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Facing Trauma With Boldness and Authenticity


Sean was 43. His body was fit and thriving. His partnership with his wife Cathy made many of us, her close friends, drool with admiration. They had two wonderful children, 8-month-old Phoebe and 3-year-old Finn, who they were raising with the highest level of devotion possible in parenting. At work Sean inspired teenagers at the “tough” high school to believe in themselves. And according to their tearful speeches at his standing-room-only memorial, it worked. He was a best friend to an almost unseemly number of people. And then he had a heart attack. Riding his bike on a lovely late summer afternoon with his best friend. Gone.

How was his wife supposed to deal with this? Hundreds and hundreds of people, friends and family, Sean and Cathy’s inner and outer circle, went into shock. This could not be. Grief too big, a loss too startling, a life too bright to  be gone, just like that.

For Cathy, this pain felt too big to bear. Yet in the past few months since Sean’s body took its last breath, our community has been immeasurably impressed and touched by the courage, love, and fierceness we have seen Cathy show the world. In my mind, a hero is someone who takes tremendous pain and–day by day, year by year–transforms it into something that allows a better person to emerge. To become more loving, more truthful, more accepting, and more gentle in the face of deep pain, is the mark of a true hero. This is what Cathy has been.

Witnessing her yourney, I have noted some of the jewels of her healing process with the intention to share them with others. It is never desirable to experience a loss like this, but it can happen to any one of us at any time. How do we love ourselves in the face of trauma? Let Cathy’s beauty be a guide for when it does.

Honor Your Intuition

No time passed before Cathy felt a very clear fierce “Mama Bear” guiding her from within. Recognizing she was now the sole lead sailor on the parenting ship they had both been leading, she stepped with incredible boldness into her Mama Bear shoes. She and Sean had a highly informed and compassionate way of parenting together. This immediate inner tug from her intuition coaxed out a source of strength within Cathy that she would need in the coming days and months. She honored her intuition beautifully.

For some of us, it is easy to hear our intuition speak because we’ve nurtured a relationship with it over our lifetime. It speaks, we listen. For others this inner voice is buried to a greater or lesser degree, and we may need to give ourselves deliberate quiet space, ask a friend or coach to help us find it, or go for a vigorous hike, to quiet our minds enough to hear our intuition speak. It is a very clear guide that can “see ahead” in order to support us through difficult times.


Like water pressing intensely against the back of a dam, grief wants to be felt. Tears want to fall. Trauma is intense pressure on every level. When we don’t feel our grief, it is like a reservoir forming behind a dam. Algae builds up, fish die, and tremendous resources are required to force this unnatural state of resistance. When we do feel our grief, it is released tear by tear (or song by song, it looks different for everyone) allowing newness to emerge in our lives.

Sometimes we don’t want to feel grief because it means letting go of something we hold dear. The silver lining is that something greater is often waiting. Some deeper awareness that cannot be discovered until the dam is broken. As Cathy has allowed grief to move through her, she has deepened in her self-awareness and sense of true curiosity about this mysterious, marvelous thing we call life.

Often we need time to fully feel grief, particularly when we experience shock. I encourage us to each discover our own personal inner “pause” button, which we can access to give ourselves permission to feel whatever deep emotions surface within us. Only when we honor these emotions are we given what they’ve come to share.

Honor Your Vision

With all the people who would be calling Cathy and asking, offering and sharing, wanting and giving and wondering, she knew she would need to hold strong to the vision she and Sean shared. It was her duty and desire to uphold this carefully tended and passionate vision for the way they parented, for their family. If he was watching from whatever new realm Sean had entered, I am certain he would be absolutely delighted about how beautifully Cathy has tended to their shared vision. She holds it tight in the center of her heart, willing and ready to share when the moment calls.

As with anything in life, a vision is far more powerful when it’s written down. There are innumerable statistics showing the huge power in writing things down. Even if it’s just a few words to start, what is your family vision? What would an ideal week in the life of your family look like–what is part of it, and just as important, what is not part of it? We are either honoring our power by imagining what we want to see, or we are letting life happen “to” us. A vision is an expression of your values. It is worth honoring with great devotion.


Communicate with Authenticity

Relationships are the core of life. Communication is the toughest part of relationships. How I wish we would all open our hearts, minds, and will to accept that none of us is perfect at communication, and that is OK! It gives us opportunities for connection, curiosity, and humility. We are all learning a lot about how to be better communicators.

Too often in life, I notice people prefer the “nice” route, withholding what they feel to be true in fear of offending someone. Conflict avoidance is an unhealthy communication style. Conflict is a natural part of being human. And it doesn’t need to be messy. When someone communicates with full authenticity, not everyone is going to like it. As we grow in our capacity for owning and speaking our truth, we find the world around us shifts to include more people who don’t take our truth as a personal attack on them, who can talk about differences with maturity and poise, who actually enjoy the dynamism that results from these conversations.

But the path to getting there isn’t always smooth. Jokes and criticisms–from others and ourselves–emerge to prevent us from facing the truth. There is no black and white line between speaking our truth graciously and having an impact that someone else might find offensive. We just have to be willing to be human, to know we will make messes, and to know that all we can do is our best, ensuring we own our role in those messes and invite others to take responsibility for their role too.

Imagine the sheer number of phone calls and emails, Facebook posts and texts Cathy received in the days following Sean’s passing. She realized right away that she needed to communicate some very important information, and to a large number of people. People wanted to help; what did Cathy and the children need? People wanted to console and be close to her and the kids; was Cathy ready for all this attention?

As a lifelong writer of personal correspondence, I have been very touched by the emails Cathy has sent since Sean passed. At key moments, she expresses her needs, vision, requests, and gratitude through email messages filled with honesty, courage, and love.

To give Cathy much needed solo time, little Finn and Phoebe would be spending time with people who may not know about their family’s preferences and values. Healthy food, reading books, being carried, compassionate communication, Aha Parenting!’s resources online, you name it. Cathy let people know what could help them to love her children in a way that would feel necessarily safe, familiar, and comforting to them in this time of trauma. To me this felt like such a powerful thing for a mother to do. To stand firmly in her role as their guardian, upholding their vision as a family, knowing that it was both self-honoring and responsible for her to communicate this to others.

Ask for Help, and Receive It

There were a lot of things Cathy needed with Sean gone. Loving care for Finn and Phoebe so she could have time for herself to grieve, sit, walk, or run errands without dragging the kids around. Help with laundry, cleaning, errands, yardwork. Sean was a dream husband in his way of building anything the family needed, out of wood. Finn has his own Papa-built custom “learning tower” to climb into for accessing the kitchen counter. Inevitably Sean’s were shoes that wouldn’t be filled, but there were many things Cathy would still need help with. She identified what they were, and graciously asked for what she needed.

Even managing all this help became a project, so she quickly found ways to make receiving help less work, by honoring her truth, asking for what she needed, and being gracious in receiving it when it was given. And it was given. And it is still being given. And she is still graciously, gorgeously, with a huge and fierce feminine heart, accepting all the help her family needs.


Observe, Listen, Reflect, Respond, Expand

As time passes, I continue to observe Cathy living in a way that any human could learn from. It is a constant process of observing what is working and what isn’t, what her family needs are. Listening to her inner guidance to help her lead the way. Reflecting on what has happened, and how she wants to be with it. Responding with whatever action or communication will support her and her family in their well being and healing process, and all the while expanding into a more beautiful mother and human being every single day.

Following Sean’s passing, my own sense of shock took longer to subside than I expected. He was totally healthy and had a thriving, role model of a family. For weeks I kept wondering, “Did this really happen?” It just didn’t make sense in my heart. There is a place in spirit where we are eternal, and my heart knew this. I realized in those days that my friend Sean was a saint: a person of great benevolence. The light in his eyes never dimmed. He was consistently, uncompromisingly lit up from within. So many of us took part of the fire, the light of his being, into our own lives as he passed.

For the extraordinary being he is and was, I am forever enriched and grateful. And to Cathy, I feel deep sisterhood and admiration.

She is, to many, a hero of love. 

About the Author
Jessica Rios
Author: Jessica RiosWebsite:
Jessica Rios is the proud and very fortunate mother of an exceptionally healthy toddler. She gave birth in her bedroom, breastfed with a low milk supply receiving donations from generous mamas with an oversupply. She is a leadership coach, a writer and big fan of Sesame Street. Her lifelong art is personal written correspondence. Jessica is the Founder of Leaning into Light, a hub for human fulfillment. She lives in Sonoma County, California.

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