Life After Love & Loss with Grace Liang

My guest today is Grace Liang, a fashionista who blogs about her clothing, her travels and her life journey from being raised in China to living the American Dream. 

Grace shares from her heart. She’s open about things that have been traumatic in her life.
​​​​​​​Today Grace is sharing some powerful stories with us. Life events have transformed her and gifted her with inspirational insights. 

N:    Grace, I'm so excited that you're here with us today. I know you are going to have so many wonderful insights for our listeners. Thank you for being on this podcast.

G:    Thank you so much for having me.

N:    Absolutely. I wanted to start by better understanding your story and how your emphasis of living after loss became a conversation that you want to have with people right now.

G:    For me, I think this matter of life after loss or just regular life is all about finding out who your are and  what your life purpose is. It's kind of interesting that we usually find out the truth after we lose someone because that's a moment we feel like we need to figure out why this kind of thing has happened to us.

For me, I believe when we are going through a very difficult situation or very tough time, we can't just look outside of our world and ask why this is happening to me; most likely we need to look inside ourselves. What is our belief? What is our life? What are choices to help this situation? We can raise up from this very difficult time and still can have a better life.

N:    That makes so much sense. You suffered loss early in your life. 

G:    Yes, I did.

N:    Share about this.

G:    I lost my father when I was in the last year in my high school. The place I was born in China has a very traditional culture.  They didn't really care about girls. So at my family — my mom — didn't really care about me because I have an older brother. My father was the only one who sort of treated me a little fairer than my mom. That's why I was closer to him. But again, you can't use normal American parents as a way to think about a Chinese parent. My dad never hugged me, never held me, never said I love you, never kissed me, nothing.... He never played with me. I don't remember any time that we were very close. 

Again, I lost him and since he was the only one in the family I felt close to,  it was quite difficult. I had no clue what to do. I was just very sad. I remember when I went to college and everybody in the dorm has their parents. It was just me because my mom was kind of busy and I didn't have my father.

N:    How awful. And how did you process that? 

G:    Right now when I look back, because I have more experience, I don't think I ever processed it.  I'm beginning to now. That's why I tell everybody that it took me about 20 years finally, totally, to get over it. In the beginning, we just didn't talk about it because people don't want to see you cry. They feel like if you are crying then it's their fault so nobody wants to make anybody cry so nobody  talks about it. Because they don't talk about it, we just don't know what to do. Every time when I saw a movie or heard a song with some lyric associated with losing a father, I was crying just nonstop. I didn't know what to do with myself.

G:    About 10 or 15 years later, I finally stopped crying but I always had a dream. My father was in my dream and I asked him 'why don't you come home?' In my mind, he never really left.  He never answered me.  He'd just walk away. I was so sad and upset. I would cry and then wake up. That happened for about 20 years, and finally I got over it.

N:    Then later in your life, after going through this, you got married.

G:    Yeah.

N:    Tell us about that new journey.

G:    I'm thankful for my marriage, I call it "the normal life" period because before that my life had so many ups and downs.  I finally ended hunger after I graduated from college. Because we were poor and my mom didn't really care about me that much, I often just didn't have enough money to buy food. 

Finally, after graduating from college I got a job and I finally did better.  Still, my family didn't have a really good caring or loving culture. So as kids, we learned what we saw our parents do to each other. My parents had an arranged marriage, so they didn’t really like each other. They fought all the time.  I mean physically they fight all the time, so that's what we learned.

I'd tell myself I really want to find a guy to treat me right, to treat me nicely. But guess what? I ended up with a similar type of guy because that's what I felt more familiar with. When you feel familiar you feel comfortable and you think that's love but that's not really love. Of course, it took me many years to figure it out.  Then I moved to Shanghai, after many years of being alone, because at the time I realized I needed to really learn more about myself and what exactly I wanted.

Right after, I turned 30. In Chinese culture if you're 30 year old woman and you still haven't gotten married, you have no hope at all.

N:    Oh, dear.

G:    Yeah. I know, so actually for me, I was like, whew! No more pressure. I don't need to worry about it because I'm done. So I just used the time to really enjoy living by myself. I did really good with my job. At that time I was the HR manager for a really big company. So everything was fine. 

 I started looking into it more, like how can I make myself and make my life better every day. At that moment, I pretty much gave up on thinking of getting married. That's when I met my late husband. A lot of people say when you are not looking, that person's just there.

N:    Right.

G:    And that's pretty true, yeah.

N:    So you met him and he was an American, right?

G:    Yeah. When we met, I knew almost zero English, and he knew almost zero Chinese. He couldn't speak much Chinese at all. We looked at body language. All the girls when they went on a date would bring their makeup. For me, I had to bring my dictionary.

N:    How did you communicate?

G:    People always say when you find your soulmate, you just really don't have to say much. You just generally understand and that was us. Although we had a culture difference, an age difference, and a language difference, we got along so well. We didn’t even need to speak a lot; a couple words, we got it. I think  85% of everything about us matched. You know, we just thought about things in the same way and did things the same way, so that made it pretty easy.

N:    Yes. And so you ended up moving to America?

G:    Yeah, after we dated for three years we decided to get married. He always told me 'based on your personality, America is the best place for you to live.' So I just gave up everything and I moved to Michigan and married him.

N:    Wonderful. That must have been a culture shock.

G:    Oh, totally! I remember the first day we drove out from the airport in Detroit. That was after a 30 plus hour flight. I was so tired. At that time I could only speak short words or phrases, not even a whole sentence. Then we drove on the freeway. I started to see all the signs, everything in English, not a single Chinese character. I was like, oh no! Now what should I do? I don't know any words. 

 At that time his older brother went to the airport to pick us up and they tried to talk to me but I had no clue. I didn't understand. I would just smile; that's all I could do.
N:    Well, they say a smile is the same in every language, right?
G:    Yep. Totally agree.

N:    So it was quite a journey to go from that beginning to becoming very renown in fashion and your social media and your blog. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be.
G:    As I said, I was born into a very poor family, a poor place so there was no fashion at all. We didn’t even have food or shelter sometimes so fashion was too much of a luxury for us. But I do remember when I was young, one time my mom took me to a tailor shop and when she's busy with the tailor I got a magazine to look through. That was the first time I saw beautiful women dressed so beautifully. I was like, wow! Is this for real? 

​​​​​​​That's the first time I knew what fashion was, but because I was poor I couldn't do much. Although I always wanted to be a fashion designer and I was accepted by a fashion design college in Beijing, I didn’t have money I could not go. I chose to go to a college to become a teacher because they offered a scholarship. 
I didn't succeed. I didn't go. After I went to Shanghai, I had to make a living. At the beginning I couldn't find a job. I lived on one dollar a day. After about three or four months I finally found the first job and just worked very hard to get the things I wanted. 
About six years after I moved to Shanghai I opened my online boutique about fashion. So I tried again, but then I met my late husband. We decided to move to America so I had to sell my boutique and I came to America.

N:    So you had fashion in your blood, though.

G:    I know, but it never really played out like I wanted it to. Then after I moved to America, I needed to learn the language.  I needed to learn the culture. I needed to learn how to drive. 
After that my late husband got laid off so I was like, oh, I can't just stay at home and do nothing. I need to bring in money. I went to college to get my teaching certificate for one year with my very poor English. I had to take 10 exams in 12 months. I was at the 600 level at college. It was so hard, but I got a 4.0. I was like, hey. I’m doing pretty well.

N:    Excellent.

G:    So after that I got my certificate. Then I become a part-time teacher and a full-time teacher. Finally, after I turned 40, our lives were pretty good, pretty comfortable because we're both making money. 
I felt that fashion, that passion just burning, would never die. I tried to bury it for years, but it was just always there. So I would tell myself, you know, I'm 40 years old. This is probably my last chance. I'd better give it a try. So at that time I read a lot of articles about fashion bloggers. They’re cute. I think I’m probably as cute. If they can do the same thing, maybe I can give it a try so that's how I started.

N:    We're so glad you did. I love all of your fashion. It's wonderful. 

G:    Oh, thank you.

N:    And then you started blogging and your husband got ill.

G:    At the beginning I focused on fashion. And then fashion and beauty because they always went together. I added beauty in there because people always said, hey, your skin looks so good, you look so young. What do you do? That type of thing. 

And then my husband got sick. I did not plan to say anything because that was the deal I made with my family. I already put myself out in the public. I'm not going to talk about anything about my family. But there was my blogger friend. Her husband got diagnosed with cancer as well at a similar time and she was very angry on social media, on Facebook, on all kinds of platforms. 
My husband read those and he said, why don't you write about us because we are a little different. Of course, we're not happy about what's happening to us, but we are always very positive. We always feel like if this is something that will not end up very well, then why don't we just spend every second we can bringing joy while we still have it?
We were still laughing, and talking, and doing things like normal. So that's how I started to write. I just wanted people to know you have a choice how to handle it and how to respond when something happens to you. But later I realized, those kind of posts were not just for others. Actually, I wrote them for myself because every time when I wrote, I felt like it helped me to clear my mind. It helped me to build up my confidence. It gave me the platform to let all the emotion out and I could go back to center. I could be more positive and happy to handle everything. So that's why I just keep writing it.

N:    So it was almost like therapy for you?

G:    Totally. Yes, you know, I had a psychologist after he passed away because I realized I needed one. I needed some professional help. I talked to him. I also showed him what I wrote for my blog. He said the same thing. He said ‘you are doing so well because you're writing it every week.’ 

N:    You weren’t bottling it up, you know. So that's a bit of a secret you would share with other people?

G:    Yeah.

N:    To write and get thing out and not bottle up their feelings?

G:    I had two totally opposite experiences. With my father’s death, we didn't talk about anything and then it took me 20 years. For my late husband’s death, I talked about it every week. I wrote about it every week and I didn’t mind if my friends and my family were talking about it. I was okay. Sometimes I cried when I was talking to them. That's okay. I told them it was okay. You know, I had let it out. So now it's almost two years and I feel like I am doing very well with this process.

N:    Yes, you clearly are. This is so helpful because I think it's more natural for people to bottle things up and I think a lot of friends feel awkward. They don't want someone to cry. They don't want to say the wrong thing. Then things get bottled up like you're saying.

G:    If your friends can’t give you much help, just write about it. That's good enough. Or go to see psychologist. A lot of people, if they've never been through this kind of situation, they have no clue what to say. A lot of times you feel like you don't really want to listen at the moment. You know, they just don't understand.

N:    Right. Yeah, they're just saying something. They mean well, but maybe somehow it feels hurtful what they're saying.

G:    A lot of times whey will say, oh, don't cry. Be strong. But crying and being strong are not in conflict. You can cry, but you are still pretty strong. It's not problem, but they don't understand.

N:    I read in your blog about your swimming; this was some time after your husband had passed away and you were in a swimming pool.

G:    Like people always just say, life is just short. Let's enjoy it. Let’s do it.  But their actions never match that saying. I would say that all the time, too, after my father passed and after my late husband passed away.  I've done quite well, but I'm still not 100% there every second enjoying my life. Sometimes I'm very stressed.
That incident in the swimming pool totally changed my whole mindset. So basically I went to Paris by myself. That was my first international solo trip. Everything was so good and when I came back I felt really confident. I felt like I could do everything. I could handle everything. There’s no problem. 
It was a summer day. It was really hot like 90 some degree. So I was like, hey, I'm going to swim by myself. So I went and I don't really know how to swim. I know the strokes, but I don't know how to take breaths. So normally I just stick my head under the water and then reach for the other side and poke my head out and that's how I swim. 
I had some diving toy I put into the shallow side to practice. And because the pool filter was on, it drifted into the deeper end. My pool has a deeper end about eight feet deep. So I was like, hey, I better get it out before it’s in that deep end because there's no way I can get them out later. 
So I dove down and tried to pick it up and somehow I lost balance and I felt my whole body pulled to the deeper side. When your body loses balance and you forget how to do the stroke, don't know how to breathe underneath the water — I was just struggling there. 

N:    You panicked?

G:    Yes, I panicked, but I wasn't super panicked which is good because I wasn't crying, I wasn't yelling, I wasn't doing anything. I was just kind of trying to move. It was probably about a minute. Suddenly I remembered something my late husband told me. He said, if someday something happens like this, you just keep still. 
So I stopped moving. And then I start to feel my foot touch the bottom of the pool. Then I started to kick, but it wasn't enough.  There were a couple of feet of water above my head. It was a really sunny day. I just looked above to a very clear sky and saw the bubbles from my nose. In that moment I was like, I'm going to die in my own back yard and nobody is going to find me because I live alone. And suddenly I turned my head and saw a couple small stairs on the wall. Suddenly I remembered we had a diving board that they took off, but the stairs were still there. So that was my goal. I tried about another minute or so. Finally I make the stair and then I pulled on the stair and poke my head out.
The first moment when I pulled my body out and took a deep breath, I was like, that's so good. You can breathe. Just in that moment you're like, oh my gosh. I didn't even get out right away because I was shaking. I was a little worried that I couldn't get out completely because I was too shaky and weak. I might fall back again. There's no way I could get out again. 
So I took a short break and I feel my strength's come back. I climb out of the pool. Then of course, the first thing I want to do is call my husband to tell him what was going on, but he wasn't there. So I went to take shower and tried to calm down. I was crying in my shower, of course. I was almost dead. And then I don't know how, suddenly, after crying I did feel better. 
I was in the shower and then I just patted on my tummy and I just talked to myself. I said ‘I almost lose you today. I better take care of you from now on.’ And that was the moment I realized I needed to eat better, I needed to exercise, I needed be happy and enjoy because I almost died and that was so close. You never know, the next second you may just die. And if you die, seriously there is nothing you can take with you.

N:    So you had a profound awakening there?

G:    Oh, yeah, totally.

N:    Now you have some goals to share this message of taking care of yourself and live after loss. Share with us what you want to be doing and how you see this going forward.

G:    Yeah, so this life after loss journey was very surprising. The first year, I was trying to survive. I have to say that before he passed away, I had no clue how I would survive or live by myself. He was such a great husband. He took care of everything. I was totally handicapped. I had no clue how to put gas in the car because he had done it every single time for me during those many years. 
A few months ago I went to get my car to do an oil change. I pulled up front and everybody said stop, stop. I was like, what's going on? And somebody came to me and said ‘do you want me to drive?’ I said sure, go ahead. When I step out of the car I realized why they were nervous. There were big holes in the ground.
I had never been to an oil changing place. How did I know?  I am so spoiled. After he passed away, I learned so many things. I didn't know how to write a check. But I learned everything. The first year I just survived and then later I realized I will not be just okay. I can be more than okay. I can even pursue my dream. I can even live my dream life. 
So during this life after loss journey I realized it’s a self-empowering journey. I realized what my life purpose is. I think I am a messenger. I came here. Whatever you call it, God or Source put me through all of those things because they want me to share my experience so I can positively impact others and the world. So that's why I keep writing all the blog posts.
Now I’ve updated this Life After Loss post, and I started being The Best of Me because that's a continuation from a widow to a single woman and  how to reach your goal. Also, I am in the process of writing a book basically talking about how I turned my life around after my husband passed away which is from impossible to ‘I am possible’. And also ... I'm doing many things right now. Also I'm in the process of becoming a motivational public speaker. I want to take the stage to share my message.
My long term goal is to have a foundation called Life After Loss because I realize there are so many people that don't really know how to properly go through this process or they don't have the resources to do it. I want to have a case manager for every family that will follow them for three years. I'm not going to cut a check to them, but I will give them all kind of resources, training, and support so it will help them to gather their normal life back. Beyond that I want them to reach their dream life so that's my goal.

N:    You are an inspiration and I know you're going to do it. You've done all kinds of things in your life and you're certainly going to do this.

G:    Thank you.

N:    I'm so glad that you could talk to us today. How can people contact you?

G:    The best way is to find me on my social media. If they want to personally reach out to me, then send me an email. So on my social media just look for Color and Grace. My name is Grace and I love color, so Color and Grace. Actually, this name is from my late husband. He was just smart with this kind of thing. 
So if you look up Color and Grace, I will be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or whatever you think about. My blog is called Color and Grace as well. Leave me a message there.

​​​​​​​N:    Wonderful. Thank you so much. This has been very enlightening and I know there are a lot of people who are listening who have been through loss and your words are touching their hearts.

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"I realized I can be more than okay. I can even pursue my dreams." ~Grace Liang on Design Your Second Half, the podcast
Wishing you a lifestyle you love,

 ~ Nancy
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