Until you experience grief firsthand, it’s hard to know how it will affect you. Feelings of shock and loss can threaten to overwhelm, and those of us who’ve been there know that climbing out of its crooked depths can feel impossible some days. This is where Grief Mentor Teresa Davis comes in and sits with us on our journey. “The number one thing I do is listen,” Teresa says. It’s in this supportive space that Teresa bears witness to our experience, so that we may grow out of our grief and move into a more fully lived life.
Becoming a grief mentor wasn’t a role Teresa sought for herself. A practicing registered nurse, wife of 40 years, mother, and grandmother, Teresa realized this calling only after tragedy struck her family. Her son Andrew was 32 years old when he was flying passengers Wayne Estopinal and Sandra Holland Johnson from Clark Regional Airport to Chicago. The plane went down in a rural area close to the airport, and all aboard died. “Grieving the death of Andrew was definitely the most difficult thing I’d ever experienced,” Teresa says.
Teresa explains that because of the nature of Andrew’s death, she sought professional help immediately. “I felt I was in way over my head,” she says. However, she still sensed there was a missing piece and described a deep need to connect with someone who’d lived through this type of grief—and survived. “I needed them to show me how,” Teresa says. It’s very difficult to integrate feelings of grief into daily life, so Teresa eventually became the person she needed. This is how the “grief mentor” was born.
Teresa says she comes alongside someone who’s grieving and meets them where they are. Her goal is not to fix their feelings or have the biggest and best answers, but simply be a good listener. “After loss, your world is turned upside down,” Teresa says. Being present and listening offers comfort, which allows the grieving person to feel seen, heard, and safe. Teresa explains that being in the throes of grief is like being inside a twisting, turning tumbleweed. You feel confused, overwhelmed, and disoriented and have no idea how to rise above the chaos. That’s where she steps in to help.
The grief experience is different for everyone, but we all pass through certain milestones or hurdles while we grieve, Teresa says. She invites clients to visualize an Olympic runner preparing for a race. “You’ve got all these hurdles in front of you, and if you can’t get over the first one, it’s likely you’ll have trouble getting over the rest of them,” she says. Each hurdle is individualized and manifests differently for everyone. According to Grief.com, some of the first hurdles can include denial and anger. “That’s where we start because that space is where the grieving spend all their time, energy, and thoughts, and you have to make it past that first hurdle before you can move on to the next,” Teresa says.
If you’re feeling stuck in your grief journey, finding the right support may make the difference. This could look like seeking therapy, talking to a clergy member, or having weekly lunches with a trusted friend. “If you don’t manage your grief, it will manage you,” Teresa says.
She also suggests programs like Griefshare where you can receive valuable tips and guidance in a group setting. (Find a group near you at griefshare.org.) It’s important to seek community at this time so you have a safe setting to keep talking, Teresa says. “When you stop talking about your grief is when you stop dealing with it.”
If you’re looking for ways to support a grieving friend or family member, the biggest support you can offer is to listen without judgment. “People just need our presence, so it’s important to give them space to laugh, to be silent, or to talk about their loved one,” Teresa says. There are also practical ways to offer help since simple household tasks can feel like moving mountains when grieving. Grocery shopping, food prep, or helping out with childcare are all wonderful ways to help.
There’s no right or wrong way to walk through grief, and finding ways to support yourself and honor your departed loved one can help ease feelings of loss. Teresa keeps a digital photo frame filled with pictures of Andrew close by, while others may write letters or keep a daily journal.
As you move forward, give yourself grace and time to understand how your grief moves through your life, because as Teresa says, “…you’re never going to quit loving the person you lost.”
By Tonilyn Hornung