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By Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
“How can you pull yourself together if you don’t fall apart?”  This basic, somewhat ironic statement is at the heart of the grief work that has become Gabrielle Michel’s area of expertise.  “We are in a microwave, three-day bereavement culture now.  We’ve lost a lot of the rituals and community that are the foundations of true healing.  We’ve also lost a lot of empathy and compassion for each other.”  People who experience loss today are told to move on, get over it; deep pain remains hidden and unresolved.

 

Gabrielle points out that if your life feels empty and directionless, if you are devoid of energy, light and humor, unresolved grief may be the root of such feelings.  And she says that if you want more intimacy, joy and depth in your relationships and in your life, that desire can be a great motivator to begin the process of moving through long-held, unresolved grief.


Many events in her life have moved her steadily toward the work she does: a process she calls Graceful Grieving.  In her early twenties, unfulfilled by her computer sales job, she started down a spiritual path, and then was suddenly laid off!  Utilizing a sudden abundance of free time, she audited a class in clinical hypnotherapy at the New Focus Institute and, upon completion of her training, hung up her shingle.  What she found was that at the core of so many issues, even overeating, was a spiritual hole.  This realization prompted her pursuit of religious and spiritual study, and her eventual ordination as minister by The Church of Truth, an Interfaith church and ministerial school based upon a metaphysical interpretation of the Bible.


Then in 2004 a painful series of events took her further down the path of grief work.  “In January of 2004 we had a miscarriage; in July of that same year, my younger brother passed away; in October I lost a life-long dear friend; and in December I joyfully witnessed the birth of my baby daughter, only to lose her 19 ½ hours later. The combination of these losses threw me into a very dark place.” Struggling to maintain her practice and her ministerial work with her church, Gabrielle soon succumbed to that darkness, experiencing a deep loss of faith. 

 

“I stopped seeing clients because I felt I couldn’t help them.  I stopped speaking from the pulpit because I no longer knew what to say.  I had to go back to basics and let myself grieve and feel devastated for each loss.” She has since re-emerged from the dark, but there are still days when the grief comes up: anniversaries and birthdays.  What Gabrielle came to know was that it was critically important to honor the relationship she had with each person she lost.  “We need to find the gift in the relationship, not necessarily in the loss.”  And often that is particularly difficult for those who’ve had miscarriages or a stillbirth because the relationship was so short-lived, and largely unrecognized by others. “There are so many women out there with tiny boxes of ashes they don’t know what to do with. Unexpressed grief must be released, and infant children must be recognized, honored and memorialized.

 

Combining her own personal experience of loss with extensive research and years of training she became a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist in 2005. In addition, she recognized a lack of spiritual help for grievers, as a result, Gabrielle developed the tools to help the healing begin. "Memorial Mandala Kits; allow grievers to express themselves visually, because feelings are often difficult to express in words… using a photo or any image or representation of their loved one, grievers are encouraged to create a very personal, and lasting memorial of their relationship to that person.”  The process takes time allows the griever an opportunity to focus on the relationship in a positive way.  The Mandala acts as a container for the grief that can be then displayed in the home instead of hiding everything away.

 

“I read over 50 books on grieving and felt that what was missing was spiritual guidance, deep ritual, something celebratory to focus on.  I also developed two workshops:"Birth Write: The Write Way to Grieve," a workshop for parents who have experienced infant or pregnancy loss, where the parents have a chance to write about the very real relationship they had with their baby rather than focusing only on the loss; where they can share and have their grief witnessed.  Often what comes out is a deep recognition of the gifts received.  Another workshop is"How to Survive the Loss of an Infant", where people get a chance to express their anger with God and help reestablish their spiritual connection.  Anyone interested in any of these workshops can email Gabrielle at the address below.  She will offer the workshop free to any woman who has had a miscarriage.  “Donations are appreciated, but I will not turn anyone away based on inability to pay. No one should sit alone with their grief.­­”

 

“People hesitate to tackle this work for fear that once they start grieving they’ll never stop.  Believe me, I understand, but I’ve never seen anyone not move forward if they do the work; at the beginning you visit the light while living in the dark, but before long you find you are living in the light and only visiting the dark from time to time. Your life has been forever changed; I am a totally different person than I was pre-2004.  But because I was willing to dive into the work I needed to do for myself, and have created memorials to my daughter and established rituals to help me heal, my life is more rich, I am more alive, more joyful, for the experience.  It’s like going from a kindergarten- to a master’s degree-level of understanding.”

 

Gabrielle has worked successfully with people of all faiths and belief systems. She highly recommends The Grief Recovery Handbook, which effectively addresses the emotional side of grieving, but equally important is the spiritual side to grief recovery found in the Graceful Grieving process. You can contact her by phone at 828-505-2491 or email her at: gmichel@gracefulgrieving.com