Good Grief—Featuring Mike Christensen
Mikes’ beloved friend, Kris Yip, word-ranked bicyclist who suddenly and tragically died.
Mikes’ beloved dog and best friend, Josie, who died the day before the podcast was recorded
In today’s podcast we feature one of our favorite people, Mike Christensen. Mike is a Certified Level 5 Master TEAM CBT Therapist and Trainer, and is the Director Feeling Good Institute, Canada.
Mike is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors and holds a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology degree. His diverse background in business, community organizations, and family support roles has provided Mike with a wide array of experience in leadership, administration, parenting training, and team building.
He provides advanced level online training with the Feeling Good Institute for therapists around the world and is currently co-authoring a book with Maor Katz on Deliberate Practice of TEAM-CBT. Mike specializes in treating depression and anxiety, with experience and training in addictions, PTSD, and relationship challenges.
Today, Mike comes to us today with a personal issue, grief and loss. The day before the recording Mike’s beloved dog, Josie, died, and this came on the heels of the death of one his best friends, Kris Yip, a month earlier. Kris had died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 47. Kris was 7 or 8 years younger than Mike, and appeared to be the perfect example of health and fitness, so his loss was an unexpected and devastating punch in the gut.
Mike explained that Kris was a celebrity in the bicycling community. He was the Canadian national champion and war ranked 59th in the world. However, he was humble and never promoted himself. Instead, he always focused on others, encouraging even those who were just beginners.
Mike has also been a competitive bicyclist, and Kris had invited Mike to join an online racing team consisting of four friends who got together daily on stationary bikes linked by videos on the internet so they could talk while biking.
In January of 2023, while riding, Kris’s heart suddenly stopped. A friend of Kris called Mike to say, “Kris is gone!” This was devastating to Mike, who said: “He was the fittest of our group. The impact was profound.” He had trouble sleeping and was in disbelief. He said, “It felt surreal. It felt like something is wrong. He told himself, “I should be able to keep it together without falling apart.” Mike also told himself that Kris, was too young to go, and missed him tremendously.
Mike thought of Kris’s mom, and how much she was suffering, so he spent a week with Kris’ family and friends in Prince George. Which was where Mike was born, and his brother and his other biking buddies live. He said, “We cried together and were together.”
He explained, “Whenever I got on my bike to ride, Kris was always there. He’d always say, ‘Let’s ride.’ I miss his voice.”
He also said that during his rides, you could see Kris’ face on the video feed, and he was always struggling, digging deep, suffering, but loving it!
Mike said that all of his losses, including his sister, his son, and Kris, were actually double losses, because “I lost not only what had been, but what was to come in the future, and didn’t.”
Mike said, “Kris was so humble, so I want to brag for him. He always cared and made all of us feel so encourage and inspired!”
Mike mentioned some of the positives he saw in the pain of grief:
It honors the depth of the love and the depth of our relationship with Kris.
Our grief has motivated us to cherish our riding group and to cling together even more closely.
Tears can be the purest form of love.
Tears allow us to keep the other person alive in our hearts and minds.
I mentioned how I talk to three people I’ve lost every day when I do my “slogging:” my beloved cat Obie, and two dear colleagues I’ve lost, Ann Hantz in Philadelphia and Marilyn Coffy from Oakland.
Mike described how touched he was when visiting Kris’ family, and how his mom had arranged all of Kris’ bicycles in the garage, ready to be ridden, with all of his racing jerseys on display.
Mike confessed that also felt angry and often thought: “You bugger. It should have been someone else!”
Mike has endured many tragic losses in his life, including the devastating death of his older sister when he was just 15, and the tragic loss of his son, Graeme Michael, who died shortly before birth.
Mike reminded us about the various conceptualizations we use in TEAM-CBT, which can include individual mood problems (like depression or anxiety), personal relationship problems, habits and addictions, and “non-problems.” A non-problem refers to people who do not have distorted negative thoughts or problems that need to be solved—they just have strong and appropriate negative feelings, and the job of the therapist is simple: resist trying to “help,” and instead use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication to listen and give the grieving person the chance to vent and expression their feelings.
With this in mind, Mike described the support he received from colleagues at the Feeling Good Institute, including one who told him to make sure he was feeling sad! He greatly appreciated this!
In my clinical experience, “non-problems” were actually rare, but there were several patients who only needed to vent and receive support. one of my favorite chapters In my first book, Feeling Good, was Chapter 3. entitled Sadness is not Depression. I described my experience as a medical student with a terminally ill elderly man in the Stanford Hospital who reminded me of my grandfather. His extended family had gathered around the bedside as he was slipping into a coma from liver failure due to metastatic kidney cancer, and asked “Would it be okay for you to remove his catheter? It was a bit uncomfortable for him, and we’re not sure if he still needs it.”
I was very inexperienced and asked at the nursing station if it would be okay to remove it, and if so, how would I do it. They said he was, in fact, dying, and would not last much longer, and explained how to remove the catheter.
I pulled the curtain around his bed, and did that and told the family, with tears in my eyes, “He can still hear you, but not for much longer, so it’s time to tell him how much you love him and say goodbye.”
Tears were flowing down my cheeks and they began to cry as well, and began saying good bye. I went to the room where the medical students and resident make their notes, and wept.
The family later told the department chairman how much they appreciated what I did for them. I was a pretty terrible medical student, and for the most part had a bad attitude, but that was on moment I still feel very proud of.
There are several differences between sadness and depression. First, the thoughts that trigger depression, like “I’m defective. There must be something wrong with me,” are distorted. Depression, as I’ve often said, is the world’s oldest con. In contrast, Mike’s thoughts, like the thoughts that trigger healthy grief, are not distorted, like “I miss Kris. I admired him and loved him, and he made a tremendous difference in my life, and the lives of all who knew him.”
Second, depression can go on and on endlessly. I’ve had patients who told me that they’d never had even one happy moment in their entire lives.
Healthy grief, in contrast, only needs to be accepted and expressed, and runs its course naturally, If grief is extended, or impairing the person’s life, then it’s a certainty that distorted thoughts are present and preventing the person from healthy grieving. In this case, treatment can be enormously helpful.
Finally, depression robs us of joy, hope, and productivity. Life often seems meaningless and worthless. Grief, in contrast, though painful, enriches us and provides us with a deeper level of meaning and gratitude for life.
Rhonda and I are very sad for Mike’s many losses, now and in the past as well. But we are both grateful to have him as a friend, and cherish him tremendously.
Thank you, Mike, for letting us in today!
Mike, Rhonda and David
Following the session, I emailed Mike to ask a couple questions about peoples’ names, and also find out if we might have perhaps let him down during the podcast, not given him enough space to grieve, and so forth. When I get worried about things like that, I have found that checking it out usually beats “Mind-Reading” by a pretty huge margin.
Here’s the wonderful email that Mike sent. It will give you a deeper view of his inner warmth and depth.
Thank you for your kind words. I experienced our time together as deeply moving and came out of it with a renewed sense of purpose in the sadness. I guess my hope was that we might be able to illustrate and share the value in empathy and the positive reframe in our grief work. That was enhanced to a new level for me with the way you guided me to explore some aspects I had missed. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
It also opened up the way in which your stories and the journey we go on with clients can provide healing for others. I am so grateful that you were willing to take that time to revisit them.
Our son’s name was Graeme Michael. He was in between our oldest (Thomas now 25) and our middle daughter (Janae now 22). We (my wife Janna and I) never had the opportunity to hear his voice or see him smile. We were informed that it was a chord accident. Janna knew something was wrong and an ultrasound confirmed that she would have to deliver him knowing he was already gone. The first time we held him was also the last. Whenever people ask me how many children I have I say 3 (Thomas, Janae & Caelyn -19 & you will meet soon) but in my mind it is always 4. Thank you for asking.
My wife Janna is a nurse and the director of a pregnancy outreach program. She has been blessed with the opportunity to work with at-risk pregnant moms and young families for 17 years and our experience has brought incredible connection and support to so many (I also worked there for 7 years part time with the young dads). While we would never wish our journey on anyone, the suffering of loss has given us insight, motivation, inspiration, understanding and opportunities that we would never have without it. The sadness has deep purpose and meaning and continues to be an expression of our love for Graeme and all the young families we meet.
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, California. She sees clients via Zoom, and in her offices. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Level 5 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website: www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com.
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com.
You can reach Mike Christensen at firstname.lastname@example.org