Megan Hillukka is a bereaved mother, with 7 children, one of who died at 15 months old. Megan encourages and supports grieving mothers that though the worst thing has happened to them, their life is not over. She is the creator of a space called Grieving Moms Haven, where she helps moms learn how to process and move through the emotions of grief through meditation, tapping meditation, breath work, and other mindfulness practices. Grieving Mom’s Haven also provides a place of safety and compassion within grief, so that these moms can feel themselves again and hope for their future.
Megan so beautifully and with so much vulnerability shares her experience of child loss and navigating through grief. In this episode, we talk about processing and moving through grief, mindfulness practices to help you connect with your emotions, and steps to start the process of healing. This is an important conversation to have whether you’ve experienced loss yourself or are walking alongside someone else who’s experiencing loss, and with that, we wanted our listeners to be aware that we’re discussing some sensitive topics.
To connect with Megan, head to:
- Her website: https://www.meganhillukka.com/
- Her coaching program: https://www.grievingmomshaven.com/
- Her socials: www.instagram.com/cultivatedfamily
Tell us a bit about your background, your story, and why you decided to become a coach for grieving moms.
It was May of 2016, I was pregnant with our fourth child, and then in the morning, I found my third. She had died at night, so I was pregnant and dealing with a daughter who had died. And it’s just something that you never expect, we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. And then four weeks after she died, I had another baby.
I was diagnosed with PTSD from finding her, and then my trauma and my trigger were sleep. And then I have a newborn who sleeps, you know, twenty-four-seven. So it was just like something I can’t even describe like the pain and the grief, and then the duration of how long it lasts.
I just wanted to be on the other side of grieving and I’ve learned as I’ve gone through this whole process that grief is lifelong. It’s not something that you necessarily get to the other side. It changes and where I’m at in my grief, I’m very happy with my life but I still carry grief and I would for the rest of my life. That’s kind of the beginning of our story.
How do you begin to ease the pain of grief?
The very first thing I remember is when I wanted to just go to, I didn’t want to deal with it. I wanted to go to sleep. Like I had this vision of like this big black, dark tunnel ahead of me and I didn’t want to go through that, I just wanted to wake up on the other side of the tunnel. So, another mom who had lost her daughter had told m- “You have to walk through the tunnel. You have to go through it. There’s just no way around it, no matter how much we want to, that’s just not an option”. And that was eye-opening for me; I want to allow myself to grieve.
I went to therapy, which was life-changing because I did EMDR for my trauma and it’s a night and day difference in my life. I felt like therapy helped me the most with the trauma part of it and connecting with my body. I think of it as combining bottom-up processing with top-down processing. And so using both of those and then coming to a place of wanted to help people like me.
As the process goes on for you, you begin to learn that those waves are supposed to come. There’s nothing wrong with them. And you realized that it becomes easier to accept them and ride them instead of fighting them.
My grief is a reminder that she lived and that she’s a part of our life. She did exist, she did matter and I still miss her. There’s nothing wrong with grief and I don’t need to get rid of it. And also that’s what I teach moms when you take care of your grief, it’s a way you can take care of your child and honor the grief instead of shoving it away.
For the people who maybe aren’t familiar with EMDR and maybe some other things that helped you in this grief journey, can you give us a little bit of background and share a bit about mindfulness practices and how these can help us feel our emotions?
EMDR is for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Is specifically used for trauma and PTSD. And according to my version and experience on how it works, EMDR helps rebuild connections in your brain from the right side to the left side, it helps turn on the parts of your brain that shut off from trauma that caused that feeling of constant alert and fight.
What I did is like eye movements. I had a buzzer in my left hand and my right hand. What it does is stimulates your right side and your left side back and forth, such as buzzing back and forth. It’s really stimulating the right side of your brain and the left side of your brain while you process different emotions and memories.
The thing with trauma is that your body doesn’t forget, even if you think you’ve moved on, your body it’s not going to let you. And so the EMDR buzzers back and forth and I thought of it as rebuilding that connection in my brain. So it really helped me stop the physical symptom of PTSD, that emotional charge of panic and terror and stress. Especially, the fear of my other children dying.
My trigger was sleep. I literally couldn’t leave my daughter for one minute, I always had to have my hand on her belly, and make sure that she was breathing. Now, I can leave my kids, I don’t check on them at night and all of that. That’s how powerful EMDR can be.
Sometimes we think that is just the way we live now. You know, having this huge ball of stress in the chest. But it doesn’t have to be normal. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
For people who’ve gone through a deep grief or something similar, what would you say to them as far as patience or compassion with their partner or their children?
The very first thing I would say in relation to this is to take care of yourself first. You can’t show up for your children and your husband and the people you love if you’re falling apart yourself. For example, kids can share really painful things that are triggering for the parents to hear. The one thing that I’ve thought is if I take care of myself and I like to process that and hold space for me in that, then I’m able to hold this space for them to be able to share because they need to. And it’s really important that they have that safe and compassionate space to share where you’re not being triggered and shutting down the conversation because it’s too painful for you.
Remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Get help from your husband, your kids, and therapy. Lean on those resources that help you and let other people step in and help too.
And also, you can’t expect your husband to be the same person because you are not the same person. You can have compassion for each other and accept their way of grieving.
What advice would you give to our listeners who might not be experiencing this level of grief themselves – but have friends who are? What’s the best way to walk alongside someone who’s experienced that depth of grief?
Isolation is a form of protection for the graver. And it’s important to honor that. In my case, I shrunk my circle down to my very close friends and my family but they were a very supportive community. I had zero interest in talking with anybody about light conversations or things that didn’t matter, I wanted to be with people who I knew, who I loved, who I knew loved me, and who I could talk about Aria and what I was going through. That community and connection and support with others it’s definitely necessary.
A few things that come to mind immediately are:
- Don’t disappear.
- Learn how to get comfortable with your own emotions so you can sit with your friend/relative.
- Try not to fix them.
- A grieving person doesn’t know what they need so communicating ideas or offers to your friend/relative and let them decide it’s a great thing to do.
You help in the ways that you can and they’ll know that you love them because you’re trying, Don’t pressure them.
Tell us a bit more about mindfulness in your coaching
When I first started coaching I used a type of model where you’re like noticing your thoughts and how your thoughts create a lot of suffering. And as I’ve worked with grief, I’ve really realized that that’s not always the best route for it. Supporting grief from the bottom-up approach is a lot more helpful and useful. The nature of what I’ve seen with many mobs is that the energy of that emotion is going to come up in almost every person’s body. They’ll have different circumstances, the reasons why they’re feeling that emotion, but the emotion is the same.
Let’s say anger like they’ll have different reasons for feeling anger. Maybe it’s directed at God, or maybe it’s directed at their child. Maybe it’s directed at a person. Maybe it’s directed at a situation like whatever it is that this, the underlying thing of it all is the anger. The thoughts, the circumstances, everything else can change. And so it’s really meeting them from that anger part of it and feeling, allowing the anger, number one, whatever emotion it is, guilt or anger and feeling it and fully being present with it and processing it. So I do this to through tapping meditation, conscious breathing, and mindfulness meditations to feel emotions