Sunday, June 23, 2019

Kris Francoeur on Grief, Garlic and Gratitude and Returning to Hope and Joy from a Shattered Life - Sam's Love Story

In this interview, Kris Francoeur (a.k.a. Anna Belle Rose) talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude: Returning to Hope and Joy from a Shattered Life - Sam’s Love Story.

“Remember the person that you’ve lost, remember what it was that they loved most, and find a way to celebrate that.” ~Kris Francoeur

Kris began writing the material for her book within days of the death of her son, Sam, by posting things online which she was grateful for, as these enabled “the darkness of the grief” to lift somewhat. It was after writing this for a few months that people began saying that her posts on gratitude were resonating with them and helping them look at their own lives. She also received suggestions about her putting these into a book, but it still took around two years before she finally decided to do so.

According to Kris, Sam was a “beacon of light and love,” something which she only fully realized after his death, when Sam’s friends and acquaintances, who had met Sam at some point in their lives, would come over and commiserate with the family. As a child, Sam would want to talk to complete strangers, and even later on, when he struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction, he would see everyone as “worthy of love” and would talk to total strangers. Sam, Kris notes, was “such a character and had such energy” that, after he died, she felt a “gaping hole” with his loss.

Sam began smoking marijuana at the age of 14, initially recreationally, but he soon found that marijuana enabled him to control the extremes of his bipolar disorder condition. This, however, became an outright addiction to prescription drugs and opiates. Kris remarks that Vermont had “absolutely been destroyed” by the opioid epidemic, as the state is a transit area for drugs, to the point where Rolling Stone magazine did a cover story on the issue, and while this issue is endlessly brought up in school, Kris notes that teenagers don’t necessarily listen to what adults say.

Kris notes that the grief she and her family experienced after Sam’s death was different from the kind of grief they had experienced before. She also remarks that grief is a process and that, as a psychologist, she thought she knew what the stages were, in the order she had learned them. She found, however, that the stages of grief are different for parents who lose children compared to when children lose parents or a friend losing a friend, noting that she never experienced anger, at least as of the time of this interview.

(The stages of grief, according to Kubler-Ross, are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, in that order.)

Kris remarks that, at present, the sadness she feels from Sam’s loss is akin to a callous on one’s foot, in that she has learned to “walk with it.” One of the hardest lessons she had to learn was that she would always miss Sam for the rest of her life, remarking that, at Sam’s service, a woman whom she had known for forty years, and whose son had also died of an opioid overdose some fifteen years previously, hugged her and told her that “it doesn’t get better; it gets different.” The woman’s remark initially angered Kris, but Kris realized that the woman was telling her the truth. For Kris, learning to live with Sam’s death is a part of her life.

Kris acknowledges that her family isn’t religious and also didn’t want to travel such paths as drinking or taking medication or illegal drugs. Each member of the family went through grief in their own ways, and what was consistent for all of them was being with nature as much as possible, to “do a Sam” by holding true to the things that Sam loved, such as listening to music, being outdoors and being with people. The latter posed a bit of a challenge for Kris and her husband, as they are introverts, but they did so anyway, reaching out to people they didn’t know in the same way Sam used to.

Kris notes that it is easy to think that “everything is bad” whenever something bad - such as the loss of a job or an accident - happens, which colors everything that one then sees and would complain about. Kris admits that it was easy to view the world through this filter after Sam’s death, and she used to recognize, every day, the wonderful gifts that she had received, and then post online the things that she was grateful for. This helped her out greatly, particularly during the first year after Sam’s death, as she would feel peace and love - something that helped her realize that the world wasn’t the horrible place that she could so easily see it to be. Kris points out that, as she has traveled the path of “conscious and deliberate gratitude,” she has learned that being grateful for at least 30 days changes the brain’s chemistry, and can even show as much benefit as antidepressants. She remarks that her heart rate, when she writes about things she is grateful for, is the same as that when she meditates.

Community does play a part in dealing with grief, according to Kris, and she points out that this isn’t commonly the case with other families who have suffered the loss of a member who died from an opioid overdose, as the most common reaction is that other people don’t want to hear about it. Kris admits that the outlook of what Sam’s friends had on such things as energy, life, death and the universe were beyond what hers was, and that they “wrapped around” Kris and her family, showing them how much, to this day, they love Sam and his family. This openness, acceptance and acknowledgement of grief is also what enables Kris and her family to come to terms with grief and manage it in their lives.

To those who are grieving, Kris advises that everyone grieves differently, and so long as one doesn’t harm oneself, the way one grieves isn’t wrong. She also advises that those in grief record their stories, as doing so is a good way to learn about oneself.

Purchase from Amazon: Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude: Returning to Hope and Joy from a Shattered Life?Sam’s Love Story by Kris Francoeur

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