Listen to the #morningswithmoni podcast episode featuring Dr. Erika Austin here.
After losing her first husband to cancer at age 26 and then going through a divorce at age 32, Dr. Erika Austin was devastated.
Her whole world felt like it was crumbling right before her eyes.
But through her grief, Erika learned how to find solace and evolve into the woman she is today.
She learned how to channel that grief and embrace the memories of loved ones that have passed on, but still remain in our hearts. Erika learned that she could still continue to live the life she wanted without feeling weighed down by guilt or grief.
Raised by a single mother, Erika has always felt deeply connected to others. Her empathy and compassion inspired her to pursue a career as a transformational coach specializing in helping women facing grief and trauma.
“Grief, heartache and fear became my gateway to find a new path for my life. I used to think I couldn’t have it all. I thought I would stay stuck in my anxiety and uncertainty about the future,” said Erika, a certified transformational coach based in San Diego, CA.
Today, Erika has used some of her own personal coaching tools to find balance in her life and help others move from “grief to gratitude and grace.”
“I used to settle for being a victim and feeling broken. Then I realized that was crap and that I was worthy of having what lived in my heart. I now know we all deserve this.”
Erika was inspired to become a transformational coach after finding out that her first husband was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic melanoma.
After healing herself by reaching out for support and integrating back to life after the loss of her first husband, Erika decided to teach a “Sociology of Death” class to thousands of students.
“This class helped to plant the seeds of helping people live life to the fullest. Facing the death of someone I loved taught me that we need to make the most of this life,” said Erika.
Erika felt called to help individuals that were stuck in grief navigating their journey. She felt a connection to other women going through grief because of her own personal connection toward grief and loss. She felt she could share some of the tools she learned on her own journey with others.
“It is an honor to help women get through a time I understand. I learned grief can be a doorway to profound healing and transformation.”
Erika acknowledges that everyone’s grief journey is very personal, and that while we all go through pain when losing a loved one, we have the choice of either staying in suffering or “finding meaning and purpose in the pain.”
“I chose meaning and connection, which is why I am passionate to share this with others. We have to go through incredible loss and still have an incredible life. When we get the right support, this is possible.”
Talking About Death and Dying
Erika notes that while death is still a terrifying and taboo topic in our society, one of the ways to get rid of our fear of death is to simply accept it more.
“I believe that it would best serve us to see death in a more positive light. Death is really about life. If you think about it, [it’s] a constant reminder to make the most of the time we have.”
Erika adds that we often fear having honest conversations about death and may even fear aging or growing older. Instead, we should embrace it and celebrate the natural order of life, she explained.
“In some cultures, death is nothing to be afraid of. For example, Latin American holiday of Dia De Los Muertos is well known for how it makes death something to be celebrated, and the dead are not to be mourned, but remembered with joy. Among Hyolmo Buddhists in Nepal, relatives elaborately assist in the dying person and openly talk about it and embrace what it is. There is a preparation for death and an acceptance about it.”
As with any loss, there is an important grief process that we must go through in order to begin the healing process, says Erika.
There are different stages of grief that many people experience.
In the beginning of our grief, an individual may experience panic or denial of the situation coupled with significant anxiety or concerns about finances or general anxiety. Sadness and depression can also be present with grief.
“The last stage that people talk about is acceptance in which you incorporate the losses. You’re not the same person you were before, and you have incorporated these losses in a way that allows you to keep moving forward in your life. A new sixth state is to find meaning via the loss–this is where magic and profound transformations take place.”
Erika shares that when we often talk about grief stages, we tend to think of them in chronological order. The truth is, grief is not a linear process.
“You don’t necessarily go through the stages in order, get to the end, and then you’re done. Grief is this windy road sometimes. Two steps forward, one step back. You may even skip some of the stages. You may get stuck for a little while in one of them.”
One of the most important lessons that Erika instills in her clients is that we all need time to go through the grief process, as uncomfortable as it may seem.
“People get stuck when they try to find ways to avoid it. When they are not addressing it in a direct way and getting the support they need to get through the process.”
Erika adds that whatever you are feeling during this grief process is normal, valid, and understandable. They are your own feelings that you’re allowed to feel.
“What’s essential is that you find ways to manage all the different emotions so that they don’t get in the way of continuing to take steps forward and making sound decisions in this process.”
From Grief to Gratitude to Grace
Before Erika became a life and transformational coach, she held several different roles as a university professor and middle school and high school director.
“I blend my doctoral training with my experience as a professor and high school principal, combined with my intuitive and empathic nature to support women navigating life transitions.”
With a PhD in Sociology and a BA in Psychology, Erika helps women look at where they are right now, and where they want to be in the future.
As a transformational coach, her mission is to help clients work through their grief blocks or transition periods. She aims to guide clients to find clarity, healing, and expansion in their lives.
Of all the careers she’s had, coaching has been one of her favorite and most fulfilling chapters of her life.
“I have had the opportunity to serve others going through loss by providing the guidance, support, and resources I wished I would have had.”
Erika enjoys working with women because she’s able to help them navigate tragedies and catastrophic life events, such as the death of a loved one, a significant breakup, or a major life transition. She follows her own coaching mantra which consists of going from “grief to gratitude to grace.”
“Hope and healing can occur when you give yourself the time to go through the process and come out on the other side more whole and more connected. Together we go from grief to gratitude to grace and greatness.”
In order to achieve these steps, Erika focuses on helping her clients learn how to face the loss and then set forth on a journey into deep healing.
“From there, we learn how to connect to ourselves and back to life via gratitude and in the grace phase, we connect to a higher purpose, to meaning and to our loved ones if there has been a death. It is a beautiful and empowering transformation that I am honored to hold space for.”
As a certified transformational coach, Erika is grateful for the opportunity to help women that are navigating loss feel less overwhelmed, more confident, and able to make best choices for themselves and their family.
“It is wonderful to be able to pay support forward.”
Something that Erika wishes she had practiced when she was going through the beginning stages of her grief was learning to be more gentle with herself and not afraid of seeking support when needed.
“I wish I would not have run from the pain. It was only when I faced it head-on when my own transformation began.”
Grieving the Life We Once Knew During Covid-19
With many of us feeling the impacts of Covid-19, Erika believes we’re all collectively grieving something, in some way. This could be the loss of a loved one, or grieving the life we once knew.
“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. The loss of normalcy; this is hitting us and we’re grieving,” says Erika.
But in addition to the grieving, we’re also feeling a tremendous amount of anticipatory grief, which Erika defines as the feeling we get when the future is filled with uncertainty.
“With a virus, racial injustice and important political elections, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety on both the individual and collective level.”
One of the ways to cope with this new grief is to practice mindfulness, says Erika.
“It helps to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how healing this can be.”
If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or have anticipatory anxiety, Erika recommends doing this simple exercise:
“You can name five things in the room. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. At this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You’re healthy. Use your senses and think about what they feel to bring you into this moment. You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. And control what you can, what you watch, who you spend time with, what you let into your life.”
While many people are processing this grief differently, it’s also a time to be as kind and patient with ourselves and others.
“Know we are all doing our best. Do what brings you joy right now and spill that joy into the world—we need it.”
-Written by Monica Luhar, founder of mornings with moni
-Dr. Erika Austin will be launching a “Hope and Healing Summit” on Oct. 19. The summit will feature experts that have studied and experienced loss.
-Stay tuned for the Mornings with Moni podcast episode featuring Dr. Erika Austin. Episode will be available by October 12.