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Crystal Mullen-Johnson: What Everyone Should Understand About Grief

By Crystal Mullen-Johnson

Most people will experience grief in their lifetime. I have experienced it twice. The first time, I was only 14 when my mother unexpectedly died from contracting pneumonia. My family buried my mother the day before my 15th birthday. I was overwhelmed by shock, sadness, anger, and confusion.

As a teen, I lacked the coping skills to process my grief. Many people advised me to “just get over it.” However, this was not practical. Nevertheless, I continued my daily routine — hanging with friends, attending school, and overextending myself with extracurricular activities. My father didn’t notice the persistent sadness, because I masked my emotions from him and my peers.

I want others to understand grief and share what we all need to know. On Saturday Dec. 14 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Five-Start Fitness Downtown Birmingham I invite you to join me as my firm, Strive Counseling Services, is teaming with Gillian Shapiro, a Certified GriefYoga TM Instructor of Beech Hills Wellness, to offering a grief yoga session for one weekend.

According to the American Psychological Association, grief is the anguish experienced after significant loss. Grief can have an extreme impact on our emotions; and the emotion can be triggered after experiencing a variety of life events; including, but not limited to the loss of a pet, a divorce, loss of employment, an medical diagnosis, or a loss that is perceived as significant.

The symptoms of grief can resemble depression, and some of these symptoms may include appetite changes, insomnia, hopelessness, or suicidal ideations.

It is not uncommon for children to process grief differently than adults. Children may show little emotion. It’s important for parents to foster grief support for children, even if it does not appear that they are experiencing symptoms.

Parents can foster grief support by reading their child an age appropriate book about death to help the child to cope with their emotions. Parents can also seek counseling services for their child. A therapist can help a child to develop healthy coping skills and help explain death to children through innovative methods that employ play therapy.

Later, as a young adult, I lost my father unexpectedly. My response to his death was different than my response to the death of my mother. I was in a state of shock and panic. In addition, I was overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and confusion. This amalgam of emotions was debilitating, which was compounded by the unresolved grief that I experienced as a teen. I handled my father’s death differently, and decided to see a therapist. Therapy provided me with practical solutions to cope with my grief. I gained better insight about my emotions, and recognized that I was in a constant loop of 5 stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Today, there is more access to traditional and alternative therapeutic practices to cope with grief and other mental health issues. Personally, I use a mix of both practices which include rigorous cardio, yoga, and counseling sessions; and sometimes, I blend these practices to improve my mental well-being. I want to share these therapeutic practices with others who have experienced grief. Therefore, I invite you to join me on Dec. 14 for a grief yoga session. This workshop integrates breath, movement, meditation, and sound. No prior yoga experience is necessary. Visit www.strivebhm.com to register for this upcoming event.


Contact Strive Counseling Services for grief counseling and to learn how to build constructive mental health strategies to cope with life’s biggest challenges. Crystal Mullen-Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), Registered Play Therapist (RPT) and the CEO/Founder of Strive Counseling Services. Strive offers therapeutic counseling services to adults, children and couples in Birmingham, AL and surrounding areas.