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How you become the person that knows what to say – facing adversity, grief and crisis

I decided to go for a walk today. In my headphones, the podcast ‘On Being’ where the host was interviewing Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, and Adam Grant, professor of psychology.They talked about Sheryl’s loss of her husband Dave and how that triggered the creations of their book and non-profit organization ‘Option B’. Tears were streaming down my face as I was listening to the interview (leaving the people I passed on the way looking very puzzled indeed), having experienced a lot of what they were talking about first hand after losing my first daughter Ingrid.


I work with disaster on a daily basis, as I have the honour of being invited to the most painful parts of peoples lives, be it a heart ripping divorce or separation; the loss of a job and with it, financial safety and loss of identity; a devastating medical diagnosis; crushed hopes and dreams; fears of failure; or carrying stories of guilt and shame that consumes your energy and robs you of joy.


It is, in my humble opinion, the most soul baring and brave act a person can engage in, to open up about their grief, loss and sense of feeling completely lost. The willingness to heal from disaster and devastation; to start building resilience muscles; to find a new “normal”; and to aim for post-traumatic growth instead of post-traumatic stress is indeed an act of bravery. But, as with everything in life, a little help from a friend will make this journey a lot easier.

Adversity, grief and loss come with the package of being human, and if you want to engage in relationships with people you most certainly will bump into someone going though a life crisis at some point. Yet we live in a society that doesn’t want to talk about adversity. When disaster strikes, it often leads to a whole host of everyday awkward moments, leaving the affected person feeling even more isolated and weird; or as Sheryl pointed out in the interview “I felt like a ghost (that everyone avoided).”


Often when we meet a co-worker, a neighbour or a friend that has gone though something devastating, it’s like they are being followed by a big elephant that no one wants to address. Rather than being the “idiot” that said the “wrong thing”, many of us opt for the far less scary option of saying nothing.


So how do you become the person who knows what to say and do? 


Here are a few things to think about:


  • Realise and acknowledge how dramatically their life has changed. There won’t be a “going back to normal”, there will only be a “building a new normal, or finding Option B.”


  • Your friend might not be able to focus completely on work or anything else for a long time, so don’t expect them to jump right back up and behave like they always used to behave before the crisis hit them. Instead, try to evaluate how much he/she is able to handle and offer to share the workload.


  • Stop and ask how they are doing, as in “How are you feeling today? Know that I’m here to listen.”, and then really live up to that promise even if it is uncomfortable!


  • Meet up for a coffee break or go out for lunch. Don’t avoid them just because you feel uncomfortable.


  • Ask him/her what they need right now. Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, cooking, helping out with the kids, make sure that bills are being paid and appointments are being kept or re-scheduled.


  • Offer your support and concern. There are no magic words, but at least say something like “I’m so sorry for your loss.”, “I know you must be suffering right now, I’m here for you.” or at least “I have no idea what to say.”


  • Not everyone wants to talk about private matters at work or at the schoolyard, so respect their privacy if they don’t want to talk, but make sure they know that you are there for them should they want to talk.


  • If the person has lost a loved one, talk about the memories and mention the name of the person or animal that died. You don’t have to be scared of thinking that you might remind them of their loss. They are acutely aware of it, all the time.


  • Caring co-workers, neighbours, and friends can be a significant source of support and healing to a person going though a life crisis. Don’t downplay your your actions or think that what you say or do won’t matter as you “aren’t that close”. It might well be that what you are able to provide might be a hugely important part in the affected persons life and and play a role in their ability to heal. If a person feels acknowledged in their pain, suffering and grief, they will have a much better chance of emotional healing sooner.


  • Remember that the person’s life will be changed FOREVER, not just the first couple of months. There is no time limit on grief.


  • Be yourself and keep the relationship you had with the person before the life crisis occurred. There is nothing more devastating than when friends, neighbours or co-workers “disappear” or avoid you after a significant crisis.


Also, make sure you listen to the podcast I was mentioning in the beginning:


Don’t wait for a life crisis to hit in your own life before you know how to be there for others, like I did.

How to use EFT tapping with children

My soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter had decided that it would be a fabulous idea to grab one of the bed mattresses and use it a sledge to speed down the stairs. Instead of gracefully sliding down, she was flung off the mattress mid-way down and crash-landed at the bottom of the stairs, screaming from shock and pain. Both her elbows and knees were badly bruised and she had a small cut on her hip.

The number one First Aid in our household is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), or Tapping, a fabulous technique I picked up as I was searching for something that would resolve trauma and grief in my work as a Grief Recovery Specialist. Little did I know how useful it would be in my own life!

I sat with my daughter on the stairs, gently EFT tapping the top of my daughter’s head and on her chest (two of the official eight tapping points, more on that later), while she tearfully told me the whole story of what happened. We sat like that for a few minutes, talking, tapping and hugging. Then all of a sudden she looked up at me and said, “Thanks Mum, now I feel a lot better!” and rushed off.

In pre-EFT times, a drama like that would have kept going for up to an hour or more. EFT also comes in handy when my kids are worried or upset about something, sad about what someone has said or done in school, upset with Mummy or Daddy, or too restless to fall asleep.

We use EFT for working on the emotions of the parents as well! We have found that it is fantastic for calming down an angry Mummy! There are occasions when “normal” Mum has been replaced by a screaming, slightly hysterical lunatic (I hate to admit it, but this happens to me every now and then), and tapping comes to the rescue! It is so ingrained in my kids that they actually just look at me and say calmly, “Mum, why don’t you go tap for a while?” Clever kids!


So what does EFT actually do?

Emotional Freedom Techniques is a type of meridian tapping that combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology with startling results. You could say that it’s like acupuncture without the needles.

Simply explained, EFT helps the body’s stress response (fight-or-flight response) to stop, and it re-balances the emotional and hormonal states in the body. You only need to try it out for a couple of minutes and you will notice how the body relaxes. Why don’t you give it a go right now?

Start by thinking about something that recently upset you, notice the feelings in your body and give the level of frustration/anger/sadness a number on a scale from zero to 10. Write the number down on a piece of paper.

Then start tapping lightly on the side of your hand known as the karate chop point (see diagram below), and breathe. Just tap, breathe, and notice what happens in your body as you are thinking about the situation or issue you chose. It could be anything from physical pain, irritation, frustration, sadness, worry or the feeling of not being in control over a life situation. Continue tapping seven or eight times on each point as seen on the below picture. The tapping pressure is the same as if you would “drum” your fingers on a flat surface.


Do two rounds of tapping, then go back and focus on the situation or issue again and give it a number again. How upsetting does it make you to think about it now? Has it gone up or down? If it has gone up, continue tapping for a few more rounds until you feel more relaxed.

Remember to focus on the negative feeling – that’s the point of it all, even if it feels really odd. We have been trained to only think positively, repressing and pushing all the “bad feelings” further and further down.

We pass this “coping strategy” on to our children as they mirror how we, the parents, handle our emotions. My belief is that children learn from what they see and not from what they are told. I always start by teaching EFT tapping to the parents so they have access to the tool and start using it in their everyday lives. I recommend tapping on the top of the head and collarbone points as they are easily accessible and give a soothing effect immediately.

Let’s use an example from my own life again. I was out on the balcony emptying a huge flowerpot, which slipped out of my hands and onto my big toe. I was barefoot, so it felt like I had broken my toe! My first reaction was to get to the sofa, put my foot high and start tapping, crying and cursing (a lot). My daughter came to the rescue, putting a little band aid on it, bless her!  I kept tapping for about 15 minutes, as that was all the time I could allow myself to lie down. I was alone with two kids at home, one due for dance class in less than an hour. Even as a certified EFT practitioner, I must admit that I was very sceptical whether EFT would indeed heal a badly bruised toe. I mean, surely not! Well, 30 minutes later I was on my kick-bike heading for dance class with NO PAIN in my toe.  And it stayed pain free. To this day I refer to that event whenever one of my kids gets hurt and refuses EFT as a first aid treatment. They then immediately ask me to start tapping!

Here is what Gary Craig, the founder of EFT, says on the topic of EFT for children:

As the child tells the story s/he is clearly “tuned into” the problem. Thus tapping on the EFT points is likely to resolve the issues or, at the very least, lighten their impacts on the child.

This is critical for children because they are constantly picking up “stuff” from parents, teachers, peers, television and so on. These inputs go on daily and accumulate over the years to fill what we adults often call our “emotional garbage bags.” If these inputs go unresolved, of course, they form unnecessary “limits” and thwart the attainment of our true potentials. These unnecessary fears, guilts, griefs and traumas often have a thunderous effect on our “adult realities” and cost us dearly in both our personal peace and our pocketbooks…. (Gary Craig,

By Karin Hagelin Andersson

Karin Andersson Hagelin is a trained EFT Tapping practitioner & Grief Recovery Specialist®, running her coaching practice via Skype or in person . She is of Swedish origin but has been living in Zürich since 2005. To find out more, like her on Facebook or visit her website

This article was originally featured in Mothering Matters, February 2015




My own story about deep grief and profound healing.

It feels like I’ve got two lives, the one before getting married in September 2005 and one after. My first life included working and studying abroad and starting a career in the hotel business based in Stockholm, Sweden.

IMG_5696My first major loss took place in September 2001, when my father passed away after a long battle with cancer. I felt so lost and disoriented without him, and it took me more than two years to get back to a reasonable state of health again. That is when I was introduced to the Greif Recovery Method for the first time, and I ended up buying the book. I’m sure I read it, but I didn’t have the energy to work though the method on my own. Nor did I have the courage to find myself a partner to work with, so the book ended up in my bookshelf.

In 2005 I got married and left Stockholm to join my Swedish husband in Zurich. As I had lived abroad before I didn’t think it was that dramatic, but this time it was for an unlimited time I moved away form my friends and family. Our first daughter Ingrid was born in September 2006, one day after our first wedding anniversary, and we fell in love with her immediately. All of a sudden we are responsible for this little human being, for life!

As we went for Ingrid’s 2-month check up the doctor was concerned about her lack of leg movement, so she sent us off to the Children’s Hospital here in Zurich for further tests. On the 16th of December 2006 we got the diagnosis, Spinal Muscle Atrophy type 1, a very rare genetic disease with a life expectancy of approximately eight months. Our hearts smashes to tiny little pieces and our lives would never be the same again. There is no way you can prepare yourself for a moment like that, to hear that your 3 month old baby has got a terminal illness and is going to die. I just wanted to scream and never stop screaming!

ängel Ingrid och mammaWe had our first battle with SMA already two weeks after getting the diagnosis, when Ingrid caught a bad cold and one of her lungs collapsed. She fought death off that time, as she would on several occasions after that.

We had the most amazing care team from Kinderspitex in Zurich, which gave us the chance to care for Ingrid at home. To be able to live life as normal as possible in the comfort of our own home was such a big help for us. I’m convinced that it prolonged Ingrid’s life and definitely ensured the optimal quality of life as a family. Ingrid passed away peacefully at home in May of 2007, almost 8 months old.

After we had lost Ingrid it dawned on me how little help there was for us as parents. We had received excellent medical care for our child, but after she was gone and all the medical equipment had been collected we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. We now had to arrange all the practical details like organizing the funeral, order a tombstone and arrange all documents to be able to fly back to Sweden with an urn. Having to deal with all of this while in a state of chock and grief was daunting, and I have never felt so alone, isolated and lost in my whole life. There was no real list of support options presented to us, so on top of everything else I had to muster the energy to look for help myself.

Immediately after Ingrid’s passing I signed myself up as support parent at the Children’s hospital as well as with the palliative home care team (Kinderspitex) here in Zürich. At least I would be able to give other parents with SMA babies a chance to contact a fellow parent. But what about all the other people being stuck in loss and grief for various reasons? How could I be there for fellow expats experiencing loss and grief? How could I assist people living far away form their natural support system of family, friends, native language and familiarity?

That’s when the Grief Recovery Handbook mysteriously nudged itself out of its dusty existence in my bookshelf. I decided to do the certification to become a Grief Recovery Specialist to be able to offer this support, not only to fellow SMA parents, but also to other people experiencing loss.

-214Today I work with my passion to help others getting unstuck from their unresolved grief, feel less alone and isolated and have someone listening to their story. I wake up every day feeling so blessed to be able to do this kind of work, and that Ingrid taught me so much about life, death and all the things in between.

With love, Karin