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Life Goes On: Understanding Grief

A mother’s love is often hard to match. Talking to Folsom resident Cindy Bohart, the connection she still has with her son, Josh, is fascinating. 

Josh, aged just 20, died in a car accident in 2019. When we chat, and in her book, The Navigator, she describes how, from early on in her grief, she felt as though Josh was with her.  “I fell apart in my own time, but it felt like whenever I was with people, something was driving me from the inside to help those around me...almost like Josh was standing there with me, [saying] ‘Hey, Mom, I’ll help you. I need you to help my friends.’” 

Cindy takes great comfort in this, and the many ways Josh makes his presence felt: be it a bear sighting, the new Beatles’ track (he loved them), or the clouds taking shape into his profile. Cindy notes that friends and family have “Josh sightings,” too.


It’s difficult to provide a definitive description of grief, as it’s unique to the individual and takes many forms. When we think of grief, we think of a person passing away, but grief can be for a time that’s passed (see “Navigating an Empty Nest” in the September 2023 issue of STYLE), a relationship, and often for a beloved pet. There isn’t a correct answer on how to grieve or how to overcome it. It’s rarely linear; rather, it ebbs and flows.

“It’s important to meet a person where they’re at and not make assumptions or give opinions on how they should grieve. Grief can be very complicated so trying to simplify it doesn’t often resonate with the one grieving,” explains Ashlee Janzen, LMFT (

But how do friends and family recognize when grief is becoming overwhelming for someone and how can they help? 

Life coach Wanda Gaines ( explains that signs of grief could be confusion, trouble making decisions and acknowledging responsibilities, or difficulty focusing on anything other than the loss. The individual grieving may neglect personal hygiene or stop eating—all habits that may put their own health at risk.

Offering a listening ear and support is a great way to help someone grieving, whether the loss is recent or occurred some time ago. Ask how they’re feeling about their loved one’s passing—don’t shy away from it. It’s likely they will appreciate being asked, and they may enjoy the opportunity to revisit memories.
There may be significant dates that trigger sadness, such as birthdays and anniversaries, the last time someone spoke to them or saw them, or the date they passed. Janzen recommends being prepared for these dates and having a plan. “Distractions can be helpful, but it’s also important not to utilize [them] continuously as a way to avoid grief. Grief holds a unique experience—as unique as the relationship with that person,” she shares.


Support Groups

Being joyful may feel impossible, but after her son spoke to her “from the other side,” Cindy knew she had to make space for happiness: “Mom, tragedy without growth is just a tragedy.”

She and Josh’s father were inspired to connect with Helping Parents Heal ( where Cindy now runs a group for the Sacramento/foothills area. “Shining light parents,” as they’re called, gather at the nonprofit, supporting each other and discussing spiritual afterlife experiences.
It's common for people to want to be around people who’ve experienced a similar loss so they’re surrounded by others who can truly understand and empathize. 

Friends for Survival ( is a group that helps people who’ve lost someone to suicide. They host support meetings throughout the Greater Sacramento area including Cameron Park. One woman told me how, thanks to Friends for Survival, she became friends with a group of widows who’d lost spouses to suicide.  

Snowline Hospice ( helps anyone who is grieving with various groups for myriad situations, including services for children and teens.

Honoring a Loved One

Honoring someone, either on “trigger days” or year-round, can be a good way to feel close to them and to keep their memory alive. Folsom resident Melissa White and her friend take their late friend’s hiking boots with them when they go hiking so she’s with them in spirit. “The first time we did this, the solar flare showed up in the photos with her boots. Now anytime we see that little solar flare dot, we say she is visiting us.”

Lots of local nonprofits provide the opportunity to honor a loved one through a donation. This is perfect if your family or friend was passionate about animals, the environment, or passed due to a disease.   

You might like to start your own nonprofit, too, like Suzette Pendo, who established the Sahara Hope Foundation ( in honor of her 23-year-old daughter, Sahara, who was killed in a murder-suicide by her boyfriend in 2021. The foundation raises money to help many causes, including the unhoused—an issue Sahara actively supported—and victims of domestic violence.

While preparing to write this piece, by coincidence, a dear friend leaves me a voice note. Her father died eight years ago, and through her tears she’s asking why she’s still so sad. Why isn’t she over it? Why does she still dread the anniversary of his passing? I support her best I can by listening and telling her to recognize the grief, rather than wish it away. We agree to meet for dinner on the anniversary of his passing. I remind her of the late Queen Elizabeth’s quotation: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

IN LOVING MEMORY of STYLE’s Associate Publisher (and “work mom”) Debra Linn, whose birthday is January 20.


by Caroline Kings
Photo ©Tom Merton/KOTO - Photo courtesy of Melissa White.