Saturday, July 13, 2013

Inspirational Bereaved Parent: An Interview with writer and creator of "Bereaved Mamas" - Angela Miller

Today, in our Inspirational Bereaved Parent column, we will be interviewing my friend, fellow bereaved warrior mamma, and fellow contributor to Still Standing Magazine Angela Miller.  

Angela Miller is a writer, survivor, and the proud mother of three boys-- two she holds in her arms and one she forever holds in her heart.  She is the founder and facilitator of "Bereaved Mamas", a child loss, grief support and social group that strives to provide hope and joy in the midst of grief.  When she's not running her group, or chasing after her two boys, you'll likely find her writing, kickboxing, or creating community where there is none.  But her favorite thing of all is helping others find their inner light again on the dark road of childloss.

Let's welcome Angela!  


Lindsey: Angela, I am honored to be interviewing you today. I have to tell everyone I think it is kismet that we met.  A mutual bereaved mama reached out and introduced me to your meet up group Bereaved Mamas: Mamas of Children Gone Too Soon. In that same week, when I joined Still Standing's Contributor's team, I found out that you were the writer and I had been loving all of your posts.  I'm a huge fan of your work, from your writing, to the support you provide to other bereaved moms with the community, and safe place you have created for moms like me.

Angela:  Thank you, Lindsey.  It's an honor to be here.  I do believe it was quite serendipitous that we met, as after reading your beautiful blog, I'd been wanting to meet you too. 

One of the most amazing things about the group seems to be its ability to bring us those who seem to most need what we offer.  The women in our group are some of the bravest, strongest and most courageous women I have ever known.  I feel very privileged to be able to provide the space for this community here in the Twin Cities. 
I know when we first met in person you said you were nervous about me attending one of your meet up groups because I am a trained psychotherapist, but the atmosphere that you provide in the meet-ups is exactly what I was looking for when trying out different support groups.  Your groups have all the elements that create friendship and understanding that I think is sometimes lacking in traditional support groups.  What made you decide to start Bereaved Mamas?

Angela:  (Laughing) Yes, true story-- I will admit that finding out you were a trained therapist made me slightly nervous, though I was mostly really excited to meet you and pick your brain!  :)

I started Bereaved Mamas because I felt there was a great need for a group that embodied a more holistic grief & healing approach-- one that combined weekly social events with a monthly grief support meeting.  During my initial four years as a bereaved parent, I found I needed more frequent grief support and social interactions with other moms like me than most support groups provided.  I had a few "support group friends" and my "normal friends" but I desired both worlds to collide more naturally because I desperately needed to integrate the loss of my son into my life in a real, organic way.

While so many other child loss support groups were incredible in providing me with once a month support, I found I needed so much more support to make it through in between the meetings.  During the first couple years of grief I could barely make it through a day or two, and eventually, maybe a week at the longest. 

Also, many groups didn't welcome me because my son was not the "right" age-- toddler loss was not included in most.  It was also incredibly difficult for me to share my story with people I didn't know personally.  I loved the grief support meetings, but I was also craving just some normal, every day social interactions with other loss parents who were my friends and who were also around my age.  Making these kind of connections during the monthly meetings and in normal day-to-day life wasn't happening.  Simultaneously, in my daily life I was becoming increasingly frustrated by trying to fit into "normal" (non-bereaved) moms' groups, and felt like I couldn't share my true self, and my messy complicated story in those circles.  I felt I had to hide/edit myself constantly by deleting my oldest son in conversations, and attempt to make shallow small talk, which is not my strength, nor my desire.  In short, I simply couldn't be myself and I found it too stifling to be forced to lead some sort of double life.  I'd come home from these events, completely emotionally exhausted, and I'd just sob and sob, sometimes for days/weeks at a time.  I felt so isolated, so alone, so stigmatized, so completely and utterly misunderstood.    

Everything within me screamed to have my "normal" life back, but I knew I'd never fit into those other moms' groups the way I had before because nothing was normal anymore, and it never would be again.  I'd never again live in the before, I'd forever be living in the after, so I knew it would be imperative for me to find a way to make my current reality work if I wanted to survive. 

I craved a moms' group specifically for bereaved moms, with moms who got it, with moms who understood grief and what it is really like to be the mother of a dead child.  I wanted normal conversations at the park about all my children, not just the two people could see.  I wanted parenting conversations, but ones that also included the struggle and anxiety that comes with parenting living children after childloss.  I wanted moms I could connect with and who could connect with each other on a heart level, without words needed.  I wanted a place where everyone could feel free to laugh and free to cry.  I wanted to offer others a safe, compassionate village, overflowing with unconditional love and acceptance, so that no one would have to feel isolated and alone in their grief like I did.

The idea of starting a group that combined a mix of social events with grief support had been tumbling around in my head for a couple years.  I'd simply been waiting for the perfect timing.  After a couple of these hard years of feeling awkward and misunderstood in normal social settings, it became clear that it was time to make it happen, so I did.  After my third son was born last Spring, I made my dream group a reality.  Everything that I had yearned for in a grief support & social group, I lovingly breathed (and continue to breathe) into Bereaved Mamas.

Lindsey: After your son died you told me you were in a dark place, which you have conveyed in some of your writings. It takes a lot of work and time to crawl out of that grim, desolate place we all visit after a loss of a child.  How did you know when you were ready to transform your grief into something healing for yourself and others? 

Angela:  Yes, I was in a very dark place for what seemed like an eternity.  I honestly didn't know if I'd ever make it out of that place, though I was always very proactive in taking positive steps towards healing.  It happened very s l o w l y.  First, I had to feel the feelings.  All of them, and most especially the dark ones.  Unending compassion, love and unconditional support from three amazing therapists (Jennifer, Charlotte and Mia), who I am forever thankful for, and a few very supportive, unwavering friends is what ultimately saved me-- along with my own resolve to not allow *this* to defeat, define or destroy me. 

Early on I decided that if I did, in fact, survive this thing called grief & trauma, that I would dedicate my life to being a compassionate, loving, healing support for others.  Once I felt like I could honestly stand up again on my own two feet and offer that support without drowning in my own pain, I knew it was time to start serving other bereaved parents.  For me that happened after a long, hard four and a half years of intensive grief and trauma work, which I continue still. 

Timing is everything, and I know it is so different for everyone.  Personally, I had to heal my own trauma before I could be of much use in offering support to anyone else.  I knew I was ready when it became impossible for me not to, when it became the only thing I could imagine myself doing. 

Also, I think it's important to remember that grief is always transforming and chiseling us, even when, and most especially when it doesn't feel like it's doing anything good or worthwhile.

Lindsey:  Thanks for sharing, there is so much truth in what you just said.  I believe the hard work you have done with your own grief is what makes you so effective with working with other bereaved parents.  That leads me to this question. What do you think Bereaved Mamas provides that traditional support groups don't?

Angela:  I think because I'm not necessarily "traditional", that our group definitely reflects that.  I tend to break open boxes and forge my own path.  The main difference is that we provide weekly events that are a beautiful mix of social events combined with on-going grief & healing support, with frequent opportunities for real connection, fun!, and deep, heart-to-heart friendship.  I really strive to maintain a very holistic healing modality to our group to ensure there is something here for everyone.

Each month I try to offer a couples' event, a Moms' Night Out, play-dates, our monthly grief support meeting-- Bereaved Mamas Grief & Healing Circle, and a family event such as a potluck, etc.  Also, since the grief of child loss affects the entire family, my group strives to include the whole family.  Including dads is also very important to me because I feel that many dads are in need of a welcoming, safe space to connect with and form friendships with other men who are walking this hard road.  We've even found success in offering a couples' Grief & Healing Circle every couple of months, and the men have not only showed up, but freely participated!  I was pretty proud of that one! 

Our monthly calendar is filled with a variety of activities.  We paint together.  Craft together.  Walk together.  Kickbox together.   Listen to live music together.  Write together.  Hike together.  Picnic together.  Laugh together.  Cry together.  All while being free to speak our truths about how hard being the parent of a dead child is.  And we're just really, really REAL.  There is no need for masks or pretend answers (like how many kids do you have?) because everyone here gets it.  You can just be refreshingly real, honest, transparent-- and come to every event exactly as you are, especially if that means mascara-stained cheeks, and wearing pajamas because you haven't gotten out of bed all week. 

We embrace all of it.  There are no apologies needed, and there is no need to worry about holding it "all together".  Bereaved Mamas is the sacred space where you can truly let. it. all. go.  The tears, the fears, the shame, the pain, the guilt, the grief, the sorrow.  You can bring it all here.  Your complete and totally uncensored self.  And you will always, always be welcomed with open arms.

Lindsey:  That's why I was able to call you a friend so fast, you just welcomed me with those open arms.  :)  Angela, you are a few years out from the tragic death of your son.  Lots of grieving parents want to know if it gets any easier.  What would your answer to that be?

Angela:  Hmmm, you know, I'm not sure about "easier".  I personally believe that every day without my son is hard, hard, HARD.  I think what happens is you get used to doing hard and hard eventually becomes "normal".  In my opinion, it never gets easier to have a huge chunk of your heart missing.  I will say that it does change over time, but the pain-- the ache-- is always, always there.  The ache never goes away.  The pain changes-- it ebbs and flows-- and eventually shifts, becomes different at times… softer, maybe?  Don't get me wrong though, a grief pothole can still trip me in a millisecond and then I'm right back in that painful place.  I guess if I had to use the word "easier" I would say that over time it has become easier for me to pull myself up to standing; easier to breathe deeper; easier to choose life each day.  And now after five years, I think I've become more used to living with this gaping, spontaneously oozing hole in my heart that will never be filled.

I believe healing can only begin if you open yourself to feeling Every. Single. Feeling.  Whenever you feel it.  I still have to do this otherwise I would not be able to function.  Pull up a chair and sit right in it.  Let it wash through you, until you can't feel it anymore, and then do it all over again.

For me personally I had no other option but to do this because everything I went through was way too big, too much, too intense to even try to stuff it down.  The pain, the grief, the trauma, the shame, the blame, the stigma was all too, too much, and it still is.  Feeling all of it was the only way I knew I could transform it and allow it to transform me into a more compassionate and loving person instead of a bitter, angry one.

By truly allowing ourselves to feel every feeling, the pain WILL shift.  It will become more manageable.  It becomes something you can more easily take on and off… some days it's like a light summer jacket… some days it's itchy and annoying like wool… and some days it's heavy and stiff like a coat of armor, but as the years go on I've found that it becomes easier to take off, to take a break from it when I decide to, by putting it on a hook (sometimes on the hook outside!) in order to rejuvenate myself in between wearing it. 

If you deliberately choose feeling, feeling, feeling and healing, healing, healing-- every single day-- though it will always, always hurt to be physically separated from your child, your pain can be transformed into a beautiful tapestry of love over time.  A beautiful legacy of undying love. 

Lindsey:  Ah, you put it so well,  I have tears.  Thank you.  Finally, do you have any advice for newly bereaved parents looking to transform their grief into something positive? 

Angela:  Be so very gentle with yourself.  Surround yourself with people who will allow you to grieve freely and without any expectations/limitations.  Let go of any expectations/limitations of yourself and especially any that might be hindering your own healing.  Do whatever feels best and most healing for you in any given moment.  Never apologize for your grief or your pain.  Hold on tightly to the hope of healing.  Befriend others who have made it through in ways that you admire.  Let them be proof that healing, joy and happiness are possible for you again, even though those might look and feel differently to you than they did before.  Allow yourself to express your grief however and whenever it feels best for you, no matter what the world thinks, no matter who tries to falsely label/judge you.  Give yourself a ridiculous amount of permission to simply BE.  To be as you are.  To live life as fully as you can in the "after".  To feel what you feel.  All the time.  Most especially, open your arms and heart wide open to feeling joy again.  And eventually without guilt.  Also know that allowing yourself permission to feel joy and happiness again does not negate that the pain of your loss is still very, very real and present.  The funny thing about grief is that it can co-exist with joy in the most surprising way. 

Try not to rush the process of grief, but let it unfold as it will, every moment of every day, even though it is relentless and so hard.  Do this for yourself first.  Not for anyone else, but to simply give yourself the very best gift, so that later, this gift of healing will become a precious gift to the world.  Some day… some how… and the how will make itself known in its own beautiful, unimaginable way-- in its own perfect time, without it needing anyone's input or direction.  It will unfold naturally and exactly as it needs to, if you let it.   

Embrace your feelings.  Embrace your anger.  Embrace your shame.  Embrace your sadness.  Embrace your grief.  Embrace breathing.  Embrace healing.  Embrace loving.  Embrace peace.  Embrace compassion.  Embrace living.  Embrace be-ing.  Imagine yourself smiling again, laughing again, feeling happy again, especially when these feel impossible.  Imagine the weight of your grief being lifted little by little.  Imagine your child surrounding you with a warm, peaceful light that shines within and around you.  Imagine this light protecting and guiding you every moment of every day.  Imagine that your child is always, always with you.  Imagine that your pain can be transformed into something beautiful, something meaningful, something worthwhile, something miraculous!  Imagine that your child lives on more fully than you could ever, ever imagine.  Imagine what could happen when all these gifts wrapped within gifts, wrapped within gifts, are unwrapped and given away.  Imagine what could happen when the healing within yourself explodes outwards towards others, and then becomes exponential.  Once this happens, there's no stopping it-- there's no telling what goodness will bloom where or for how long.  Imagine how you and your child could change the world. 

When you choose healing, absolutely *anything* is possible.  Anything.  Including *miracles*. 

Lindsey:  Thank you, Angela, for sharing your grief transformation story with us today.  I know your beautiful poetry and writings are truly healing to others and the community of support you have created with Bereaved Mamas is awesome.  You have helped so many in adjusting to their "new normal." Including me. I am honored to call you a new friend.

Angela:  Thank you for this opportunity, Lindsey!  I feel very blessed that our paths have crossed and I am looking forward to getting to know you better. 

You can find Angela's work on Still Standing Magazine and keep your eyes out for her upcoming book of poetry or connect with her through her Facebook group A Bed For My Heart.   Also, if you are in the Twin Cities Area feel free to connect with Angela at  There are so many fun and supportive activities to do with this group for grieving moms from book clubs, to grief & healing circles.  Trust me, if you join the group, you won't be bored.


  1. It's healing and helpful hearing from someone who is a bit farther along in the grief journey. Thank you. P.S. I just submitted a photo for White Signs of Grief!

  2. This January will be 16 years since the death of my 15 yr. old son Joshua. I miss him every single day! I realized I needed to learn all I could from his death because it was way too big of a lesson and way too painful not to. I agree you must feel every inch of it! What I tell people is you need to ride this huge scary wave and hold on tight and when it's over you will come out whole. In the early days after my son died I bought books hoping to find answers or comfort. One book described my loss as the worst three all wrapped up into one...1) loss of a child 2) sudden death 3) suicide. It didn't just sit me on my rear it completely floored me! Even 16 years later I have days when it's hard to breathe.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Design by Small Bird Studios | All Rights Reserved