Death is an inevitable part of being blessed with life. But when someone you love dies, coping with the emotional whirlwind of loss can often make living your own life more difficult.

As the director of The Canadian Centre for Bereavement Education and Grief Counselling, trauma and grief therapist Pam Fitzgerald has spent 20 years helping people understand the dynamics of that loss.

“Grief is something that touches all of us,” she says. “What I do is work with people to have them work with the pain.”

Fitzgerald insists that although it is impossible to fully accept the death of a friend or family member, counselling is an essential part of the grieving process that people should view as a positive step towards self-healing.

“We never get over (death),” she said. “The whole point when I work with grief is to decrease the impact of the emotional pain — focusing on living in the now without forgetting the past.”

Though Fitzgerald started out as pediatric nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, she eventually became more interested in providing ongoing aftercare for the families of her young patients who faced a loss.

She went back to university and completed post-graduate studies in trauma. After her training in psychotherapy, Fitzgerald travelled the world learning different practices including hypnosis and energy healing.

“I was laughed at and kind of called a witch,” she says chuckling, looking back on the early days of her career when those forms of therapy weren’t as widely accepted as they are today. “But I look more for the cause as opposed to just treating the symptoms, because we are more than the sum of our parts.

“Everything is energy. If we don’t move that energy we create energy blocks and we create dis-ease,” adds Fitzgerald.

Since many of her clients have experienced extreme trauma such as suicide, sexual abuse, murder or other violent death, Fitzgerald acknowledges that hearing their stories on a day-to-day basis affects her own emotions too.

“Anybody that is going to be in this line of work needs to have really good self-care,” she says, revealing that even she visits a counsellor. “I practice what I preach.”

Fitzgerald’s office is also filled with hope. The delicate angel statues, photos, paintings, and comic strips found around the room are thank you gifts from people she has helped. These remind Fitzgerald of the best part of her career; watching people who have been touched by grief realize they are not broken beings but whole ones.

“I see when we’re dropped to our knees in pain it’s the opportunity for spiritual awakening and to take back our power,” she says. “We can never truly learn to live unless we confront death.”

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