041: Grief to Peace – Deb Rae


In this episode:

In episode 41 of The Fearless Females Podcast your host Tegan Mathews interviews Deb Rae who shares:

  • How she dealt with the sudden death of her husband
  • The gifts that have come from losing him
  • How her loss became her passion and purpose
  • Discovering strength in being vulnerable
  • A guide to help others who are dealing with loss

Tegan’s Take Aways from talking with Deb Rae:

  1. A lot of the things we tell ourselves about what had happens to us and the meaning we attach to it, aren’t actually true.
  2. When dealing with loss it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals even if that’s just get out of bed today.
  3. Your scars are what create you as a whole person and those experiences are what makes it possible for you to help others.
  4. All losses are very individual so we can’t know what it’s like for someone to go through it even if we’ve been through something similar ourselves. You just need to be with the person and let them talk and let them experience whatever it is that they are experiencing Connect with your heart – it is there you will find all of the answers you need
  5. If someone you know is experiencing loss and you want to support them, just be with them, let them go through the experience, give them a hug and let them know that someone cares. You don’t have to make them feel better. They will get to that point when they are ready.

About Deb Rae

Deb is a coach, facilitator, policy writer and management consultant for businesses, government and community service organisations. Her expertise lies in creating and maximising opportunities for growth, which she achieves by supporting people to celebrate their strengths, acknowledge barriers and make the changes that matter to them.

Deb has also recently published Getting There: Grief to Peace for Young Widows, a resource to support young women, their families, friends and professionals. Her aim is to change the way we think about grief so it is less fearful, more appreciated and easier to deal with in our society.

Deb’s qualifications include a Master of Social Administration, Bachelor of Arts, Graduate Diploma of Human Resource Management and a Diploma of Management. She was also the Australian Institute of Management’s Manager of the Year (Not-for Profit Sector) for Mackay in 2011.

Contact Deb Rae


Deb Rae Solutions

A Gift for Listeners From Deb Rae

Download the fact sheet on supporting people through the loss process. Sometimes people don’t know how to support someone who is going through a loss, what to say or what not to say. These are important tips and practical things that you can do when people are in that experience. Plus a bonus download for employers to support employees and clients who are experiencing loss.

By entering your name & email address we agree we won’t share your details with anyone! You may receive the occasional emails from Deb Rae. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Show Notes: 041: Grief to Peace – Deb Rae

Deb Rae’s Fearless Story

When I was thirty-five years old my husband Stuart and I had been married for eleven years and we found out we couldn’t have children. This was a shock for us but we realised it also gave us an opportunity. We had been married for a long time and were happy together and we knew we could continue our lives together and continue to be happy.

We also realised that there were things we could do that we wouldn’t be able to do if we did have children. So we decided to completely change our lives and go overseas and teach English. So we sold all of our possessions, our home, our car and lots of our furniture and we quit our jobs and upgraded our qualifications. Then we went off to teach English and the first country we went to was Poland.

We were really enjoying it, we were enjoying the teaching and we had friends who were teachers from all over the world and from Poland as well. We had a nice apartment that was close to the town centre, which was a fairly small town, and we were enjoying our life. We had plans to just go from country to country indefinitely for as long as we were continuing to enjoy it.

Having been there for about five monthsStuart had joined an indoor soccer team and they were going out for drinks one night. It was the first time that Stuart and I wouldn’t go somewhere together. We talked about it and he was going with people I knew, I had met all the guys and he would be within walking distance of where we lived and he could speak some of the language.

So I said that he should go. He said he would be home in time for dinner, because he was the cook in our family and I said, “No you go and have fun” and we kissed goodbye and he headed off. They were the last words we ever said to each other.

As Stuart was walking home that night he was hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing that was about two hundred metres from our front door. He died in the hospital the day after that.

After that, as you can imagine, everything about my life changed. I couldn’t stay in Poland as I couldn’t support myself teaching English any more. I came back to Australia and I didn’t have a home or a car or a job and I basically had to start again.

But without him.

[Tegan] Life can change so quickly in just a moment. My fiancé and I travel the world permanently and I would be devastated if I lost him. [Deb] Absolutely, within a few seconds everything about my life had changed.

The hardest part is you are then going through the worst time of your life without the one person who would always help you to get through the hard times. It was a massive learning curve, like climbing a mountain, trying to work out how I was going to deal with that.

How did you get through that?

In the beginning I thought that it wasn’t possible for me to recover. It wasn’t possible for me to be happy again. Stuart was very extroverted. He was lots of fun. He was always organising social events for us and bringing people home and there was always lots happening.

After he was gone, I thought “I don’t know how to do that” and “I’m no good at that” and “I’ll never have that again”. I thought the only way to be happy is if Stuart is here and so I can’t be happy again.

Eventually, I started to be able to see my own thoughts and then I was able to recognise that some of those thoughts weren’t necessarily true. One of the things that happened was my brother asked me to go water skiing. We were in Mackay in north Queensland so it gets really hot.

I said “No, I can’t go water skiing any more”. He had taught Stuart and I to water ski and I just didn’t have the physical strength any more. Since he had died I just couldn’t do it. He eventually convinced me to go and just sit in the boat and I eventually did get onto the ski’s and I was able to water ski.

This made me realise that a lot of the things I was telling myself about what had happened to me or what that meant to me weren’t actually true. So then I started to look for the skills that I still had, and what I could still do, and start to build on those.

I then started to realise that there are things that I can do and then that grew. There were lots of things that I had to learn. I had to learn how to cook, I had to learn to fix the air conditioner in the car and all these things I never really wanted to know. By pacing myself and having very small goals for myself and working through things gradually I began to realise that this is possible.

If you go back to the mountain feeling, I often felt like I had to climb the whole mountain in a week but then I realised if I just climb fifty metres in the next few days then that’s ok because that’s still going upwards.

So I learnt to have realistic goals for myself. Sometimes the goal was just to get out of bed, to have a meal, to go and see a person, to go outside the house. If I did that, then that was a good day. So being realistic about what I could achieve.

What are some of the gifts you received from your experience?

Yes, there have been and I really struggled with that in the beginning. People would tell me that there is always a reason for things happening and I just thought that was insulting that there could be anything good to come from Stuart dying.

But through my grief I have realised that there are things I can do now that I would never have known how to do before and would never have thought I could do. One of those things was that I thought I was damaged in some way or scarred because of what had happened and what that meant was that I would never be as good as I was before.

I eventually came to realise that those scars made me a much more whole person. There was so much more of me and there was so much more that I had learnt because of those scars. That also meant that I had a lot more to offer other people because of those scars and because of what I had been through.

So I had this idea that I had to get through the grief and move on, which are terms that I find very confusing. I thought I had to put the grief away but my grief has become my purpose. That’s how I help other people. Everything that I have learnt and the experiences I have had, that’s what makes it possible for me to help other people.

What are you passionate about today?

I’ve always been someone who writes. Before Stuart died and a lot more after he died. I started to write a lot of stories and things after he died, mainly because I didn’t know how to explain what was happening to me. I thought if other people could read what I had written then they might get some understanding of what was happening in my very muddled head.

Then I started to realise that I could put that together as a book. I interviewed a lot of other women and I went back to university to do some more study around grief and loss so that I could make a resource that is really practical for other women as well. I also wanted it to be conversational and not be just my story. I wanted it to be something they could actually use.

I also started a support group for young women, young widows in Mackay as well as some coaching around grief and loss. It’s now extended to not just grief and loss around somebody dying but grief and loss around losing your job or your older kids leave home or you get divorced. All the different types of loss that we can experience in our lives.

We often have the expectation that you should put that feeling of loss aside and just ignore those feelings. The main thing we need to do is to acknowledge that there is a loss before we can effectively look at what to do now, now that things have changed.

I now spend a lot of time talking about loss and grief and our community expectations of what grief and loss is about. I think a lot of what we think we should do is based on our parents or grandparents or what we see on tv and sometimes we have misconceptions about what that’s like.

People can have this idea that you have to move on which can be insulting for people to say to them to just forget about that person you knew for seventeen years and just re-start a new life. For someone who has just lost someone, there isn’t a life, what do I move on to?

The research I’ve done actually shows that it’s not about moving on, it’s about how you integrate that loss into your life so that it enriches your life and travels with you as part of your life. There’s never a time that we can say that that grief is over.

It’s something that stays with us but in a positive way that contributes to our lives rather than us continually living in the past. And people can say things because they don’t want to see you in pain but they usually don’t know what to say because they don’t know how to acknowledge your pain or what kinds of things that will help.

So instead they usually end up blurting out something to try and fill that void and it’s usually the wrong thing but you don’t need to say anything. You just need to be with the person and let them talk and let them experience whatever it is that they are experiencing.

This can feel completely weird or alien to you but that’s what is happening for them at that moment and it’s just about supporting them through it. Just give them a hug and let them know that someone cares. This is really more important than anything else you can do because if you haven’t experienced a loss, and all of our losses are very individual, so we can’t know what it is like for someone else, so you can’t know what to say. It is just about being there with them.

Memorable Moments

It’s been over twelve years now and I have had time to grieve and to look at how do I re-create this person who I am and I have learnt how to do that so that loss is part of my life. There were some wonderful times that Stuart and I had together and there were some wonderful things I learnt from being with him and that I have some skills myself that I can expand on.

So I wrote the book (Getting There – grief to peace for young widows) and one of the memorable moments was the book launch. I had it in my home town of Mackay which was also Stuart’s home town and also in Brisbane which was where Stuart and I lived the whole time we were together.

That was an amazing experience because it was an opportunity to bring all of those people who had been part of our lives together. Everyone who had seen me grieve and some who had only known me after I had come back to Mackay.

I was able to put all of that together and allow people to see how that becomes a whole picture of someone’s life and how all of those pieces can integrate and create something amazing. The book came out of all of that and I continue now to talk about the book as well.

The other thing is that in 2009 I remarried. So I was able to get to a place where I felt comfortable in myself and comfortable with wanting to share my life with someone else again. Which can be a frightening thing to do when you have had an experience where all of that has been taken away from you.

So my poor husband had to go through the fourth degree of things like what was he like on pedestrian crossings and how much of a risk taker is he because I was terrified of it happening again. But it was a process of working through those fears and it’s been wonderful to be able to be married again.

Deb’s book – Getting There – grief to peace for young widows is available on amazon as an ebook and on www.debrae.com.au and a lot of people have bought the book who are widows but also a lot of men as well because they say it’s the same context and a lot of what we go through is the same. It’s just that men don’t talk about it as much as women but they are still having that same connection and finding it useful.

What is something in your future plan that scares you?

Well, for me, I have my own business now which is not something I ever thought I would do. I think being in business is about constantly looking at what your customers want and how you are going to do that. Which means my business is always changing and growing and morphing and there is always so much for me to learn.

No two days are the same and it’s been a constant process over the years of always feeling like I am being challenged and doing things that I’ve never done before and having to work out how to do that. I’ve actually got to a point now where I enjoy that, I look forward to that. There’s still an edge of fear to it but it’s an edge that pushes me rather than stops me from doing it.

A couple of years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my two brothers and on the last part of that climb, it’s really difficult. You have to walk really slowly and it’s hard to breathe and we could only walk for twenty minutes and we would have to stop and have a rest.

I remember sitting on a rock on the side of the mountain thinking that I just wanted it to end. But I realised that I could sit there for five or ten years on the side of the mountain or I can go back down the mountain or I can just take a few more steps up. Then you take a few more steps and you get to the top and it really crystallised for me how we deal with challenges.

It’s just about taking one more step and keeping on going and eventually you will get to the top. The hardest steps are those last few at the top of the mountain and it can sometimes feel like that’s the worst but if you just keep going those last few steps the rewards are so worth it.

Five Fast Fun Fearless Facts about Deb Rae

  1. Who inspires you? I am really inspired by Malala Yousafzai the Pakistan girl who dared to stand up to the oppression that was happening in her country when she was only a teenager. I think that takes immense guts to do that and to continue to talk about it as she has. She risked physical injury and all kinds of abuse and still did it.
  2. Favourite thing to do each day? To walk my two dogs and they absolutely love it and I enjoy seeing how much they enjoy it and each morning while I am walking them I do a little gratitude exercise where I think of all the things I am grateful for in my life and it really sets me up well for the day. There’s a lot we can learn from dogs who get joy from the simplest of things and it completely consumes them.
  3. What’s something that still scares you? As I think I’ve mentioned earlier, that fear of the same thing happening again. But also, since Stuart was the cook, that’s one thing I just haven’t mastered so when I have people over I am still terrified about how I am going to feed them.
  4. Favourite technique or app or book? I read a book not long ago by Amy Cuddy called Presence – bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. It’s a fantastic book and quite easy to read. She is a social psychologist and she talks about personal power and how we can tap into our personal power. It’s around our thoughts but also how we hold our body and the impact that has on our thoughts as well.
  5. If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing in the world right now, what would it be and why? That would be the suffering that is happening in Syria, particularly the children who are completely innocent and who are experiencing all types of trauma and are going to have lots of limited opportunities in the future based on what’s happening now. So I would like to be able to change that if I could.

What does being fearless mean to you?

That’s a good question because after Stuart died people kept telling me that I had to be strong and from what I could understand of what they were saying, being strong meant to hide your emotions and put on a brave face. But really being strong meant being vulnerable. Being vulnerable enough to say that I needed help or to let other people in which didn’t come naturally to me.

I was used to being very independent so I had to really work at that. So I think fearless for me is about understanding that it’s ok to be vulnerable and understanding that there are things you are afraid of and having a way to deal with it.

Saying ok there is this fear and this is what I am going to do. It’s not about saying there aren’t any fears. It’s about saying there are fears and I will be vulnerable and there are some advantages for that and this is what I will do as a result of that.

Final Question for Deb Rae

If you could turn back time what’s the one piece of advice you wish you could give your fourteen-year-old self?

That would be nice to be able to do that! I think it would be about believing in myself. Telling your fourteen-year-old self that you are a good person and you are going to be great. Anything you set your mind to, you CAN do it. And you don’t have to have things perfect before you jump in and give them a go.

And understanding, based on what’s happened in my life, that no matter what happens, you will be able to handle it. You’ll find a way to handle it. The human spirit is incredible and it will find ways to make sure you survive and it’s just about having that faith within yourself to know that you can do that.

“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have” – Bob Marley

Where can people reach out to you? www.debrae.com.au

Facebook – Deb Rae Solutions

A Gift for Listeners From Deb Rae

Download the fact sheet on supporting people through the loss process. Sometimes people don’t know how to support someone who is going through a loss, what to say or what not to say. These are important tips and practical things that you can do when people are in that experience. Plus a bonus download for employers to support employees and clients who are experiencing loss.

By entering your name & email address we agree we won’t share your details with anyone! You may receive the occasional emails from Deb Rae. You can unsubscribe at any time.

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