From Surviving To Thriving: Karla J. Noland of Reveal Heal Thrive

death interviews Mar 05, 2023

From Surviving To Thriving: Karla J. Noland of Reveal Heal Thrive


As Grieve Leave continues to grow, we’re excited to share more of the incredible voices in the grief & grieving community. This week we welcomed Karla J. Noland, CPQC, of Reveal Heal Thrive to share her expertise with Grieve Leave. Watch our full interview at @grieveleave, or you can read the transcript below.


Karla is an award-winning author & speaker and a trauma informed certified Self-Discovery & Positive Intelligence coach. As the founder and CEO of Reveal Heal Thrive LLC, Karla’s mission is to help trauma survivors discover their true selves after surviving life’s storms. Her latest book and bereavement companion journal, The Day My Heart Turned Blue, is the 2022 Eric Hoffer Spiritual book award winner, which chronicles Karla’s healing journey after the death of her mother.


This interview originally appeared as part of the Grieve Leave Instagram Live Series @grieveleave.


Rebecca: Welcome everybody, I'm Rebecca Feinglos. I'm the founder of and I'm thrilled because this is our first Instagram Live, officially. As we launch our new journey in 2023 to keep building out the Grieve Leave community, one of the most important things that we get to do as we come together to learn about grief and grieving is to learn from experts and to learn about brilliant people who are doing great work in this space.


It’s my honor to welcome Karla Noland, who is doing this very work. Karla is an award-winning author and speaker, and she is a trauma informed certified self discovery and positive intelligence coach. I just love her and I'm so excited that we get to connect today. She is the founder and CEO of Reveal Heal Thrive, and Karla's mission is to help trauma survivors discover their true self after surviving life's storms. Her latest book, The Day My Heart Turned Blue, is the 2022 Eric Goffer Spiritual Book Award Winner and it chronicles Karla's healing journey after the death of her mother. We will talk about that today.


I know that we'll be talking all about your grief philosophy, we’ll be getting into some big heavy topics, but as we get to know you and who you are together with our Grieve Leave community, I actually want to start with a lighter question. 


I want to ask you about your “unexpected chickens” in grief, which if you haven't heard this term, that's reasonable, because I just made it up and it's very silly. But, here's the context. My late father and I had an inside joke about chickens. We loved them and every time we’d see a chicken he'd get excited. They were his favorite animal– a silly, silly little thing– but, after he died, I felt like I saw unexpected chickens everywhere: everywhere I go, like chicken art, or, the day after my father died, I was going for a walk in my neighborhood and a chicken just walked by the road, which doesn't make any sense in my neighborhood. Every time I see an unexpected chicken, I think of my late father and I think it's his way of checking in on me. Karla, I just wonder, do you have any unexpected chickens to kick off our conversation about grief and grieving?


Karla: Absolutely, I have two. For one, everywhere I go, I meet someone from Trinidad. I went to Mexico with some girlfriends and randomly was in the same group with this woman. She had an accent, and I was like, “Wait a minute, are you from Trinidad?” I was like, “Wow, everywhere I go, my mother’s with me.” So, she was my buddy on the trip, and we were just sharing stories. 


Then the second thing happened recently, about two weeks ago, I was watching the Jennifer Hudson Show. She had Chelsea Handler on, and Chelsea was saying that her unexpected chicken is an orange. She's on a ski slope, and she sees a random orange that's a representation of her late mother. So, she said a psychic told her that you’ve got to name the object, so she named the orange. 


I said, “Okay, Mommy, humor me.” I'm looking around the room, and I'm like, “I know you're here, but let's go along with this. If you're here, I want you to represent yourself in a blue butterfly.” Like, it's February, it's not even butterfly season. It's not warm enough yet, so I'm just laughing. But then, Jennifer's next guest is wearing a dress with butterflies, and one of them with blue. 


Rebecca: Of course, of course. I love that, and blue is an important color to you. I think you could argue that the color blue might be an unexpected chicken. It's beautiful that you even mentioned it, because the first thing that I underlined in your book when I was reading it was that you said you could no longer look at the color blue without thinking of your mother. Can you tell me what that quote means to you?


Karla: Blue was her favorite color, so when we moved to North Carolina she was so excited because, you know, you’ve got to pick up blue when you move here. I mean, it was just her favorite color, so I also incorporate her favorite color now, and mine is green, so those are my branding colors.


Rebecca: That's really beautiful. I think it was just that quote that really touched me, that you can no longer look at the color blue without thinking of your mother because blue is everywhere. It’s literally everywhere. Blue is the sky, blue is Duke. I think it sounded like you were really suggesting that you think of your mom constantly. I know I feel the same way about my dad. For those of us who are watching who haven't read your book yet, could you just tell us a little bit more about your grief journey and tell us more about your mom.


Karla: My mother was a retired dietitian from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, so she had her garden and grew her own herbs, vegetables and fruit. She could grow anything, just throw a seed in the back and grow it. So she ate from her garden and she cooked everything home cooked. Anyone who knows my mother has had her cooking, and we miss it dearly. 


She was diagnosed with primary central nervous system Melanoma, a very rare cancer. This cancer is not only rare, it's a very aggressive cancer, so she was diagnosed in late September and passed away November 27th 2019. I was in shock. I went through all the stages of grief, just round and round, and then you compound that with the fact that I had to delay my grief because I was the executor of her estate. I wanted to make sure that everything was done according to her wishes, so I didn't have time to grieve. I was contacting companies telling them to close her accounts, and they’d ask me why. Saying out loud that my mother had passed away, my mother had died, was hard. That was just so difficult in the grief process. 


Then a few months later, the pandemic hit, and then George Floyd's murder happened, compounding all of that. I just had to take a pause from the whole world because if I wasn't connecting to myself and to my heart, I would have gone down another spiral of depression that I battled with before. So, that opened the doors for me like, okay, we're all in the house. Let me get telehealth therapy and really get to the roots of not only the grief, but of all the anger that I was holding on to. I kept saying, “Why her?” You know, she's not drinking, she's not smoking; she's eating out of her garden. So I had all these thoughts and that's when I started healing my inner child and started having more compassion and self love for myself. 


The key for me was my mother's journals when she passed away. I had all these collections of her journals and I put them in chronological order and started reading them as her life story. That's when I saw her as more than my mother. I read her earnest prayers. I read that even in her pain she still hung on to her faith and was still praying for others and I wanted to share that with the world along with my healing journey. There's no playbook on this. Everyone's grief journey and everyone's closing down of the estate looks different.  I want to share that to just give people not only resources but encouragement as they're living through grief.


Rebecca: Oh my gosh, you've been through a tremendous amount and you are really doing something so beautiful through your book and through your coaching. I think you've said compounded grief. When you use that term, what do you think it was about your mother's death that was a turning point for you? Why was it then that you decided to shift and move into healing work and coaching?


Karla: My family and I were gathering her things at our home because we had to sell her home. We put her things into three categories: keep, trash, and donate. I was looking down at these three piles, and I'm like, “Whoa, is this what my life is going to boil down to?” I want more out of life. I realized I was just surviving, doing the day-to-day and checking a box. Getting kids here, there, everywhere and making sure everybody is good, but I wasn't doing anything for myself and my internal work. That's when I made the shift and pivot that I can't continue to live like this. I want more of my life. I want my life to be about the impact that I made on others. I thought about what the legacy is that I'm leaving for my children, not just pensions and things of that nature. The legacy of healing and of ripening generational trauma and curses, that's my legacy. I'm living for my children, but I want to live out that legacy now, because tomorrow's not promised. 


I really wanted to make that shift. I thought, I can't keep living like this and I can't keep shrinking myself right to fit in or operate in fear and anxiety. So not only did I do my healing work, but I want to help others do the same. 


Rebecca: That’s really beautiful. As you know, I started my grieving journey to go on Grieve Leave in 2022 and to keep building from there, because I didn't know what it meant to grieve. People say that after someone you love dies to take all the time you need, and my response to that was to wonder what am I taking time to do. What does it actually look like to process trauma and to process loss? What I think that you're able to share today and in your book is that you're grieving by coaching other people and building out a legacy to keep living out for your mom who believed that you were. You get to keep honoring her with the beautiful work that you do. 


I think very practically, a super practical thing in grieving that you absolutely highlighted throughout your book is the importance of journaling, and it sounded like you had two sides of that. One, you read your mom's journals and at times it was a powerful way to grieve. I'd love to hear more about that, and then we can talk about your work journaling for your grieving work and actually writing, yourself. 


Karla: Yeah, I saw her more as my mom than ever, because as children we only see our parents like they didn't have any other life but to be our parents. We think they had nothing going on before us, or even after us, it's still about us, like, “When are you going to pick up these grandkids?” It's all about us. There's that selfishness there, because we're children, we’re their children. So I saw her in a different light and I was able to relate to her story because my mother was also the woman she was prior. She only told me the good stuff, but when there's things that are bubbling up in my life and there's unresolved trauma and stress, I want to know where that's coming. I want to know her story, how she coped, what her love story was about, what her upbringing was about, her best friends, her childhood. Those are things I don't know about my mother, so reading her journals, I was like, “Whoa, this is why I am the way I am. This is why this happened to me. This is why.” Because I'm seeing that generational cycle of things and I'm also seeing her tender heart that I wasn’t able to see before. I see her as my mother,  so that was amazing to me. 


Now, I have these journals and I can keep passing them down to my children because this is the record of her life. It's not someone telling me about her; these are her actual words. So, that was so powerful for me, and I didn't even know she wrote. When we were cleaning up her house, we just found all these stacks of journals and notebooks, so I decided to just gather them all and take them back with me to North Carolina. Instead of watching the news, I was reading her writing. 


Rebecca: That’s so beautiful. In a way you get to know this person as a person because of these records that she kept. Based on what you wrote in your book, your mom was a pretty private person with you and this was your chance to really see into her inner thoughts on a lot of things.


Karla: Absolutely, yeah. I got to know her in a more intimate way, and then, for me, I've been journaling and writing since I was a little girl in my diaries and journals, but now as an adult I look at is as a way of not only downloading my thoughts and my feelings at the moment but also dreaming again. I then plant those seeds of my dream and see them manifest and I can look back like, wow I had that dream and look at it manifesting. That’s a beautiful thing, and that's why I encourage others to journal as well because you'll see how far you have come on your journey. Today may be difficult but tomorrow is a brand new day.


Rebecca: I have so many thoughts here, this resonates on so many levels. After my dad died, I feel like I know him better now today as a person than I did when he was alive. I think to someone who hasn't experienced loss, maybe they can't possibly understand how that's true, but for those of us who have experienced loss and who have looked through our loved ones' records, you get to know them in this intimate way by reading them. 


I read a lot of my dad's letters that he wrote back and forth to my mother when they were like 18, and, of course, she saved all of them, and then he saved them. My late father was a physician at Duke, and I've read letters his patients wrote to me about him. It’s this other angle of who he was as a physician, but of course when I was his daughter I thought that was that was it it was all about me and that his existence was all about me. It’s how you conceptualize your parents, so I think what you've described resonates so much for me now. The thing that's hard, and I just wonder if any of our readers of this interview will have the same hesitation about journaling or grief that I do. Yes, I know I blogged last year, but that's so atypical for me. I've never been a journaler. I was never consistent enough and I always felt like, if I'm not journaling every single day then I'm not doing a good enough job. I wonder if you could speak to the perfectionists among us about journaling on our grief and why you'd still argue that it's powerful.


Karla: First things first is to reframe the word perfectionist. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being present. There is no set way on how you uniquely journal. If you want to just journal because something bubbled up in your spirit today and you need to jot this down, jot it down. If you're someone who wants to write every day then write every day but give yourself permission for it to be what and wherever you need it to be. For me, I jot down any wins, and it doesn't have to be a goal accomplished, but something that I have seen transformed in my life. Something that I was thinking about this last month and now can look at how everything is coming into play. I write that down then actually look back at the end of the month and see everything that has inspired me and everything that I have accomplished. If writing is not your thing, you could do a video blog– that’s still journaling, it's digital journaling, it's just a different format. Whatever creative space works for you just let it be. 


Rebecca: That’s awesome, and not only have you published your book that's chronicling your mother's death and then your grief, but you also published a companion journal along with that because it sounds like you see it as a really important way to grieve. It's a tool that people could purchase.


Karla: Absolutely, and since my mom was journaling and I was journaling I just thought it was just the cutest thing. The journal has check-ins for you to check in with yourself on how you’re feeling today, who's your support system, what you need today or just blank pages just for you to just write it out. There’s also prompts to help, because sometimes we can't find the words. I'm a woman of faith so there's also Bible verses in there to help you as well grieving verses. Again, there are storms in our life, but the sun will shine again. This is a process that we have to go through, so that's what the journal is all about. And then, you can look back and see how far you’ve come from day one all the way to the end of the journal.


Rebecca: That’s so powerful, and I think we might not even think about it this way, but it could be multigenerational. Our loved ones could find our journals later and get to know us through that lens, and I think it's really powerful what you've created and giving people that tool to help them grieve. You've mentioned your faith and it is something that just so clearly drives you. Your faith is really present throughout your book and your mother's faith is really present in her journal entries. I would love for us to touch on religion and grief in this conversation because I'm Jewish and my faith is very important to me. My father was raised Orthodox Jewish and I think in my experience grieving his death, maybe because I am a woman of faith and I am part of a really strong Jewish community and those roots are important to me, I thought my grief would be easier. It’s almost like there's tension. I feel like my generation and those younger, maybe we on average are a little more disconnected with religious organizations and that is concerning when it comes to supporting us in our grief, but I would say you and I both are pretty connected to our faith and grief is still hard. I wonder if you have thoughts on that, and does that resonate for you, this tension?


Karla: Yeah, I absolutely do, because leading up to the funeral you get the calls, you get the food, you get the cards, you get the condolences, and then right after the funeral ends, that's it and no one wants to talk about it anymore because it's uncomfortable. We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, because this is a part of our life. 


So, yes I know my mother is in a better place and I know she's with her Lord and savior, but that doesn't do anything for my heart, especially after seeing her coffin go to the ground. I need a moment to process. Illogically, yes, I know what my faith says and where she is and I will see her again, but right now this heart is grieving. Making those phone calls, doing those things, going back to Houston and she's not the person picking me up right. Going back there is hard. It took me about three years to go back. I was going everywhere else in the pandemic, but I wasn't going back to Houston. It was hard to go back right and these are things that we have to talk about.


People don't want to see us cry people, don't want to see us upset, or they say, “Oh you're gonna make me cry,” or, “Don't cry, no we need to cry.” We need to give ourselves space to feel all the feelings of grief, and I feel like it's just the blanket statement, “She's in a better place.” But, my God, we should say we're still grieving. We need the community that you're building and the space that I'm giving for the bereavement. It's so necessary, because again once the funeral's over, we're left with all of these thoughts. People need someone to talk to. People need someone who's understanding and empathetic and compassionate to their heart. 


Regardless of our faith, everyone is going to have to deal with death at some point in our life. It's a commonality with all of us.


Rebecca: I feel like you said this when we chatted last week in preparation for this call. You said something like, you can't pray grief away. You have to still talk about your grief. it's not about getting rid of it fast. 


Karla: Exactly, you can’t just pray it away, busy it away, or, “It's been three years you're still crying about your mother.” Grief is something that we will live with. Love is the greatest force that we have, and grief is that reminder that love never dies. It’s something that we're going to live with each and every day and grief looks different for everyone. You and I are both smiling, we're having this conversation, but I'm sure a couple of years ago this will be hard to go through. This conversation doesn't mean that we're not still dealing with grief. 


Rebecca: It’s the one thing that makes us human in life, it is a guarantee that every single one of us will experience grief, and yet we as a society are praised for staying busy, staying working hard, putting our heads down back to work after a loss and not crying. 


I think what you have experienced that resonates a lot with me too is sometimes after compounded loss after loss after loss it can just feel like too much. And when we are honest about our grief, when we have conversations about it, when we build community like you're doing with your coaching work and connecting with people in their grief like we're doing here on Grieve Leave, that is what can create change. We can't take that pain away but what we can do is feel a little less isolated in our grief. 


Karla: When you isolate yourself and you’re with negative thoughts, you don't even see another perspective of how you can turn your pain into purpose. All you see right now is pain, and no one identifies with your pain. The communities you may belong to may say well, you know that they're in a better place. That's not enough. I need to be able to express my grief. I need to be able to have someone who's compassionate and understanding, someone just to listen, someone just to sit in silence with me right or let me know I'm not alone. 


Rebecca: That's beautiful– literally sitting in silence with you. It’s so powerful when you're feeling at your lowest. Well, our time together has been flown by, but I want to close this out with a quick segment called our Grief Brief. I have three questions for you that I would love your answers for in a quick word or quick phrase to help leave our Grieve Leave community with some really tangible practical thoughts on grief and grieving. So, in a word or sentence, give me your Grief Brief on these questions. 


On your lowest days, what's your go-to way to grieve?


Karla: My go-to is to just to feel all the feels and create that space I need to cry, scream, and do it right. I give myself permission to feel. It’s okay, it's part of life, it is part of the human experience. 


Rebecca: You're exactly right. Love it, give yourself space. 


Okay, two, when someone you care about is grieving, what is your go-to way to support them in their grief?


Karla: It’s asking directly what can I take off of their plate today. A lot of times we hear, “Call me if you need me.” I don't know what I need, I'm grieving right now. I'm still trying to process. I don't know what I need. If there's someone who has children, maybe you take the children off their hands for a sleep over or go for ice cream, just for a moment out of the house. Or maybe it's gifting a journal or some type of creative outlet, or saying, “We don’t have to talk, let's just go to the beach for a day.” Or to the mountains, or something. Just be able to ask that question. What can I take off of your plate? 


And follow up on it. 


I've seen so many people do the meal trains, and I think that is beautiful. Then you don't have to worry about feeding your family and you're reminded that you need to eat because you've just been grieving and mourning for so long. You need nourishment. 


So, I think that's a very important question of what can I take off of your plate today or who can I call, could I drop off or do pickups. I just love that question and be specific.


Rebecca: Being specific with your questions and asking someone grieving to take something off their plate, love that. 


Okay, last Grief Brief question. What's one thing you wish everyone knew about grief and grieving? 


Karla: That we're going to live with it for the rest of our life. We can't busy it away and we can't just pray it away. We actually have to live through it, we have to feel all the feels of it and embrace it because those feelings are the honoring of the love of our loved one. I say this all the time, that grief is a reminder that love never dies. So we're going to continue to live with it, but we have to talk about it. We’ve got to have this as something that's again part of the human experience and know that it's okay. It’s okay to talk about. We talk about everything but things like free things we're scared to talk about. It just blows my mind.


Rebecca: I hate that grief is a real thing, and it's something that we unfortunately share in common, but when we make space for it, when we are honest about it, when we're open about it, it helps everybody. 


Karla you're amazing, I want to talk to you all day. I know that this conversation is going to help so many people and that your book is already helping so many people. 


For more on Karla and to buy her book, visit her site: and follow her @revealhealthrive.


This interview originally appeared as part of the Grieve Leave Instagram Live Series @grieveleave.


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