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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Duprey

Cohabitating with Grief, with Crystal Dalton | Delaware Grief Educator and Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor

Updated: Apr 29

Five years ago, enormously pregnant with my eldest son, I went to see my cousin, Darrah, on the psych ward during visiting hours. She had voluntarily admitted herself to get her meds adjusted and to have a safe place to stay for a while. This would be the last time I saw her. 

She was lucid and lovable... and heavily medicated-- she was mostly her old self. She asked if she could come live with us when they discharged her. She offered to nanny my kids: “I’m still going to drink my wine and smoke my weed though.” I was hopeful that she would be in a better place with the proper medication and support, but wary of how much I could let her back into my life. Within a few months, she was homeless again and there was no help I could offer. 

When I was a kid, Darrah would watch me when our parents went on double dates. She would call me baby and french braid my hair. As I grew up, she became one of my closest friends. In high school, I would visit her at college. She would buy me a bottle of wine for the weekend, but nothing for herself-- she didn’t like the way alcohol tasted then. We shared a niche love of Joanna Newsom and she took me to my first concert. When she moved to Philly,  I would ride the septa regional rail to visit her and go to shows. Sometimes we would stay in and watch indie movies she had checked out from the library together-- ‘Girl Interrupted’ was one of her favorites-- the irony isn’t lost on me.

The thing was, I had always felt like the "crazy" one. I was the one with all the trauma, the one who was prone to extremes and excesses. When Darrah's mental illness started emerging, I was finally figuring out how to cope-- eventually, her behavior became so erratic, destructive, and hurtful that I had to step away from our friendship.

Just a couple weeks past her 38th birthday, my cousin died of a suspected drug overdose in a safe house in Palm Springs, Florida. I woke to the phone call at 10:30pm and couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I also couldn’t cry. I tried, lying in the quiet dark-- my husband and boys breathing slow even breaths on either side of me-- but no tears came. What I felt instead of sadness, was relief. Darrah was no longer suffering-- in her own tortured mind, with her addictions, or day-to-day survival on the streets. 

Those tears I couldn’t cry? They had been shed over these past years as I watched her heartbreaking decline from a safe distance-- tears at the hopeless knowing that there was nothing I could do, sobs that overcame me when my mom would share updates on Darrah's whereabouts at holiday dinners, or when I was driving alone and would pass a homeless person on the street-- I would wonder about where she was, how she was doing, and would think back to the person she was before her break. Then cry over the fact that if I couldn't help Darrah, what help could I give anyone else? She has been lost to me for a while-- the Darrah I loved, the Darrah who was my favorite cousin, a role model, and my dear friend. I have been grieving her loss this whole time.

When I first spoke to grief educator, Crystal Dalton, of Cohabitating with Grief, in August of 2023, I believed that I didn’t have any relationship with grief, but as we talked she illuminated the universality of grief and the many reasons and ways that we carry it through our life. Death wasn't something I had encountered in a personal or painful way yet, but loss was something with which I was intimately familiar-- the fact that you can grieve a job, a friendship, or your life before kids was new to me but made so much sense. In our conversation, Crystal shares her personal journey of grief and her life pivot after her mother's sudden passing. We discuss the lack of support for grieving individuals in society and her mission to normalize grief support, what coping with loss in a healthy and supported way can look life, and her trauma-informed yoga class offerings. We also cover how to talk about death with our children and honoring deceased loved ones as a family.

*As a disclaimer we will be talking about miscarriage and suicide.

Crystal Dalton, trauma-informed yoga instructor and grief educator at Cohabitating with Grief sitting under a tree with hands at heart center at Lums Pond State Park in Bear Delaware.
Crystal Dalton, trauma-informed yoga instructor and grief educator at Cohabitating with Grief.

Let's Begin:

So I have to admit, that this conversation has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I have never experienced a close loss.

Yeah, grief comes in all different forms. It doesn't just have to be death. Death is different than losing a job, but you can still grieve the loss of your job.

I think my closest experience with grief is loosing a close friend. That took me a very long time to come to peace with, but it wasn't a death-- it was just the loss of a friendship.

I understand. I've been through those and it's hard move through that too. It is something that we don't talk about enough because we don't really think about loosing a friend as a grief or loss, but it really is. Our friends are our chosen family, and especially for women, our female friendships are so important. Not only to us, but as a community of women. Our circle of friends is supposed to be--or should be-- the safe space where we have come together and hopefully not have all the BS from the outside world telling us who and what we should be, how we should look-- all the things-- and then when we lose that it's very hard. For me, I think sometimes our friends are our soulmates. A soulmate doesn't have to be a romantic partner.

Yes, I believe in that whole-heartedly. I have a couple soul sisters and brothers myself.

Yeah, exactly. So all of that.

So that's a little bit about me and where I am coming to this conversation from-- what my current experience with grief is. I would love for you to start by telling us a little bit about yourself, and what you do.

My name is Crystal Dalton and I am a certified grief educator and a trauma-informed yoga instructor. I have a whole life before this of what I did. Prior to 2021, I worked for the state. For seven years, I worked as a victim service specialist with the state police doing police-based victim services-- working with survivors, and victims, survivors of crime, and their families. I was going to crime scenes, providing death notifications, and I had an on-call rotation. So pretty much every day for me was filled with trauma. I was reading about it, hearing about it witnessing it, and seeing things. That takes a very heavy toll on a person and I took a leave of absence from work, for mental health reasons.

My best friend, Jennifer Ewald, who owns Balanced Mind Counseling (together we are cofounders of The Healing Cottage), helped me to see that some of the things I was experiencing were PTSD, compassion fatigue, burnout, vicarious trauma. At the time, I didn't see that because I just thought it was normal. All of the other people that I worked with there were experiencing similar things. If something is normalized, you're unable to see it.

During my leave of absence, I interviewed and got hired for a new job still within the state. So I started that job in July, after I returned to my job with the state police that did not have direct service, meaning I wasn't working directly with victims. It was more on like the back-end policy and that type of stuff.

Also during my leave of absence, my mom had kidney cancer and she had had it for a while and there was a spot in her kidney. And she had to have her kidney removed. There was a risk of her dying during surgery because she was a cardiac patient. My mom was also she turned 80 The day before her can be surgery, but she made it through.

Several months later, I planned a vacation in Harpers Ferry West Virginia to get away and find some peace because I had been having a stressful and overwhelming year on top of COVID. I was there for 24 hours when my brother called to tell me that my mom was being rushed to the hospital. I had spoken to her less than an hour before and she just sounded a little different to me-- she said she was tired. Unbeknownst to me, she had fallen prior to talking to me. What ended up happening is that she had a significant brain bleed that left her unresponsive. So that was on a Friday. She was taken to the hospital. I had to leave my Airbnb and drive the three hours back to Dover.

And I did not know the significance of it. Obviously nobody's going to tell me how serious my mother's condition was on the phone. But when I got there, the doctors took me into the family room to explain to me what happened and basically that my mom wasn't going to leave the hospital and that we had to take her off the ventilator.

That was a very surreal experience. I remember telling the doctor that it was weird for me to be on the other side of the table because, for my previous job, had taken families into the family room and told them similar news. My mom was taken off of life support the next day.

That whole experience changed the trajectory of my life for a multitude of reasons. It really changed me on a cellular level. I'm not the same person I was prior to that-- it shook me to my core. And I decided that I didn't want to do what I had always done. You know-- you're supposed to work the nine to five, have the stable job with insurance and the retirement and all of these things. But my life had changed, in the blink of an eye.

Earlier that day I had I hiked up a mountain in Harpers Ferry that's part of the Appalachian Trail. And it was the hardest thing I've ever physically done. And so I went from having this very surreal physical experience-- from really pushing myself to do this thing, to less than three hours later having to drive home because my mom was in the hospital. And so I was like, "I don't want to do this anymore. I'm going to leave my job and teach yoga full time".-- this was prior to me becoming a grief educator-- and that's what I did.

I am so sorry that happened to you. Do you mind sharing what were those first few weeks were like after your mother died?

So I was out of work for a couple of weeks, which is something I can talk about with grief. But you know, we are a grief illiterate society. We don't know how to talk about it-- grief, death, and dying. And I don't think that our institutions are structured to really support grievers or support people in bereavement. I mean most places, if you're lucky, you get three days of bereavement-- and my mom wasn't even cremated within three days. Fortunately for me I had vacation and sick time. I could still get paid and I had a supportive supervisor who let me be out.

As a society, we don't understand grief and there are some misconceptions. You know, my mom's death anniversary is September 25. So it's been two years. You might think, "Well, it's been two years-- why are you still sad? Why do you still cry? Why do you still get upset? Why does it still hurt?" My answer is that grief is really love. My mother is going to be dead for the rest of my life, so I'm going to be sad for the rest of my life. And I will carry both things happy and sad-- and I will continue missing her.

I got back from Europe recently from this great trip with my partner and I cried on my drive home from the airport because I really wanted to call my mom and tell her about it and I couldn't. I want to normalize grief for other people and help to change the narrative. Let people know that there's no right or wrong way to do it. There's no timeline. It doesn't matter if it was 20 years ago, or two years ago, however you're feeling-- it's okay to feel that. There's no shame attached to it. And we all go through that process differently.

So that's my story and how I got here.

It's still a journey. I was just featured on a podcast, it is called the 302 Podcast that is hosted by doctors, Dr. Megan Epps and Dr. Frank Chi. They're a husband and wife who own a chiropractic practice in Dover and they started this podcast to do all things Delaware.

I'm gonna have to listen to it!

(you can listen to Crystal's episode HERE)

It's cool. We talked about what I do, why I do it , and all of the things. I'm really proud of it. Doing that interview and meeting with you are all things outside of my comfort zone, but that's where all the growth happens. That's where the good stuff happens. And like I said, this is still a journey for me. I am discovering who I am, what I'm supposed to do, what my soul's purpose is.

I recently had somebody share with me this visual of a child having fireflies in a jar and shaking them up to make them burn brighter.

That's kind of like what I've recently felt like, Things get shaken up, and it's crappy. And I said this on the podcast, too, that all of the things that I'm doing-- the good stuff, these experiences that I'm having, these opportunities that I have-- they are all wonderful and I'm excited about them, but also they're all happening because my mom died.

I always go back to the fact that it's the result of the worst thing in my life that's ever happened. And beautiful things are coming from that but that does not mean that I forget about the reason why-- nor should I. Like: "Well something great came out of it! Yeah, but my mom still died and I still had to watch that happen. So that's also not great." Both of them can be true.

I like the duality there-- you can't have light without the dark.

My mom was a psychiatric social worker. I think there's a lot of overlap with what she did professionally and what you did. And yeah, I know from just her sharing her experiences, that it was a really taxing job. She didn't last as long as you did.

Working for the state police was just one job. I mean, my first job out of college I worked at a group home for people who were in the state hospital that had mental health conditions and I was only there nine months. I mean, I was 22-- naive to the world. It was way too much for me. It was a group home-- these people had never lived outside of there.

My mom worked at a couple of those before they were de-institutionalized.

So I've done a variety of different things, but all of them have been in the helping fields. I worked as a medical case manager for people living with HIV and AIDS prior to my job with the state police. And here I am now. I like to think that I took something from all my education and my trainings and that I'm utilizing them in a different capacity now because I have had all these other experiences in this world. And I'm familiar with grief and trauma on that end. Whether it's the loss of something or someone, a sexual assault, or domestic violence-- I'm taking all of that experience and I'm able to use it on this side of it. So it's like I'm still doing something similar, but just in a different capacity.

I've been curious about the trauma-informed yoga. Personally, I am working through a lot of trauma and have experienced emotional release while practicing in a class setting-- the movement brings stuff up for me-- I am curious is that is apart of it or is that something you are sensitive to being a trauma-informed instructor?

A lot of people will have an emotional reaction during yoga-- for a myriad of reasons. We do get our emotions trapped in our body. Our emotions, our feelings, things get stagnant and trapped in our body. You can relate it to you've been sitting all day, right? And then, if you stretch and move your body, you feel a little bit better. It's the same with doing yoga because yoga really isn't a workout. It's more of a work-in. You are able to connect to your body, and your mind, and your spirit by moving your body in a certain way. You're taking time you're deliberate, you're intentional, and it's a great way to just release stuff.

I'm a trauma-informed yoga instructor. It's hard for me to describe it because my whole entire career has been trauma-informed. So whether I am certified-- which I am-- in trauma-informed yoga, or not, I still would call myself a trauma-informed yoga instructor. It's taking into consideration that everybody who walks in the door is probably carrying some type of past trauma, whether it's a big one or a little one, right? And being mindful of that, being mindful of that-- taking into consideration: Do you have sensitivities? Maybe they have an allergy. Maybe they have a have a sensitivity to scent? Maybe they were assaulted and a particular scent will trigger a response in their body. Same thing with sounds, lighting, giving choice, autonomy on how people move their body-- which is how I teach all of my classes. I don't feel like there's a right or wrong way to teach yoga-- as long as it feels good in your body, and it's safe. If you're not hurting yourself then whatever you are doing-- that's fine.

You don't want to do something that we're doing? Great. You want to be somewhere longer? Wonderful. You want to sleep for an hour? Awesome. It's really about giving people autonomy and encouraging them to have choice, especially over their body and especially if they are a trauma survivor who's had violations against their physical body. Honoring that and creating a safe space, a cozy space for people to actually feel relaxed and not be so hyper-vigilant is so important.

So is that the true definition of trauma informed yoga? I don't know. But that's how I look at it. It is empowering your students, giving them choice, and meeting them where they are. It is being collaborative, especially if you're working with a private client-- taking what they want to do, or how they want to move their body, and what they don't want to do into consideration when you're designing their session.

Are you doing both group yoga classes and one-on-one sessions?

I do both. My yoga journey has evolved over the years. Before Jen and I had opened the Healing Cottage, we both finished our yoga teacher training and decided to teach private clients which we did in her first floor office of her counseling practice. Our primary focus was on private clients. And then later in 2021, we got the opportunity to contract with the University of Delaware to teach the student community so I've been teaching there since November of 2021. I teach classes there and I teach at other places within the community, a senior center, a 55 plus community. And then I have private clients and I teach small group yoga classes at the healing cottage.

What is a certified grief educator?

I am not a counselor, I am not a therapist. What I do is peer-to-peer support. When you get certified with the grief educator program, you choose whether you're a therapist, a coach, or peer-to-peer. So regardless of if I was a doctor, but not certified to be a counselor, and I wasn't a coach, I would still be peer-to-peer. The good thing about not being licensed is that I can work with anybody around the world. That's the beauty of that-- I can do it virtually or I can do it in person. I offer both.

What does your peer-to-peer support look like with with someone who's grieving? How do they find you? Are they referred?

They can find me in many ways-- I'm on Instagram, we have social media pages, and on our website. Jen also has her therapy practice, Balanced Mind Counseling. And when people are reaching out for counseling specific to grief, there is a waiting list and there isn't a lot availability within her counseling practice (and also within other practices throughout the state). There are not a lot of openings and there's a lot of people that are seeking counseling. So she offers me as an alternative with the understanding that I'm not a counselor. The flip-side is that I can't accept insurance. So it's a fee-for-service type of situation. So people have found me that way. I also have had Grief Healing Circles here at the Healing Cottage.

What do your healing circles look like?

The healing circles are a two hour event and everybody who comes is experiencing some type of loss-- it doesn't necessarily have to be death-related loss. If they lost somebody, they have an opportunity to share that. We do an exercise where we talk about feelings. Oftentimes, when somebody asks us how we're doing, our response is usually "I'm good, how are your doing?", but on the inside we are not OK. So we practice really being able to tap into our feelings. There's a whole plethora of emotions out there that we aren't necessarily familiar with. You know, we have the common ones: happy, sad, angry, anxious. But if you are able to dig a little bit deeper, you can define what it is you are really fealing. Let's say it's anger-- there are layers to anger. So we practice being really intentional about trying to figure out what we are feeling and then if people want to share what they came up with and why they might be feeling that way, then we do that.

There are different journaling prompts that I will provide. I provide everybody with journals that they get to take home. People can write it in their journal if they want, if they don't want to write and they want to share by speaking it out loud then that's okay too. If nobody wants to share, that's okay too.

The grief circles evolve into what the group needs. I have a plan and I have an idea, but I allow it to organically evolve because sometimes maybe it's just that the people who are attending want to talk, because like I said previously, there really aren't a lot of spaces to talk about grief openly, or to feel comfortable enough doing that without feeling shame or judgment attached to it. And they don't have to explain it. If you're in a group of people and they already know what that feels like. You don't have to explain why you're upset or how it feels to have an anniversary or birthday or whatever come about. And that's kind of how they've gone. There's some structure and then they organically evolve into whatever the group needs.

The one-on-one sessions are somewhat similar to that. I have an idea of things to do. Same thing-- there's a journal, we'll talk about feelings again, go over some just foundations of grief and things that we might not even think about.

Could you can you go into detail about what the process of grieving might look like for someone?

There is no grieving process. We're taught that if we're crying, then we're sad. If we're not crying, then we're not sad and that whatever happened must not have affected us that much. I mean, I felt that way. A couple of months after my mom died I wasn't crying every day and I told my therapist, "I feel very guilty because I feel like I don't love my mom if I'm not crying every day." And but that's what we've been told, right? And that's what we have been told it looks like, but if you are done crying, then it's thought that you're over it. I wasn't crying all the time, but I wasn't over it. I would just like to normalize all of that.

Sometimes people are angry. Let's talk about that-- anger is part of grief. Let's talk about why you're angry. Are you sad? Great. Is there anything in particular that is a little making you a little more sad today? Was there an anniversary that happened? Was there a birthday? It's really hard for me to answer what's right or wrong. Because there really isn't one right or wrong way to grieve. And I'm not a believer in "you're in stage one to stage five", you know, or "first year in anger and then you're here". Grief isn't linear. Healing isn't linear. You might take four steps forward and seven steps back and that's okay. It's part of the process.

Crystal Dalton of cohabitating with grief with hands at heart center at Lums pond

Thinking about grief with this new, broadened perspective, I know that I have felt this before. As a mother, I have had two early miscarriages. They were difficult losses for me to process, but I am not sure if my fiercely independent self would have sought out support. I am curious, how you help people move through the loss of a child or the loss of a pregnancy?

So, for me, I have no experience with either one of those things, which doesn't mean that our grief can't be similar, right? Different experiences, but grief is universal. We're all going to feel it in some way. And I would imagine, as well, if you are a mother who has had miscarriages. That is its own grief and I'm sure that there is another type of grief that also comes from having children and thinking about the other children that you might have had a miscarriage with. If let's say it's a miscarriage that has just happened in the hospital. Allowing the parents to name their baby is important. This is their child. Taking the time to let them hold their child and to form that attachment if that's what they want, is also important. I think that oftentimes, those options are not given to women. It's more of a "your baby didn't make it. Let's get it out."

I'm thinking about volunteering for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.

What is that?

It is a non-profit where photographers provide bereavement photography in the hospital.

Yep. I'm going to start crying. That's also something that we talked about in our grief educator training, allowing the parent to bond with their child even after they died.

I am probably two thirds of the way through the volunteer training and it's hard. I'm such a sensitive person. I have to really know for sure that it's something that I can do and I'm not sure if I can do it.

I understand. I wouldn't have been ready to do what I'm doing either until I was ready, if that makes any sense. I love that bereavement photography exists. I think that's another area that really isn't taken into consideration, right? Grief in general is "Let's hide it. Let's not talk about it." Because we're going to make you sad or it's going to upset you. When the reality is, that you are going to be upset regardless, right? These parents who lost their child are going to be sad and upset regardless. So let's honor their child--who was their child and they have formed an attachment to and that they have named. Let's take the pictures and have that memory. They are a member of the family.

I have friends that have ornaments on their tree with their child's name that was miscarried or stillborn because they are their children. And I think that we gloss over that so much in our society and miscarriage isn't talked a lot about because there's a lot of shame and stigma attached to it.

Before I had my first miscarriage, I didn't know anybody who had one-- or no one that talked about it openly. I thought I was the only one.

But guess what? I bet you weren't.

I know, right, it's like 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

It's more common than it's not, but again, it's kind of a suicide. We don't talk about suicide, or death by suicide, because there is so much shame and stigma attached to that. But if you open that door and talk about it, you're gonna find that more people than you realize have some type of experience with suicide in their family. Same thing with miscarriage.

I know several women who are my friends that have had miscarriages. So it's not uncommon, but our society-- from the beginning of time-- has shamed women. Telling them that this is their fault and they did something wrong. So why would we talk about it? Especially if that's the case, right? The blame is always going to be on the Woman. No matter what.

cohabitating with grief's, grief educator crystal dalton at Lums pond state park in Delaware.

Your point earlier when you where you're talking about the time employers give you for bereavement-- with my second miscarriage I started bleeding at work. And it's like, what do you do? Well, you just carry on with your day, and you continue on. For the next couple of weeks, I would just walk out of my building, go around the side and I would cry. I give myself that 10-15 minutes to just let it all out and then go back inside and continue on working. It's what I felt like I had to do.

Well that is just really shitty. I'm sorry.

With miscarriage, I think because of the stigma and because it's a personal and private matter, you're not going to be like "hey, employer, so I was trying to get pregnant and I did, but then it didn't work out and now I'm really sad".

Yeah, and I'm sure that there are very few companies or employers who do respect miscarriage as bereavement and let their employees take the time they need. That's really how a lot of things are approached. And it's people like you, people like me, and others who are trying to shift the narrative and change what it looks like.

I have one mom who reached out to me for birth photography. She was going to have a home birth, but her plans changed when she learned that her baby will be born with a life-limiting diagnosis. This baby-- who she loves so much and is just fine growing inside her-- when he is born, his life will be shorter than they could have ever imagined. She is cherishing her pregnancy and her time with him-- she's made it a point to have maternity pictures taken-- those pictures are so beautiful-- she has three girls and she's finally having a boy-- and her girls are all over her tummy in those photos. There's so much love there-- she is really leaning into that love and into her family. She is planning to have memorial photography at the hospital with NILMDTS. She's gotten support through the organization Able Speaks. I know that milestones are going to be hard for her-- one month, three months, six months. That whole first year and beyond.

I can't speak for her, but I can speak for myself. When my mom's first birthday happened last year, holidays, her anniversary-- that was hard. it really just sucks, right? And a way for me to take back control of how it was going to feel and how sucky it is, is by me doing something that I wanted to do. How am I going to honor her? How am I going to honor myself? And yeah, it still sucks. But I'm also like, kind of reclaiming that narrative and writing it for myself, which is what I feel like this mom is doing in a ways because she already knows what the end result is going to be. It can be shitty as hell. But before I get there, let me have what I need-- and honor him, honor my family, honor myself and then we're gonna get there. That's the end result, but along the way, let's create this journey. That is going to be something important for their whole family to continue to fill each other with love and this baby with love.

How can mother's address questions about death and loss from their children when they're young?

When we attended my grandfather's funeral. there was a surprise open casket. I had felt comfortable bringing my young daughter because I didn't think she would be seeing the body, but there was this surprise open casket. During the service, My daughter, who was four at the time, turns to me and she's like: "Um, Mommy, Why is there skin?" I guess, in her mind, death was a skeleton. She just couldn't reconcile the fact that you could be dead but still have skin.

I understand her thought process and it really does weave in to this question. Again, I'm not a parent, but honesty and truthfulness is really the most important, right? When it comes to your children-- whether you're talking about death, or grief, or anything-- but age appropriate truthfulness. Death is going to be a part of their life forever, whether it's a pet, or a loved one, or a friend, or you know what have you. So I think that having the conversation and being able to explain it to them in an age appropriate way that they would understand and allowing them to direct the conversation-- let them ask questions.

I think all kids can have different comfort levels with this subject matter too. I have one child who loves the macabre. There's this huge historic cemetery in Philadelphia called Laurel Hill. And I was driving with kids in the area and I was like "OOO, let's drive through the gates are open. We will look at all the old tombstones and we will read all the names." and I had my spooky kid say "give me your camera, I'm going to take pictures" and she was off walking around, exploring this beautiful old cemetery, having fun with my camera and was like "this is cool. I love this. I want to see inside the moseleum" and I have another who didn't want to leave car and held her breath the whole time.

So I would ask the one who was uncomfortable "Why. Why do you feel that way? Did you see something? Did you hear something?" I'm sure there's a reason for it. It could have been even something she saw on a Disney cartoon. Let's be honest-- they're a little dark and scary even for me sometimes. And I think it's our relationship with death too, if we talk about it then it becomes normalized. Being truthful and honest, using direct wording is so important.

Let's say grandpa died of cancer. Grandma, don't say "grandpa went to sleep", right? Because it could create a fear of sleep. And don't say that Grandpa "went away". This could create anxiety: "Well, if I go away am I never coming back?" So think about it from a child's perspective. Be direct about it. Grandpa died. He had cancer. "What's cancer?" Okay, well, let's explain what cancer is. There are lots of books and resources that are out there to help parents address this.

Speaking plainly in short, simple answers, letting the child direct the conversation. Children are curious, right? They you might talk to them today about it. And they grieve differently than adults. They are they're a little bit more resilient. You might tell them grandpa's dead: "oh, okay". And go about their business. And that doesn't mean that they're not processing it-- that they are not handling it. They are just handling it in their own way and they may come back a week later and say "So grandpa died. What does that mean?"

It sounds like you should let them sit with it for a little bit.

The conversation is going to be ongoing. So a one-and-done conversation isn't necessarily going to be the case. It's going to be something that's going to continue to evolve and be honest-- kind of like I was mentioning when you walked in. I was like: "your questions were hard and I don't have all the answers, but I looked for them". Same thing with your kids. Be honest, you don't have all the answers. It's okay to tell your kids "I don't know the answer to that. I'll work on finding that out" or "I don't know".

Try to have any conversation about grief or death in a space that feels safe from the child. If they have a particular stuffy or a a blanket-- if there's something that comforts them that they normally have-- allow them to have access to that provided so that they have something that makes them feel safe and comfortable.

Yeah, I think that would go for anyone. I would take a blankie and a stuffed animal if someone was going to give me bad news any day.

It would go for anybody. Exactly. Even having play dough for them to do with thier hands. Also give yourself time mentally to prepare for the conversation. And also, model healthy grieving. We don't want to openly show people that we're grieving, or talk to people about it because it might upset them. But if you model healthy grieving to your children, that's going to last them for their whole life.

I was listening, to a podcast and this woman's mother died when she was-- let's say four-- her mother died and nobody talked to her about it what happened. Nobody openly grieved in front of her and they never talked about her mom ever again. So as an adult, she is learning how to grieve and how to talk about her mom. To learn about her mom she's having to do all of this. So if we show healthy grieving-- it is modeling an other healthy behaviors-- it's the same thing as choosing more nutritious foods and moving rather than being sedentary. Children learn by seeing and by doing and it's okay to be sad. And it's okay to, you know, cry and explain to them what's happening and allowing them to express their feelings. We, even as adults, find it difficult to express our feelings for a multitude of reasons, right? We don't want to make anybody else uncomfortable, or make anyone sit in our discomfort. So we'll just tamp it down and not cry openly in front of folks. Let children express themselves, display their emotions without being invalidated or shamed for them. And all of us-- adults and children-- with our feelings and our grief to be witnessed and validated. That's all we want. Really as a as a person who's grieving.

My grandmother is part of like a widow's club. They get together and they play board games on their anniversaries and holidays and they'll have like sleepovers and watch their hallmark movies.

That is what is it all about-- with my grief healing circle, the one-on-ones, the just chatting with a person you just met because of grief. Once that door is open, we want to walk through it and have somebody say "oh, my gosh, me too."

I think it is awesome that she has that community-- that she is a part of that club. It gives her a sense of belonging and she isn't alone in her grief.

It's all about how she is able to control the narrative. Just like with your mom whose child is, you know, not going to survive once delivered, me and doing the things for my mom's birthday, your grandma and her widow's club. It's something that's going to be for the rest of her life. It's awesome to have other people on that journey with you. who you can sit with and feel empowered by and who support each other.

How old is grandma?

She turned 81 this year.

I love it. I really just love it. She's I think she's a great example of grief.

I mean, it took her a while to get to that point. There were periods when she just wouldn't eat. She had to go through like a lot of depression.

And I'm assuming that your grandpa, she and him were together for probably more than half a their lives.

Since she was 16.

Exactly. So how do you go from being with somebody you grew up with? All those formidable years! To no being alone.

I honestly I think about this a lot. My partner and I, we've been together since we were 18. If anything happened to him, it would be so hard. He is so much a part of me.

Right exactly. And vice versa. And going back to grandma, grief affects all parts of our our being really. It's not just being sad. It can be you might eat more than you normally would. You might not eat at all. There was a time period where I just didn't I eat at all. I ate breakfast one morning, I was trying to eat some scrambled eggs and started crying and choked on my eggs, so I just didn't eat.

Grief affects the brain. You know, "grief brain" is similar to "mom brain", from what I've been told-- you don't remember things, it's overwhelming, you can't focus. You know, I've mixed up dates and I'm very anal about having my schedule together. And this is when I still worked at my job before I resigned-- I showed up to an event on the wrong day in the wrong part of the state, which has never happened in my whole life. And I was so hard on myself. And I didn't realize that it was because of my grief until like, I read a book and normalized like grief brain.

How do you move through grief and still function? Do you just allow it to happen and give yourself grace?

I still have it, Ali. Not like I did, butI still have it. My therapist had explained it to me, Jen explained it to me, but once I read it in a book-- that was when I had an aha moment. I saw myself and was like "Oh, my god, like I'm not crazy!"

When you're in grief, all of your energy is going into surviving. Really, it's exhausting. That's just waking up and living in life. Now if you are the person that has to do all of the responsibilities that come along with death-- making arrangements, canceling credit cards, calling doctor's, calling friends and family- that is a lot. I was that person.

Is there anything that mothers should look out for to make sure that their kid is coping well, and you said that there's no right or wrong way to cope, but what what are some things that might give cause for concern.

So I found some information from the National Alliance for Children's Grief -- this can be true for anybody really. So after a death, some noticeable changes that may require additional support are an inability to go to work or school, difficulties with relationships, sleep problems or nightmares, disproportionate anger, irritability, hopelessness, social withdraw, self harm, suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation.

Most mothers know their children well enough to know when something doesn't feel right. And trust your gut. If your child is acting out, and having some type of behavior you're not used to seeing, get curious about that. And ask the questions because children don't always have the language to be able to articulate what they are feeling. They will show you in behavior.

I think I think that's the thing. I mean, to look for that stuff. You know your kid better than anybody. So if they're not wanting to eat, if they're moping around, if they're not behaving in a way that you're used to-- and I know children are not perfect all the time. Right? But you know, as a parent, what's typical and atypical for your child, and if you're able to look from the perspective of "their grandpa just died". And even if this behavior is starting to appear like three weeks later-- remember that children grieve differently than adults. They may express themselves in a different way, or at a later time, because they're still trying to process.

So what are some of the ways to honor our memory of a loved one that involves everyone?

I think that that is really up to the family, but if your person like to go to baseball games, maybe as a family, go to a baseball game. I'll speak for myself and what I've done: I take my mom's ashes with me wherever I travel. So whether that's putting some into the ocean or I put some in the earth, this helps me feel a little bit more in control of this death and that I can make of it what I want to. In a symbolic way, it's just her ashes, but her legacy will live on if I put some in or forest for example, something will grow there. That brings me comfort.

I still celebrate her birthday. So her birthday this year, I went out to lunch with her best friend who I like to sometimes have coffee with and hang out with. We went to a place that they would go on eachothers birthdays together, and they would take each other out for their Mother's Day. So I've continued to do that each year-- I take her out to lunch.

I also created what is called a "mom box"-- a friend help me do it-- she had made one when her sister died. I have a box that I got from Michaels and I painted it and colors are all symbolic to me. I have you know things ModPodged to the outside on the inside. And there are actual things that were my mom's in this box that remind me of her. It is a memory jar, a memory box. I think this is a project that is especially good for kids.

If you want to go to like a graveyard, you can celebrate that way. I have a friend who they go to her nephew's graveside every year for his birthday and they celebrate and honor him.

We used to go to my grandfather's grave on Easter because he died on Easter. I have very fond memories of playing on the big pile of silk flowers. I guess every so often they were like clear off all the graves and then put them in this great big heap in the woods and I would always wonder off and to climb the flower heap and make myself a little mud-spattered bouquet of grave flowers. I know that doing a little weeding and spending some time with at my grandfather's grave was very comforting for my dad.

So it is really whatever you want to do that honors your person. For me. It's honoring my mom but also honoring myself in the process. I donate to a charity for the big holidays: Her birthday, Mother's Day and her deathiversary. I make a donation. So if she were still alive, I'd be buying her gifts for her birthday, for Mother's Day, and Christmas. And since she's not still like contributing something that she would have been like, keen on donating money to and I do the same thing for her death anniversary, which is in September. Something people might want to do is to celebrate their birthday by having a cake and ice cream , you know, whatever they feel comfortable doing. And if doing nothing is what they want to do-- that's also okay, too. There's no right or wrong way to do it. It's whatever feels comfortable to the person to the family. And if you have children, allow them to also be a part of it, especially if it was a significant person in their life.

But as I'm a little bit further along, I'm able to find a little bit of joy. By in my joy comes from honoring and doing things that she loved or eating a food that she loved or celebrating with people she loved.

crystal dalton of cohabitating with grief is a trauma informed yoga instructor

I really like all of those suggestions.

I know someone who writes her parents cards on their birthdays each year. She writes to them and tells all the things that she would have told them if they were here. Yeah.

I think it can be anything you want it to be. Really, I mean, if you're a quilter you know somebody who quilts maybe taking the clothing they used to wear and making something out of it.

My grandmother is a quilter and this was a part of her process. My pop had so many flannel shirts that everybody got something made out of them. The boys got pillows, us girls got aprons. My grandmother made my mom and Uncle each a blanket. My mom loves that blanket. Symbolically it is like he is surrounding her with love-- it's like a hug. I have one of his flannel shirts and it really does feel like a hug wearing it.

And that's a great way to honor right?

Thinking of cremated remains. I have a very complicated feeling about ashes. I'm just going to share it all with you.

Yeah, go ahead.

So when we bought our house, we bought it from my husband's grandmother. She moved to California to live with one her sons with just one suitcase. We had all of her belongings in the house that we had to divvy up amongst family. So it was kind of like a situation where, I wanted to open it up to everybody so that they could have anything that they wanted. She's still with us-- she's just in California-- and most of her children here. And the one thing that nobody wanted was their father's-- her ex-husband's-- ashes. He had been very bad man and the children did not want anything to do with him. So Howard was, in our garage for years. Once when my husband's mother had come up from Florida, and I was like, "you have to do something about Howard." So you she found the dirtiest part of the Christina River, and dumped him there.

But then also, I used to work at auction house. And that was a regular part of processing the estate's coming in-- sometimes there would be forgotten or unwanted cremated remains that would come in and the auction would just throw them in the trash. Personally, I'm never going to be cremated because I don't want somebody to have to make the decision about what they are going to do with me-- or if I do, I would like to be put straight in the ground.

What you are doing with your mother's ashes, is beautiful by the way. I know my father's gonna want me to be spread all over the continental divide.

Yeah, my mom had some requests too, but I'm not in a place yet for that.

The necklace that I wear pretty much 99% of the time is what's called a finger print urn necklace. And so if people don't know this, and it's something they want to do-- I didn't know this until a friend told me and it legit was done the day that my mom was to be cremated. So you can have your funeral home fingerprint your loved one. And the fingerprint gets uploaded into a system. And you can use that fingerprint and have things made from it. There's a company called Legacy Touch, which is who I went through for this service.

You get a PIN number for your fingerprint. And you when you decide what you want to have made-- whether it's a necklace, a keychain, or whatever it is-- you put the pin in, they pull up a fingerprint, and they're like "is this your first time your person's fingerprint?" and you're like "sure" and they engrave your loved one's fingerprint onto the item of your choosing.

I like the idea of a keychain-- that's something that you use every day.

This necklace is like a talisman for me-- I feel close to her when wearing this. When I'm flying I will rub my fingers on her fingerprint, just like a worry stone, especially when I am feeling anxious, or really upset, or missing her. That's what I do. I mean, everybody has to do whatever it is they have to do to feel a little bit closer or to feel better or connection.

Crystal Dalton grief educator of cohabitating with grief wears a  legacy touch urn necklace to remember her mother.

Thank you so much for having this conversation with me, Crystal. I really thought that I didn't have any relationship with grief. I have learned that that is not true.

Like I said, you can experience different types of loss at different capacities. And again, it doesn't have the loss of a friendship-- it could be the loss of the life that you thought you're gonna live, even moving from one state to the other. There are so many layers to grief and it looks so many different ways and people experience it and process it differently and some people are able to recognize that a friendship breakup is actually a loss and will grieve it and other people don't. All some people know of grief is death. It's a bigger cultural thing of how we perceive it, acknowledge, and it represent it.

I would say that in my experience going into motherhood there was a lot of loss. I had the loss of the way I thought my life would be unfolding, the loss of my career path-- I knew I probably wouldn't be finishing school, and then the loss of my chosen family and like my sense of community and the loss of self once I became a mother, because I had to rediscover myself.

I'm glad you said that because I wanted to say that too, that there is a type of grief that will come with motherhood. And I think again, it's one of those things that people don't talk about something. There's shame attached-- to say that you can feel grief and loss on that the greatest day of your life-- you just have this baby and everything's perfect and wonderful, right? But then there are people like you, right? People like my friend Jen and the other women working with Postnatal Support Advocates are normalizing motherhood and the ups and the downs and the not always rainbows and sunshine parts of it. And, you know, the more that people can come together and share their stories and, again, rewrite the narrative and shift it in a different way. Then the more likely things are to change. And everyone may feel less alone.

I love sharing stories. I love hearing other people's experience because it broadens my perspective to my own experiences. I'm like, "oh, other people feel this way".

Right? and also like, "it's okay that I don't feel the way this person does." It helps you stretch your empathy. It is comforting to know that we all experience things differently. If somebody dies and we're grieving your grief isn't gonna look the same as mine, but we're both grieving. Our grief is going to be different.

That was my major take-away from this conversation: Everyone's grief is going to look different, and we are going to use different tools to cope with it. If you or someone you know is experiencing a loss and would find Crystal's grief offerings helpful, you can follow the links below.

Connect with Crystal:

Meet Me At The Cottage, Podcast:

Listen HERE

Grief Healing Circles:

Learn more HERE.

Trauma-Informed Yoga:

Learn More HERE.

Crystal was kind enough to share these resources for parents who wish to support thier child through grief:

National Associan for Children's Grief

Kid's Books on Death and Grief

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