Grief support speaker inspires Rotarians

rotary speaker good   Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County.  Last Thursday, the Gilpin County Rotary Club met at the Isle of Capris for lunch and to listen to guest speaker Amanda Mahoney, MA, co-founder of Grief Support of the Rockies.

The buffet food was inspirational in both quantity and quality, and the presentation was a burden lifter, another look at how to help those who are grieving and how to help and feel compassion towards oneself.

It’s easy to pat someone on the shoulder and say, “There, there, it will be all right,” but that is seldom the words that someone in the throes of sorrow needs to hear. In fact, words are not always the best offering when trying to comfort someone.

Mahoney is a private practitioner in Colorado, dedicated to supporting grieving children and families for over a decade. She speaks on the local and national level on the topic of children’s grief, teen grief, pet loss, compassion, fatigue, and self-care as well as providing therapy to individuals, families and children who are grieving over the death of someone they love.

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She earned a BA from Boston College and an MZ in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family therapy from Pepperdine University. She is a certified teacher of Compassion Cultivation Training and offers classes in Fort Colllins, Boulder and Denver.

Before she began, Rotary Club members took turns telling everyone how they were feeling. Most of them were pretty happy except for a couple of people who muttered about the 105 mph gusts of wind that assaulted Gilpin and Boulder County last week.

Mahoney told the group that she had actually wanted to be a broadcast journalist, then get into theater production. She took a few psychology courses for fun, but decided that’s the path she wanted to take. She became certified at Stamford University Center for Compassion.

“I was once of the first to become trained for this field and was received well. There are now 100 of us in the world,” said Mahoney.

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Her training blends in with the art of mindfulness, of being in the moment and tasting, feeling, and being aware of one’s own thoughts, a stability of attention to make aware decisions.

Mahoney says that as she went through the steps of training, what she learned changed her life: especially the idea of having a choice in how she responded to events in her life.

She gave the simple example of driving and having someone cut you off. The thoughts and feelings that evokes: They are bad, they don’t care about me; I’ll show them, I’ll drive faster. You get upset and then have a physiological response. You feel it in your gut.

“Now is the time to stop and say to yourself, to the other driver, ‘I hope you are free from suffering and fear and anxiety,’ and then you move on.”

The audience related to the story, remembering their own bouts with road rage.

Mahoney explained that there is a science behind it, that compassion is a process. Having empathy for the suffering comes from the same part of the brain that your own suffering comes from; therefore the desire to do something with compassion, to relieve your own suffering. She defines suffering as the space between expectations and reality.

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Many of us need self-compassion, need to stop examining ourselves, to always be self-critical or feeling like a failure. It is time to stop, think, examine, and move forward and make it better the next time. Self-compassion, says Mahoney, is the courage to be self-reliant.

Often, Mahoney is called to talk to children after a death in the family. Early on she realized that she could connect with the children without taking on their grief.

“It is good to take a walk with a person without pushing or pulling. Don’t stop mentioning the person who died. Let the person know you are there, listening, available, but not giving advice.”

She said that bringing a dish of food to the grieving family can be helpful, but it becomes more helpful, if later, you have to go back and retrieve the dish, perhaps at a time, when the person needs company the most. Mahoney suggested just sitting and breathing, sending silent good wishes to those in pain.

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“If we all lived with compassion, we would live in a different world,” but we must support our own health. People with compassion have less risk of cardio vascular diseases. Compassion helps relieve stress and anxiety. A great way to help yourself is to write yourself a letter every day. It’s nice to have someone to talk to, to tell your secrets to, the thoughts or wishes for yourself you don’t ordinarily share with others. Mahoney says it works for her and it is such a simple way to show compassion for yourself, which allows you to show compassion for others.

Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is a natural reaction to loss.

When her words stopped, the Rotary Club members looked as if they were deep in thought, even as they went to the dessert table for seconds. Even though Mahoney’s talk was just the tip of the iceberg on how to help others, she presented the kind of information and examples that made one want to know more about the healing power of compassion, for others and for oneself.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.