My journey to the Grief Recovery Method began after the death of my three-year-old son, Eddie Ryan, in September of 2010. At the time, I was a Detective with the Sheriff’s Office; he was shot with my backup gun. Four hours later I would hear the words no parent should ever hear, “I’m sorry, but your son is dead.” This tore my heart to pieces. I was completely devastated and found myself overwhelmed by the emotional pain of his death and the surrounding events. It was unimaginably the darkest place I’d ever been. I felt hopeless and completely powerless to do anything about the roller coaster of emotions controlling my life, and I had no idea how to process the pain.
The weeks and months that followed Ryan’s death only added to the pain I was experiencing. My life was spiraling out of control, while at the same time I felt trapped in an emotional prison. I held on to so many regrets and I felt like a failure as a Dad because I couldn’t keep my son safe, and I was grieving the life that ended and having to face an uncertain future without him. My hopes, dreams, and expectations surrounding a life with Ryan were shattered; I would have given anything for a different or better outcome, and I desperately wanted more time with my son. I felt robbed of the future I always envisioned. I struggled as the pain of his death spilled over into every other relationship in my life. I tried to be strong for my family and my children. People would tell me how strong I must be to live through Ryan's death. I acted like I was, but in reality I wasn't emotionally honest, which didn't feel good either, and only added to the pain I felt. I definitely was not emotionally present for those I loved, myself, or anyone else.
For years, I simply existed. Life didn’t feel worth living and I was devoid of anything that could help me in a meaningful way. And I tried everything. My doctor gave me pills to replace the pain; they were terrible and I felt worse. I was told I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) so I went through all types of counseling and therapy. I attended self-help workshops, I read books seeking answers, and I tried nearly anything I thought might help. I went to support groups and sought out others whom I thought might understand or could help me. There was no shortage of advice, but it wasn't very helpful, or worse yet, I was told losing my son was a life sentence of pain. As much as I tried to intellectually work through the pain, it was my heart that felt broken, not my brain.
While some things I did provided moments of temporary relief, nothing was truly helpful or provided a lasting impact. If I wasn't seeking answers, I was trying to numb the pain and I kept myself really busy because, like so many of us, I was taught that over time it would get better; it didn't get any better, it kept getting worse. Throughout all of this I tried to use what I either knew or was learning about, yet something was always missing. My son was dead and I was emotionally incomplete with him.
This was my experience of life for the first five years after Ryan died. I never stopped looking for something that could help me heal. My path led me to a woman named Dawn Jackson, who I had just started dating. She suggested I look into the Grief Recovery Method (GRM). That night, I went to the website and saw there was a Certification Training coming up in two weeks, and registered both of us to go. I didn't really even read much about it; I was desperate to feel anything other than the pain. I do remember reading that John James, a Vietnam Veteran, who had also lost a child, created the Grief Recovery Method. I liked that John, who was grieving himself, created this program to help others grieving and that it is an action based educational program. I remember thinking that if he was able to go through it, maybe this could help me. I felt hopeful but I was very skeptical walking into that first day.
The next few days were a journey beyond words as Cole James, the son of the founder, took us through the Method. I felt safe enough to really get emotionally honest about my feelings regarding my relationship with Ryan and his death. The Method provided me with the helpful information that I had searched for and had been lacking. Coupled with this new knowledge and awareness, I was then able to take the actions of the Grief Recovery Method to discover what I needed to complete regarding my relationship with Ryan. I was able to release and say goodbye to the pain I was carrying. I walked into that class feeling very much a broken man and a devastated dad; I walked out a few days later feeling joy, love, happiness, and very connected to Ryan. These were feelings I didn't think were even possible to feel again. At the end of the training John James stopped by and I had the opportunity to thank him for not only helping me but creating the program.
Going through the Grief Recovery Method changed my life and my understanding of how, and why, we grieve. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss, of any kind. We grieve any time there is an end, or change in, any familiar pattern of behavior in our lives. In short, we grieve for everything. To experience grief is part of what makes us human beings. As humans, we are supposed to feel both the sweet and the sour emotions and to process them in a healthy way. Yet most of us were never taught how to grieve in a helpful way.
Since becoming a GRM Specialist, I have been able to look at my life and the many other losses I have experienced. We know that grief is cumulative and it's always negatively cumulative. For most of my life, I've tried to compartmentalize and stuff down the painful memories and events I experienced. Ryan's death broke wide open all the pain I was carrying that had been building up over my life. Using the tools and actions of GRM, I have been able to heal the pain I've carried surrounding so many losses in my personal life beyond the death of family members and friends. I've been married and divorced twice, I've gone through a loss of my career, a bankruptcy, lost beloved pets, lost my home and had to move, I've experienced the loss of my health, the loss of trust in others, and feelings of loss surrounding safety and security. I also realized I’d been carrying around a great deal of pain related to losses and experiences in my professional life.
I am a retired First Sergeant from the US Air Force (Reserves) with multiple combat tours to the Middle East over my 21-year career. My first tour was Desert Storm and my last tour was to Kirkuk, Iraq in 2006, as a First Sergeant. In my civilian life, I was a law enforcement officer that worked for agencies at the city, county, and state levels. All said, I wore a uniform for over 23 years of my life. Throughout both careers, I experienced a great deal of painful life experiences and losses. Using the tools of GRM, I have been able to complete the painful feelings surrounding a dear friend killed in the line of duty as an officer, and comrades who died serving their country either at home or in combat zones, to name just a few examples. The Method allowed me to honor their memories by choosing to live without the pain of their loss. Leaving law enforcement and retiring from the military were both huge losses in my life, as these were very familiar patterns of behaviors in my life that ended or changed for me. Having the tools to work through all the conflicting feelings and emotions surrounding people, events, and experiences has been so incredibly helpful for me. People often talk about having, or developing, resilience in order to overcome the difficulties or losses we face in life. The key to this is having the right tools and the courage to take the actions necessary to heal.
I wish I had had the tools of GRM back when I was in the military or as a law enforcement officer. The men and women who put on the uniform walk out the door not knowing if they will return when their shift is over. Sadly, too many every year do not. Others leave for a deployment also unaware of what lies ahead or if they will return. Every one of them experiences events that are traumatic and impactful; it’s impossible to forget or be unaffected by what we see and do in the course of our duties. We are also taught to compartmentalize our feelings, to be strong (for ourselves and others), to focus upon the mission or get back out there to the next call. After all, there isn’t time to deal with what I’m feeling as I have a job to do, I don’t want to appear weak, and I can’t let my brother’s and sister’s down. So we try to bury what we are feeling and we act like everything’s “ok”, ”I’m fine”, “I got this”.
The reality is what we’ve “got” is a great deal of emotional energy stored up in an internal pressure cooker. Over time, as we continue to push down what doesn’t feel good, it accumulates. We then engage in behaviors to numb the pain, such as drinking, smoking, food, retail therapy, or anything to try to feel better. We experience intense feelings of sadness and loneliness as we isolate ourselves from others while trying to keep how we really feel hidden. All of this unresolved pain starts to show up in every aspect of our life, thereby impacting our other relationships, our ability to perform our jobs well, and further adds to the ever-building emotional pain we carry. It’s no wonder we have so many veterans, law enforcement, and emergency service workers struggling with failed relationships, divorce, substance use or abuse, homelessness, health problems, and suicide. My heart aches to see so many brothers and sisters struggling to exist in such pain.
Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text 838255.
The Grief Recovery Method changed my life and it saved me from the life of pain I was living. I’m honored to work with grievers from all around the world. I love working with grievers because for so much of my life I have grieved so many losses. It is my deepest wish that those reading this would know that to experience a loss is not a life sentence of pain. Time will not heal a bleeding heart. It’s the actions we take within time that make the difference. I encourage you to seek out one of our GRM Specialists, who are located throughout North America and globally via our database. They offer GRM programs in a variety of formats ranging from 1-on-1 support to groups, workshops, or online support. Regardless where you are at in the world, we have GRM Specialists who can work with you; you are not alone! There are also programs for Helping Children with Loss or Pet Loss. For those wanting to help others, I encourage you to consider becoming a GRM Specialist, Certified by the Grief Recovery Institute. If you are a veteran, you can use your GI Bill to seek reimbursement for this Certification. While not a guarantee they will reimburse, the VA did reimburse my Certification as a GRM Specialist.
To all those who are serving in our military or serving their communities working emergency services, thank you for all you do! You truly make a difference in this world!
From My Heart to Yours,
Ed Owens is a US Air Force (Retired) First Sergeant. As a First Sergeant, he was the Senior Enlisted Advisor to Commanders at the unit, group, and base levels; he was responsible for the health, welfare, and morale of the service members and their families. He’s also a combat veteran with multiple tours, including Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, OEF, and JTF-SWA. Ed’s law enforcement career spanned 23 years. He worked for agencies at the city, county, and state levels and worked patrol, as a detective, and held supervisory positions up through the command level; he also worked with Federal Agencies, working Homeland Security including assignments to various Task Force’s, such as narcotics and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). He found his way to the Grief Recovery Method (GRM) after the devastating loss of his 3-year old son in 2010. The healing he experienced from GRM transformed his life. Ed is currently is the Director of Advanced GRM Programs for the Grief Recovery Institute and one of only 15 Instructors worldwide who trains and certifies GRM Specialists. As an International Instructor and Speaker, Ed has presented on the Evolution of Grief in the US Military and the impact on our service members, their families, and veteran communities. In September 2018, Ed trained and Certified 15 Air Force Chaplains, Chaplain Assistants, and civilians with the Task Force True North, the Air Force's Resiliancy initiative, from two air bases in California. Prior to this, the Grief Recovery Institute has worked with the US Army and US Air Force in the past, such as training AF Mortuary Affairs Dignified Transfer members at Dover, AFB and training 20 Chaplains from multiple bases after 9/11 at Ellsworth, AFB. The Institute worked closely with now-retired Chaplain (Lt. Col) Oledia Bell.
View the Grief Recovery Institute's Federal Capabilities Statement
John James, a Vietnam War Veteran, developed the Grief Recovery Method over 40 years ago. GRM is a structured Action Based program for moving beyond loss due to death, divorce, or any of the 43+ major life events that result in emotional pain that impact a person’s life. GRM is not a theory; research by Kent State University has proven GRM to be a highly successful Evidence Based practice that is therapeutic and extremely benefical in addressing and recovering from grief. This program is also helpful in addressing issues such as trauma and/or PTS, depression, suicide, compassion fatigue (healing the helpers), addiction and substance abuse, anger management, and domestic violence. GRM teaches valuable tools for developing resiliency skills within a participant. GRM programs include 1-on-1 formats, group programs, and a program specifically designed to help children deal with loss; all programs very applicable to supporting the military or emergency services members and their entire family.
Additional research, compiled in the Grief Index, shows that the impact of unresolved grief for employers/organizations in the US is over $113.27 Billion (updated 2017 figure) in direct economic impact due to lost productivity and reduced proficiency on the job after experiencing a loss, or emotionally painful life event. This figure doesn’t include the nearly trillion dollars in additional impacts from the effects of behaviors (i.e., addiction, obesity, anger management, etc.) that result when someone is experiencing emotional pain, stress, depression, traumatic events, suicidal behaviors, and/or PTS.
Information on GRM being an Evidence Based Program:
“The GRM program is an evidence-informed, practice-based program that has been shown to effectively influence components of grief and grief recovery.”
Here are some helpful explanations:
· Evidence-informed - the GRM program combines person-centered values with several evidence-based practices that are supported by educational research and have been shown to be effective. These evidence-based practices are grounded in behavioral theory, group cohesiveness, meaning-making, and prolonged exposure therapy.
· Practice-based: The GRM program was exclusively developed by grievers FOR grievers based on over 40 years of firsthand experience. The program has been implemented across the globe in 22 unique countries and translated in more than 20 different languages.
· Evidence-based: The GRM program has been shown to effectively influence components of grief and grief recovery through data that has been collected and analyzed from phases 1-3 of the program research project. The components of grief and grief recovery that the program has been shown to effectively influence are grievers knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of grief recovery.
1. Nolan R, Hallam J. The Grief Recovery Method® Instrument: Development and validation for construct validity of the treatment [dissertation]. Kent: Kent State University; 2018. Publicly available online at Google Scholar or if you have institutional access, please visit https://www.ohiolink.edu/.
2. Nolan RD, Hallam JS. Measurement Development and Validation for Construct Validity of the Treatment: The Grief Recovery Method® Instrument (GRM-I). Am J Health Educ. 2019; 1:e1-14. doi:10.1080/19325037.2019.1571962.
3. Nolan RD, Hallam JS. Construct Validation of the Theory of Grief Recovery (TOGR): A new paradigm towards our understanding of grief and loss. Am J Health Educ. 2019; 1:e1-12. doi:10.1080/19325037.2019.1571964.
If you found this article to be helpful, I also suggest these articles:
Three Veterans on How The Grief Recovery Method Helped Them
Veterans Day: Remembering and Honoring All Who Served
Donald Verner, MDiv, BCC
I look forward to sharing insights from this free book with Veterans I work with as a Clinical Chaplain.
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