Today's guest on The Your Shining Self Podcast is Leah M Forney.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult. But can you imagine losing your fiance and then four other loved ones in the same year? That's five deaths in one year! Leah and I chat about what it was like losing her fiance unexpectedly, making a move (after his death), helping her clients while she was grieving, dealing with four other losses and how there was a point she asked God to take her because she didn't want to do this anymore!
Leah said something that really stuck out to me:
I think a lot of times when we go through any situation we think that the people around us are just supposed to know what to do to make us feel better. And I learned in grieving that people don't know unless you tell them. And the lesson was that support really was twofold. It's communicating what it is that you need in the moment that you need it, but it's also opening up and receiving the thing that you said you need.
That was such a good reminder for all of us, I think, and it doesn't even have to be in the realm of grief but even just in general when we're feeling down or going through something difficult.
Connect with Leah:
Leah M Forney is a 7x published author and audience attraction coach. Her love for writing started in her childhood where she would pen short stories and poems to release the pain of her parents not being there. She has developed a strong relationship and faith in God from her maternal grandmother raising her in the church. She has gone on to become a sexual assault awareness advocate, coach, and mentor for many women who are inspired by Leah. She inspires others on how to turn their pain into purpose.
Transcript Of This Episode:
Tish: Today, I am so excited to have Leah M Forney joining me. Hi Leah. Thank you for being here.
Leah: Hi, Tish. Thank you for having me.
Tish: So we are going to talk about something that comes from a book that you wrote called Defining Moments: From Tragedy to Triumph, to Destiny.
I have not read this book yet, but it is one that I want to read. So I'm going to be picking up a copy of that. But I'm really interested to hear you share with me and my listeners. This book came about because you had to bury five loved ones within a year’s timeframe!
Can you tell my listeners about that? What was that like? Oh my goodness!
Leah: Yeah. So, um, the defining moments came right in the middle of my grief season. It started with me burying my fiancé the day after mother's day in 2018.
He was the first one to just unexpectedly pass away on me. And so you can probably imagine having, you know, planned your life with this person, you just knew this was going to end in marriage and all that good stuff. And then they unexpectedly pass away.
So grieving him was very difficult. It was very difficult because a lot of my grief was public. We lived in a small town in South Carolina and people knew him, knew his family. So then they ultimately knew me. And then just his family posting it on social media; so people knew like I essentially lost the love of my life.
And so that was hard because I'm like you Tish, I'm kinda like, you know, behind the scenes don't really want to be in the spotlight. Don't really want nobody to know my name kind of person. So to have to go through grief so public was hard.
And so in the midst of me grieving, I'm also a mental health professional. I've worked in the field of mental health for nine years and so a lot of my clients at the time was dealing with grief and loss and I had to kind of navigate them through grief and loss waters while I'm trying to navigate myself through grief and loss waters.
And so he was the first to pass away on me. And then shortly after him, it seemed like maybe every four months I was dealing with a loss of a loved one. So after him, one of my really closest friends was murdered by her husband. Then my father died, then his father died and then the last person to pass away within that year frame was my brother's best friend. He was like a big brother to me. He committed suicide.
And so from 2018 to 2019, I'm surrounded by grief and loss and these new normal and having to make a decision. So that's kinda how the defining moments came because it came to me when praying. I pictured a crossroad, you know how you have that fork in the road image where it's like, okay, I can go one direction or I can go another direction, but I really don't know which direction I want to go.
And so how defining moments came to me was that picture of a fork in the road and having to make a decision between do I stay where I currently am and allow this grief and loss to really like overtake me or do I travel down this unknown road and find out what's on the other side of it.
And so that's where defining moments came from. And it really details a lot of the lessons that I learned about grief and loss. And I always highlight two of my favorites. One was about support and that lesson was such a powerful lesson for me because I think a lot of times when we go through any situation we think that the people around us are just supposed to know what to do to make us feel better.
And I learned in grieving that people don't know unless you tell them! And that lesson was that support really was twofold. It's communicating what it is that you need in the moment that you need it, but it's also opening up and receiving the thing that you said you need.
And I learned that lesson because I isolated while I was grieving the loss of my fiancé. Like I was on Leah's island by myself. But at the same time, I'm like crying and praying and screaming that nobody gets it. And nobody understands it. Nobody is supporting me.
The reality was not that nobody wanted to support me. It was because I was isolating and then I wasn't communicating what I said I needed as support.
Um, the other lesson I learned in that year was sometimes you gotta be the others, what you need. So as a mental health professional, having to encourage my clients who were dealing with their own grief and loss was sowing a seed that ultimately led to my harvest because I started to get the same support and encouragement and love that I was pouring out to them back to me.
And so those were two powerful lessons. And that's how I ended up writing Defining Moments.
Tish: Oh my goodness. I have went through grief with grandparents that I've lost and things, you know, over the years like that, but, oh my goodness! It's never been five deaths within like a year.
And like, as you said, the first one that you lost was your fiancé passing away unexpectedly. I just got goosebumps and it just touched me because I can't even, I cannot , wrap my brain around what that must have felt like to lose your fiancé. Explain to me how do you pick up and move on from that?
Leah: Yeah, that was such a, that was such a journey. Tish, I cannot lie to you honestly, for four days it felt like I was living in a Twilight zone. Like it felt like I was truly having an out of body experience.
Like it was almost as if like, you know, how you see on those shows where like somebody is having an out-of-body experience and they're looking into their life and it's, that's what it felt like.
I know I'm having like this moment, but am I really having this moment? Like I know I woke up every day wondering like, did I just dream, this was this real?
And I'll tell you, like what made it become so much real is that the days leading up to his funeral and seeing all his family coming and seeing people asking me, was I okay getting the phone calls and getting the text messages?
That's when it made it so real. And I remember how I used to just drive endlessly. I had no direction. I was just like the more people that, like, the more his family came to the house, the more I was like, I gotta go, I can't do this.
And I remember his dad would sit here and tell me, I just need you to stop driving under these emotions. And I'm like, no, I can't sit here and see everybody getting together. And it was weird because as I'm watching people get together, you know, they're laughing and remembering all these good times and remember these moments with him and all of this. And here I am, like, I don't even know why you're laughing because I just lost the love of my life.
Like I'm completely a mess. And I tell people, you know, when I think back to that moment, I was, it was weird because I felt like, so he passed away in our home. Um, and we were in the basement area of his parents' house. So like all of us was home and he, um, ended up having a heart attack and passed away on the bathroom floor.
I remember while he was still in the house I just felt like this peace and this comfort, because he was, it was something about him just still being in the house. But the minute they took his body out, I lost it. I absolutely lost it. I can remember just like hitting the floor in the yard, screaming, and I remember hearing his dad say somebody come get Leah. As long as like his body was still in the house, I was like, okay.
I was telling myself he's probably gonna wake up anytime. Like, I don't know what story I was telling myself, but it was just there, there was this comfort and peace of him still being there. But the minute they rolled his body out, it was just like, this can't be real. This is not real. And so for weeks, I would probably say I did not really start to come to a place of peace with his death until probably close to a year.
So we're talking weeks, months of just surviving existing, not really living, you know, and I had to do what really kind of snapped me out if you will, is I actually almost had a head on collision. I happened to just be driving at this time. I had moved. I had moved to South Carolina to be with him. So now that, that was over, I had decided to relocate and be closer to family. Um, and I just remember driving and I don't know what I was thinking, where my mind went. All I remember was hearing the horn of the other car. So loud and it snapped me out of it.
And just to see how close we were to a head-on collision. And that was the moment that I was like, okay, you gotta do something because this thing is going to take you over. You have to do something. And from that moment, I had made the decision, um, to go after counseling.
Tish: Thank God the head-on collision did not happen! And thank God that that was kind of your; I don't want to say rock bottom, but, you know, thankfully, that, that was like that defining moment for you, Leah, where you were like, holy crap, I need to pull myself together.
I think, you know, something that you said that I think is important is, seeking help because a lot of times people, oh my gosh, there's such a stigma. I think that's the word I'm thinking of. Where people that reach out to therapists to seek help, and I don't understand why. I have been in therapy off and on over the years of my life and therapy is there to help us. So I think it's really important that you mentioned you reached out for help.
So now that all of this has happened, you've moved out of South Carolina. You’re still grieving the loss of your fiancé and then all the other losses. Like, how are you? I'm not even sure how I'm trying to put it into words… How, like, how are you surviving?
Of course I've never been in your shoes, so I can't, you know, speak for you, but if I were to lose my fiancé, I think I would be like, okay, I am never, ever, ever going to be ready to want to move on from that. Like not in the sense that I want to hold on to, you know, the grief and the loss of losing them forever, but meaning I don't want to put myself back out there into like the dating world and stuff.
Leah: Yeah, I'm right there, honestly. And it's, it's weird being single again after being engaged, it's definitely weird. And that's some of the things that I learned while going through my grief process was how often people forget the secondary losses that come with grief. Right? So like the primary loss is that you lost a loved one.
But there's so many other layers that comes with your loved one no longer being here. Like making that transition from finance to now single again, you know, going from, oh, we had a two income household to now I’ve got to take care of everything. Um, you know, those are some examples of just like the different losses.
I remember when I moved to the state of Maryland where I am now and got situated in my apartment getting to start over and kind of pick up the pieces of my life. And I remember finally unpacking the trunk of my car. Like I had been dreading it because I knew a lot of my life was in there.
It was in the boxes and the things in the car. And so one weekend I'm like, okay, let's just go ahead and do it later. Let's go ahead and unpack the trunk of the car. And so I unpack the trunk of the car and I bring this stuff in my apartment and I'm going through it. And I kid you not, one of the boxes was my bridal stuff! The invitations, the save the dates and I just lost it.
I say lost it because here was another reminder that my life as I knew it really was over; like this was not happening. And, um, yeah, so he's been gone three years and three years later, it's still difficult. I mean I entertain guys to an extent but I think for me I kind of keep them in the friend zone because it's hard.
And then when you've had such an amazing partner; Joseph was amazing. I did not want for anything, there was nothing that he would not do for me. And the way that he loved me, it's kind of hard to find somebody that even closely matches that. And I try not to play the comparison piece. And then, you know, some of the other struggles is just having to be honest about that.
You know when you're dating somebody might say what happened with you and your ex? Well, the gloom and doom responses. Yeah, so it's hard to navigate because it's like, yeah, that's my reality. And I don't want to feel like I'm dishonoring the fact that yes the person that I was last in a relationship with has passed away, but then I, I found that it kind of dampers the mood because then the other person feels horrible for asking the question.
So I have just kind of taken a step back and focused on me for the last three years, really dived into some healing. Um, for me, I tell people, you know, I went back to therapy when Joseph died, but in that I had an opportunity to really unpack some other areas of my life, like my childhood upbringing and the relationship with my parents and all of that, that I thought I dealt with. But it took this significant loss to really get me to deal with it.
So in a weird way, I kind of thank him for that because he opened me up to really be able to, um, be vulnerable, which was something that I never was for. Like, unless I was in that relationship, but with other people, no. And then just being okay with being in my emotions because I grew up not being raised by my parents.
Both my parents were addicts my entire life. So for me all I knew was to kind of put the guard up and be the tough girl. So after him passing away and me going back to therapy, I really started to do a lot of introspective work, a lot of healing work. And that's probably why now it's kind of like if another relationship happens great, but that's not really my main focus at this time.
Tish: Thank you for answering that Leah. I hope that wasn't like an insensitive question! I liked how you said in a sense, you kind of thank him because of what has come from his death and how it's, you know, made you open up and deal with things you haven't.
And something else that I jotted down that I think is really important that you briefly touched on was the secondary losses. Any time I've chatted with anybody that is going through grief and has just recently lost a loved one, nobody ever seems to talk about those secondary losses.
So I really liked that you touched on that because yeah, it wasn't just the fact that you lost your fiancé. It was the fact that, like you said, Leah, you went from a two income household to a one income household, and now you're responsible, you know, to take care of all that.
I think that's really important and I'm glad that you, you know, you touched on that because again, I don't think that's something that people tend to think of when we think of grief.
I have so many questions running through my head. You had mentioned that you were working in the mental health field. What was that like? I can't imagine trying to deal with, you know, your own pain and trying to work with your clients that are, you know, also going through their pain.
How did you, I guess kind of you know separate your personal grief and pain from working with your clients? How did all that go?
Leah: I would have to credit that one to God, honestly, because I don't think me personally in my own human frailties could have separated the two. Um, I really had to rely on God to get me through that season of my life!
And every day it really looked like waking up and saying, okay, God, just give me another string to make it. This morning give me enough strength to make it through the afternoon. And you know just truly relying on him to help me navigate these new waters and these new streets that I was in because the thing is by the time I was doing that, I was already in Maryland.
So I was in a state that nobody knew me. So it wasn't like if I did open up about it to my clients people could talk about me or anything like that cause they didn't really know me. But I tried to make my focus in the moment in those moments on my client, you know, and then have the emotional breakdown afterwards.
Cause that's what happened. Like I would be in session, we would talk about it, I would help them process it and then I'd be going to my car in the parking lot and just boohoo crying.
The other thing was really, you know, having support; having a support system. Because by that time I finally was like, okay, I have to stop isolating. I have to let people in. I have got to let people support me through this.
So just really being able to rely on all my support system. And so one of the things that me and my support system did was we created a code word. And so that code word, anytime I texted to any member of my tribe, they knew that one of two things was happening: either I was having a moment and I just needed to cry and needed a listening ear or I just needed to vent. So it was just being vulnerable enough to text a code word when I felt like I am about to be overcome by this wave of grief.
And so that was how I was able to navigate it. And then really being patient and gracious with myself, practicing self-care, you know, giving myself permission to go ahead and cry to go ahead and have the moment.
You know I tell people, now that I've gone through it, grief comes in waves. It's like riding a wave. When it comes don't try to push it back, just let it happen. You know, it's three years later for me when it comes to Joseph and, you know, there's still moments.
It's not as bad as it was three years ago when I really think I was gonna like be succumbed by this grief, but there are still moments where I think about him and I feel him and I'm like, you know, I have moments like, you know, winning an award or something great that happened in my life and I'm like, geez, I wish Joseph was here.
And then having my therapist, you know, one of the things that she really helped me with she taught me how to honor my loved ones. And that happened because I had gotten to a place in my grief journey where I just wanted to give up suicidal thoughts was ready to like end it for myself.
I even remember praying and begging God – take me, I don't want to do this. I remember telling my therapist (being vulnerable enough to tell her that) and she said to me, you know, you can't die with them too. Like as much as this hurts you, how are you going to honor their life and the love that you guys shared by dying too, by giving up too?!
And something about her telling me that kind of really like resonated with me and sparked something in me that made me say, you know what Joseph would not have wanted me to just give up on life! He would have wanted me to keep going and find new ways to honor him.
And then hearing that from my therapist and then hearing, I remember listening to a Ted talk about this and the lady said that grieving losses is not about moving on, right? Cause we tell people, oh it's time for you to move on. But it's not about moving on. It's about moving forward and knowing that your loved one is moving forward with you.
They're not physically moving forward with you but they're with you spiritually. And so those two things combined really helped me when it came to how I approached my profession because I had to work. I couldn't not work, but I had to be present enough for my clients and then deal with me and my issues after work hours.
Tish: I love what you said about having a code word, how awesome that all you had to do when you're having a moment is just text that code word and not explain anything else. And your support system just knew. That's a really neat idea.
And I think working through your own pain and grief and everything why you continued to work with clients and stuff that can kind of go back to be to others what you need.
I think back to, I'm an alcoholic and I've been sober for seven plus years now and I think back to when I was first in my recovery and going to therapy. I actually changed therapists because the first therapist I had, she had all the schooling to work with addicts, but she had never been an addict herself. And it's not that she wasn't giving me what I would need, but she would try to tell me, oh, I understand, I can relate. And I'm thinking no, you can’t relate. You can't be to me what I need right now because you have not been in my shoes.
Leah: That brings me back to just being in grad school and I remember one of my good colleagues and we're still good friends to this day, but she used to always say, be where your feet are, like just be present.
And a lot of times I think even the best trained therapists and professionals forget that that's really what the client needs; they need you to just be present. They don't need to be thinking about what you cooking for dinner when you get home, the children; they just need you to be present.
And so that's something even that I, to this day, carry into the therapy room and said, just be where your feet are. If I'm in the therapy room, that's where I'm at. And my focus is my client and it has nothing to do with me. It's about helping them navigate their own way.
Tish: I think that's really importantly and not even just like in, you know, the case of you being a therapist and working with a client, I think just for all of society and all of us in general, it is so easy nowadays to not be present.
How many of us have our phones at our fingertips? And. You know, the boyfriend and I, when we go out to dinner, he's on his phone, I'm on my phone. So I think it's just a good reminder for all of us that sometimes all somebody really needs is someone to just stinking be present. Like not on our phones, actually present in the moment!
Leah: Yeah. Yeah. That was one of our rules when me and Joseph were together on date night; we left the phones in the car. Like his thing was I want to connect with you. And I feel like even as a mental health professional, that has helped me when I have worked with couples because that's what's missing is the connection.
Like when's the end and me saying, hey, when's the last time you kinda like put the phone, put the laptop up and were just present, like connecting with each other? You know, I feel like that's what causes a lot of people to end relationships is because they're not getting their emotional needs met!
And so that was like our rule on date night; like you can be on your phone until we get to the restaurant but the phone stays in the car and we're going to hold hands and we're going to talk and we're going to look each other in the face and we're going to connect with each other!
And it was the best times ever because I didn't have to think about, oh, what's happening on Facebook or what's happening on this; I didn't have to think about that cause I was present and that was there in the moment with the love of my life. And that's all that matters.
Tish: I have so many things that I jotted down as you were talking to me. When your therapist told you, you can't die with them too. Like how powerful! I mean, that is just so powerful because it's true. Joseph would not have wanted you to take your own life or, you know, stay stuck in that grief and not be living your life.
Leah, this was such great conversation. And I like when wrapping things up, to ask my guests what is one thing, or a couple of things that you want to leave the listeners with today?
Leah: So I would definitely tell people to practice some self-care for sure especially in the times that we're living in! Very chaotic. Um, so definitely be gentle to yourself, be patient with yourself. Like we're all on a process, we're all on a journey. And you may not always get it right the first time and that's okay.
Definitely tune it, be in tune with what you need, you know, emotionally and make sure that you have that support system and that tribe of people you can go to and be your vulnerable self with. And ask for help.
I think that is one thing that many of us struggle with and we suffer in silence because we're too afraid to ask for help. And if it's professional help, if it's just needing someone to hold your hand through a difficult season in your life, um, don't be afraid to ask. It's a season, it's not the entirety of your life. And so that's what I would say to people.
Tish: Those were great words of wisdom. I love that. And Leah tell our listeners where they can connect with you.
Leah: I'm on all social media platforms as Leah M Forney. And you can always find me there, or you can shoot me a message through my website, which is www.leahmforney.com
Tish: I just want to thank you again for taking the time out to be with me today. I've so enjoyed our conversation. Thank you.
Leah: Thank you for having me, Tish. I definitely enjoyed it as well.
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