Three tragic personal losses inspired Dr. Gloria Horsley, who is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent, and Dr. Heidi Horsley, who is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling, to become the Founders of the Open to Hope Foundation, whose mission is to help people find hope after loss. Gloria and Heidi reach about 7 million people a year through their weekly podcast, cable television show, and the eight books they have written together about loss.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi’s experiences that took them on a journey to the Open To Hope Foundation
- Having a loss impacts you both physically and mentally
- How bereaved people can find hope
- What a good grief support is
- A few of the stories of Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi connecting with a deceased loved one
- Coping with the loss on holidays
- How young children can grieve
- Things that can block grief and why people need to get some help if they have some of those
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS DR. HEIDI AND DR. GLORIA:
- In what way does loss impact you physically as well as mentally?
- What is good grief support?
- How do people cope with loss during holidays?
- How do young people grieve?
- How do people get ahold of you or connect with the Open To Hope Foundation?
- Is there a specific period of grief?
Listen to the podcast here
Dr. Heidi Horsley And Dr. Gloria Horsley: Profound Personal Losses Inspired Them To Help Millions Struggling With Grief
Our next interview in this series is with two remarkable women who exemplify the spirit of healing and moving forward from profound loss. Three tragic personal losses inspired Dr. Gloria Horsley, who is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent and Dr. Heidi Horsley, who is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling became the Founders of the Open To Hope Foundation, whose mission is to help people find hope after loss. Gloria and Heidi reach about 7 million people a year through their weekly podcast, their cable television show, and the eight books they have written together about loss. What a blessing they are. Gloria and Heidi, it’s so great to welcome you to the show.
It’s good to be on with you, Irene.
Thank you. It’s my honor and pleasure. Let’s talk about your background because you had a profound personal loss that started you on your path. It opened you to the Open to Hope Foundation and you have this amazing journey. Tell us.
Years ago, my son Scott was killed in an automobile accident. He was riding in a car with his cousin when the car hydroplaned and hit a bridge. It blew up and they burned to death. It was very tragic. The Lord prepares a way for you. I happened to be working on a burn unit at the time in Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester. I was a consultant to the surgical service. I was a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry.
One of the things that came to me was that this accident was so horrible for him, and I’ll have to say that I was glad he didn’t live through it because those boys would’ve been severely burned had they done that. It’s strange how God comes in some ways, but it rocked our family tremendously. I was a consultant to the surgical service. I was an expert in grief and loss, Irene.
You had a real loss of your own.
It then happened to me personally, and it rocked my world. I realized at that time that having a sudden loss, or even knowing that they’re going to die, you never believe it until they do. It impacts you physically as well as mentally.
Talk about that. In what way, physically as well as mentally?
It increases your adrenaline flow. It hypes you all up for the whole thing. You do shallow breathing. Physically, it decimates you. I remember that happening. I realized that it was that whole thing. I knew everything about the grief in the lost world, and I watched myself take the journey. It was like having a map. I knew I was going to have sign respirations because I’d worked with people who’d had that. I knew I was going to think I saw them. I was going to have yearning and searching. I was going to have all the symptoms but I took the trip and I had all the symptoms.
It happened. You said, “Here you are.”
Here I am having the experience. I had three daughters and Heidi can talk about her experience. Heidi and I are mother-daughter.
I will let Heidi talk about her experience and then tell us about how this journey took you to the Open To Hope Foundation.
I was twenty when my brother died. I was the oldest of four. My brother was in the middle of a sea of girls. I was 20, my sister was 19, Scott was 17, and my youngest sister was 14 at that time. I knew nothing about grief and loss. It wasn’t even in my wheel well. I had no idea I would have this experience and was completely unprepared.
My brother was in the prime of his life. He was an athlete. He varsities in three sports. He was extremely healthy. My cousin was extremely healthy. Suddenly, after the crash, both boys were dead. It completely turned my world upside down. It put everything I ever knew into question, and I wondered, “Who am I now without Scott in my life, and why am I here?” It was a pretty big existential crisis at that point.
It must have turned your whole family because, with your cousin, your whole family must have been devastated.
It was traumatic for the whole system.
They couldn’t turn to you for your expertise because you were grieving also.
I was grieving also. Although I became overly competent, I would say, because I knew the grief and loss world. It was hard on me. For professional people who are tuning in to this show, grief, and loss can be very difficult for professionals because they do become more competent. They step up in places that you shouldn’t.
It’s because you’re devastated also and everyone’s depending on you.
They are depending on you to be the strong one and you take that role. Fast forward, I did not get involved in the world of grief and loss. I got involved in many other worlds. I became a Reiki master. I became a teacher of the work of Byron Katie, for those who know Katie. I became a teacher for Caroline Myss for those who know Caroline. I also learned the Enneagram from Helen Palmer. I had these women in my life that supported me on the journey and I learned a lot from them. I decided to retire from work and I got involved with The Compassionate Friends that many people know. They asked me to do a radio show when it was the very first online radio.
You were a pioneer.
We were pioneers, thanks to The Compassionate Friends. I started online radio with Voice America. My family and Heidi got on it. Everybody was interested. Tell them what you said, Heidi.
I said that the sibling’s voice was missing. You were talking a lot about parents and parent loss. It’s very hard to lose your child. It’s horrific, but it’s also hard to lose your brother or sister. I felt like that voice is so minimized and unacknowledged and a lot of the focus is on parent grief. I felt like we weren’t being heard.
She said that to me, just the words she said to us now. I said, “Heidi, do you want to be heard? I haven’t lost a sibling. Come on and be my co-host.” Fast forward, that’s been many years. We have 1 million people.
I was a little over fifteen. Be careful what you wish for because I have been her co-host for over fifteen years and we often do not agree. My mother sees herself as being very strong after my brother died, and while she was, I often felt like I had to be strong for her.
It’s because you were the oldest child, also.
A lot of times, siblings will hide their grief from their parents because they don’t want to cause their parents any more pain.
They don’t want them to suffer more, but meanwhile, you’re suffering.
It’s an interesting dynamic how it impacts the family system.
In fact, we even wrote a book about it, Teen Grief Relief. You can get it online on Amazon.
It’s how to understand teenagers after a loss.
You’re doing a presentation for Helping Parents Heal called Finding Hope After Loss, right?
We did not do a presentation for Helping Parents Heal in 2022. We’re doing a video for them.
We’re doing videos on Finding Hope After Loss and we filmed 50 or 60 at this point.
How are people responding to that? Are they finding hope after loss?
I hope people are finding hope after loss. We named our foundation Open to Hope and the reason we did that is because we want people to be open to the idea of hope. Hope’s a hard thing and it’s a process. Finding hope after a loss takes time. There are circumstances that make it hard for people to move on. I was talking to some people here at the conference who are involved in lawsuits. That delays the grieving process. Grieving is so individual that it depends on different people.
I think that my mom would agree. Conferences like Helping Parents Heal are crucial. Being around other people that have had similar experiences and getting support, understanding, tips, and tools is important.
Also, the validation that your child or your brother is still with you. I’m sure you’ve had validation from Scott.
We have indeed. We find dimes. I took my grandkids to Alaska. We went on a helicopter and there was a dime in the helicopter. I played golf. I was taking my golf cart and there was a dime on the golf thing. We find them in cabs in New York City. It’s interesting. My husband died a couple of years ago, and my daughter was saying that she found two dimes when she was putting her coffee down.
It was one for him and one for Scott.
We find them sometimes when we’re thinking about them or need them in our lives, then we’ll see signs and things. I’m like, “This is not a coincidence.”
Did you have other signs besides the dimes?
I see butterflies. In fact, I have a butterfly tattoo. I see that one often.
She could tell you about an experience. Right after Scott died, she went on Outward Bound, which is a wilderness program. Can you tell that story? I love this story.
It’s an outdoor wilderness 23-day program where you live off with your backpack on your back. I’m not athletic, so it was very hard for me.
What motivated you to take that?
It was my brother. He had done it the year before and loved it. He was a star on it. He kept telling me, “Heidi, it’s amazing. You need to do it.”
Is it in your grief?
I didn’t know he was going to die. He dies in April and three months later, I’m on this program.
It’s the same program.
Scott told me it would be amazing. It was, and it was very hard. I was on this program, thinking about him and what I am going to do in my life. We were going up these very difficult mountains with heavy backpacks.
Did you have an athletic background?
No. I’m not athletic at all. I don’t camp. It was a lot. I’m going up this extremely steep mountain, and I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.” Our whole group was spent. All day, we’ve been lost. It was very difficult. I said, “I need a sign. I need my brother. I need help. I can’t do this.” I fell to the ground. I’m like, “I can’t do this.” I felt one of the people in our group taking their hands, putting them on my back, pushing me, and everybody else up the mountain. Our group went effortlessly up the mountain. Afterwards, I turned around and said, “Thank you,” and there was no one behind me.
It was your brother.
What a wonderful story. What a validation. I want to ask you because you worked so much with bereaved people. How did bereaved people find hope? They have all these challenging barriers that they have to overcome to define hope. Do you want to talk about some of those barriers and how people can overcome them?
We know from the literature, looking at people, and dealing with them, there are two things that people need. One is information, and the other is peer support. Those are two of the major things that can help you through this process. That’s what Helping Parents Heal, The Compassionate Friends, you with your show exemplifies and have seen that they’ll be able to get through. That peer support of having somebody around is so huge and not isolating. They’re not alone. We worry about people that isolate. Human contact is so important and then information is important too.
What types of information? With The Compassionate Friends, I don’t think they’re spiritually oriented, right?
It’s a different type of information from the group. What types of information do people need?
At Helping Parents Heal, they’re giving information that your child is with you with their experiences with the mediums. The number one concern of most parents I know is, “Are they okay? Were they in pain?” Sometimes when they receive that validation, some people only do one reading, and it is very changing for them because they want to hear that experience. They know they’re not alone but you still have to take the trip.
Even if you know you’re not alone, the bed is still empty when you go there. The graduation still happens with their friends graduating or whatever. The Christmas or the holidays come and you still have to get through those. Peer support and having people there and telling people what you need. You need to be clear about telling people what you need so that they can help you. I want to say something quick about the good support people. Not everybody is good with grief support.
Tell us about that.
You need to find friends who can be good grief support.
What is good grief support?
It’s people who can hear you, listen, and not feel like they have to take action. People can just be there for you and you’ll find new friends that you never even knew before. At Christmas time, we had people do a Secret Santa for us that we hardly even knew. Later on, we found out who they were and they were people who were good grief support. Heidi, you talk about friends that can be a different kind of support.
I was thinking of that. As a twenty-year-old, most of my friends didn’t understand grief and loss, especially the death of a sibling. None of my friends had ever lost a brother or sister. I finally had to realize that all of our friends are not on this earth to be good grief support. Some of them are on this earth to be shallow with us. Some of our friends are to have fun. Some of our friends are to be supportive and go deep with us in our grief. Our friends are there for different reasons. Once I accepted that, it was easier for me because I felt like everybody needed to be there with me and my grief and sometimes people can’t handle it or they don’t know what to do.
Sometimes, you’ll lose people. They won’t show up, even relatives or whatever.
They can’t take it. They can’t handle it.
You’ll then have to decide later on if you want to forgive them.
In my experience, I try to bless them and let them go.
Caroline Myss says something that helped me through this. She talks about sacred contracts. Caroline says your sacred contract might have been with this friend for 30 years and the contract may be over so just deal with it.
We come in with different roles that we play in our lives and they’re not always forever.
Also, some beautiful people come in. We’ve met some beautiful people here at Helping Parents Heal. Through the grief journey, we’ve met wonderful people that become dear friends. One thing about the grief world I love is that nobody cares what anybody does for a living or even where you went to college.
They want to talk to you about your brothers, your sisters, your children, your spouses, or whoever you’re here to pay tribute to.
Also, how you are doing and getting through life. Getting through the real stuff with real people is wonderful.
They don’t sweat the small stuff because they only know that after that it changes you and their only concern is, “I’ll deal with the bigger stuff, but the small stuff is not worth it anymore.” It’s such a greater meaning. You are busy ladies. You’ve written eight books. I want to ask you about a few of them. Your book Signs of Hope from Heaven: Inspirational Stories from OpenToHope.com is a compilation of stories by those who’ve experienced a sign, dream, or other connection with a deceased loved one. What have you got for us? Do you want to share a few of the stories?
Did you have one?
I have one that’s my own story, which I didn’t initially want to share in the book. When it first happened to me, I was like, “Do I want to share this? Will people think I’m making it up? Will they think my brain did something weird?” The more that I talked to people and heard other people’s stories, the more it gave me permission to be able to share them, which I love. I was in a head-on collision in 2004 and it was an accident very similar to the one that killed my brother.
That must have been a wonderful experience for you, right? It was a déjà vu.
What was interesting is when the car was coming towards me, my first thought was my parents cannot lose another child. It’s all I kept thinking about but there was no place to go. This driver was coming at 100 miles an hour. It hit my head on and I left the car on impact. My car was totaled.
Are you talking about your soul leaving the car?
My soul left the car. My body didn’t, but my soul did. It went towards what I’ve heard a lot of other people describe as an amazing bright light. I knew I was moving into what I now think is heaven. I knew I was going to see my brother. It was phenomenal. It was such a great feeling. I was so happy that I was going to be reunited with him because we were very close.
Before I saw him, I heard his voice. He said, “You have to go back.” I was like, “I don’t want to,” because I knew if I went back into the accident, it was going to be horrendous and I was going to meet him. He said, “You have to go back. Your time isn’t ready yet. It’s not your time.” I went back into the car into the pained body. I had a miscarriage because of the accident. I was pregnant. There were ambulances, police, fire departments, and jaws of life because my car was smoking. They were getting me out. I was whisked into an ambulance and it was awful. I wanted to be in this other place but I realized at that point, “There is another place that’s phenomenal.”
Also, you saw Scott there.
I felt his spirit and felt like we were about to see each other. I thought, “This is real.” Since then, we’ve heard a lot of other stories, which have been phenomenal.
Do you have one for us, Gloria?
I have a forewarning, a premonition. When I was six years old, I had a doll and a baby carriage and my closest cousin in the world had a doll in a baby carriage. We went out in the woods and we lost our dolls. We lost the baby carriages in the woods. We didn’t know where they were. We were supposed to be home and it was panicky. We knew our parents would be mad, but we found them and we went home. Fast forward 30 years, and our two sons were killed together.
They lost their babies.
It is giving me chills. I know that Open to Hope and Grief and Rebirth have so much in common with our mission, which is to help people to heal, evolve, and understand that they can move through grief. We shared some stories of hope after a loss. Have you got a few to share? I’ve got to write one of my own that I’ll share. Do you want to hear that one?
My husband was a very cheeky guy. He was very funny. He had a great sense of humor. I would often come down the stairs and he’d say, “You’re looking great tonight.” I’d say, “You play your cards right.” We had that kind of relationship. I grieved deeply and finally got up the courage to take a cruise on my own. I met a guy there and I thought, “I’m going to find out if I can have a relationship and what I’m going to do.”
This man was from England and about four months after the cruise, he came to America to spend some time with me. As he walked into my house, he called me, “Renie, I don’t know what came over me, but I was in the customs area and I went to the cologne section. I bought a special cologne just to wear for you. I never heard of it before. The name of it is Joop!” and that was my husband’s cologne. I said to myself, “You buster.” There is a new man in my life and you got him to buy your cologne to wear with me. I’ve got many signs from Saul but something like that was a dead ringer. That was big from him.
My husband passed away, Heidi’s dad, a couple of years ago, and before he died, he told me I was going to be with someone. I said, “I’m not going to be with anybody,” but I am with somebody and I’m surprised.
That’s a wonderful story.
Yeah, and he’d be happy.
You talk about validation and you also have a book on how to deal with the holidays.
I would love to talk to them about the holidays.
How do they cope with that?
I want to say to everybody that I know for Christmas, Hanukkah, and that kind of thing, it becomes a month before because the merchants want us to celebrate a month before. Remember it’s only one day and oftentimes, the anxiety leading up to it is worse than the day.
It’s because they’re buying gifts and they’re no longer buying gifts for their loved one.
One of the things you can do on the gift front if you want to is you can buy some gifts for somebody that age and donate them. You can buy that special gift that you think your child might like and give it to another child. Also, get people to help you. If you’ve got kids, ask friends to take them shopping for holiday gifts. Take those little things that you did yourself and try to offload them because people want to help you during the holidays. They do. You’re giving people a gift if you let them help you. If you ask them for help, you’re giving them a holiday day gift. Heidi, let’s talk about some of the practicals like giving a toast and that kind of thing.
I like giving a toast to the person that has died.
It’s because they’re with you and they usually will hear that toast.
Make sure that not only you talk about them, but talk about your living family members also. As a sibling, we often feel like everything is about our sibling that’s no longer physically here. I always say to my parents, “This toast is for Scott. We miss him. We know he is with us now spiritually and for Heidi, Rebecca, and Heather who are still physically with us.” Bring everybody on board. That’s important.
Also, it’s tough if you’ve got other kids. I used to say on shows before, “If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, don’t,” and then Heidi says.
With any holiday, Hanukkah, Christmas, or whatever holiday you’re celebrating, the problem with saying, “I’m not going to do it anymore,” is that the surviving children feel like, “Maybe we’re not enough. We don’t get to do anything anymore. We don’t get to have any holidays and enjoy because our sibling is no longer physically here.” Sometimes you have to do it for the other family members and if you have children.
If you’re putting things out for the person who’s transcended, make sure that you do as many pictures of the other kids as you do of the missing child. If you’re going to do a shrine, I honestly suggest that you do it in a quieter place and not in the living room where other siblings have to be all the time because it’s distracting and hard for them because kids don’t grieve the same as adults. They grieve episodically and sometimes they take a break.
Can you talk about that, Gloria? If they’re young children, do they grieve through play?
Yes. Also, boys tend to be a little more grieving. They like to play basketball and then do something. They tend to be active. It depends on all the kids but given that they do not grieve constantly as much as an adult can, they don’t do that.
They’re probably suffering if they’re watching their adult connection grieve.
Children need to take breaks from their grief so that they don’t become overwhelmed. It’s a good thing when you’ll see them grieving or talking about someone that has died and then, all of a sudden, they’ll go, “I’m going to go play basketball.” You’ll be like, “Why? I don’t get this. How did that happen?” That’s a good thing. They’re taking care of themselves so that they’re not completely overwhelmed.
As we start to wind up our interview, is there anything special you’d like to share with anyone or any other wisdom? Do you want to tell people how to get ahold of you? How to connect with the Open To Hope Foundation?
One of the things I want to say, and then we can talk about the other things, but sometimes we hold onto the pain longer than we need to because we think the pain represents the person. What represents the person is the life that they live and the joy. We feel guilty sometimes feeling better. That’s what I love about this conference because we’re still connected to those that we’ve loved and lost. We have continuing bonds with them. This conference reminds us that when we’re living our best life in joy and happiness, that’s how my brother lived and that’s my connection with him.
With that being said, I want to say for people who are early in grief, you have to hang on. One lady came up who was a few months from her loss, and I said, “Your shoes are matched.” She laughed and said, “It’s funny you should say that. Yesterday, I looked down and I had a slipper on one foot and a shoe on the other, and I was heading out the door.”
Would you say there’s a specific period of grief? People will talk about whether it’s a five-year period or whatever. How do you address that?
In the first year, you’re frozen. The second year can be worse than the first for many people and that is because you’re getting better. I like to tell people that it’s their unfreezing so they’re able to touch some of those spots that they weren’t able to touch before. The second year’s tough. In the third year, you start to realize that this is going to be your life, deal with it, and then move through. However, there are many things that can block grief and people need to get some help if they have some of those things.
I do believe in that. There are so many forms of therapy and healing that are out there.
If you’ve had trauma, rapid eye desensitization can be very great. We’ve learned that the brain can’t process thinking about, say, if you had to give somebody mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or something like that, and it keeps coming up for you. If you think about these thoughts, the brain thinks that it’s all happening. The brain thinks it’s still happening. This rapid eye can help you with that trauma very quickly. They help people in 2 or 3 sessions for my clients.
It’s EMDR and bilateral stimulation. I worked with the fire department for ten years after 9/11 on a longitudinal study of people that lost someone in the Trade Center. What we found is that EMDR was very important, especially for the first responders, the firefighters, and the police because they were down at the ground zero for nine months in recovery and that was very traumatic. EMDR is for anyone that’s had trauma.
You can go online and find somebody who’s trained in EMDR.
That’s wonderful for people to know.
It’s a great treatment. If you are in court or things like that, as I said to you, it can delay the grieving process because you’re waiting. It never gets resolved. If anything keeps you waiting without resolution, you may need some help and support.
It keeps you from getting closure from all of that. Tell people how they can tune in to all the things that you do.
You can find us at OpenToHope.com and there you’ll find our radio show podcast. We have over 5,000 articles online. We have a robust YouTube channel and we are on Facebook and all the social media. If you like to write, you might want to become one of our writers. We have 400 people that write for us. We give you a free profile page. If you have a book, we’ll put it on our book site and it links to whatever. We would link to your show or whatever you want us to link to from the site. Everything’s free and we don’t even take email addresses. We call ourselves an oasis of hope for people who come and go when they need us. We’re there for them 24/7.
You are a blessing to millions of people for all that you do.
We do it as a tribute to Scott’s life. I feel like he’s our guiding light. He is very much a part of our life still and the continuing bond just gets stronger over time.
It doesn’t lessen.
We always close our shows saying, “If you’ve lost hope, please lean in ours until you find yours.”
Also, God bless.
That’s a perfect way for us to conclude this interview. It’s wonderful. Thank you so very much. I appreciate you. Thank you, Gloria.
Thank you for having us. It’s been lovely.
To all of our readers, to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now.
- Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley’s Open To Hope Foundation website
- The Compassionate Friends mentioned in the show
- Books by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley: Teen Grief Relief, Hope For Grieving Parents and Signs of Hope from Heaven: Inspirational Stories from OpenToHope.com
- Helping Parents Heal mentioned in the show
- Open To Hope Podcast
- Connect with Open To Hope through YouTube and Facebook