Krista St-Germain shares her journey with grief following the death of her husband by a drunken driver. She explains how the commonly referenced five stages of grief are inadequate – if not outright inaccurate – for many people’s experiences. She discusses alternative grief theories, such as the dual process model, and introduces the concepts of “grief plateau” and “grief fog,” highlighting the complexity and uniqueness of each person’s experience of grief.

In her work as a grief expert, Krista advocates for a more individualized approach to grief, emphasizing the process of integration and post-traumatic growth rather than just “moving on” or reaching acceptance. She is a master certified life coach, a post-traumatic growth and grief expert, widow, mom, and the host of “The Widowed Mom Podcast.”

Krista St-Germain

Krista St-Germain is a Master Certified Life Coach, Post-Traumatic Growth and grief expert, widow, mom and host of The Widowed Mom Podcast. When her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016, Krista’s life was completely and unexpectedly flipped upside down. After therapy helped her uncurl from the fetal position, Krista discovered Life Coaching, Post Traumatic Growth and learned the tools she needed to move forward and create a future she could get excited about. Now she coaches and teaches other widows so they can love life again, too. Krista has been featured online and in print in Psychology Today, Medium, Thrive Global, Bustle, Psych Central, and Parents Magazine and on select podcasts such as The SelfWork Podcast, Seek The Joy, Life Check Yourself, and You Need A Budget to name a few.

Gabe Howard

Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.

To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Welcome, listeners. I’m glad you’re here. I’m your host, Gabe Howard. Calling in today we have Krista St-Germain. Krista is a master certified life coach and grief expert who discovered this line of work after her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016. She’s the host of the Widowed Mom podcast, and we couldn’t be more excited to have her here with us now. Krista, welcome to the show.

Krista St-Germain: Thanks for having me, Gabe. I’m always so excited when anybody wants to talk about grief.

Gabe Howard: It’s that’s kind of a funny thing to to say, right? I’m excited

Krista St-Germain: I know.

Gabe Howard: To talk about grief, but but you’re you’re excited for a really, really important reason, because you discovered with your personal story that the way that people were talking about it wasn’t working for people. Now, before we delve too far into the details, can you share a little bit of your personal story?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah, absolutely. So I never, first of all, imagined myself ever being excited to talk about grief or wanting to talk about grief until dot dot dot. I lost my husband. So, I was about, well, I was 40. I had just turned 40, actually, and I was on a real high in my life. I had recently remarried, you know, this is my second marriage. First one had kind of gone down in flames. Second one felt like the redemption story to me. It felt like my best days were ahead of me and life was going up, and I’d finally found someone who, you know, just really treated me the way that I wanted to be treated. And we had taken a trip and we were on our way back home from that trip. We had driven separately. We were so close to being home, and I had a flat tire, and I pulled over on the side of the highway and he pulled up behind me and instead of calling AAA, which we had and paid for, stubborn guy that he was said no. Let me just change the tire. It’ll take, you know, so much less time so I can just do it myself.

Krista St-Germain: Not a problem. Then we’ll get home. I just want to get home. So I’m standing on the side of the road texting my daughter, who at the time was 12, to tell her that we were going to be late. And he’s digging in my trunk trying to get the spare tire out. And a driver, who we later found out had both meth and alcohol in his system, just didn’t see us. And it was daylight and we had our hazards on. But he didn’t see us, and he just crashed right in the back of Hugo’s car and trapped him in between his car and my car and what felt like, you know, this amazing life just kind of suddenly was ripped out from under me. And so I found myself in a grief experience and, and then very quickly realized that what I thought I knew about grief was not actually accurate. It wasn’t helpful. It wasn’t representative of the experience that I was having. And, you know, fast forward to now, I’m kind of on a mission to make sure that other people have a better experience than I did.

Gabe Howard: One of the gold standards of grief management is the five stages of grief. And we hear this everywhere, everywhere I turn. You can’t Google grief without the five stages of grief coming up. And you believe that one of the primary reasons that we, as a society, suck at managing grief is that we believe that the five stages of grief is perfect. It’s just absolutely perfect. Do these five stages and boom, you will live happily ever after. Now, before we we delve too far into the discussion about why that may or may not be true. Can you give our listeners a little synopsis of what the five stages of grief are?

Krista St-Germain: Sure, even as you say it, it feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. That’s that’s. I’m starting to ramp myself up. But the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And that’s what most people have heard about grief. That tends to be the only grief theory people understand. And unfortunately, that doesn’t really represent the experience that most of us have.

Gabe Howard: What people believe is that the five stages of grief are this hard settled science. Like all of the greatest psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, grief experts all got together probably at Harvard or Yale or Johns Hopkins.

Krista St-Germain: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: And rigorously tested and did studies and figured out that this, this is the treatment. They see it kind of like the treatment for pinkeye, right? If you get pinkeye, go get the drops. Drop them in your eyes. In a few days later, you’ll be fine. And we believe this about the five stages of grief. Have grief? No problem. Go get the five stages of grief. Follow them, and you will be fine. I think what people are, are less aware of is where the five stages of grief came from. Again, we have that idea in our mind that people at Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins

Krista St-Germain: Mm-hmm.

Gabe Howard: Have rigorously tested this and in actuality, the actual origin story of the five stages of grief is not what people think that it is.

Krista St-Germain: Yeah. I’m so glad you brought that up. And I will say before I talk about it, I in no way intend to diminish or dismiss this work because in its time it was important. But the five stages of grief actually wasn’t even about grieving. It wasn’t about bereavement. It wasn’t about coming to terms with the loss. It was about hospice patients. And it was anecdotal, right? It was the study of people who were coming to terms with their own terminal diagnosis, with their own mortality. And Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book about it in 1969 called On Death and Dying. And that’s where it came from. It was really important at the time because nobody was talking about it. So so it really I’m glad it happened. And also, that was 1969, right? Then, that work was later applied on grief and grieving. And since so much amazing grief work has been done. But nobody’s talking about it because somehow we got stuck on the five stages of grief.

Gabe Howard: I think as a society, we love that, that magic bullet that, that do this and you’ll get that. And I know that before I experienced a really, really personal and tragic loss in my life, I believed in the five stages of grief theory as as settled science, because it sounds so reasonable. I mean, somebody gets angry, somebody bargains, like, I, I get it, it sounds like it should work. Where does it fall apart for people as they’re utilizing it in the real world?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah. Something you said earlier is one of the areas that falls apart. It it gives people the impression, first of all, that grief is linear. And so they tend to think that they need to go through these stages in order. It also gives the impression that grief ends. And it doesn’t, right? Grief is a natural human response to loss. We can’t change the loss, and we’re always going to have a response to it. That that response might change over time. But really, grief isn’t something that ends. And so it sets people up to compare an experience that they’re having with one that that feels nice and neat and tidy when the experience they’re having is incredibly messy and nonlinear. And it also gives them the impression that, you know, if they just go through these stages, they’re going to get to the end of something that actually doesn’t ever really end.

Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about that for a moment, because many people who are experiencing grief, their only goal is to, quote, get over it, unquote.

Krista St-Germain: Mm-hmm.

Gabe Howard: That’s why they go to therapy. That’s why they go to grief support groups. That is their entire framework. How do I get over it? Is that the wrong way to think about grief?

Krista St-Germain: I hate to use the word wrong, but I don’t think it’s a useful way to think about grief. But I understand why we do that, right? We live in a culture that has taught us that feelings are problems, and the goal of life is to feel good all the time. So when naturally something major happens and we lose something or someone that we care about, we’re experiencing a level of intense and undesirable emotion that we’ve been taught to believe doesn’t line up with what we’re supposed to achieve in life. So it makes sense that we come into that with with very few coping skills, and that we would want to get out of it as quickly as possible. But I like to think about it. Instead of thinking of I want to move on, I like to think about, I want to integrate, I want to move forward with. I want to acknowledge that, yes, this happened in my life. It does not limit what is possible for my life. It does not have to be something that I define myself by, but I do want to integrate what I have learned as a as a result of having gone through it into my life. Right. So the goal is integration. This happened. Who do I want to be? What do I want to make of it? How do I want to make choices going forward in light of it?

Gabe Howard: Long before I learned about your work, or I started even reading about the limitations of the five stages of grief. One of the things that struck me when I was going through my grief at the loss of my grandfather was, what do you mean, acceptance? Why

Krista St-Germain: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: Do I have to accept this? And and I always thought like, is that the healthiest way? Like. Like what? Accept it like, oh, okay, he’s gone. And I accept that. I, I was never sure on that. And I could never get a straight answer on what they meant by acceptance. And you understand the five stages of grief way more than I do, and you understand its limitations. Has this been a hiccup for people getting over grief? Because I want to I want to disclose to you and all of our listeners. I still haven’t accepted it. I recognize he was 91 years old, but I still kind of think the concept is bullshit. And I didn’t want him to die, and I struggled to move past that. And nobody can really give me anything except, well, Gabe, you need to accept it. And I’m still stuck on. I don’t want to. And I recognize that losing a grandfather is natural, that that’s

Krista St-Germain: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: Frankly the way that it should be. And this does make me wonder what happens if I lost a child or a spouse? Or even somebody my own age, a best friend? I can really see how this would back somebody into a corner where they were just like, well, until you accept it, you’re never going to be happy. And then what? I mean, sincerely, and then what?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah, yeah, I so agree with you. And also it kind of makes it sound like acceptance is this one-time thing that we do. And, and when we think about it that way, it doesn’t reflect the experience that we’re actually having. Because yes, we might we might accept parts of it. Also, I don’t think we have to, by the way, but even when we do, that doesn’t position us very well to deal with all the secondary losses that haven’t happened yet.

Sponsor Break

Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing the limitations of the five stages of grief with grief expert Krista St-Germain.

Krista St-Germain: So maybe you do accept the fact that he died, but then what happens when the next child is born and he’s not there to hold that child? And there’s, you know, there’s the secondary loss of that, all the knock-on losses. So acceptance isn’t a place. It’s also not morally superior. It’s also not required. So you can see why an anecdotal study of people coming to terms with their own terminal illness, then applied to grief and bereavement, can be problematic. Right?

Gabe Howard: Given all of this, why do people believe in the five stages of grief? Is it just because it’s all we hear about? Or is it something it’s just because people haven’t googled you yet?

Krista St-Germain: [Laughter] I love it. You know, sometimes what I will get is that they’ve been told by someone who they think understands grief. So they’ve been told by a doctor. They’ve been told by their therapist that the five stages is, you know, the lens that they need to be viewing their experience from. And that can be really frustrating when you think that the person who’s, you know, telling you this is an authority on the matter, and then you find out, oh, guess what? It’s not just the laymen that are only saying five stages, it’s that in medical school they’re often only taught five stages. It’s that licensed professionals who who dedicate their careers to helping us, are also sometimes only taught the five stages, unless they are particularly interested in grief. It is not uncommon at all that that’s the only thing they’ve ever been taught to. So it’s not that they are trying to do us a disservice, it’s that we live in a culture that is that has been perpetuated with the five stages, and that’s what everybody knows.

Gabe Howard: You brought up that one of the limitations to the five stages of grief is that it creates this idea that it ends. And of course, it ends at the acceptance that we discussed previously. But one of the things that I think about is, how do you tell a person, hey, you know, this really incredibly bad thing that has happened to you? It’s never going to end. That also seems very damaging to people’s psyches.

Krista St-Germain: Yeah, and I don’t mean to say you’re never going to have a different experience of this, right? I think we want to use that in a way that is realistic but also empowering. So we don’t paint an unrealistic picture that says, hey, just keep yourself busy. Just, you know, the first year is the worst. Just clamp down, stay busy. And time heals because that’s that’s not how it works. But what we can say is, listen, you can’t undo this awful thing that happened. That’s true. But also, you get to be the one who decides what you want to make of it, how you want to think of it, who you want to be, given that it’s happened. Post-traumatic growth, which I am a big fan of, is possible for everyone, right? There’s we all get to decide what we want to make of anything that happens to us. And that’s so empowering because from that view, we don’t need to be time travelers. We don’t need to go back and undo the loss. We can have a completely different experience of the loss, right, without changing it. And so that’s what I think we’re going for realism, but also something that is empowering.

Gabe Howard: Is there any science that will help us manage grief? Are there any studies? Any research? Is the Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins crowd working on the magic bullet to get us through grief? Or, well, is it is it just messy? I mean, it just it sounds so messy, based solely on our discussion so far.

Krista St-Germain: I mean, I think it is. I think it is very messy. I think it’s very individual. And I also think there’s some great work being done and some great work that has been done since. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Five stages. Right. So dual process model is is probably of the existing work that exists. My favorite, I like it because I think it’s accessible. I think it helps us in the real world, which is where most of us are grieving. Right. And dual process model just basically teaches that there are kind of two buckets of activities. So there’s loss oriented activities which are, you know, where we’re thinking about what has happened. We’re feeling the feelings of what has happened. We’re dealing with the paperwork. You know, we’re realizing and and experiencing the implications of that loss. That’s one bucket loss oriented. And then there’s another bucket of activities that dual process model considers restorative in nature. And that would be things like anything unrelated to the loss really. Hobbies, you know, time away laughing getting out in nature, doing things that are actually life that, that don’t have anything to do with the loss. And because we have been so focused on the five stages, sometimes what people do is they they really tell themselves this lie that if they’re doing something unrelated to the loss, then they’re doing grief wrong. And that’s why I love dual process model, because it teaches that actually the oscillation back and forth between the loss oriented activities and the restoration oriented activities is where the healing is found. And we actually do want to give ourselves breaks from our grief. We’re not saying we want to avoid it all the time, but we’re saying we do want to have permission to have Netflix binges and laugh right and do things that are unrelated to the loss. And it’s so much more accepting and accessible than, you know, most of the other ones. In my, my view, that’s that’s why I like it. So yeah, there’s great work being done in the grief world.

Gabe Howard: In preparation for this interview, I read a lot of stuff that you put out, and one of the phrases that you use is grief plateau, and I’ve never heard that before, and I couldn’t really find a lot of information on it. What is a grief plateau and where does this idea come from?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah, well, I’ll be honest. I made it up. I made up the term grief plateau because there was nothing I could find. And I have read a lot of grief books. There was nothing I could find that actually represented or felt like the experience that I had had. And so I coined the firm. And so it is just that place where it’s not terrible anymore. You’re back to functioning, but it’s not great either. And if if we don’t know that that can be a very normal experience in grief and instead we think that that’s the end, right? Like that’s that’s the only thing that’s possible for us in grief. Then it’s just really easy to stop investing in ourselves and stop figuring out what we need next and stop, you know working towards what it is we actually want. And that’s where people end up giving up. So it’s not I don’t want to give the impression that it is, again, linear or that it is tidy. You can still feel like you’re having, you know, one foot in acute grief and one foot in a grief plateau. Some days they, you know, some days feel easy to get through and then other days feel like a real struggle.

Krista St-Germain: And then some days the grief fog is intense and other days it’s it’s lightened. So it’s not this nice, neat box that we all wish it were where poof, we’re done with acute grief, and now we’re, you know, in this plateaued place. But we do want to be watching out for what that’s like and normalizing it. Right? Because that’s the place where oftentimes people have forgotten about us and they’re not checking on us anymore. Right? They are judging how we’re doing based on what they see. And they don’t see how we feel. They only see that we’re back to work and that we’re getting the kids where they need to go, and that it looks like we’re functioning. And they’re probably afraid that if they bring it up that they’re they’re going to remind us of the loss and they’re going to set us back, right. They’re going to cause us some sort of pain. So they stop asking us about the loss, and they start making assumptions that we’re doing great. And it’s just such an easy place to to feel forgotten and to isolate and, you know, to really resign ourselves to. And that’s why I think it’s important that it has a name.

Gabe Howard: Another phrase that you use that I’ve never heard before is grief fog. Can you explain to our listeners what that is?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah. Boy, I wish I had known about that. So. Grief fog. Sometimes I’ll call it widow fog. Is this almost cotton candy in the brain experience that we have. Grief is really a full body experience, right? Our whole body feels the impact of a significant loss. Our home, our hormones are off. We’re not sleeping as well. And literally the bandwidth of the executive functioning part of our brain, which is already pretty small to begin with, gets even smaller. It’s almost like, you know, that little buffering wheel you get when your computer is struggling to process something. It just like spins around in circles. It can feel like maddening because you may have perceived yourself as someone who is so good at always being on top of the bills, and now you’re forgetting to pay them, or all of a sudden you forgot to pick up your child at daycare. And that is so not like you, right? Or you go to the grocery store and for the 10th time you buy toilet paper when you you already have mounds of it at home. So it just feels like you’re not able to read, retain, process as well as you once were. It’s normal. It typically passes. I wish I could tell you how long it takes, but it’s different for everyone. And my best advice for people who are experiencing it is, is to kind of laugh about it. If you can make more lists if you need to, but don’t use it against yourself. And don’t worry that you’re forever damaged because you’re experiencing it, because usually it does lift.

Gabe Howard: Again, I know the theme is oversimplification, but I just can’t help but think that if we take the five stages of grief and we add grief fog and grief plateau and a couple of other steps and call it like the eight stages of grief that we’ve got our magic bullet and we’re and we’re good. And I, I know, I’m just so desperate to make this simple, but I imagine that so are the listeners. Why can’t that work? Why can’t there just be an easy eight, ten, 12, 15 step process to get us to the end of this?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah. Wouldn’t it be great if there were? I get that too. I had always wished for that. And if if there were, I would tell people what it was right. I would just walk around giving that answer to people. But unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, why do we even have to call it unfortunate? Humans are complex, right? Loss is complex, and and in many ways we can relax into that. There isn’t one right way we can relax into our way is the right way. However we experience it is okay for us and we just have to keep reminding ourselves of that and then figuring out what is it that we need next.

Gabe Howard: Obviously this is a lot to take in. I mean, we’re finding out that what most of us think we know is wrong, but what should our listeners take away from all of this? What do you want people to know about grief?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah. If everybody could just remember that grief is unique. You. There is no way to do it wrong, right? So. So don’t use your own experience against yourself. Instead of asking yourself, am I doing it right, ask yourself, what do I need now? What would feel supportive to me? What would feel loving to me and use that as a way that you figure out what type of support you want next? Not am I doing it wrong? Am I doing it right?

Gabe Howard: I really appreciate your openness and your willingness to come here today and talk about, well, just a subject that many people are looking to avoid. Many people think they understand grief, but in actuality it’s a very difficult subject and people are not as understanding of it as they think they are. I just I just want to ask you one more question, if it’s okay? Where can folks find more of your work?

Krista St-Germain: Yeah, for sure. They can listen to the Widowed Mom podcast. Most people know widows, but honestly, even if you’re not a widow, I just like talking about grief and post-traumatic growth. So everyone is welcome to listen. And then is where you can connect with me and find all my social contacts and all of my information.

Gabe Howard: Krista, thank you so much for being here.

Krista St-Germain: Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you for being willing to have the conversation.

Gabe Howard: Oh, you are very welcome. And a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am an award winning public speaker and I could be available for your next event. I also wrote the book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon because, well, everything’s on Amazon. However, you can get a signed copy with free podcast swag or learn more about me by heading over to Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and you don’t want to miss a thing. And listen up! Can you do me a favor? Recommend the show, share it on social media. Send somebody a text message, mention it in a support group because sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast from Healthline Media. Have a topic or guest suggestion? E-mail us at Previous episodes can be found at or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.