Grief 101 with Cathy Babao

Good grief! Have you suffered a loss lately?

Cathy Sanchez-Babao may be able to help. Mother; storyteller; newspaper columnist; author, corporate communications consultant; sometime teacher; mental health, women, and children’s health advocate, Cathy is also a Grief Coach who journeys with the grieving person through the method called “companioning.”

cathy babao profile photo

After her son, Migi, died in 1998, Cathy went back to school for her MA in Family Psychology and Education at Miriam College; she also took a full semester online course with the University of Indiana.  Since 1999, she has been mentored by American professor/ grief expert, Dr. Kathleen Gilbert. For eight straight years, Cathy would leave annually to take short courses or attend annual conferences on grief.

cathy book signing
Cathy at a book signing for her first book, Between Loss and Forever.

She conducts The Good Grief Workshop which runs for 2.5 hours in a small group setting for four consecutive Saturdays (or a chosen weekday) for one to a maximum of five participants.

Here’s the brief on grief:


In one of your interviews, you mentioned about grief not just from death of a loved one but from marital separation. Is the recovery process almost identical for both?
Yes, the two are quite similar, and sometimes I find that the pain of losing a husband or wife is just as painful as losing the spouse because of a separation or annulment…all the more when there is a betrayal involved. That really complicates the entire process! Plus, there is the layer of unforgiveness. So what we try to do is also bring the client to a place where he or she can surrender and forgive because that act of forgiveness is critical to moving forward and building the new life without the spouse.

What are the other most common sources of grief aside from death of a loved one?
Loss of a marriage, a job, a relationship, a home, a sense of self; transitions with their ambiguous/ uncertain nature.

Do you take in counselees who are grieving from any cause?  
Yes, though most of my clients come from a background of death of a loved one or marital separation.


Do you pre-screen a person before taking him/ her in? (For example, does the person have to demonstrate willingness to cooperate with the program or can an unwilling subject join and then the transformation happens as that person goes through the coaching sessions?)
The only requirement for the workshop is that the person suffered an actual loss through a death, separation/annulment (or other cause of grief). The most ideal time is between a month up to two years hence.  I have had clients who had ungrieved losses that date back to decades!

Do you have age parameters for participants?
From age 12 up.

Is this affordable for the average person?  
Considering the cost of therapy, yes it is. The per session cost is less than what one would pay for a one-on-one session with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Can you please kindly give more information that can help someone assess if this is what they have been looking for?
The Good Grief workshop is not a magic bullet. Loss is a terrain we normally don’t enjoy being in, and the road ahead is often dark and paved with uncertainty. The pain will still be there, and will be there for a long while even after you are done with the workshop. What it does is it clarifies for you what to expect and what not to expect on the road to healing.  In the company of others in a similar situation as you, the workshop gives you the courage and equips you with the tools necessary to “successfully” navigate the long road ahead and move forward with your new life after your loss.


What are the most common stumbling blocks to overcoming grief?
Insisting that things return to normal…because they never can. You must instead strive to build your new normal. Denying or delaying your mourning is also not helpful at all.

Does it always follow that the stronger the person, the sooner s(he) can overcome grief? 
There is no correlation. In fact, sometimes it is those who are perceived to be stronger  who have greater difficulty in mourning because the pressure to appear ok to the rest of the world is very high. There are different personality types and a hundred and one ways of mourning a loss. Of course, personality type affects the quality of grieving.

Does it become harmful if the person overextends staying in the depression that comes with grief?
It becomes problematic when the griever’s physical or mental health starts to suffer or become affected. Of course, you always need to rule out the physiological cause but if none can be found, usually the client realizes that perhaps the grief is causing the problems. I have seen this many times in my practice.


What can the people around a grieving person do that are most helpful or can accelerate overcoming grief?
There is no way to accelerate the grief process and every loss is unique. What you can do as a friend is to be there, to listen, to help out; and not to be judgmental nor offer unsolicited advice. Prayer is one of the best and most helpful things you can do  for that person.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t been able to overcome grieving from the death of a loved one for three or more years? Or should you even say anything?
Again, there is no timetable. The rule of thumb is for as long as you are able to function and you are not harming yourself (physically, mentally, emotionally) or the loved ones dependent on you, then you can mourn for as long as you want. There are no hard and fast rules because every loss is unique.

I saw the comedy film, “The Crying Ladies.” It shows the custom in the Philippines wherein the grieving family entertains the visitors, gets exhausted from repeating the answer to “What happened?” Or the reality that the family who is contending with grief sometimes adds physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation when they can’t leave the wake to rest until the last guest leaves. What do you think of this?
It’s a cultural thing and every wake is as unique as the family “hosting” it. Many families fiind comfort in being around many people; others would rather keep to themselves. For some, a long wake is necessary; for others, two days is sufficient. We cannot say that one is better than the other. It really all depends on the family left behind to decide what is acceptable or not.


If there were someone who has absolutely no experience yet of going to a wake, can you please give a few guidelines on how to make the visit most productive? 

  • Be observant and respectful.
  • Find out  the customs.
  • Is the family wearing black or white clothing? Or does it even matter at all?
  • Don’t ask too many questions of the bereaved.
  • A wake is not the time and place to be inquisitive.
  • Just be present for the person whose loved one has passed on.

What are the worst things for visitors to say or do at a funeral?
The worst thing is to keep asking questions about the death, all the more if it is an accident or a suicide. Be respectful.  Some people bring their entire families to the wake, even those who are not close to the bereaved family; that is inappropriate, too.


In your own experience, what helped you to overcome grief? 
Prayer, first and foremost. Turning to God in my most difficult moments. Writing about it, and going back to school to learn all about grief helped me tremendously. The love and support of my mom (the beloved actress, Caridad Sanchez) and my kids, and some really close friends helped me pull through.

As a mother, how did you help your children overcome their grief?
I had only one other child at that time. I encouraged her to journal her pain. She was only seven years old then. I was constantly with her in the first few years after her brother died. We openly talked about this loss whenever there was reason to talk about it.

cathy write

What role did your own experience with grief play in you pursuing your work as a Grief Coach?
Receiving so much comfort from God inspires me to be of help to others on the journey. I’ve known how it is to lose a parent as a child, and then lose a child as a parent. One of my American mentors put it perfectly– “You were built for this kind of work.” Making use of the pain and finding a higher purpose for it by helping others has given so much meaning to all my losses.

What are the greatest rewards in your work?
It’s always rewarding to see my clients transform, smile again, and find hope. Even more precious is when they have a breakthrough while in session. Those moments are priceless.

Has this passage spoken to you: 2 Cor 2:1 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  At what stage of grief may it help grievers to envision themselves as future instruments of healing for others?
In the beginning this is always very helpful and even as you go through your loss, it helps. Personally, what has helped me most are two passages — “Jesus wept.” Because that passage reminds me of the humanity of Christ and that if even He cried, how much more ako? Jeremiah 29:11 is my life verse and it has always been the one that I turn to time and again.  [For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:11]


Are there other things you feel God would like you to share with someone who is grieving right now?

Take it one day at a time. When loss is new, that’s really all you can manage and that’s perfectly fine.


cathy books
Cathy’s books

Cathy’s books, Heaven’s Butterfly and Between Loss and Forever, are available  through Anvil Publishing or at National Bookstore. Her book, Heart On My Sleeve, is available through Cathy herself or Amazon (US or UK).

You may reach Cathy:

By email: or send an SMS to +639178821964 .

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