21. Boundaries and Grief

boundaries and grief

Lisa Cheney-Philp meets with Mary in this episode and talks with how boundaries shows up for her in her life and work. Lisa works as a death doula, and so dealing with grief is an important part of her job.

Lisa talks about how she has learned to embrace grief in her life and how she has been able to use boundaries to say yes to grief and still feel able to say no to other things. They discuss how boundaries can be helpful for someone who is preparing for the loss of a loved one.

Learn more about Lisa Cheney-Philp HERE.

Main Episode Takeaways

  • Learning to coexist with grief
  • It is ok to say yes to grief
  • How grief and boundaries intersect
  • Death is an inherent part of the human experience 

Want to learn more about boundaries?

– Boundaries quiz HERE
Take my Boundaries 101 Course
– Do you want to overcome your hurdles of people pleasing? Book a free call with Mary!


Mary: Hey Lisa, thanks for being here today. Can you introduce yourself to us? 

Lisa: Sure. My name is Lisa Cheney-Philp. I met Mary through the she goes high networking group here in Northern Colorado. I live in the Fort Collins area. I’ve been here for, on the front range for over 20 years and up here in Fort Collins for about a year and a half. I love living here with my daughter and my husband, and being just about a 10 minutes drive from the entrance to the Pooter Canyon. And I am growing work as a kind of braiding my skillsets as a death doula, a river guide, and an artist together so that I can help women reconnect with the flow of life by remembering the ways in wisdom of water, and while tending death, dying, grief and loss experiences.

Mary: Awesome. I’m so grateful you’re here. This is gonna be a fun conversation. 

Lisa: I’m excited for it too.

Mary: Awesome. So braiding together, say that again. You’re braiding together. 

Lisa: Mm-hmm. skills and training as a death doula, A river guide… 

Mary: death doula, a river guide and an artist. I love that. What an interesting grade.

Lisa: it’s, it’s unfolding in a way. 

Mary: What does that look like? 

Lisa: What does that look like? Well it means that I am attempting to live a life on the surface that has everything to do with the life that’s happening below the surface. So there’s the life that we lead in the boat, on the top of the water going down our current of life. And then there’s way below that, the deeper currents, the ancestral stories, the collective stories, the mythic and the archetypal stories. And I think for me, it’s about being able to be in both of those spaces at the same time, and to move messages from one place to the other and to help us feel connected, not only to the life that we’re living as an individual, but also to the experiences that we’re having as a collective.

Mary: I love it. So how did you become interested in helping people through grief? 

Lisa: So this is an example of me living my own story and then realizing that it is not just my story, it’s a, it’s a collective story. So I think of grief and joy as two ends of a pendulum, so it’s kinda swing back and forth from one to the other and our capacity for one is our capacity for the other. But I orient from the door of grief. That’s like from grief is how I can access joy. For some people it’s through joy, then they can access grief. But for me it’s grief and it comes from my personal experiences. When I was 15 years old and my mother was 45, she died from breast cancer. And that experience has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life. Not just because she died, but because I would categorize her death as one that was village breaking rather than village making. And in, so it’s those dynamics that keep it very alive in me and is my call to action really around helping other people have cleaner grief experiences or ones where there’s healing, where, where they come all the way to a place of, where there’s still wholeness or there’s some sense of resolution or willingness to be with this story.

 And I’ll say also in the course of that story unfolding, it, it certainly impacted me in my interest and orientation to becoming a mother myself. And so for me, choosing to pursue motherhood was a harder choice for me. And then once I made that choice, I had a miscarriage before the healthy birth of my daughter. So I’m living this story of death on both sides and for me brought up a very live question of like, well, I’m still here, how do I make sense of this story? How do I fit in what, how do I relate to these pieces? And questioning myself and doing my own grief work as new questions arose about my mother and my childhood, as I became a mother myself, that brought me into a death doula certification program for my own benefit and then surprise, I came out and felt really strongly that there are pieces of this work that I want to bring forward to others.

Mary: What is a death doula for folks who may have not heard that term before? 

Lisa: Sure. A death doula is like a new and old profession or way to serve a community, I would say. And if you’re familiar with a birth doula, it’s basically a similar service for the end of life. But the doula in general is a non-medical practitioner that can support somebody through a death or a birth transition in a holistic way. So they’re tending to you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, practically. And kind of filling in the gaps of what our medical or hospice systems can do well but sometimes we want more. And I also really think of the doula as a way, as a bridge. Somebody who works in between the community level and let’s say like the expert level or the doctor level. Someone that lives in between that and is helping translate things down and translate things up, or between one and the others to help relieve the burden on the people that are surrounding the person dying or birthing. You know, it’s like you don’t want your husband to also have to be your advocate and your coach, and your midwife and your doctor, you want them to just be, you know, your partner. So the doula can provide that neutral third party space which can bring perspective and clarity and advocacy and, and all sorts of good stuff. 

Mary: That’s amazing. Awesome. So fascinating. So let’s talk about boundaries. What does grief and your work with people have to do with boundaries?

Lisa: So, as I’ve been thinking about this, I think the thing that’s coming up most strongly for me, which I’m guessing that this will be kind of an opposite orientation to perhaps the type of client you typically work with, but it makes me, it brings up the question for me that often when I’m holding grief or when I imagine other people holding grief, it has less to do with trying to find ways to say no and more about trying to find ways to say yes. So I’m wondering kind of what your take on that is in a general way, like how do you meet clients when they’re not saying yes, when they mean no, when they’re saying no, when they actually mean yes. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Yes. So I love that idea. So oftentimes when people talk about boundaries, they will say well, if you say yes to this, then you’re saying no to something else. Or they would ask the question, if you say yes to this, what are you saying no to? Right? With this idea that there’s a limitation to maybe our resources or time or energy or things like that. The things that we can do, the things that we can commit to, and one of my favorite questions is if you say no to this, what might you be saying yes to? Right? So the idea of being intentional about the things we’re not going to participate in gives us the opening and the space and maybe the ability to be able to participate in the things that we actually want or might serve us better or resonate in a higher alignment with us, right?

Lisa: Mm-hmm. 

Mary: So when it comes to grieving, right? My thought is that maybe the boundary piece is boundaries are always going to come down to what are you willing to participate in and what are you not willing to participate in? Right. And as we were talking earlier, the idea of a death doula, I was like, huh, I wonder if that’s something I might be willing to participate in if I knew that I was approaching the end of my life. That might be a really cool supportive service or something that, you know, could kind of help guide through that. But the idea of boundaries, I think is just being intentional about what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do, and making those choices for reasons that resonate with you, right? And the reason I’m going to say yes to this is because it’s in alignment for me. And the reason I’m going to say no to this is because it’s not in alignment for. Tell me what you think about that. 

Lisa: Yeah, I like the way you say that. If you say no to this, what might you be saying yes to? And it feels very much like overtly saying yes to or by default and inadvertently saying yes to. And really, I can only speak for myself on this, but my, you know, my instinct or my intuition or my experience also suggests that I’m certainly not the only one orienting this way, but it feels to me with grief, we often wanna say no, I’m not doing that. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. I think… 

Lisa: or no, I’m not willing to do that with anybody else and not for longer than this amount of time and, you know, no, no, no, no, no. Hmm. 

Mary: Yes, I agree. I think that in our culture that there are boundaries, they’re not often spoken, but there are boundaries around what we’re willing to do in our grief. I for sure have had conversations with women that I’m coaching around well, I don’t wanna talk about that. I don’t wanna think about that. I don’t wanna plan for that. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that people I love are approaching the end of their life and just limits around how much attention, how much intention that they are willing to commit to that. What do you think? 

Lisa: Mm-hmm. I think, I mean, here’s what I’ll say, what I noticed looking over, because I mean, with the case of my mom’s death, I’ve had now 25 years of being in some sort of conversation with grief and it’s changed a lot over time. And so I get curious about, you know, what allowed me to say yes at this point when, for the previous 10 years I was saying no to that. Like what are the shifts and what are the changes? And, and as I look at it now and from this place where I’m kind of fully embracing what it is to be in relationship, to not ignore or say no to being in a relationship with death, dying, grief and loss of like, okay, yeah, you’ve been with me this whole time, but I just, you know, maybe five, 10 years ago I opened the door and was like, okay, you can come in. Come into the house. You’re in the house now like, how do we get to know each other? How do we coexist? But I find myself wanting for myself and now, you know, wishing and hoping and wanting to be of service to other people so that they can open the door and say yes to grief. And I think it goes quickly from the extreme of no, no, no, no, no, to if I say one yes and I’m like blow everything wide open, like the dam’s been released all at once and now I have to say yes to everything that comes pouring out after it. Like I feel like there’s this assumption that if we say one yes to grief we’re gonna be completely destroyed by it or taken under, overwhelmed. All these different ways we can talk about what we imagine that space to feel like. 

Mary: Yeah. So it’s almost like we’re just going to resist it because we don’t wanna be overwhelmed by the feelings or the experience of it. So when I teach boundaries, a couple of the principles that I think maybe coming up in this space are, I teach that you get to decide, you just get to decide what you’re willing to participate in and what you’re not willing to participate in. That, you know, we as humans have agency to make our own decisions and that decision making is a learned skill and that there’s not really a right or wrong. There’s not really like a you should or you should not. Tell me what you think around kind of death, dying ,grief and loss. How that applies or doesn’t apply.

Lisa: I think it feels intellectually true that you get to decide. I think where it gets tricky or where I have another chattering voice, I won’t say it’s winning, but the other chattering voice of like, but this is the space of emotions and emotional pain, like how it’s so hard to control that part of myself. Once it’s out, like it takes over. And to say I get to decide, it feels like, oh, I made a decision and now I’m along for a ride. But I also, what I actually really feel is, yeah, you’re right, we get to decide. And even as I am working through some versions of that in my own life, in real time right now, I’m finding that to be true. But it to be a really interesting space to negotiate with myself. 

Mary: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Yes. So the other principle of my work and with women and boundaries is that they’re born valuable and that everyone is born valuable, that they are inherently valuable. And I wonder how that comes up in the work that you do with people.

Lisa:  What it makes me think of is death and grief, both being inherent parts of the human experience. Like you cannot be a human and not experience death and grief. I mean, same with birth but it’s something inherent to the experience of being human, just like you’re saying, being valuable as something inherent to the experience of being human. And I think so often we forget, I mean, it seems silly, but like that we forget our mortality. But I think in a day-to-day way, we really do. And we also put these negative thoughts or beliefs or charges on what those experiences are and try to push them away. Like say there’s something other than the human experience or we don’t welcome them in the same way as we do other parts of what it is to be human. So I think there’s something about feeling your inherent value and feeling the necessity, the normality and the inherentness of grief and loss as part of the human experience. I think those are closely related.

Mary: Absolutely. Absolutely. In the work that you do with people, what is the goal? Like, what are some of the results that you’re working towards?

Lisa: Mm-hmm. I mean, in the space of grief and loss, one of my primary goals is to simply help people move grief. One of the favorite quotes that I hold around grief from a woman, she I don’t recall her birth name, but she writes under the name of Pixie Light Horse and she says, “Grief is emotional pain caused by loss, the remedy is to keep it moving like a river.” and to me, it’s as simple as that. Doesn’t make it easy, but it’s simple. 

Mary: Those seem like the two strands braided together, right?

Lisa: Right. Mm-hmm. There’s the water and there’s the wisdom. And they’re helping us in our, you know, human experience as women. 

Mary: Yes. That’s making more sense to me now. So to move the grief? 

Lisa: To move the grief. I think so much of us will suppress, dam up, push away, ignore, sweep under the rug. There’s so many things that we can do with grief and I, I don’t think that wills it away. Like we can try to will it away, but I, I don’t think it actually does. Or we know, we know when our capacity is not what we want it to be and like we’re carrying something that’s heavy and burdensome and we’re weighed down. And often you can trace it back or trace it forward even sometimes of what’s unresolved, what ending went untended that needs some attention now to help free you up so you can be in your present life in the present. So moving grief to me is a way to complete cycles of life that have not been given the full attention they need to, to come full circle or kind of in a wave to come back to, to a resting point. 

So that’s one of my primary goals with grief work is moving grief, and that’s tied to kind of the second goal that I have in this space of grief, which is making grief visible. And that starts with making grief visible with yourself. That may or may not mean that anybody else is involved. And so moving grief and, and developing practices to do that is one way to make grief visible if I’m doing this journaling practice, okay, now there are words on the paper. The grief is visible. But there’s also another layer for me. I mean, I’m a, have come from a professional background that includes a lot of community organizing and kind of bottom initiatives. And so I really feel like there’s something to community building here on a bigger level that if we can relearn how to be visible in our grief with others and ideally others that are in our circles, in our village, in our tribes, whatever you wanna say in your, and that might look like friends and neighbors, it might look like your church, your fellow churchgoers. It might look, like your women’s circle. I mean, whatever that means to you. But being visible with your grief with the people that are part of your everyday life. I think relearning the skills of how to do that and how to do that where your grief is a gift to your community and your community can be a gift to you in your grief. I think that’s one of the collective goals I have for the work on grief and loss. 

And then I’ll also speak to what my goals are in the death and dying space. I mean, they’re, they’re similar. How can we show up and actively participate in death and dying experiences? And also to, I’ll say weave in the ends, which I always think of like the end of a crochet pattern the last three words are always weave in ends. It’s like, yes very practical and very useful directive there, like, how do we end our lives well? How do we tend to those loose ends before we die? I mean, I know from my own experience I had a lot of unanswered questions or wonderings or why didn’t dot, dot, dot this happen? Um, Why didn’t we talk about this? Why don’t I know more about, like just so many questions and, and I think a lot of it stems from the amount of silencing that was happening when my mom was dying. Like nobody talked about the fact that she was dying. We had to just kind of watch and wonder, and, and then sure enough, like she’s not here anymore. So I think breaking silences around death, helping people prepare for something that is inevitable with intention and with capacity and not out of fear. Not out of fear and unwillingness. To put it in the terms of boundaries. 

Mary: Yes. I love that. And I think that’s where the intersection of boundaries work comes in, is around the idea of willingness. Right? So say for example, I am approaching death and dying, or someone that I’m coaching is approaching death and dying, what are some of the questions you might ask them in regards to what they’re willing to do and what they’re not willing to do, or how they’re willing to participate in that?

Lisa: Mm-hmm. I don’t know if this is gonna answer your question, but it’s what’s coming up. I mean, a lot of times I work with people around death and dying when they don’t have an actual diagnosis for it. So we imagine into the space of what would it be to be told by your doctor today that you have 90 days to live? Mm-hmm. What would they tell you you’re dying from and then what’s important to you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and practically? What are your visions in those spaces in these last three months? I like to think of it the last season of your life. I’ve almost forgot your question, . 

Mary: The question is around what people are willing to do and not willing to do. 

Lisa: Mm-hmm. I think what I love the most about orienting from that way, and I would say in general, it’s an open-end, I like to ask open-ended questions. I like to get people’s intuitive responses of what’s meaningful and important to them, and I think as I’ve come to learn, that’s kind of flip flopped from what we see more commonly in the landscape of getting ready for death. We do advanced directives. You might do a living will or something called five wishes. And often in these spaces it’s like, here’s a list of things that you can choose from, check which things you want or don’t want. And that’s how you decide what you’re willing to do. And I think the way I work with people kind of flips that script and starts from what’s inside of like, of all the things that you could imagine spending for your body and for your environment for just one example, what’s important to you in that space? And then allowing something to come up from intuition rather than from an external source that says, these are your choices. So I think when we give people a lot more space on the types of things that they can imagine, the willingness piece kind of comes along with it. The choices aren’t predetermined. The choices aren’t predetermined.

Mary: Nice, nice. What about if you are working with someone or I’m working with someone who has a loved one who is approaching death and dying and wants kind of some support around how they are going to show up in that situation, how they’re going to navigate that situation, how they’re going to grieve the loss of their loved one. Tell me a little bit more about helping them clarify like what their intention is and what’s okay for them and what’s not okay for them and that scenario. 

Lisa: I think what I hear a lot is the person who wants to support their loved one, or the person who’s not dying wants to fulfill the wishes of the person dying. They want them to clarify their wishes and then they want to help them execute it. Sometimes, and probably more often than not, there’s a disconnect between what the loved one’s wishes are and what the person’s dying’s wishes are. 

Mary: I have seen that many times. 

Lisa: I imagine. And the people who want to say yes all the time are bypassing their needs for the needs of the person dying. And I think there are consequences. There are consequences to not doing the self inquiry of what do I need to say? What do I need to do to be good with myself? Even if some of the things I need and want are in direct conflict with what my loved one, this person who’s dying what they want. 

Mary: Yes. I do see that. I also see in coaching around when there are multiple loved ones of the person dying and they have disagreement around how to support that person at the end of their life and after they’ve passed. Lots of boundary issues there. Lots of opportunities for coaching there for sure. 

Lisa: Yeah, and I think that it requires willingness to have really challenging conversations. And be in hard spaces with however many people that entails, and not everyone is gonna be willing. And we don’t get to control that, right? So there might be instances where you have to meet your needs in completely indirect ways. That might not include or be visible to any of the people that you would like because they’re unwilling. And we don’t have control. 

Mary: Yes. Yes. Oh, so good. Something good to think about for sure. Awesome. All right, well, let’s wrap up here. When you think about like maybe just a couple of takeaways for listeners, what would you hope that their takeaways might be?

Lisa: I hope that people would take away that there can be benefit individually and collectively in moving grief, making grief visible and remembering that grief and death are natural parts of the, and necessary and inherent parts to the human experience. 

Mary: Hmm. I love that. And if folks wanted to reach out to you, if listeners were interested in contacting you, how might they do that?

Lisa: Mm-hmm. The best way to get more information is to visit my website, which is women of the water.com. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. You guys go check out, Lisa, if this is something that’s interesting to you. I totally trust her. All right, have a good day.