Jenny Dilts supports people who have been touched by grief, either through the death or loss of a loved one or through life’s experiences. As a Certified Grief and End of Life Coach, she holds space for them as they explore their individual grief and what it means to them, helping them rebuild their lives in gratitude and love. Jenny brings warmth, light, and healing into the grief experience through active listening and powerful questions that can help a grieving person discover new insights and access the greatness and answers that already lie within that person.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Jenny’s death-positive mindset.
- The Zen Caregiver Project that enhanced Jenny’s personal understanding of death.
- How Jenny helped a friend in her grieving journey when her sister died by suicide.
- What it means to be a “travel buddy” for a grieving person.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS JENNY:
- How has your passion for Grief Work helped you discover more of your own identity?
- What are living losses and how does a grief coach help a person who is experiencing a “living loss?”
- Why do you consider death to be a “stepping-stone” to grief?
Listen to the podcast here
Jenny Dilts – Viewing Death As A Stepping-Stone To Growth
We are delighted to have this opportunity to interview Jenny Dilts, who is a certified grief and End of Life coach. Jenny will be speaking to us today from Martinez, California. She supports people who have been touched by grief, either through the death or loss of a loved one or through life’s experiences. As a certified grief and End of Life coach, she holds space for them as they explore their grief and what it means to them, helping them rebuild their lives in gratitude and love.
Jenny brings warmth, light, and healing into the grief experience through active listening and powerful questions that can help a grieving person discover new insights and access the greatness and answers that already lie within that person. I’m looking forward to talking with Jenny about building a more positive relationship with grief, why death is a stepping stone to growth, and much more, in what is going to be an insightful and important interview for all of us. Jenny, a warm welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be here.
Thank you. We are going to have fun. This is going to help so many people. Let’s begin with this question. Please tell us about your life before you became a certified grief and End of Life coach. In addition, please tell us about this death-positive mindset that you have had.
Before I was a grief coach, I was a mom full-time. I have five kids and I have been at home with them for most of their lives. That was my life. I grew up in a very religious background and culture. I did what I was told. I was very obedient, I was very spiritual, and my religion and my spiritual beliefs informed everything that I did.
Can I ask you what religion you were?
I belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That gives people a reference point.
I was just living the life I thought I was living. I thought it should be lived. As for my spiritual beliefs, I have always had a death-positive mindset. I don’t see death as the end. Death is like a transition or a stepping to the next part of life. I believe that our essences, souls, and spirits, whatever term works for you continue even after death. In high school, 2 friends died in car accidents and 1 died by suicide. Since then, we have lost several classmates in our class. Our class was the class of ‘99, so we are not old people.
You were facing death at a young age because people were starting to die even though you were very young.
As for the way I see life and the way I see that death is a part of life, it never bothered me. It also never occurred to me that death shatters people’s worlds because I hadn’t experienced that. I know we are going to talk about it, but the turning point experience for me was sitting with a friend when her husband died.
How was that? You had the opportunity to be with your friend days after her husband’s unexpected death. How old were you when this happened? That is the experience that inspired you to become a certified brief and End of Life coach. Tell us all about that.
It was a few years ago that this experience happened. Our kids were in the same class and so we got word through the school community that her husband died.
He was in his 40s or something?
Late 40s or early 50s, something like that. I took a meal to them because that’s a way that I could help out. We were on the way to the park with my kids. I thought it was just going to be a quick visit, drop the meal off, and go to the park. It turned into several hours. As she shared her experience with me, I got a sense of what it’s like when death happens, grief, fear, anxiety, worry, pain, and trauma.
Other people had that you hadn’t experienced that. You are seeing what someone else goes through.
Another big part of that experience was because our kids were in the same class, I was able to put myself in her shoes. “What if my husband died now? What would that be like for me?” Death got a whole lot more personable. Death got a whole lot more real on the logistical side for me.
You hadn’t yet decided to become a certified grief and End of Life coach, but this planted the seeds.
It did. I was able to recognize that my personality is calming and has a calming effect on others, and she was able to share with me her trauma and the details of her efforts to save her husband. The details didn’t bother me. The grief didn’t bother me. The heavy emotions didn’t bother me. I felt very comfortable there.
That’s a tremendous gift that you have because most people get very rattled when people are so emotional around them like that.
This experience awakened me to this gift. It highlighted it. I don’t think it’s ever been at the forefront of my mind before because I was just at home with my kids doing my thing. I took the experience to my therapist, and he’s like, “Have you ever considered becoming a therapist?” I was like, “With my kids, it’s not logistically wise for me to do so right now, but I will keep that in mind.”
As you began to seek ways to serve people and think about serving people related to death and dying, you attended a workshop with the Zen Caregiving Project. That enhanced your understanding of death even more. What drew you to that? What was that training like and how did that impact you?
After my experience with my friend, I started to learn this is what I want to do. It awakened within me. This is my passion. This is my life mission.
That was your calling
The more I embraced it, the more opportunities came. I started reaching out, “How can I learn about grief and end of life?” Some friends told me about this training through the Zen Caregiving Project. The training was mindful caregiving. We talked about mindfulness and how to incorporate that specifically as caregivers in the end-of-life stages.
One of the exercises that we did was a guided meditation on our mortality. We were the passengers in a car receiving the diagnosis. “This is terminal.” The meditation took us through our last days and moments. That was a powerful experience for me. As for my perspective on death, that didn’t rock me.
You knew that in this projection, you were going to survive, that your soul would survive.
Yeah. The physical aspect of death didn’t affect me. I knew that, “I die. I go on. I graduate.” The one thing in that meditation that did impact me was the importance of connection for me.
During that time, were you thinking about what would be like for the people you left behind, who would be grieving?
You must have thought about that. “I died. Now, I went to the other side. What about these people?”
I did a little bit. It was interesting because, after that experience, the next portion of the workshop was on touch. At that point in my life, I was very self-conscious about my body, my physical body, and my hands tended to be dry. The thought of using my hands to touch other people and having other people touch me was overwhelming for me. I wasn’t in a space where I could participate in that portion of the workshop.
I tried to sit outside of the circle, and Zen Caregiving, the staff is super amazing. They allow you to come as you are and participate or not, or witness as you are. They are very mindful and non-judgmental about the whole thing. I tried to scoot back outside of the circle and still witness, and that was still too much. I tried to move across the room and that was still too much. I tried to leave the room, still too much. I had to leave the building.
That identified something within you.
When I did, I lost connection with the workshop. I lost connection with my peers. These people, even though we’d only been together for maybe a day because of the intimate setting and what we were sharing and experiencing with each other, I felt like they were my best friends.
You were grieving.
Now, I was grieving because I had to remove myself. I had to lose that connection. When I left the building, I reached out to my therapist, my husband, and a couple of other support people, and nobody answered. Here I was in a state of my death that was impactful for me, the loss of connection, and nobody was there.
Even the people on the streets, I was tucked away in the loading zone. People on the streets are going by, like a normal day is happening. I felt like I had died because nobody was acknowledging me. Nobody recognized me. I didn’t have a connection with a workshop where I was supposed to be. I didn’t have a connection with my support people, my family. I got to experience my mortality
Your grief. Talk about developing empathy in that moment. You also helped a friend in her grieving journey when her sister died by suicide. Now, you have had this Zen Project experience, your friend’s sister dies by suicide, and you are tending to her? What did that experience teach you?
That was an amazing one too, because I was working with her. She is a very dear friend of mine and she was helping me launch my business
Have you been certified already?
How did you launch your bus business in what way?
Even coming up with, “What do I have to offer?” I had no idea.
You were in the planning stages.
Even stepping into this grief support role, I didn’t know. She was helping me through that. As I was starting to build my website, I would run ideas past her. “What do you think of this?” She would give me feedback. I helped her with her grief and her friends’ grief. When her friends were grieving, she would come to me for advice. It happened in the summer and she had a miscarriage.
She had a miscarriage first. I supported her during her grief and her miscarriage. About six weeks later, her sister died. She sent me a text asking for help, planning a memorial service to honor her sister’s life. I helped her through the traumatic, the painful, the dark, and ugly grief. Grief to suicide is sometimes a lot harder. It can be a lot harder than other types of death.
At least, people feel, “Could I have done something?” Somehow people feel responsible. You talk about how your passion for grief work has helped you discover more of your own identity, which we are talking about that you have discovered your gifts. You have found a grieving coach and you call yourself a travel buddy for a grieving person. Tell us what that’s about. Someone on the show is grieving and they reach out to you and you become their travel buddy for their grief. What is that like? What happens?
The first step is inviting them to tell their story. One of the main things that we can do in our grief is to share our story, express it, get it out, and allow it to be heard, seen and witnessed. When we do that, it relieves the pressure. That’s my first step, “Tell me your story,” and I figure out where they are at. I walk with them every step of the way. If that means giving them action steps that they can take that means giving them a writing prompt that they can work on, “How does this grief affect me?” I teach them. I normalize what they are going through.
I was going to say do you also encourage them spiritually if they want to connect with their deceased loved one or whatever. Do you encourage them to do that? I find that is very helpful when a person is grieving.
Regardless of the spiritual river that they are in or the spiritual path that they are on, I meet them where they are. If they are not spiritual, then I encourage them to write a letter to their deceased person. Even writing the letter, even if they have no belief in the afterlife or no way to connect with them, the fact that they are writing that letter is a means of expression of releasing that valve.
You help people who have had experiencing death, but you also help people who are experiencing a living loss. What is that about?
That’s my favorite type of grief coaching.
Define a living loss.
A living loss can be any loss or change that we experience, loss of a house, loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of a favorite spoon, a major change, a divorce, or the divorce of a parents.
How do you help them? Same way? You move them through, you listen to the story, you help them process it, and all of that type of things, so that they can go through it. Could you give us some of the core elements of a healthy grief mindset like how you help people to change their mindset to, “My life is completely ended. I will never get past this?” What are some of the ways that you help them to change the way they think about it, and the way they are processing it?
The first step is to acknowledge it and allow yourself to be in that, “My life is completely over.” Allow themselves to stay in bed all day if they need to, and allow themselves to grieve. We each grieve differently. That’s one, give yourself permission to grieve. Another one is to accept the grief or acknowledge the grief, “Yes. This hurts. This is grief,” and not to run away from it and not to avoid it.
Maybe not to listen to people who are saying, “Get over it already,” because it’s making them uncomfortable.
That’s where normalizing and validating their grief comes in.
Would you say that grief is uniquely individual because of the person’s prior history before they experience that grief or their background or whatever? I know it’s a universal part of the human experience, but it’s also a uniquely individual experience people have, be it a living loss or a death.
Individuality and uniqueness come based on where they are coming from, their life’s history, or their culture. Their culture where they are living systems, communities, socioeconomic background, and all of the parts that make us who we are. We are not all the same. That individuality, that uniqueness comes out in our grief even if the same person died. Every person connected to that deceased person will have a different relationship with them.
Not only a different relationship, but they have different personalities. They probably process things in a different way. People talk about complicated grief and that society doesn’t necessarily acknowledge or value grief. Can you speak to that? What makes grief a complicated experience? People say like, “Get through it. Get over it already.” Why doesn’t society acknowledge or value grief or understand it?
It’s uncomfortable. We don’t want to face it. We don’t want to face our death. We don’t want to say, “I’m hurting. I’m not feeling good. I’m not very motivated.”
“I’m not my usual chipper self today.” What makes grief complicated? I have heard that it’s worse when it’s complicated if there are different types of grieving experiences.
Complicated has a tricky definition. It depends on where you go for your grief training or your grief learning in some ways because grief is universal. Complicated is not dealing with it and stuffing it so long that it builds until you are damaging yourself or others.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I often think of complicated grief as if you have had trauma in your early life and it has not been resolved. Let’s say you were abandoned by someone in your family or whatever, and now you have this grief, you are going to react more because it comes across as an abandonment. Am I right about that? If you haven’t resolved things in your life, grief has a way of exacerbating.
Yes. One loss can bring up all of the other grief. When I work with my clients, one of the first exercises that we do is, “How has this loss impacted you? What other losses are coming into play? What other losses are coming up for you now that you are focused on this one and all the ways that this loss is impacting you?” It expands.
I would imagine you are so non-judgmental and so accepting. I would imagine being very comfortable because whatever they went through, they can easily tell you and you will help them connect it and process it. Now, how do you consider death to be a stepping stone to growth?
When I was dismissed from my Speech-Language Pathology Master’s degree, it was a trauma for me. Even a few years ago, when I was talking with my therapist and considering pursuing another Master’s degree to become a therapist, I could not talk about that experience yet. I was talking with a friend. She said, “That was a traumatic loss and you grieved that.” I’d never connected those two. “That was a huge loss for me and it brought a lot of grief.” If I hadn’t had that experience, I would not be where I am now.
In what way? How did that experience deepen the person who you are to help other people?
It completely changed my life. If I had graduated from that speech pathology program, I would have my Master’s degree. I would be working in a school somewhere or a clinic somewhere. I would be working as a speech-language pathologist. That didn’t happen.
Going through the grief of this prepared you in a way to understand other people’s grief experiences, I guess. That’s what you call you have a living loss. Tell us about your grief coaching, your workshops, and your podcast.
My grief coaching is individual. We do one-on-one sessions, and we get deep. We get deep in the grief. We also get deep in the gratitude and the joy. We have a lot of fun in our sessions. We also experience a lot of tears. I prefer one-on-one because, in groups, you can’t necessarily get as deep as you can with one-on-ones. In groups, you can do more grief education, and so that’s what I use in my workshops. I train people about grief, teach people about grief, and the different ways that grief shows up for us and how we can work through our grief and learn from it.
It even comes with joy. As you make your way through, you have learned to be more present to the good things that are happening and not be overwhelmed by your loss as you process it.
I have experienced with my clients that with a major loss comes a mandatory shift in identity. As they rediscover themselves again, it’s amazing to watch the transformation.
I can relate to that. When I lost my husband, I did not know who I was without him. I was completely lost. I worked with a life transition coach. She started to help me and realize things about me that I had not known. Like you did, I grew into somebody that I hadn’t known before. I had one role, but now I was growing into another person and more of me was coming through. That’s more like how it happens. You were talking about podcasts also. Do you talk on podcasts? Do you have a podcast?
Good for you.
I guest on other people’s podcast shows, and I also host my podcast. My podcast is called Share Your Story: Exploring humanity one heart at a time.
Good for you. That’s great. What is your message about the importance of healing that you’d like to share with our readers? Why should they go out of their way to heal their stuff so they don’t have that complicated grief and all that other stuff that goes on?
Our mortality is limited. We don’t know when we are going to die. We don’t know when our loved ones are going to die. If we are carrying our grief with us, it’s like carrying heavy backpacks everywhere we go all day, every day. If we can allow ourselves to even recognize, “I have this heavy backpack on,” and then get to the point, “I’m going to take a look in this backpack. What can I unpack? What do I not need anymore? What can I release?” Our backpacks get lighter. As they get lighter, we can live more fully, we can enjoy each moment of our lives and then the lives of those around us.
It’s like the shades come off. I have experienced that, so true. Now that people want to connect with you, tell us all the ways for them to connect with you. Do you have a special offer for our readers?
What is Jenny Dilts’ tip for finding joy in life?
My offer, and then I will go to the joy. My offer, if you mention the podcast, you will get 15% off of services.
That’s great. Thank you. Tell them the coaching site again so that they can get on and let you know that they came through the show.
My website is GrievingCoach.com, and there are links to book an appointment with me.
What is Jenny’s tip for finding joy in life?
Experience it. Experience life fully. Experience the hard times fully and experience the joyous times fully. Recognize that if we didn’t have the hard times, we wouldn’t know the joy because they give the contrast. If we only had the joy, what would it mean?
That’s right. You wouldn’t know. It’s very wise. Thank you so much. You are a blessing. As you help people deal with traumatic events that have been feeling lost in this shattered world, you stand as a lighthouse for people in grief. You are helping them to appreciate both the darkness and light as you guide them to rebuild their lives and gratitude and love. I trust that many people reading this will want to benefit from your wise and compassionate grief coaching. I thank you from my heart for this touching and important interview. Here’s a reminder, everyone, that make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings and bye for now.
- Jenny Dilts’ website
- Jenny Dilts on LinkedIn
- Jenny Dilts podcast: Share Your Story: Exploring humanity one heart at a time
- Jenny Dilts on Facebook
- @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Twitter
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube