We are delighted to feature the incredibly inspirational Katrina Preisler-Weller, of Grow With Grief on our blog. Katrina runs the Grow With Grief platform, which includes social media channels, a newsletter, a website, grief support guides and a podcast. Through the Grow With Grief platform, Katrina has built a brilliant community, sharing tips, resources and advice about grief in an open, honest and totally relatable way. We’re so pleased to chat with Katrina on the Hand on Heart blog and learn more about her journey.
Hi Katrina, thanks so much for speaking to us. To begin, please could you tell our readers a little bit about your own experiences of grief?
As a 28-year-old Brit who is living in Australia, I have experienced grief in many forms, from grieving the change or ending of relationships, grieving my old life in the UK and the milestones missed and grieving the loss of a job and sense of security. However, the grief that has driven the work I do today was a result of my Mum, Greta’s, cancer diagnosis and death when I was 15 years old. Not only did I grieve for her after she had died and continue to do so 13 years later, I also experienced anticipatory grief knowing that her diagnosis was terminal. The lack of education and open communication around grief resulted in feelings of shame, isolation and guilt, ultimately leading to disordered eating, alcohol misuse and multiple attempts on my own life.
In 2017, my sister gave birth to twins at 15 weeks premature and sadly my nephew, Matty, died at 5 days old from sepsis. It was watching my sister experience the contrast of happiness for new life and heartbreak of loss that prompted me to reflect on the duality of grief. It taught me that to grieve isn’t all doom and gloom - that contrasting emotions can co-exist together in one moment. It taught me that grief is normal.
More recently, infertility and pregnancy loss have introduced me to another form of grief, one that I’m still trying to navigate and understand today.
Thank you for being so honest and open about your own personal experiences. How did this journey lead you to create your online community?
When I reflected on my personal experience, I was able to recognise three things that helped me learn to live alongside my loss:
1. Community - Finding other grievers who just got it.
2. Connection - Having the opportunity to speak about my grief.
3. Compassion - Understanding that grief is a normal and natural part of loss.
I recognised the shame that I carried with my own feelings and the shame that so many others felt when talking about their grief, too. It became apparent that so many of us don’t talk about this universal experience until it becomes unavoidable - and once that moment arrives, we are left to fend for ourselves with limited social support and next-to-no preparation which leads to isolation, suppression and suffering.
Creating this community started as a way to help other people live alongside their loss, but I continue because it also helps me.
What was the response like when you started your platform? Did it take off immediately, or has it grown gradually over time?
The response has always been overwhelmingly positive and the community continues to grow slowly over time. The biggest surprise for me was the increased response from people who hadn’t experienced a significant loss, yet connected with our community as a way to learn and help someone they knew who may be grieving.
What makes your online community special, and how do you support each other?
Our community is special because it’s real. We share real stories, real experiences and there is no right or wrong. We welcome all forms of grief and loss, not only bereavement, which cultivates a space people feel safe to be part of. It isn’t a perfectly cultivated place but instead a place that shows the raw truth of grief - warts and all.
What are some of the most common messages or comments you receive?
Mainly it’s people acknowledging their own experiences and thanking myself and other community members for their kindness. It’s always humbling to receive messages from people who find comfort in what is shared, whether that’s educational content or personal experiences.
What’s the most challenging aspect of speaking about grief so openly through a platform like Instagram?
Sometimes it can be hard to maintain boundaries and allow yourself to process your own experiences before sharing them with the world. It’s been a learning curve finding the right balance between what I feel is important to share and what I’d prefer to keep private.
It can also be very emotional talking about grief and loss all day, every day and therefore it’s been important that I make time for things that fill my cup, without feeling guilty for taking a break from social media every now and then.
That’s completely understandable. How do you think your Instagram has changed your life or outlook?
Quite simply, it’s given me the opportunity to talk about and honour my Mum in a way that feels supportive to me. That’s really important to me and I love speaking about her more than anything else.
How do you think your Instagram has changed your followers’ lives or outlooks?
I hope that mostly, it’s allowed them to feel less alone. I hope that it’s shown them that they never need to feel ashamed or guilty for how they choose to experience their grief - whether that is crying in a supermarket aisle or laughing with friends at the memorial service. Grief isn’t a weakness - it’s a natural reaction and response that is individual to each and everyone of us.
What would you say to someone who is going through an extremely difficult time with their grief experience?
Grief feels lonely but you are not alone. It’s not easy, it never leaves and quite often it feels messy. But the sharpness does soften. Feel what you need to in the moment and keep moving. Don’t move on - move FORWARD. Allow yourself to have compassion for what you’re experiencing. We don’t need to have all the answers and it’s okay to not be okay. Ask for help. Find someone, even if it’s someone you’ve never met on Instagram, who allows you to speak freely without trying to fix you. Because you’re not broken, you’re hurting. And that sucks but you’re allowed to hurt. But most importantly, keep living.
Grief isn’t a punishment but a reminder of one of the most beautiful experiences - love.
They’re beautiful words, Katrina, thank you for sharing them with us. Is there a number one tip or piece of advice you could give about grief?
Don’t do it alone.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Katrina. We’re sure our readers will find comfort in your words.
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to follow Katrina’s platform, Grow With Grief on the following channels:
Keep an eye out on the Hand on Heart blog for more interesting insights and interviews with leading voices who are paving the way with honest and open conversations about grief and loss.