

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But if you really want to support someone, you

should focus on them in that moment, not share

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your own story.

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So those are just a couple of things that I

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recommend not saying.

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And another one is instead of saying, let me

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know if I can help you with anything, the

person that's grieving in the beginning is so

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overwhelmed they're not going to stop and call

you.

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More likely than not, they're not going to

feel comfortable doing that.

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So if you offer something specific and tell

the person you're going to do it, like, I'm

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going to bring you a meal tomorrow night and

I'll knock on your door and if you don't feel

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like answering it, I'll just leave it there

and you can come out and get it when I'm gone.

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Kind of like DoorDash, but just little things.

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Can I go to the dryer cleaners for you?

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Can I go to the pharmacy for you?

Can I do specific, very specific things?

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Because that frees the person up to say, yeah,

thank you, do that for me.

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But it's so hard to call someone and say, hey,

can you go get my medicine at pharmacy or

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whatever.

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Marylayo: Yeah. No, I like that.

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I like the fact that the advice you've given

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in terms of someone actually being specific

and not just offering support or help, but

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telling the person how they can offer and give

that support, it gives the recipient the

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opportunity to say yes or no, rather than

having to think about, number one, what that

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person can do to support them.

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And then secondly, no one likes really to ask

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for help.

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So for person to give that description of how

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they can help and give the person the choice

to say yes or no, that's really practical

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advice.

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Yeah, it's really practical advice.

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Barbara and is this based on your own

experience as well as because I know you've do

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voluntary work around grief and people who've

been buried.

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Barbara: And another thing I just want to say

about the book is that it's not just about

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child loss.

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I have interviewed people and they've shared

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their stories on losing a spouse, a pet, their

health, a job, a sibling, a friend.

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So I try to cover different kinds of loss

because they're all a little different.

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And especially for siblings, if a parent loses

a child, everyone says to the sibling, how are

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your parents doing?

Instead of how are you doing?

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Because they've lost as well.

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The volunteering you asked about that has

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helped me a lot and it sounds unusual, like,

why would you want to do that?

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But what it is is it's called Tip trauma

Intervention Program.

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And when there's a death in the home or a car

accident where someone dies or dies in the

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hospital or any kind of setting where there's

a trauma doesn't necessarily have to be a

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death, but the first responders will call us

and we will go out on the scene.

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They'll send a volunteer and we are there to

comfort the person in those first few hours,

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to walk them through the things that they are

going to have to do, like calling a mortuary

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or explaining what the coroner is doing there

and just really be there for them as their

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advocate and someone that cares about them and

just doing simple things like handing them

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fresh tissue and giving them water or

whatever.

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So I find it extremely rewarding because I had

someone come to my home when Kevin dive and

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she didn't even have to do a lot, just her

presence and the way she cared that I was

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going through this the worst thing that I've

ever been through in my life.

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It made a difference that day.

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It really did.

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So when I was ready, I became a volunteer.

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And they have extensive training and it's just

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been life changing for me.

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I really enjoy it.

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Marylayo: That sounds like a really good and

really valuable intervention, actually.

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Like an initiative.

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So just out of curiosity, does the person

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who's been traumatized, do they give

permission?

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Do they have to give permission from the start

for the volunteer, like yourself, to come?

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Barbara: Or the first responder, like the

police officer that is always there, they wait

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for us to get there.

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And because they're called to scenes where

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there's a death in the home or an accident, in

the case of the hospital, you're talking with

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doctors and nurses, but they will typically

ask, would you like someone to come here and

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support you?

And so the person has a chance to say no if

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they don't.

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I said yes.

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Not really even knowing what I was saying yes

to because they just recommended it.

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Yeah, you're not thinking straight.

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No one should have to be alone in that moment,

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I wasn't alone.

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My sister was with me, but I've been with

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people that were completely alone.

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And like, when a child dies and you're

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completely alone, it's not right.

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You should have somebody there waiting with

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you until your family members arrive.

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It's very rewarding, and I like doing it.

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Marylayo: Lastly, what advice would you give

to someone who's currently going through the

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situation you were some years ago in

particular, someone who's let's just say their

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child is struggling with substance abuse, and

maybe that person's concerned about their

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child expressing suicidal thoughts.

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What would you say to them based on what you

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can share in your experience?

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Barbara: Sure. I would say be there for your

child or whoever it is your person.

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Be there for them.

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Let them know that you will be there no matter

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what happens.

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You're not going to turn your back on them,

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that you care about them, and that there is

hope.

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And offer any kind of support.

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You can give them treatment or therapy or

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whatever.

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It may not help, but I think a lot of people

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and I know Kevin, even though I was there for

him, he was so angry and upset with himself,

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but at least I know that I did what I could.

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And I know people that are deep into drug use

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that feel unworthy or uncared for, or people

have turned their backs on them.

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They really need to know that they are worthy

people that are cared about and just know that

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there's somebody in their corner with them,

that they're not alone.

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That's the only thing I can really recommend

is just being there.

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Marylayo: Then just one more question is about

giving some advice to someone who's recently

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lost, let's just say, their child.

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What would you say to them based on where you

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are now and how you're in that position, where

you're able to do advocacy work and share your

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story, your journey?

What advice would you give then?

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Barbara: I would say have no expectations on

yourself.

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During grief, let yourself feel whatever

you're feeling because it's okay.

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Everybody grieves differently.

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If you do discover yourself laughing after a

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few weeks, don't think you shouldn't.

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Your person would want you to be laughing.

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And it may take a year for you to be able to

go out and have fun again.

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It may only take six months.

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It may take six weeks.

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Whatever is right for you, just do it.

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Don't listen to anyone else.

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Try to understand that people that say things

that hurt you are well meaning, most likely,

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but they just don't know any better.

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Seek help.

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Find your support group.

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Find other people.

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There's so much love in the support groups

that I've seen, the ones online, the ones I've

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joined, and there's just a lot of love and

support there, because when you lose a child,

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your entire life changes.

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Nothing is ever the same, and it's with you

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every second of every day.

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I mean, yes, you learn to smile and laugh and

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go on, but it's still there and you're just a

different person.

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So allow that to happen for yourself.

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And I would say just give yourself grace and

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do your best to take care of yourself, but

don't put expectations on yourself because

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it's okay to feel what you're feeling.

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It's the worst thing that can happen.

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Marylayo: Thank you so much, Barbara.

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I love every word that you said was not just

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heartfelt, but it sounded like really good,

practical, wise advice.

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So thanks so much for sharing what is a very

personal and sensitive topic and hope it

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doesn't sound cliche, but yeah, keep on doing

the great work that you're doing.

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Thank you so much for joining me on Mary Light

Talk.

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Barbara: Thank you so much, Mary.

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I appreciate it.

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Marylayo: Grieving can be a very difficult

time for people.

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Here's a couple of spiritual wellness tips you

can meditate on.

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Psalm 34, verse 18 says, the Lord is close to

the broken hearted and saves those who are

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crushed in spirit.

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Matthew, chapter five, verse four reads, god

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blesses those who mourn, for they will be

comforted.

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Thank you for listening.

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Do follow and join me again.

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Next time on Marylayo Talks - Beyond the Smile.

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