MUSKOKA - In her 27 year nursing career Yvonne Heath saw society’s reluctance of addressing and preparing for grief first hand.
She has worked in many areas including emergency, intensive care, chemotherapy and hospice.
After years of witnessing many tragedies, loss, devastation, and hearing hundreds of stories, including her own journey with her son Tyler, she authored a book; Love Your Life To Death and created the #IJustShowedUp movement.
Yvonne recently spoke at a United Way Simcoe Muskoka opioid presentation in Huntsville and shared her story and her son’s journey.
She said she watched her son spiral down a dangerous road of drugs and addiction and even today Yvonne still fears for his life everyday.
“Anguish, anxiety, despair, hopelessness, depression, loneliness, isolation and guilt and so much more was what I felt for many years while Tyler’s life and our lives derailed out of control. Our boy became someone we didn’t recognize and we just couldn’t reach,” she said.
Yvonne tried everything to help Tyler but ultimately realized she could not control his path.
“People avoided us, or didn’t ask, didn’t want to hear or didn’t want to talk about what we were going through.”
Yvonne said Tyler has had many close calls and she is challenged every day not to be consumed by grief and fear.
“I’ve chosen to be a voice for change and to unapologetically share our story of years of court dates, police, driving Tyler to rehab 8 hours away .... I choose to be a voice of change for those people who took that last pill or got high one more time not knowing it would be their last time,” she said during her speech.
Yvonne’s story is a journey that began when her parents moved to Huntsville from Elliot Lake after she graduated high school.
“I went away for social work and ended up coming back to work at Lakewood Nursing Home. I walked in and I just loved everybody. I was 19 and people told me that if I could work there I could be a nurse.”
Yvonne, however, wasn’t sold on nursing as her mom had worked in the profession and she saw the effects of the job.
“But I went to nursing school because I didn’t know what else to do, who knew that would lead to a 27 year nursing career,” she said.
For years she was employed as a traveling nurse. Yvonne spent time working in the US and had lived in 21 different towns.
During her time in the States she got married and had her first son. But in 1996 she divorced her husband due to substance abuse.
“I had a 2.5 year old, moved back to Huntsville and didn’t know a soul,” she said, “I tell people you never know what waits on the other side of grief because when I moved here this wasn’t on my vision board; single parent at 31, unemployed, living in my parents basement, this was not the dream.”
She would eventually get hired by the local hospital and ended up working in the chemotherapy department for 14 years. It was through this experience she began developing the idea of writing a book and her current program.
“I witnessed two different ways of families coping with a cancer diagnosis. One family would cope, cry and be angry but acknowledged those feelings. On the other side I saw families in denial, anger, over excessive treatments and the person dies in fear and that family remains in that grief.”
Yvonne understood that not many people including health professionals were prepared for grief, death and dying.
“Everybody that lives, dies. Everyone struggles with that but you will have grief in your life - it’s a part of this journey. My whole message is that we are reactive and not proactive toward grief,” she said.
Part of her message is to be prepared before a crisis occurs in order to be able to cope with loss.
“It’s a part of this journey and there is no preparation for this anywhere,” she said.
“When things went south with my son, when he got into drugs and addiction and I thought that I don’t think I could survive a tragic outcome and I went to work at that time and pretended that I was fine. But what’s wrong with that picture?”
Yvonne notes that it’s not healthy to put up a facade to be ok when we are falling apart.
And so at 49 Yvonne chose to do something different to fill this need. She had her ‘aha’ moment and left her nursing career to write a book. She asked people to share their stories about loss and grief.
“We are teaching people of all ages how to show up for themselves and others so they are empowered and resilient when grief arrives ... those who don’t know how to cope will often numb their pain,” she said.
“When someone is in crisis, grieving, facing life challenges and you don’t know what to do, you don’t know what to say, the magic answer is - Just Show Up.”
Following the publication of her book - Love Your Life To Death, this year Yvonne has launched a program titled; Get Ready for Grief.
“We are not in each other’s lives forever and that’s hard but it’s a fact. I continue to show up and I’m passionate about this message,” she said.
To register for Yvonne’s program, purchase her book or for more information on Yvonne visit loveyourlifetodeath.com