Meet RN Case Manager Turned Grief Coach Audrey Pellicano: “We Don’t Grieve in Front of People, We Grieve Alone”

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
This post was written by Cheryl Miller


This month’s inside look at a grief coach, the choices she made on the road to success, and the challenges ahead.

Audrey Pellicano, RN, M.S., Case Manager, Corporate Grief Recovery Specialist and CEO, Wise Widow

HIN: Tell us a little about yourself.

(Audrey Pellicano): I was widowed in 1990, at 37. My baby was 2 ½ months when my husband Joe died and I also had a two-year old, a four-year old and a six-year old. I spent 37 years in healthcare, as a nurse, specializing in case management and health sciences. I have my bachelor’s in nursing and received my master’s in health sciences. In 2009 I went into grief coaching.

I also recently started the first Death Café in New York City. There’s usually 12 to 14 people who get together at a nice coffee place, and over coffee, tea and dinner or dessert, everybody discusses death. Everyone is there for a different reason. This is not a group of grievers. I’ve had some people who are with hospice. I’ve had journalists who are looking to write about the whole new trend. I had one woman who had attempted suicide twice. I had a young college student who was studying, taking a class on death and dying and she thought she would find information to write on a paper. It’s a wonderful concept, and the ages range from college students to a woman in her 80s. Outside of the Death Cafe, we talk about life and ignore death as if we could avoid it. In the Death Cafe, we openly talk about death, dying and living fully.

How did you get into health coaching?

I’ve been coaching my entire life. For 10 years I was a case manager at a managed care facility. It was very frustrating. When I first began it was very satisfying; the patient load was low and I felt as if I was impacting people’s lives. I got to know the patients and their doctors well; the doctors knew who I was, and what my purpose was in helping the patients. But by the time I left the workload was about 260 patients. It was impossible to effectively help these people change their diet, incorporate exercise. It was just overwhelming. So I left and started grief coaching.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road?

That would be after I left case management. After spending 27 years in healthcare, I thought I should help coach people who were diabetic, or who had heart disease, but the idea didn’t give me energy. And then one day, like a light bulb, I realized I needed to work with people who were grieving. I realized “Of course you’re supposed to be helping widows and people who have lost loved ones.” When my youngest daughter went off to college in 2009 I made my major move. I started doing it part-time so I could develop the business until I was comfortable enough to quit my full-time job.

Can you tell us a little bit about your grief recovery work?

Six years after my husband died, I came across a book called the Grief Recovery Method, by John James and Russell Friedman. It just hit me one day that I was not doing well; that I hadn’t moved emotionally forward after losing Joe. I was actually dating someone and he broke it off and I was absolutely devastated. And I realized that I couldn’t handle the goodbye. That’s when I said, “Oh boy, you’ve really not been looking at this grief at all.” We’re not a society that talks about it. Most often we don’t grieve in front of people, we grieve alone.

Can you tell us about your organization, Wise Widow?

As a grief recovery specialist to corporations, I provide information and training for managers and co-workers focusing on the necessary tools to support a returning employee after a personal loss. I use the Grief Recovery Method in my practice. I have not had a client that hasn’t had an ‘aha’ moment. I believe in it because it’s not long-term talk therapy. We’re in a society that wants it now, but you have to do the work in order to reach your goal. And this is just that. It’s a seven-week program, and there’s an assignment and my clients understand from the beginning, if you don’t do the assignment, we need to change your appointment because I will not meet with you. If they don’t do the work, we can’t move forward to the next step.

I also speak on Healthy Living After Loss where I incorporate meditation, yoga, guided imagery and nutrition. And I offer presentations on Moving Forward After Loss and The Right Thing To Do: Grief Support at Work.

What concepts or rules you follow in coaching?

The people that I work with have to be ready to work within the parameters of my program. It could be anywhere from two to 10 years since their loss, and it could be any kind of loss — it doesn’t have to be the death of someone. It could be a financial loss, any kind of a loss that triggers the same loss issues, but they have to be willing to work at shifting their grief.

How have your nursing and case management skills informed your coaching?

I was a telephonic case manager — I worked by phone. People would say, “You can’t be effective by phone.” But I disagreed. It enabled me to be comfortable starting my business virtually. As far as nursing goes, I know a lot of questions to ask that the lay person may not know. I work with the boomer generation, women my age, mid 50s to 70, and many of them already have some kind of chronic illness, weight gain and have been through a lot of changes. Let’s say they have hypertension. Most of them have absolutely no idea how the foods they eat are affecting them.

Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto for the coming year?

Focusing and being there for the baby-boomer women, whom I believe are going to make a lot of changes in the way they look at grief, in the way they move forward with their lives. Baby boomers are far more demanding; they’re going to make a change with end-of-life care; they’re more demanding about physicians, more selective. It’s a very strong and powerful group. Part of my mission is making people realize that they will grieve at some time in their life.

What is the most satisfying thing about being a coach?

I think the most satisfying thing for me is helping clients to see that they actually can make a change. Especially the age group that I work with, the tendency is, I’ve been doing this for years, it’s going to be so hard. And it’s not. It’s making things simple for people. And then they feel better, and they actually get better.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Then, when my father got a new job we moved to the suburbs, Westfield, NJ, where my first husband and I continued to live and where I raised my children after he died. In 2009 I spent a year living alone in the Catskills, and then moved back to Brooklyn where I live with my second husband. I’m a city girl at heart.

What college did you attend?

I received my nursing degree from Bloomfield College, Bloomfield, N.J., and my master’s degree from Jersey City State University, Jersey City, N.J.

Are you remarried?

I got remarried in October, 2012. I had been widowed for 22 years. I wanted to raise my children, because they were quite young, and my focus was on them. My youngest daughter is graduating college this year. So I felt I guess I could give this a try. My four children were at our wedding and they were very happy for us.

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?

I guess yoga is my hobby. I’m a certified yoga instructor. I studied in New York City. A studio had opened in my town, and I’d read about how healthy it was and great for staying in shape.

Is there a book you recently read or a movie you saw that you would recommend?

Having read all the widow books out there, I have to recommend Dr. Joyce Brothers’ excellent book, entitled Widows.

I also recommend Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It’s about business practice. I liked it because as a business owner, a lot of the stereotypical business models frustrate me. This is thinking outside the box. You don’t have to have this before you do that. It’s not complicated. You have to have a business plan in place typically, and then it’s just go and do it. I like that kind of attitude. I do that in my own life, just go ahead and do it.

Any additional comments?

In June my first eBook was released: Six Secrets to Surviving Widowhood. Within those six secrets is a lot of information about using meditation, guided imagery, making healthy choices. It’s not about the grief recovery method, because I tell people who want to go first towards that healthy lifestyle that they have to get through their grief first. I’ve been there and I know that it’s not going to work if you haven’t allowed yourself to complete the grieving process. I continue to offer my clients ways to get healthy once they’ve been through the initial program with me, and have been able to lift their grief a bit.

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One Response to “Meet RN Case Manager Turned Grief Coach Audrey Pellicano: “We Don’t Grieve in Front of People, We Grieve Alone””

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dying is personal. You have lived your life with certain beliefs about dying. What exactly can a coach offer? What a dying person needs is help with funeral expenses.