Podcast Description

When we experience grief, it’s easy to get down on ourselves, feel guilty and have regrets, be angry with God and so much more. With so much weighing on you, your loss, helplessness and sadness, how can you possibly maintain a growth mindset?

In this interview we tackle how to maintain a growth mindset despite these challenges, leveraging the wisdom and insight of Dr. Nicole Bradford, author of 1 Step at a Time, and creator of the Maintain the Flame framework.

We discuss eight specific things you can do today to help with your own grieving process and grief journey, and ways to overcome the lies, labels and limitations that just might be holding you back.

Interview Highlights

Nicole  16:25  Well, I would say that number one in getting unstuck may seem counterintuitive, but you have to realize that where you are, is okay. You have to start somewhere….It is important to give yourself some grace, and make sure that you celebrate all accomplishments big or small. There were days whereI didn’t even want to get out of bed. But the fact that okay, I got up, I went in the kitchen, I got a drink of water, and I got back in the bed, I may have looked out the window, and that day that was a huge accomplishment. 

Nicole  20:26   Gratitude will carry you through. You have to be proud of the little things and the big things that have taken you, or brought you to this point.  

Nicole  29:53  You have to give yourself some time and some grace and especially, and I know when it first happens, you think “this will never end”, and that “I’ll never get back to myself”. But that’s why gratitude makes a huge difference. Gratitude can pull you out, when you’re stuck. If you just find the silver lining with gratitude, there’s always a silver lining in a situation, and it’s there to keep you moving. 

Nicole   31:23  My faith has gone up and down. My surrender, it’s a work in progress. I’m very honest about that. But I know that God loves me, and he knows what’s best for me.

Tom  33:57  Helplessness really drives a lot of the grief and the trauma because you do feel helpless when you want to be in control of something you can never control, that is so fragile. You do ask “Why” as a result. And sometimes you’re angry at what happens. But if you realize that, it’s just life, and I’m not in control, and he’s got a bigger, better story. And you embrace that. 

Nicole  36:24  When you think of Lies, Labels and Limitations, these are some of the lies, the negativity or labels that have been placed on us by others, and these then can limit our growth and limit our progress. 

Nicole  39:51  Know that you have the strength to persevere. No matter what. There will be dark moments, and it will be difficult at times, but just believe. Hold on to that faith. And a brighter day is coming. One step at a time. Give yourself some grace. Love yourself. Forgive yourself, and know that you’re still here for a reason.

Thomas Pisello 0:02  

My guest today is Dr. Nicole D Bradford. She’s a first generation college graduate. And she began her career working with disenfranchised youth and setting up programs to ensure their success. Dr. Bradford, she’s worked as a professor, Vice President of Student Services, a teacher, assistant principal, campus principal. 

In her own life, she’s overcome several significant challenges and losses, and is turning these lessons of the challenges into growth into a mantra. And we’re gonna go over that mantra today. 

And she’s also turned that and captured it into a book. 1 Step Is All It Takes a 30 day Journal of inventory, accountability, and something we could all use from time to time attitude adjustment. Welcome, Dr. Bradford.

Dr. Nicole D Bradford  1:20  

Hey, thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I’m very excited to be here.

Tom 1:25  

So the first thing I want to do is, and I know this can be difficult to share, your own experience, about  your own journey with grief. Tell us a little about that.

Nicole  1:35  

Well, I’ve recently experienced grief, it started for me in 2018. It just seemed like my family kind of went through a very, very rough patch. I am the youngest of six kids, my parents had five girls and one boy. 

So at the beginning of 2018, I lost my uncle, who was very, very close to me, from my mother’s side of the family. He passed away through cancer. 

Shortly after that, my sister number five was 48 years old, planning her 50th birthday party, and had just retired from the state of Texas. And out of the blue had a horrible, horrible car accident. And so that’s two in 2018. 

Then in 2019, I brought my parents to the DFW area to live with me. And I lost my Dad in 2021, June. He had been fighting with lots of strokes, and he had aphasia and a feeding tube. 

And then just recently, in April, I lost my mother. She had Parkinson’s disease and dementia. 

And so those are four huge, important people in my life with losses that started in 2018. And since that time, we really haven’t caught a break. And so it’s been very difficult now, because you know, losing your parents, I know a lot of people say that that’s a circle of life. But when you’re a child, especially the youngest of six kids, I feel like I was a bird that had the ability to fly, but my wings were clipped. And the two individuals that were my advocates and my strength, that believed in me so much to accomplish the great things that you talked about, they are no longer here, to be in that crowd or to give me words of encouragement. And so, just finding the strength to push through is something that I’ve been focusing on daily.

Tom  3:48  

Nicole, I do want to say I’m so sorry for those losses. When they pile up like that it’s compound grief, right? It’s not just one, but it’s one, then another, then another. And I know for me, I experienced something really similar. I lost my Dad in April. And then six months later lost my wife, all in that same year – 2017. And for me, too. It seems like every couple of years, there’s been someone significant. My brother recently, who was very similar to your sister, only 50 years old, and a younger business partner a year ago from COVID. 

It’s almost like you get done processing one, or you even haven’t even in some cases started processing one, before you have another big loss to deal with.

Nicole  4:28  

Yes, and that was a difficult part with my parents. Because number one, watching them decline. That’s very, very difficult because you see these two individuals, they were pillars of strength. They would never ask anyone for anything. And they come from very humble beginnings. And from this, to seeing my Mom just barely able to stand up and having to take her to the restroom and to bathe her, and the same things for my Dad. It was difficult for them because at times my Mom would say you know, Nicole I hate to have you seen me this way. 

But they passed away within 10 months of each other because as soon as we buried my Dad, I brought her home to my home. She went into her room, and immediately she was like, Nicole, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. And I was like, Mom, you’re, you’re fine. They had been together since she was 14 years old. And so she said, I need to go to the hospital, I took her to the hospital. And instantly, she could no longer walk, use the restroom on our own. It hit her, suddenly, I think on the ride back from Austin, she realized, where’s my mate? Where’s my husband. And so she would go in and out of dementia. And that was very hard for me because I lost two parents in 10 months, and they had been married 61 years.

Tom  5:54  

What a blessing though that they had each other for so long, and you who cared for them. That is truly a blessing. 

The losses that you’ve had, and just your life experience, which I loved reading your story and the struggles and also the amazing accomplishments that you have had. They inspired you for your mission and purpose. Talk about what that mission and purpose is.

Nicole  6:22  

Well, I started writing the book: “1 Step Is All It Takes” in 2018 when I lost my sister, and I just thought about her life. She was in the middle of planning her 50th birthday party, and she was full of life. And she had all these things she wanted to do. And she had just retired that young. And it had only been a couple of months. 

So I began to reflect on when we were younger, we had this zest for life, we were so excited. And we didn’t care what people thought. We’d listen to Michael Jackson or Cyndi Lauper. And we were just living life. 

And then we start transitioning into the adult world. So then we have all of these expectations,  whether it’s coming from our families, or our relationships that we’re in. It may even come from in-laws, because you know, we want this holiday, and we need you to be this type of daughter in-law. 

Those are some of the road bumps I encountered and then going into the workforce, because you have expectations from your supervisor and those around you. So we tend to start to conform, and the flame that we once had for life begins to flicker. Sometimes the light,  it gets dim because we suppress it depending on who we’re around. And so it just made me think about maintaining the flame, so that you can have the life that you want. You can live an audacious, authentic life before it’s too late.

Tom  7:50  

Now, the Maintain part of it, that is an acronym. And I really love it because I think this is going to be so powerful, because many of us certainly, through the grieving process and as you went as well through the caretaking process, how do you maintain the flame?  For me and my process, my zest for life was gone. I completely lost my mojo. I completely lost confidence, I was as many men who are going through this process of losing their wife, it is our job to protect our spouse as men, going back to that kind of traditional role. And we feel like we’ve just lost the biggest battle, the biggest fight of our lives along with our spouse losing their life. 

Talk about what each one of the letters mean, in order in your Maintain the Flame framework. Start with “M”. Shifting your Mindset.

Nicole  8:43  

Shift your Mindset 

Yes.  It’s important for us to first, with M, to Shift our Mindset when we’re dealing with grief. Especially for me, as you talked about some of the challenges that you had. From time to time, I revisit thinking, even though my mother was 78 and my dad was older than that, there was more I could have done? Or did I miss a sign when he started to stutter, before he lost his speech? Should I have made sure that he was in speech classes, or should I have had rehab working with my Mom a little bit more. 

It’s always on your mind that you could have done more, but everyone has a birth date and an end date and it’s already decided for us. And so when you’re talking about your mindset, you have to let the negative mindset go. And whenever a negative comment comes in my mind or a negative thought comes in, even by people that are around me. 

I was the youngest in my family. Everyone’s used to when you are sick, go to the hospital. That’s easy. It’s a no brainer. Well, I had been to the hospital with both of my parents over and over again. And I chose hospice, one of the hardest decisions in the world, and having to be the person to sign the DNR and things of that nature. But I had to take my mindset and say, “Nicole, those negative things that people are saying to you, and those negative thoughts that you’re putting on yourself, you’re gonna have to replace it with the positive thoughts”, Thoughts like: “Thank God, you were there, thank God that they had someone that they could depend on, and  thank God that you didn’t turn your back on them”. 

And so that helps to keep me encouraged because you have to replace the negative with the positive. And sometimes I’m great at it. And, other days, that’s just a battle that I lose. But it’s a practice and the more that you practice it, the better you become. 

Taking Action

And then A is Taking Action. You have to set up set steps for yourself. So for me, I wanted to get into grief counseling, I wanted to get into group counseling, because it was good for me to hear perspectives from other individuals. We may have lost different people in our family. But loss hurts no matter where it is, or, or who it is. It hurts, and it hurts deep. And so you should take those action steps, but also give yourself some grace. Because there were times that I went to group counseling. And I’d stay the whole time, and I may go two weeks in a row. But there are weeks that I’m like, I just can’t go in there right now. I feel horrible. And I’m too sad, or I just sit outside in the parking lot and I cry.

But take action, so that you can reclaim your life and move forward. You will never forget them. And you shouldn’t. So you will keep their dream alive in your heart and knowing that they’re still with you, rooting you on. 

Being Intentional

And then the next one is I and being Intentional. You must be intentional during this time. So seek out others that are in a similar situation or, talk to a friend or someone that can be positive, Be positive, and build those intentional relationships that can sustain you during this time. 

Take Time to Nurture Yourself

And then there is “N”, Take Time to Nurture Yourself. This is something I had a very hard time doing. Because, even though you know I’m the last last child, number six, it was very difficult because when I was doing the caretaking part, I was so exhausted, I just wanted to go to sleep for 10 minutes. But I felt guilty if I did that. 

And towards the end of before my parents passed away. When they were in my home. I had family members who would say to me, “you know you haven’t slept in days, you need to go take a break”. And I felt like I didn’t want to miss anything. I needed to be here for them, I needed for her, my Mom, to know that I was here until she took her last breath. 

So in the midst of the caretaking effort, you have to nurture yourself and love yourself. And congratulate yourself for being strong enough to walk through this journey with them. Because if they could, they would thank you a million times over. 

Everyone thinks we never have enough time, but live in the moment. And when you were there, reflect on those moments that you had with them, the times that you were able to have with them. And then even when you see yourself or catch yourself crying, I always hear the voice of my parents. “Get up. Come on, you know what I expect Nicole? You know what you’re supposed to be doing?”. And I’m like, “huh, really”, but know that they’re with you. In those moments, what would they say to you during that time? In that moment, think about the jokes that they used to say.  That’s how you keep their legacy and their memory alive within your heart. 

Yes, it is a loss and it does hurt. But think about the positive and the great times that you had with your loved one. 

Be Authentic

And then there is A and Authentic. You have to be who you are. And people around you have to understand that there are no straight roads to success. There is no magic formula to grief. And you might hear people say “okay, well, it’s been two years now. Okay, you should be done”. No, no, it doesn’t end. 

So you just work with yourself, and you give yourself the grace, and you understand. You’re gonna have your highs, and you’re gonna have your lows. And just think about, in time that the pain may subside, but that hole will still remain in your heart because you’re no longer there for you. 

But make sure that you are authentic to yourself. First don’t try to meet the needs or the expectations of those around you. And then you must have integrity. Have integrity in everything that you’re doing, with the choices that you make, and the choices that you didn’t make. Be okay with it, and just know you did the best that you could with the information that you had at that time. 


And then the last one, it says non-negotiables, but I always say “no regrets”, we can’t leave here with regretting anything, you did a great job, you supported them, you love them. And even if there were arguments or disagreements in bad times, you know why that was because we’re human. No one’s perfect. And so no one has a perfect life. Give yourself some grace, knowing that you did a great job. But don’t regret the time and the energy that you had with this person and the energy and time that you put into it, because you did your very best and you move forward one day at a time.

Tom  15:37  

Now, Dr. Bradford, I want to dive into a few of these. 

With you so many widowers, they feel like they get stalled or I’ve heard them use the term stuck. And it’s not an outside-in view of being stalled, it’s more an inside-out view where they themselves feel like they should maybe be making more progress. And like you said, there’s no “ two years in and you should be healed”.  However, many get frustrated with their own seeming lack of progress from an internal judgment standpoint, and they’re in this loop of sadness, and worse, even depression. And maybe they’re even taking antidepressants, things like that. 

So right from the beginning, you talk about the “M”, Shifting your Mindset, but so many widowers have a hard time doing that, and they get stuck, talk about how to maybe get unstuck.

Nicole  16:25  

Well, I would say that number one in getting unstuck may seem counterintuitive, but you have to realize that where you are, is okay. You have to start somewhere. 

Even if you are on antidepressants, that’s a start. Because you’re taking action to get better and make sure that you’re not going to stay in this place. So you say “I’m going to take this because I need that support at that time”. 

It is important to give yourself some grace, and make sure that you celebrate all accomplishments big or small. There were days whereI didn’t even want to get out of bed. But the fact that okay, I got up, I went in the kitchen, I got a drink of water, and I got back in the bed, I may have looked out the window, and that day that was a huge accomplishment. 

No one knows your grief and your situation the way that you do. The more that you take those baby steps: maybe I’m gonna go get some fresh air. For the longest time, I didn’t want to leave these doors. Still , now to this day, my Mom’s room is still my Mom’s room, and it’s going on seven months. I’m not ready, and it’s okay. 

So you have to do things in moderation. But just know and speak life to your situation. I’m in a difficult situation, or I’m having a difficult time today. But I’m not going to stay here, and I’m going to set one little goal for myself today. I’m going to walk to the end of my driveway and come back in. I’m just going to get some fresh air. And that took time at the beginning for me. 

After I lost my Mom and made the arrangements for her funeral and everything. My oldest daughter was very, very concerned about me because I just wanted to go in my closet, lock the door and shut the world out. Just be. And I was there for maybe three or four hours. And so she was like, This is not normal. You know, you’re always full of energy, and you’re always all over everyone else and inspiring. And I’m not used to this Mom. And I just told her “it’s okay. I’m right now for that moment,

I myself, I felt stuck. And I was trying to figure out, I’m no longer a caregiver. I’m an empty nester. Now what. So I just needed to sit with the fact that I couldn’t get over, I’ll never see them again. But I had to remember, they’re still in my heart, I still have the memories. And this is temporary, Nicole, you’re only stuck for a little while. And you’re going to have your good and your bad.

Tom 19:05  

I think that grace, giving yourself that little bit of time, can really help to take the pressure off, you know, there is no timeline and this it will take some time, but it will get better over time. And I think that’s definitely where that little bit of grace can give you that little period where you’re not just beating yourself up in that loop of automatic negative thoughts. 

Nicole, you also mentioned small steps. And that was really important for me. The day after my wife passed. I never made the bed I think in our entire almost 20 years of being married, That morning I made the bed. This was that one small step of “she’s gone and I’ve got to do it for myself. She’s not going to be there to do this anymore”. 

And so it was a couple of those small little things, taking a walk and getting out in nature. Dragging myself up to the coffee shop, even though I was going to put my earbuds in and not interact or pay attention to anyone, but at least seeing some people would help. So some of those things, these little small steps, can have a big impact. 

And you mentioned something earlier that I really want to hit on that I think is important for Shifting your Mindset. And that’s one of gratitude, being thankful for what you have and for even the smallest achievements. . And I know that,you use  gratitude as a superpower. Talk about gratitude and the importance of gratitude to Shift your Mindset, and the whole MAINTAIN process.

Nicole  20:26  

Well, gratitude will carry you through. You have to be proud of the little things and the big things that have taken you, or brought you to this point.  I’m glad I was able to take my parents to the hospital. It took me going to those group sessions to realize that, because I didn’t feel like it was an accomplishment, instead I felt like that was my duty. I was their child, and that was something I was supposed to do. But so many were like, “No, you need to take time and be proud and be happy with what you did”. 

I’m just so all the time, a go-giver. And I’m thinking there’s more I could have done. But taking a step back, and reflecting on the comments and the feedback I receive made me think, “Yeah, you know, that is a good job, Nicole”, and it made me feel a little bit better about myself, because I was there to drive them to the doctor’s appointment, and I was there late at night when they were uncomfortable, and that those are precious memories that I will be able to keep for the remainder of my mind.

Tom 21:33  

And being grateful for what you still do have in your life like your children, even though you’ve That’s something perhaps that we take for granted, but they’re still there and having gratitude in that, gratitude for the friends that we have, and gratitude for that walk. I would take a walk in a local park most days. And I would try to look at things a little bit differently, and be grateful for the sun, and be grateful for the trees and the leaves, and be grateful for the water, and all of the absolute beauty around me, that prior I just wandered by every day without appreciation. So there can be gratitude and appreciation even in those little moments.

Nicole 22:11  

That’s huge that you say that, because it wasn’t until I lost both of my parents that I realized how many things I took for granted. And then I’m thinking, “Wow, you know, I can actually go and walk to the restroom. I can turn myself over in bed”. The very small things that we take for granted. I take time now to say, “Oh, thank you, Lord, I’m able to do this”, I can feed myself, and we take that for granted. Because it’s like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be able to breathe and walk around”. Yet, so many don’t have that same opportunity. And so being grateful where you are, the losses really helped me to reflect and count my blessings.

Tom 22:56  

The “N” and Nurture Yourself. That’s one where I know as men, we can sometimes have a hard time with that. And you mentioned you were finding a hard time as a caretaker, especially as you’re sacrificing a lot. And once they passed, we almost have to then say, “Okay, I’ve got to get to the doctor, maybe I was putting off the doctor for a couple of years. I’ve got to get the sleep, I’ve got to maybe start taking care of myself, after all of that giving that’s been going on”. But it’s not an easy shift for some to make. Talk about that a little bit.

Nicole  23:28  

Well, I think that’s a huge shift. And you’re definitely correct. I went to the doctor and she was like, “Nicole, I haven’t seen you in two years”. Unfortunately, I put myself on the bottom of the totem pole. My own appointments were not a priority. I needed to get them to their appointments. I needed to make sure that they were being taken care of. Essentially, we changed roles, and I became the parent, and Mom and Dad, those were my babies.

I needed to be there every moment, and that’s the same for widowers. You take that on as your responsibility. And you tend to then neglect yourself. And you have to get back to that self-care because at times I had to remind myself, especially with dementia, where she can’t sleep at night and she’s up all times of the night. You’ve got to rest when you can. So it’s just like when I had my babies. If she dozes off in front of that TV, you better sleep with one eye open for a little bit and then get back up and get back in the game because you know, you have to try to take care of yourself. 

Nurturing yourself is critical, especially as a caretaker or when you’re experiencing loss. Sitting in the hospital for days and days at a time with your loved one can drain anyone. 

Tom 24:53  

Perhaps now you’ve got grieving children to take care of. There’s other family members, and once you can get into that caretaker mode it’s all to often to continue it, 

I like to look at solving this challenges as “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you put on anyone else’s”. Now, at this point in time, the loss has occurred, and you now need to impart some self-care. Make sure you’re pivoting to eating the right things. Maybe look at your alcohol intake, which was something I had to honestly do and say ”Absolutely no more”. Look at your exercise, which you’ve probably been neglecting. And so you’ve got to get your health back, if you are going to become that new person that ultimately you need to become to take on that new role, a new responsibility you have with the family.

You also have a great one in here, and you mentioned it a couple of times, it is A where you must Be Authentic. That can be really hard for a widower because a lot of times through the process and even after the process, we put on masks. I had to go and put that business mask back on right, I had to put on that stoic mask with my children and my family that indicated to them all, “Okay, everything’s gonna be alright”.

But in putting that mask, you’re covering up a lot.  You’re covering up your own grief. And maybe you’re showing up with a mask on that is actually destructive and is not healthy. Like with my children, I put on such a stoic mask through the process. They didn’t think I was feeling the grief. until years later, when I started this mission of Growth through Grief. As a matter of fact, they started to read some of the articles, and that was the first time they really knew what I was feeling. I was so stoic and so busy through it, that a lot of times they didn’t see that loss and sadness manifested in me. From my projection, they rightfully thought I didn’t feel any of it, and doubted the love I had for their Mom.

Talk about the Authenticity and why it’s so important to put the real you out there, and get back to who you are. But also the challenge that who we are now wasn’t who we were just a short time ago, which I think makes it that much harder to then Be Authentic, because “what is authentic anymore?”. You’re not a caretaker anymore. You are not a husband any more.

Nicole   26:55  

I think when you say that, I am brought back to when I was younger, and my Dad lost his Mom. And of course, this man was Superman in my eyes. And I’ve never seen him cry, And the whole time, the funeral and everything. I’m like, What’s wrong with him? We’re all crying, we’re all so sad, and he’s just… 

And so, it was in the hallway of our home. It was like months later, and I was in my bedroom. And he went to turn the air conditioner down in the hallway and just lost it. He just broke down. And it’s because he kept suppressing it. Because he had to put on that strong face, he felt like: “I have to carry my family, it’s just death, I’ll get over it”. But deep inside, it was hurting him a lot. And he didn’t want to express that. So he had to truly take time for himself. I mean, he just ended up on the ground, just crying. We were like, the funeral was months ago. But he never dealt with that grief. And so I think in order for you to get back to, there will never be a normal, there’s no getting back to what’s normal, because I still don’t know what’s normal anymore, but the new normal… And I still look in the backseat ready to buckle her in her seat belt and she’s not there. You just have to take time to take care of yourself. Because if you don’t, and the more that you continue to put that off, it’s going to hurt you in the long run. So you have to give yourself that grace to transition during the process. And then you’re going to find you know, you’ll find your fit. Find what’s going to be your new normal, because it’s never going to be like it was before.

Tom  28:45  

And your new identity too. Because I think that’s something that goes particularly with a spouse and losing someone who was, in my case, a business partner as well as a life partner, mother to my two daughters who are about the same age as yours, 23 and 19. 

I was the business person who was going out and slaying the dragons and coming home and she was the business partner who kept the operation running and also held a lot of the traditional roles in the household, with the kids, and school … and I identified very much as a husband. In her passing, that role no longer existed. 

And so I think you struggle sometimes, not only do you put on these masks of the stoicism, and the busyness, where “hey, everything’s gonna be okay”, but then at the same time, if you take those masks off, there’s a vulnerability in that you don’t know who you are anymore. “I don’t know that identity. What is it? You know, I’m not a husband anymore. Okay, what am I now, where20 years of identity are now ripped away”.

Nicole  29:53  

You have to give yourself some time and some grace and especially, and I know when it first happens, you think “this will never end”, and that “I’ll never get back to myself”. But that’s why gratitude makes a huge difference. Gratitude can pull you out, when you’re stuck. If you just find the silver lining with gratitude, there’s always a silver lining in a situation, and it’s there to keep you moving. 

So just look for that silver lining every day, even if it’s something very small, there is something positive, that you’re doing something great about you, to keep you moving, because you have a life to live. And your life has to keep going, it can honor them. But you have so much more to do with the life and the time that you’ve been given.

Tom  30:41  

Yeah, and I think what’s really important is that in the new identity, there is going to be something that needs to replace that alost identity. Unfortunately, a lot of times widowers will go and find a replacement relationship, which isn’t always the best thing. I mean, sometimes God bless that, the right person is brought into your life at the right time, just after the loss when you need them most. And it works. 

A lot of times though, it’s a substitute, and it’s often not a great substitute. It’s not a healthy substitute. You don’t know who you are, much less what you want or need in a new partner.

But finding purpose. And for me, it was purpose in service – in doing this Growth through Grief missionary –  it was finding my faith again. Talk about faith and how important that’s been in your healing process, and part of what you think needs to be there to keep the flame going?

Nicole   31:23  

Well, for me, as I shared at the beginning, I’m a people pleaser, I used to love people and making them happy. And I had to remove that part of Nicole, because I was trying to get the acceptance from people that didn’t even love themselves, much less with the capacity to love me. 

So I had to know that you just have to be yourself and be okay with it. And so during this process with my family, God and I have kind of had a couple of rounds. I’ve had some very honest conversations with Him, and He already knows everything before I even say it. So I’m like, “Are you kidding me”, with all my anger and frustration. And He’s like, “Nicole, you’re just thinking about yourself”. But I’m like,” I’m the youngest of six”. And even though you grow older, you still want your parents to see certain things. And I’m like, “They’re not going to see my kids get married, they’re not going to see my grand babies. They’re not going to be at the weddings. Like, I got gypped like, “this is not right, God, I needed more time”. 

And so that was very difficult for me with my faith. And so at times, I didn’t want to pray, I didn’t want to go to church. I never thought when I brought my parents here that they would pass away, never. Because again, these are my heroes in my eyes. They’re not going anywhere. They’ll be here forever. And to see them get sick. And for God to take them away. I had to really take time, and I’m still processing that even on my rough days. 

But I know that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me. And at the end of the day, I have to understand his call. “I created you. I know, I know what’s best for you. I gave you the parents that you needed to get you to this point in life. And now I need you to trust me with everything. Not with some things. I need you to throw your script away from it. And let me be the director in this for you”. And so that’s what I’m working on. It’s a daily work in process. But I continue to Maintain my Flame because I know my parents were very strict. And I know they’re still watching and they’re like “Yeah, you better keep going. You need to get up. Okay, that’s enough”. And I hear that and it keeps me motivated. 

My faith has gone up and down. My surrender, it’s a work in progress. I’m very honest about that. But I know that God loves me, and he knows what’s best for me.

Tom  33:57  

Yeah, I think every one of us whether we had strong faith or not, has asked “Why …  why take her?  Why not me?”, at some point, “Why did it have to occur this way? I wanted more time with her.” “Why” then turns to anger and a lot of it is directed at God. I think one of the big things for me was I was such a control enthusiast, being a business person and an entrepreneur and control was something “that you know”,  in those leadership roles. Surrender was not something that I ever exercised and now I’ve reversed that, at least my intention is that way because  like you said, it’s a work in process. I work on surrender, and no longer work on gaining control. 

I think that has helped immensely because you do realize, through something like this, that you don’t have control. That we are in a broken world. In this world, it is fragile. Everything here will rust and just fade away. The people you love will pass. 

You have to transcend this world and really surrender the thought that you can control any of it. Transcend that this is but a glimpse in time, a small part of your eternity. Transcend that you could make your parents better, that you could keep them around another year when God had other plans for them. And for you, that’s really important to work on letting go of that, and not feeling helpless in it. And that’s where the surrender I think really helps us through this loss process. 

Helplessness really drives a lot of the grief and the trauma because you do feel helpless when you want to be in control of something you can never control, that is so fragile. You do ask “Why” as a result. And sometimes you’re angry at what happens. But if you realize that, it’s just life, and I’m not in control, and he’s got a bigger, better story. And you embrace that. 

And that, too, can work on that shift in the mindset, right, if you know, there’s something bigger and better, and a purpose for you in being left behind, then, then you can shift.

Nicole  35:59  

It’s painful, but it’s possible, you’ve got to realize there’s purpose in pain, and just keep pushing. And I’ll find my purpose.

Tom  36:07  

I love that. Now, I want to address three other things that you talk about: Lies, Labels, and Limitations, three things that could maybe hang us up from being able to Maintain the Flame. Talk about these..

Nicole  36:24  

When you think of Lies, Labels and Limitations, these are some of the lies, the negativity or labels that have been placed on us by others, and these then can limit our growth and limit our progress. 

Sometimes we’ll go to Target, the department store, and we’ll say, ”I’m just gonna run in there, I’m gonna get a pack of water, and I’m gonna come right out”. But we go in there, and we’re like, “Oh, I’ll take some of that, I’ll take some of this”, and we’re putting all these things in our basket. Well, as we go through life, people are putting those lies and limitations on you. And then you decide if you’re going to allow those items into your basket, and allow those negative thoughts to sit in your brain and say, “Okay, you said, I can’t do XYZ”, and you put that in your basket or “I made a mistake and a decision with my spouse that passed away”, and then you put that in your basket.

But you have to release that, you have to give that back to them, “I’m not going to accept your lies” “I’m not going to accept the labels that you placed on me”, Things like “you were not good enough or you weren’t there during the difficult time for them”, You have to say “You can have that, because I know in my heart what I did”, and you’re going to have to continue to pursue your happiness and move forward. 

But those lies that people say as they say to us, they plant those seeds. And whatever we decide, if it’s true or false, we might be watering those seeds and allowing them to grow inside of us. So you have to take a stand and say, “yeah, no, I’m not going to take the lies, I’m not going to take the labels, and you will no longer limit me, I did the best that I could, I was there. And now I’m going to take control of my life. And I’m going to move forward.”

Tom  37:59  

I actually did this to get rid of the lies, labels and limitations. I had a stack of them. 

I wrote them all down. Everyone, from as far back as I could remember, I tried to write the lies and hurts all down, and it was a long list. And then I also wrote down the things that I was using to beat myself up. And I wrote all of those down, the things that I really needed to have forgiven in my own wrongs, that I needed to ask God for forgiveness over. 

I took the list with me as I took a walk in the woods. And by myself, thank goodness that no one, was around to hear it, because here’s this grown man walking in the woods, reading each one out loud, forgiving this person for what they said, the lies and the labels, and asking God for forgiveness over my sins and my regrets and my guilt as well. 

I had another friend who did similarly.  He had a list. And he sat by a bonfire with an empty chair next to him representing the other person, and he read the list out loud. And he did both sides, both the I forgive you for this thing that you’ve done, and also God forgive me for the things that I’ve done. And then when he was done, he folded up and placed the paper into the fire and burnt it up. And I thought that was just a great metaphor, and a great ending to that list of Lies, Labels and Limitations. 

There is definitely this mental frame, that mental box that we put ourselves into, and this affects everything in our lives, our careers, our relationships, everything, that is unless you surrender the lies, labels and resultant limitations. And this goes back to the Surrender word, you can’t get beyond it. 

Nicole, what’s the one thing you’d like to leave with our widowers, with our growth warriors today from all that we’ve talked about.

Nicole  39:51  

I would just like to leave them with the fact:  Know that they have the strength to persevere. No matter what. There will be dark moments, and it will be difficult at times, but just believe. Hold on to that faith. And a brighter day is coming. One step at a time. Give yourself some grace. Love yourself. Forgive yourself, and know that you’re still here for a reason.

Tom  40:23  

Dr. Nicole Bradford, I can’t thank you enough for creating the Maintain the Flame framework and discussing it with us today, and sharing your personal story and journey with grief as well with us. Thank you so much.

Nicole  40:44  

Thank you so much for the opportunity. I truly enjoyed it.

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About The Host

Grow Through Grief Founder

Thomas Pisello

Growth Evangelist / Growth through Grief Founder

Tom Pisello is a widower and the father of two daughters. Tom lost his wife Judy in 2017 after her ten year battle with cancer.

Tom founded the Growth through Grief site, resources and ministry to help share his personal experiences to grow through the grieving process, and to share with others to help in his own and other’s healing process. Through this process, Tom gained his sobriety, lost 60 pounds, gained a growth mindset and rekindled lost faith, now sharing these hard-earned lessons and the lessons of other widowers and experts with you.

Prior to creating Growth through Grief, Tom was a successful serial-entrepreneur, analyst, speaker, and author of the business books Evolved Selling and The Frugalnomics Survival Guide. He was well known as “The ROI Guy”, founder of Alinean and Interpose, a Managing VP of analyst firm Gartner, Chief Evangelist for Mediafly and founder of the Evolved Selling Institute and host to the popular sales and marketing podcast – Evolved Selling